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Nokia Lumia 1020 put to the (real) test

By now the world knows that the Nokia Lumia 1020 has the best camera on a smartphone, but does 41 megapixels mean it can replace a DSLR camera? LIRON SEGEV put it to a “real”” test.

We know that the Nokia Lumia 1020 is known for its camera capabilities after all, it has 41 megapixels in play!

Anyone can test the camera in the safe confines of the office. If the shot doesn’t go off according to plan, you simply reshoot it. No big deal. However, the real do-or-die hands-on test is when you have one chance to get the shot right before the action passes before your eyes, not to be repeated. This arena of photography is typically left to DSLR cameras and not your point-and-shoot or mobile phone cameras.

Since the announcement of the Nokia Lumia 1020 with its 41 megapixel camera, I’ve been wondering if this device could be a true replacement for a DSLR camera. To put this to a real test, I left my DSLR camera at home and arrived on location with just my Lumia 1020.

The photo shoot was held at the Vaal river, where it was all about wakeboarding action. The main attraction was Ryan Durham, a South African ranked 15 in the world, who was doing some incredible air manoeuvres and wanted to capture these for his training and promotional material.

No pressure.

After spending some time with the Nokia, here is my hands-on review of the Nokia Lumia 1020 and how it (and I) preformed under pressure:

Look and Feel

When you hold the 1020 you can instantly see that it is built for quality. The polycarbonate chassis feels smooth and robust and has the curves in the right places, making it easy to grip. The Lumia does not attract as much dirt and fingerprints as other phones.

The AMOLED 4.5″” touchscreen, protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3 takes over the front-face of the Lumia 1020 and is well integrated into the bevel. The icons on the screen easily visible in direct sunlight and the screen is very responsive to touch, thereby making changing options inside the apps very simple, even when you are in motion such as on a speeding boat shaking and rolling in the waves.

The front of the Lumia 1020 has a front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera at the top and the Back, Windows and Search buttons at the bottom.

At the top of the Lumia is a headphone jack and the mico-sim tray. On the right is a volume rocker, Power button and the dedicated Camera button. At the bottom is the microUSB slot and the speaker grill.

On the back is the famous 41 megapixel CCD that protrudes slightly from the smooth body. There are two flashes. One for video focus-assist and the other for still photography. As is expected, the downside of the protruding lens is that the phone can not rest flat on a table which does make it slightly awkward, as the phone bounces as you tap into and out of various apps.

OS, Processing, Storage and Battery

The Lumia runs Microsoft Windows Phone 8 and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon Dual-core 1.5 GHz Krait chip. It has 2GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage with no additional expansion card slot via MicoSD. This is peculiar as the 41 Megapixel camera photos in high res and the video in full 1080p at 30fps shoots are rather large and the fills memory very quickly.

The Lumia is powered by a non-removable Li-Ion 2000 mAh battery that is claimed to have up to 19 hours of talk time when the phone is running 2G and 13 hours when the phone is set to run on 3G. While 2000 mAh is not the biggest battery on the market, the Lumia easily managed a whole day of heavy usage, even with video and photo snapping.

Lets talk Camera

While other phone are in the 13 megapixel range, the 41 megapixel is a huge leap over existing phones in the market today. An obvious question that has been asked is how you would possibly share your photos if each picture is in megabyte size? To answer that we need to look at the technology behind the way Nokia has made the camera function.

Without going into the hard-core technical details, when you take your pic, the camera automatically captures several smaller images that when overlaid together make up the one super high-quality image. This, together with an image stabiliser, a BSI sensor and a wider aperture results in much better quality shots – even in low-light conditions. With other cameras, you take the shot, crop the photo and save the image. With the Lumia, you have the option to reframe your shot, zoom into sections of the photo and save the image. But you can then go back into the cropped image and zoom back out again and reframe it to capture another scene in the same photo. This allows for multiple scenes to come out of the same photo.

Enough Theory here is what it does:

Check out this set. The first image is a shot of Ryan boarding behind his boat. Can’t see him? Clearly this is too far and typically we would need to delete this shot. But on the Nokia Lumia 1020, you simply open the image with the Nokia Pro Cam app on the phone, tap on the reframe button and then zoom into any part of the image. Now you can see Ryan in the air! If you zoom in even more you can even see a boat near the pillar of the bridge.

Of course the quality of the image gets distorted the more you zoom in, but when you cast your eye on the first image then on the last image, you can really get a sense of how powerful this is.

Another option that I really like about this camera is that you can get real live feedback. Everything is at your finger tips when you are in the camera app. At the top are the settings you can change, and when you flick the camera icon from right to left you are presented with the same jog-dials that you see on a professional camera. You can change various settings like White balance, focus points, exposure and instantly the screen changes according to your settings. You know what the image will look like before you take it.

Video on the Lumia 1020

When it comes to video, this camera excels. These were taken on 1080p at 30fps and the audio was left at the default 100Mhz as we were shooting from a moving boat. You could enhance the audio to 200Mhz to pick up more surrounding sound.

As with the camera, flick the Video icon and you can instantly change the white balance and the focus points with live feedback on what the video will look like.

These videos were shot on a moving boat with no stand or stabilisers these were held by hand. Even the photographer had no idea her handiwork would land up here.

Note: these were uploaded to YouTube and therefore loose some resolution during the conversion process. The original videos are far too large to post.

Other Cams:

The Nokia Lumia 1020 comes with three different cameras. The basic Camera (why its even there is beyond me as it is just a normal 5 megapixel camera), the Pro Camera (which is what you should be using even if you leave everything on Auto mode) and the Smart Camera this allows you to have various lenses and effects on your shots. If you tap into the smart camera you have access to different camera effects like best shot, action shot, motion focus, change faces, remove moving objects. As with the Pro Camera, all pics you take in this mode are still available, regardless of which ones you initially chose, so you can always go back and choose another shot from the the set.

The downside to the Smart Camera is that you need to be in that mode first before you can access these effects and for some reason all shots taken with this mode are darker than those taken with the Pro Cam. Even the flash doesn’t work here.


For the photo shoot, I used the Camera Grip for the Lumia 1020. This is a housing that the camera slips into and gives you a nice holding grip. It has a dedicated camera button at the top so by simply holding it down it it brings the phone out of sleep mode and directly into the camera app. Included in the grip is a 1020 mAh battery that charges your phone and is said to give you an extra 40-50 minutes of video shooting time. At the bottom of the case is a tripod-socket groove, allowing it to be mounted to a tripod or extension pole for those artsy shots. The cover slips on and off rather easily, but does add bulk to the phone.

Some sample shots:

Disclaimer: these are not the high res 10mb and above shots that live on the camera but rather the Pro shots that the camera scales down. Click on the images to see them larger and with more clarity.

So in summary:

My experience with the Lumia 1020 has been very positive. It didn’t let me down on the photo shoots and we got some great high quality images that Ryan can use. I am most impressed with the video mode and just how incredible the results were.

So, if I owned this camera, I would I leave my DSLR at home from now on? I guess it is not a fair question, as the DSLR is meant to do nothing else but take high resolution shots. It also has changeable lenses which the Nokia does not.

However, at this point I am confident that I will cover an event with the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the results would be superb.

Special shout out goes to Ryan Durham, Kyle Durham and Mel Dadswell for the shoot!

* Liron Segev, aka The Techie Guy, recently won the Science and Technology category of the SA Blog Awards for the second year in a row. Read his blog at or follow him on Twitter on @Liron_Segev

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