Camera comparison: Nokia Lumia 1020 vs. Lumia 920

When you think about the Nokia Lumia 1020 you don’t think  first  of all the other amazing things this smartphone can do but you immediately think of its 41 MPX camera module. In the earlier parts of my review I did say I wouldmake a separate section for the camera because it really deserves it, and here it is.

Better than a normal camera?

The Lumia 1020, together with the Nokia 808, is the only smartphone with such a big camera sensor.  A whole 41 MPX spread out on enough space(not like 13MPX crowded on too small sensor like other smartphones) from which 38 are actually usable. Not even compact cameras and only very few SLRs have such a large sensor. Pictures in full resolution are normally about 14 MB big but sometimes they even get close to 20 – a file size which needs a lot of power to display or even edited – and because the 1020 is also a smartphone editing  is a quite important part.

While the 1020 has enough power does it make it a better camera than a compact camera?

Since not only functionality but of course also quality are important for a camera this question used to be very difficult to answer. But now it is not. The 1020’s camera is fantastic; it can compete with high class compact cameras and sometimes even with cheaper SLRs while being much slimmer and more compact and flexible.

So it is no surprise it blows away the Lumia 920, but to give current 920 owners you a chance to see how well the camera really performs I want to compare it  with that very popular handset, which single-handedly restored Nokia’s reputation as a great camera phone maker. The Lumia 920  together with the 925 are actually one of the best normal camera phones out there and already does very well for a phone.

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First a comparison without flash and in normal distance to compare focus and colors. The 1020 is on the left and the 920 on the right. The 1020’s picture has warmer and more saturated colors. Although they re a bit oversaturated they are more natural because the 920’s pictures are too cold and undersaturated. Don’t get me wrong, the 920 does a good job, especially for a smartphone, but the 1020’s picture is in a different league.

The focus on the right picture is ok. The area in the centre is nicely clear but the edges of the picture are a little fuzzy. The left picture taken with the 1020 isn’t perfect either with the upper right corner and the bloom directly in the centre being a little unclear but overall the clarity is better on this one.

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Note: On one picture I needed to crop out a small part on the bottom because there were faces visible over the full width of the picture

Both phones did well capturing the cathedral in cologne. I think the picture could be brighter on both handsets, and although the 1020’s picture is already the brighter of the two, I wish there were a little more details. Like I said, both are good but they look a little emotionless to me. In case of colors this time the 920 has an edge over the 1020 and focus is the same on both.

Both results are very good but like I mentioned, I expected a little more from the 1020 – but this is complaining on a high level.

Macro

For the Lumia 1020 macro shots seem to be quite difficult since you can’t get really close to the object. With the 920 I sometimes was able to get like 2-4cm closer when the 1020 just captured an unclear mush of pixels. I was able to get closer with zooming which works very well, but it is not the nicest method I think. All pictures were taken under same conditions and with automatic settings – I only adjusted the flash.

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The 1020 on the left has more saturated and warmer colors – a little oversaturated but still more natural than the 920 on the right. Also the XENON flash does a better job with lightning everything pretty evenly so everything is bright while the LED on the 920 mostly brightens the flower and the branch  on the front.

In case of details both do an amazing job – the 920 does very well for a phone with many details in the center of the flower while the the edges get a little unclear. The background is nicely out of focus and just as you would expect, but the 1020 does even better. While the background is completely fuzzy the flower in the front is completely in focus – even the edges.

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In this comparison you can clearly see the difference in colors. The 1020’s picture is again a little oversaturated and the 920’s a bit undersaturated, but because the 1020’s colors are warmer the picture overall is more natural. The focus is pretty similar on both devices – almost the same which means very good on both devices.

Zoom

Since the 920 only has a normal, digital zoom I won’t compare here because this would be very unfair. The 1020 however has a lossless digital zoom by cropping out a 5MPX excerpt out on the full resolution picture – the picture in full resolution is saved without zoom and the 5MPX picture has a zoom. Although you sometimes need several parts to shoot a clear zoomed picture the zoom is very good especially when considering the slim case.

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I tried to make take a nice, detailed picture of the fly and got as close as possible and then zoomed. Just to let you know: this is the zoomed 5MPX picture, not an even more cropped 38MPX one.

I personally think the result is very good. I could get even closer when I cropped the 38 MPX picture but let’s just look at unedited pictures here. As you can see the fly is very clear (not 100% but still very good) and even smaller details like small hairs on the legs are visible. The XENON flash does a very good job pointing out smaller details here.

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Same as on the first picture there is a small fuzziness but it is still much better than a normal digital zoom. I would wish a little more details but all in all it’s still good.

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This picture – taken in low light conditions – is not very spectacular. I needed several tries to make an acceptable shot and this was the best I could get. When zooming the noise increases and details are very unclear here. It probably is still much better than what I would get with the 920 but I expected better results.

Low Light

When the Lumia 920 was announced Nokia claimed it is the best low light device ever. That unfortunately wasn’t true at all as the 808 Pure View compared a little better. Now that the Lumia 1020 is out it is the best low light phone, but how much better than the 920 is it?

First of all I want to say that, even though the 1020’s pictures mostly look clearly better, I needed more shots to get an acceptable result, which is very strange. To me it looked like the 1020 does tend to take blurred pictures more often than the 920, which is very strange. Nevertheless, here are the results:

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This one is a good example for the problem I mentioned: While both phones know how to satisfy with great colors (the 1020 once again slightly better), both pictures are, although much better than on the competitors thanks to OIS, not really sharp. While it is a little bit excusable on the 920, who’s focus is also more even while the 1020 has a part which is less blurred than the rest, I would have expected more from the 1020. These kind of pictures are, however, not the rule as you can see in the next picture.

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This picture is a little bit unclear on the right and left edge, but the main part is clear – there are nice details visible and the colors are simply stunning. This is a performance I would have expected to be the rule, which unfortunately it is not. Sure, even this picture can’t compete with SLRs or high class compact cameras, but it can with mid range digital cameras which already is a very good low light performance for a phone.

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This one is another example where both phones don’t do the best they can in case

of sharpness – colors are again very good. The 1020 has more accurate color

balance with the night shots. The color balance on the 920 provides too blue of

tones..

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…and this one is an example of great results on both phones. The pictures are clear and the details amazing. On the 920 I needed two tries to get this result, on the 1020 four. Still, the 1020’s result is better. The colors are amazing and very realistic while too cold and undersaturated on the 920.

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As you can see, while good pictures are not the rule, bad ones aren’t either. The chance you get an acceptable picture is higher than the chance you get a bad one – still, several tries are needed to get the best performance and while I needed less tries on the 920 the pictures on the 1020 are better. More reliable results would be nice, especially on the 1020 which is the camera phone, but all in all it’s ok. The low light pictures are much better than on the competitors and while the 920 takes the best low light pictures on a phone level (kind of the same level as cheaper compact cameras – sometimes but rare even on a level of mid-range compact cameras) the 1020 almost always takes pictures which are on a level of a camera between low- and mid-range and more often ones which are on a level of more expensive mid-range cameras.

When you compare the Lumia 1020 to a real camera the results in day light are like those taken with more expensive compact camera (rarely even on the level of very cheap SLRs) but the device is much handier. In low-light the camera doesn’t do that well anymore but it is still on a level of low- to mid-range cameras which means it still beats every other phones out there. The 920 doesn’t compare that well; there are phones which do a little better in daylight, which means the pictures are more on a level of cheaper compact cameras (but still one of the best taken with a normal camera smartphone) but in low light it is, together with the 925, the best normal phone. Normal phone because the 1020 rules them all. The 1020 is the best camera phone in all conditions. While I sometimes expected a little bit more overall I am definitely not disappointed. The camera of the 1020 is simply amazing and really innovative.

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