I admit, the headline is very provocative, and exaggerating. Nokia Lumia PureView smartphones take amazing pictures and especially their zooming capabilities are quite awesome. The same for their audio recording and video recording capabilities… But what is the point of all these cool features if you cannot use them all? Let me explain with this short article.
There are two camera applications: Nokia Camera and the one by Microsoft; and here is the first criticism. Some may have bought a smartphone like the Lumia 930 or 1520 because of their camera and all the camera functions, but these people do not know much about tech or smarthphones in general. They may know what features like “Dolby Digital” or “Lossless Zoom” mean, but that’s it. So having two camera applications is confusing. They turn on their new smartphone and see the camera app – and then they see the Nokia camera app. Both are great camera applications, but why are there two? On a Nokia Phone, Nokia camera should be the default camera app and “camera” should be disabled. Or: “Camera” should be the main camera app, and Nokia camera should be re-rebranded to Pro Cam so it becomes more clear what the app is for and whom it concerns: It is a camera app with professional features for more or less professional users.
However, unfortunately it is not that simple, because both camera apps have advantages the other one has not.
1st: Video Recording
Clear winner here is Nokia Camera. It supports zooming in while recording and high quality audio either with directional stereo or with Dolby Digital recording, both which the normal camera app does not support. Nothing more to say.
An important feature for new Nokia PureView phones is the lossless zoom. Ironically, the zoom is “more lossless” on the normal camera than on Nokia Camera, at least on my 1520:
Nokia Camera: When I zoom while taking a picture, I really cannot zoom in far. When I zoom in after I have taken the picture, it loses on resolution after a certain amount of zooming in, which is really disturbing when pictures are viewed on a big screen like a TV, because then they do not fill the full screen or get stretched (same for Full HD phones).
Normal Camera: With the normal camera I can only zoom in while taking the picture because there is no option to have a high resolution picture (19MPX for me). Still, I can zoom in while taking the picture as much as on Nokia Camera after taking it. And the irony goes even further: The zoomed in picture actually looks better, and it even has the full 5MPX resolution. Weird. I understand that the standard camera seems to scale up the picture after the lossless zoom (which it uses at first because otherwise the picture would not look that good) came to its limits, but it does a very good job doing this. There clearly is absolutely nothing of upscaling visible, and the picture will still fill the full screen on TVs.
The “zoom afterward” picture of the Nokia camera – good quality but cropped out, so with low resolution
The picture of the standard camera – zoomed in while taking the picture; with 5MPX resolution but more sharpness
Both pictures were taken from similar positions (when a butterfly is sitting on your finger you can’t get the position exactly the same after changing the camera app with one hand on a phablet) with automatic settings without flash
Of course there are some more points: Overall the Nokia camera app may be the better one because it has more features, but the normal camera app is WAY faster and shoots pictures a little bit clearer. So for the normal user the standard camera app may be better than the Nokia Camera app.
But it does not matter which one you use, you will not get the maximum of performance out of your camera on both. So this is where we are again when I explained what needs to be changed in the beginning of this article:
In my opinion, the standard camera needs to get support for all Lumia hardware capabilities (I am hoping for the final 8.1 firmware here; maybe one of our readers who has a 930 can tell) and Nokia Camera needs to become a clear pro camera app. Or Nokia disables the standard camera, and makes Nokia Camera at least as good for the normal user as the standard app, means with the same zoom capabilities (maybe optional) and the same performance. Because at the moment, the average user probably will use the standard camera, but then without all the features they paid for. Or if they actually use the Nokia Camera app, they will not be able to have a fast camera experience with real lossless zoom, again a feature they paid for.
I as a phone power user who does not know much about cameras do not really know which app I should use. The standard camera is faster and takes photos at least with the same quality as Nokia Camera (and if I have time for a photo and want to use all settings, I switch to Nokia camera of course), but if I want to record a video, the standard camera app will do a worse job. Then, switching between both in normal everyday situations is not what I want, and certainly not what a SMARTphone is meant for.