Welcome to Part 1 of the Smartphone Camera Showdown, where I’m testing out the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom: the two top cameras on the smartphone market. They were lent to me by AT&T, after I expressed a desire to do away with my camera entirely, in favour of a smartphone that can carry its weight as a semi-professional camera.
In this episode of the Smartphone Camera Showdown, I am reviewing the Nokia Lumia 1020; evaluating both its camera capabilities, as well as its usability as a smartphone, and ability to sync with my Macbook Air laptop – which is renowned for not always playing nicely with non-Apple devices.
Reason for the Smartphone Camera Showdown
Over the years, I’ve gotten sick of lugging my “real” camera around. It’s also old, and due for a replacement. Although the Canon G9 has been very kind to me and is ultimately quite small for what it can do, I’m apathetic about keeping it in my purse, and increasingly less willing to whip it out to catch that “kodak moment”.
Instead, I’ve turned to my smartphone – currently an iPhone 4S with a thoroughly mediocre camera. People are more willing to be themselves in posing for a smartphone, and it’s so much easier to carry around.
This became apparent to me in Panama, where I captured many personalities with ease and comfort using only the iPhone.
Smartphone Cameras Are Getting Better
Although there’s no love lost for me on the iPhone 4S camera, smartphone cameras are getting better and better. The two market leaders at the moment are the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. Although some people may argue that the iPhone 5S is comparable, from what research I’ve done it’s still not quite in the same ballpark as these other two.
On with the show….
Nokia Lumia 1020 Basics
The Nokia Lumia 1020 was the first smartphone camera to catch my eye and help me realize I just might be able to make the transition to having only a smartphone as my camera.
It has a 41 megapixel camera (that’s right, kids – 41MP!), and a variety of options that allow me to make all the adjustments to exposure, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and more that my Canon G9 was capable of. I’ve also owned Nokia phones in the past (before smartphones existed), and enjoyed them.
Initial Impressions and Usability
Going from the iPhone to the Nokia Lumia 1020, the first thing I noticed was how big the screen is.
It’s also a wee bit thinner than the iPhone. Initially this made it feel a bit flimsy and lightweight in the hand, which made me question its durability. I think a lot of it boils down to both the user and the choice of protective case.
I didn’t initially like the location of the power button on the right-hand side of the phone – right in the middle where I wanted to hold the phone with my hand, which meant I accidentally pressed it a lot.
Lastly, I’m never sure how to rest the phone – on the slightly raised camera at the back, or on the screen. Again, this can be solved with the right choice of protective case.
As I used the phone over time, I became accustomed to the the feel of the phone and location of the buttons – as you do.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 uses a Windows 8 operating system, which aesthetically is quite enjoyable to use, with nice big tiles and various customization features that I appreciate.
But Windows phones (in comparison to both Androids and iPhones) offer the fewest apps. Browsing the app store feels like I’m shopping for hacked no-name apps. It doesn’t seem to play well with Google, and I’ve had trouble finding good substitutes to some of my all-time favourite apps. I hope that over time this will be rectified, but it requires a few compromises right off the hop.
Usability with Mac
Windows and Apples don’t play well together, and this phone is no exception. But thankfully, I also discovered it’s not impossible.
Quick Time (*.mov) movie files won’t sync, so unless you convert them on the Mac to another format, you won’t be able to store or watch them on the phone.
The biggest challenge is syncing Contacts and Calendars. In order to sync these from Mac to Nokia, you need to use Outlook or Google, or have them stored somewhere in the cloud. You can also use this hack to get your contacts and calendars on to the Nokia, but it doesn’t impress me as a smooth syncing system back and forth.
Nokia Lumia 1020 Camera
Despite the syncing challenges and app availability (or lack thereof), as soon as I opened up the Nokia camera, I was in love. Even when the phone is locked, pressing and holding the camera shutter button immediately unlocks it to get that photo on the fly, and with the gorgeous colourful wide-angle shots, it’s hard to go wrong.
This became apparent to me when the week before getting the Nokia, I tried (unsuccessfully) to get decent shots with my iPhone, and the week after I pointed the Nokia at the same things and the shots came out beautifully.
Picture Quality and Options
You can shoot/save in a few modes: if you go for the high-res shots, the Nokia will use its mighty 41 megapixels to take an awesome shot that is about 10MB in size. It will also save a smaller file around 2MB in size (intended for easy internet sharing). On the computer, I can’t really tell the difference between the two, but the 10MB file makes for better post-processing when you stand to lose file size in re-saving edited shots.
The Smart Sequence feature is fun, taking five pictures in quick succession, then allowing you to choose/save/edit a variety of options from these pictures, including the best shot, action shot (showing the subject’s movement), motion focus (highlighting your moving subject and blurring the background), change faces (to get the best facial expressions of each person in a group shot), and remove moving objects (which I didn’t believe was possible until I tried it).
Although I don’t tend to think much of editing photos on a smartphone, I immediately loved the on-board Creative Studio. It has great filters and effects for focus change, tilt shift, colour pop, creating collages, and more. And these aren’t just kitschy features; check out these three shots to see what sort of editing is possible with a wee bit of manipulation and imagination:
Outside of the Creative Studio application, you can also crop and rotate shots on the phone (and make some minor colour adjustments) but this is better done even with the most basic photo software on your computer, and the file size and quality is better preserved.
For example, a high-res photo on taken on the Nokia is approximately 10MB. If you crop the shot on the Nokia, the resulting size is about 1MB. If instead, you crop it on your computer, the resulting size is a much more reasonable 5MB.
The Bad News
The biggest problem with the Nokia Lumia 1020 camera is its complete inability to take macro shots. Manual focus doesn’t work up close (although it should), which leaves you with no option but to hold the camera farther back and use digital zoom or cropping, which isn’t ideal and requires very good light.
I read about one fellow who tapes a macro lens to his Nokia, but that’s far from ideal.
Technically this camera should be capable of taking macro shots, so I believe it’s a software issue, and I pray that they’ll send through an update that fixes this. This has been a big complaint of Nokia users ever since the phone came out.
Next, it’s tough to hold such a lightweight and thin camera steady. It also doesn’t balance itself (unless you use props to hold it up), so timed shots and those requiring a really steady hand (such as low light or bracketing shots for HDR editing) are difficult. And of course, there’s no way to attach a tripod. All these problems are solved, however, with the special Nokia Camera Grip accessory.
Lastly – and this is a problem with many if not most smartphone cameras – you need to pay attention to wiping off the lens before you take shots, since holding the Nokia as a phone often means your grubby hands are marking the lens. I have, however, seen a few cases for the Nokia that have lens covers which would solve this problem.
I loved using the Nokia Lumia 1020. Although I don’t necessarily feel like a pro photographer (not that I am one anyway) snapping shots with a smartphone instead of a “real” camera, I can’t deny the fact that I love the end result; everything pops with colour, the Creative Studio is awesome for creative advanced editing techniques made easy, and it generally exceeds what I was able to do with my Canon G9.
And oh yeah – it’s a pretty good smartphone too. I just hope Windows 8 starts carrying some better apps.
For such a small package, the Nokia Lumia 1020 packs a punch.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the Smartphone Camera Showdown, where I review the comparable Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom!