We’re in the middle of a proper review of Nokia’s new flagship smartphone, and the camera immediately stands apart from the rest of the smartphone landscape. The Lumia 1020’s Pureview sensor is a monster 41MP shooter which delivers incredibly crisp and detailed images.
Nokia touts the 1020’s low light sensitivity, so we decided to put those claims to the test during our review. Here’s one of our most extreme photo setups, an almost completely unlit indoor scene, no lights on, no flash. We’re pushing phone camera sensors to their max. Compared to the Galaxy S4, HTC One, and iPhone 5 will Nokia’s claims stand up? Scroll through to find out!
Screenshot of the indoor scene
To start, here’s what our test scene looks like to the naked eye. This is a screenshot of the Lumia 1020 camera app being used as a viewfinder. Nothing fancy, we’re indoors and looking at a bookcase, but it’s so dark we can barely make out detail with the naked eye.
For the following pictures, all of the cameras had their flashes off. There is NO flash used for any of the tests. We are also using stock camera apps with stock settings. No HDR was used, and no post processing to improve the scene. Lastly, to really strain the sensors, all pics were taken handheld so the phone has to contend with movement while trying to expose the pic.
We were brutal.
Click here for higher resolution screenshot.
Galaxy S4 in last place, no image stabilization
The GS4 camera is formidable in good light, but more megapixels can sometimes be a detriment in poor light. More pixels often means smaller pixels, and smaller pixels mean less light sensitivity per pixel. This is an over simplification of course, but you can see the practical output isn’t much better than our screenshot from the last list step.
Click here for higher resolution GS4 image sample.
iPhone 5 in third, also no OIS
The iPhone camera has subtly improved over the years, but the module in the iPhone 5 hasn’t particularly “wowed” us considering its competition. It’s a solid performer, and when fed good light it provides excellent output. It beats the Samsung in our extreme low light situation here, but not by much.
This scene is barely exposed, and is just begging for us to use the flash.
Click here for higher resolution iPhone 5 image sample.
Second place HTC One, OIS helps us see the scene
HTC took an extreme approach to the camera in the One. Fewer megapixels, but each pixel is much bigger to soak up more light, and when combined with image stabilization you have incredible low light performance.
In good light you’ll lose out on some detail compared to the iPhone and GS4, but indoors and at night you’ll often have usable output without having to throw the flash.
This is pushing HTC’s camera to its limits, and while we can see more of the bookshelf, details are a little smeared and the picture is a little noisy.
Click here for higher resolution HTC One image sample.
Nokia Lumia 1020 wins
This is simply incredible performance.
Nokia’s camera app outputs a detailed image with excellent exposure and good color. The 41MP sensor is able to down-sample the image to a 5MP output, which radically reduces noise in the scene. Nokia’s image stabilization is able to hold the shutter open long enough to soak up light, while compensating for my hand movements to reduce motion blur.
Click here for a higher resolution Lumia 1020 image sample.
This is a very welcome improvement to the Windows Phone ecosystem. We accept that real world performance might not completely resemble manufacturers claims, but the Lumia 1020 largely exceeded our expectations in this extreme test.
This was a situation which most people will never try to shoot a pic in without a flash: near total darkness.
We’ll have more samples and comparisons in our full review of the 1020, but as you might expect, it’s an incredible performer.