Nokia Lumia 1020: The one smartphone camera to rule them all

Credit: Raymond Wong/DVICE

Nokia's obsession with cramming the finest imaging optics into its smartphones continues. Although last year's Lumia 920 came with an excellent "PureView" camera, it was not the whopping 41-megapixel sensor that Nokia boasted about on the 808 PureView feature phone. Is Nokia's new Windows 8-powered Lumia 1020 and its beefy camera just a bunch of fluff or will it change mobile photography?

"The back is the new front"

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop took to the stage in New York City to proclaim "the back is the new front." Whereas most companies like to brag about how fast their smartphone's processor is, how much RAM a device has or even how long the battery is, Nokia did no such thing at its Lumia 1020 unveil event. Instead, Nokia focused entirely on the Lumia 1020's camera capabilities. To cut to the point, the Lumia 1020 is a Lumia 920 with a greatly improved camera — a six-lens 41-megapixel PureView camera paired with a Xenon flash.

As we explained last year, the 41-megapixel camera sensor isn't merely for taking high-resolution photos. The Lumia 1020 takes two pictures, one at 38-megapixel resolution and turns it into a 5-megapixel image that's "oversampled." What does that mean? Well, basically by oversampling, images will retain extreme sharpness and clarity, even when zoomed in and cropped. 

But the advanced camera isn't only for still-images. Nokia's managed to push the sensor to its limits so that 1080p HD recorded video is just as sharp. Nokia showed a demo of bees on a hive and even when zoomed in, the bee's fuzziness remained visible and crisp.

That all sounds like some serious camera tech on paper and in controlled demos, but how does the Lumia 1020 perform in person? In my brief hands-on, I found the shutter to be a little on the slow side, even with the additional Nokia Camera Grip that adds a physical shutter button. I was told by Nokia reps that the software may be tweaked before the Lumia 1020's release, but there's also the same chance it won't. The Xenon flash performs as you'd expect, much better than an LED flash and captures images in the dark very well.

Sluggish software aside, I'm digging the fantastic built-in optical image stabilization, long exposure settings, real-time onscreen exposure changes and manual focusing (yes, manual focusing, which is done on the touchscreen). I also appreciated the super wide-angle lens also helps to capture more in a photo.

Launch and Pricing

As I said before, the Lumia 1020's specs aren't really new. Like the Lumia 920, it still runs Windows Phone 8 and has 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 4.5-inch (1280 x 768 resolution) display, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, 2000mAh battery and a 1.2-megapixel wide-angle front camera. Those specs aren't poor by any means, but surely Nokia could have upgraded them all to turbo-charge the 41-megapixel camera, so that visual lag is not visible.

The Lumia 1020 is definitely more camera than it is smartphone. As many of other tech reporters pointed out, Windows Phone 8 feels tacked onto it. Microsoft has said it had to optimize WP8 to meet Nokia's demanding camera optics. Either way, the trend of smartphones with crazy beefy cameras is becoming a thing, as evidenced by Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom.

Nokia also showed off two cool accessories: a wireless charging cover that snaps right on and a Camera Grip clips on the Lumia 1020 as well. The latter adds a physical shutter button, a standard tripod mount and also contains a 1000mAh battery to give the Lumia 1020 a power boost.

The Lumia 1020 launches in the U.S. on AT&T on July 26 for $299.99 with a two-year contract. Pre-orders will start on July 16. And it'll come in three colors: yellow, black and white. (Sorry cyan fans!) If you're a Windows Phone 8 user looking for an upgrade or have been waiting for a compelling smartphone to jump onboard that platform, look no further than the Lumia 1020. Sadly, Instagram is still nowhere to be found on Windows Phone 8. You can however use a Hipstamatic photo app, edit your photos, then export for publishing to Instagram, according to Elop. 

(All images by Raymond Wong for DVICE.)

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