Nokia have officially brought the Nokia 1020 to the Philippines and they held a press conference yesterday at the Ayala Museum. Now, If you’ve read my Windows Phone 8 review and my Nokia 620 review, you’d know that my reception of the platform is lukewarm at best, though I gave high praises to the hardware. Nokia are pushing this phone as the Final Word on camera phones.
As a photographer (at least at heart if not by skill), I usually place low esteem on cameras on phones, usually thinking of them as no better than mid-range point-and-shoots, what with their small sensors, crappy lenses, and abysmal low-light performance. Were they able to convert a non-believer like me?
The first thing i noticed is their statement in their registration booth touting that the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the first smartphone to “put the camera first”. My first instinct was “Weeeeh, e ano yung Galaxy S4 Zoom?” We’ll revisit this later. Once inside, we were given enough time to partake in some hors d’oeuvres and wine/iced tea. But, of course, the life of the party is already there. Actually, there are four units on display, along with two of their accessories.
We weren’t allowed to hold the Nokia Lumia 1020 yet, but the models were allowed to show us pretty much how the phone works, especially how the accessories work in conjunction with the phone. The external casing is especially nice, and it kinda harkens to the battery grips of DSLRs plus one better: you get an external battery, a grip with an extra mechanical shutter button (though that’s the only control you get), and it adds protection to your phone.
One caveat immediately manifested itself: the tripod screw is located at the right side of the grip (when you’re facing it). The model had a hard time keeping the unit upright when on the Gorilla-like tripod since the center of gravity is way off. In the end, she just opted to hold the tripod+unit while we took pictures of it. One way to alleviate this is to opt for better tripods, like the aforementioned Gorilla Tripods.
There was also a gallery there by four distinguished local photographers who used the phone for a month as a replacement for their professional gear. From there, I immediately saw the reason why they say that this is the first one to make the camera aspect a priority. I ate my words earlier and agreed. Honestly. The S4 Zoom has nothing on this baby! (Disclaimer: again, this is just my personal opinion and purely based on the image quality I’ve seen on the gallery). To be honest, I was blown away by the gallery. I’ve never seen this quality in smartphone cameras. EVER.
What really did it for me are these pictures:
They were placed side-by-side. The one on the right is a crop of the one on the left (well, “crop” is a really inaccurate description, I’ll explain why later, but right now, let’s go with “crop”). I was blown away by this because the picture on the right isn’t pixelated or anything. Try cropping an image, there will be a loss in quality, not to mention sharpness and detail. This one doesn’t seem to suffer from this. So THIS is the power of 41MPs, I thought. From then on, I couldn’t wait to try it out myself!
After an hour or so, the press proper had begun. It was hosted by David Celdran, who gave a good introduction. Actually, all the intros leading up to the phone’s unveiling had been pretty good. There was even a sort of Throwback Thursday presentation, with them showing how Nokia are committed to the camera aspect of the phones (they’re the first to actually embed a camera on the phone, the Nokia 7650, anyone still remember that phone?).
And finally! They’ve begun talking about the phone! And here’s the meat of this article as well, here’s what we know so far:
Nokia Lumia 1020 Specs
- Main camera sensor: 41 MP, PureView with OIS
- Flash type: Xenon flash
- Display size: 768 x 1280 pixels, 4.5 inches (~332 ppi pixel density)
- Touch screen technology: Super sensitive touch
- Processor name: Qualcomm Snapdragon™ S4
- Wireless charging: Yes, with accessory cover
- Display Type: AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
- Protection: Corning Gorilla Glass 3
- PureMotion HD+ ClearBlack display
- RAM: 2GB
- Internal: 32GB, non-expandable
- Battery: 2000mAh, non-removable
- Maximum talk time (3G): 13.3h
The heart of this Nokia Lumia 1020 is the 41-megapixel sensor. Yes, it’s not the first one to use that, as that distinction goes to Nokia’s own PureView 808 (it’s funny that they don’t consider the Symbian OS as a smartphone platform, or at least not anymore since they say that the 1020 is the first smarthone to put the camera as first priority). However, the one on the 1020 is the second generation of the sensor, adding optical image stabilization.
The problem they had with the original PureView was that the sensor was so massive that they couldn’t use conventional OIS (which uses springs for the gyros) for image stabilization. They got around this by using ball bearings instead. The downside to this is that you would hear a rattling sound when you shake the phone or something. If uninformed, you’d think that there’s something loose or broken in the unit. Don’t be alarmed, it’s just the ball bearings :) The sensor is also backlit-illuminated, making it more sensitive to light.
If you’re unfamiliar with PureView tech, let’s put it this way. Think of that 41MP as a sheet of paper. Cut it up into 7 equal parts (well, one part has 6 pixels) and stack them together. In effect, you get a 5.xMP picture with pixel density equivalent of a 41MP sensor. That does wonders, actually, and I wonder why dedicated cameras don’t employ a similar technology. Remember the “cropped” picture up there? That’s the power of PureView!
Aside from the sensor, the lens has to be good or the pictures would be worth squat. Thankfully, Nokia didn’t skimp on it, as the Nokia Lumia 1020 sports a glass lens: a high resolution f/2.2 all-aspherical 1-group Carl Zeiss lens, to be exact. Having a high aperture means that you can do some really cool bokeh stuff, at the same time making it a boon to use in low light conditions.
Other nifty tidbits:
- It uses a mechanical shutter, making it absolutely good for manual controls
- It has two kinds of flash: a xenon flash (great for strobing), and a LED flash (for continuous light, a boon for video capture as well)
The last component is the software that’s running everything. The phone comes with the new Nokia Pro Camera app that lets you utilize, and I can say that they have a great software to run the camera! The loss of manual buttons means that you’re at the mercy of touchscreen controls. And traditionally, they SUCK. Nay, they suck HARD! Nokia’s Pro Camera app is different, though. It’s actually quite intuitive to use. It’s also very powerful. For one, it gives you the option to manually: set exposure compensation, aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting, white balance setting, and it even lets you focus MANUALLY, all in a very intuitive, idiot-proof package.
Next up is post process. Remember when I told you that “cropping” is an inaccurate term? Well, it’s because it really is not cropping. Nokia terms is as “refocusing”, which is also a highly inaccurate term for what it really does. When JM and I first heard it, we actually thought that the phone has Lytro technology built-in. The actual term for it is supposed to be “re-composing”, because that’s what you do. so, this is what happens:
[two_fifth]When you take a picture, the phone saves the 41MP image in its entirety. However, what it shows you in the gallery is a 5MP “thumbnail”.[/two_fifth]
When you take a picture, the phone saves the 41MP image in its entirety. However, what it shows you in the gallery is a 5MP “thumbnail”. From Nokia’s Gallery app, you can “resize” the picture (i.e. pinch zoom in our out) to fit into that 5MP “window”, thus changing your composition. That’s where the stacked MPs really come into play. Each pixel in that 5MP “window” is the equivalent of 7 pixels stacked together (sort of like a bastardized pixel density). This means that even by “resizing” or “cropping” the picture, quality and detail (such as sharpness, etc) are maintained. So, once you’re done “re-composing”, that composition becomes the new “thumbnail”. When you upload or share the image via NFC, BlueTooth, etc., what you actually share is that 5MP thumbnail. I found this out when I BT’d the pictures I took using the phone and only got those 5MP pictures, which is a crying shame.
Such pixel density at such a small sensor would mean that ISO performance would be bad, giving grainy images at such a low ISO setting. However, I didn’t see it as such when I tested out the unit, and on the samples in the gallery. That means that they must be using really good noise reduction algorithms!
As for the pictures, they are stored in JPG, and unfortunately do not support saving in RAW. Though I do understand why (think, a 41MP RAW image would be 60-90MB in size, basing it on the 36MP D800), it would have been nice if users are given that option.
Of course, not everything is a wonderland, and I found a few potential deal-breakers. First: lack of external storage support! This, IMHO, is a big concern, and is a head-scratcher on why they decided to do this. Remember, the camera stores the 41MP JPG image. I’m not sure if it also stores the 5MP thumbnail as well, or if it’s created on the fly, so for this article’s sake, I’ll assume the latter for the moment. A 41-megapixel image would be dancing somewhere between 19-30MB each. Add anywhere between 2-3MB if the thumbnail is indeed stored. That’s a lot of MB, and if you plan to go on a shooting spree (such as a photowalk, for example), and that internal storage will be gobbled up faster than you can say superfunkycalifragisexy. I really, REALLY cannot fathom why they decided to do this.
They can’t say that WP8 doesn’t support microSD cards (because even the lowly Lumia 620 does), so leaving out this feature will really affect the phone’s intended purpose. It would’ve been easier to swallow if WP8 supports USB On The Go, but since Microsoft is being a jack@$$ about not supporting it (they refuse to provide file managers for the platform), then diminishing storage space would indeed be a problem. Also, since you can’t BT/NFC/WiFi/upload the 41MP image, the only way to get it is to connect the phone to the desktop/laptop and transfer your pictures there. A higher internal memory would be nice, but the 64GB version is exclusive to a telco outside the country :( Crap :(
The decision to go for non-replaceable batteries hurt this, too. Remember, this is more than just a camera. It has phone features, too, so that’ll still take pot shots at your battery life while you’re using the phone to take great pictures.
The other potential deal-breaker is the price: its SRP is 35,650 smackers, although it does come with a free battery grip which is valued at 4k. Even still, that a high price, although you do get a smartphone with the BEST camera to grace any smartphones, bar none. What’s rather unfortunate is that at the moment, no local telcos are carrying this phone, although Nokia said that they’re working with the telcos as of this moment.
Overall, my impression on Nokia Lumia 1020:
Pros: Absolutely GREAT camera, both hardware-wise and software-wise. Nothing in the smartphone arena beats it. It’s waaaaay above the competition. Greatly improved screen compared to the former flagship, the Lumia 920. Nokia HERE, ’nuff said. Great battery grip accessory.
Cons of Nokia Lumia 1020: non-expandable storage. non-replaceable battery. high price.
The first two caveats I have really hurt their moniker of putting the camera first. There’s a reason why cameras don’t come with non-expandable storage and non-removable battery. And although this is a smartphone, it’s easy to lose that thinking once you’re using this as a camera. Yes, it’s that good, and I promise you, you’ll be tempted to use it as such. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t replace your high-end gear anytime soon. Heck, my m43 cmaera’s IQ is still way better, especially when comparing the 5PM thumbnail to what I get with my E-M5. Even the four pro photographers who displayed their pictures in the gallery told us as such. BUT it is a good complement to your existing gear.
You can’t bring your DSLR anywhere, and I can honestly say that the same is true even with the mirrorless cameras. But you can bring your smartphone anywhere. there’s a saying in the photography world: The best camera for any given situation is the one that you’re currently carrying. Nokia could’ve hit a definitive home run if it didn’t falter in a couple of questionable design choices.
Then again, I’m just basing it on the (severely) limited time I had with the phone. We’re really hoping to get a review unit soon. Can’t wait to test it out on a serious street/food photography stint. Who know, maybe the first two caveats I have don’t turn out to be such a big issue after all. As for the first question I had at the start of this article, well, I’ve NEVER salivated this much on a Windows Phone! And I’m still wiping off a few saliva while typing this. Go figure!