Clearly brilliant: Nokia’s Lumia 1020 reviewed

Speaking of the camera, though, let’s get stuck into that, because with credit to Nokia, the included 41 effective megapixel camera is one of the best the market has seen in the past year, and will likely still be one of the best for the next six to twelve months.

For those who have seen the number we just mentioned and blinked incredulously, we’re not kidding: Nokia has packed a 41 megapixel sensor in the Lumia 1020, a development that first arose when Nokia was developing phones without Windows Phone back in 2012. It doesn’t seem all that long ago (and it wasn’t), but back then, Nokia produced a limited release test product called the 808 PureView, a smartphone that featured a slightly different version of the 41 megapixel camera.

It might seem like a huge jump to go from 5 or 8 or even 13 megapixels in a smartphone to the whopping 41 Nokia planned to use, but the Finnish phone maker had a reason: zoom.

Traditional smartphones rely on digital zoom to get you up close and personal with your subject, blowing up the image unnecessarily and artificially, which can result in pixelated imagery that not everyone is a fan out. Outside of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, pretty much every phone relies on digital zoom, meaning you’re always shooting from afar, partly because throwing in actual optical zoom would means thicker phone cameras, a fact that is noticeable once you play with Samsung’s S4 Zoom.

Nokia’s idea, however, still uses digital zoom, but considers it in a much more useful light.

Imagine being able to zoom on a bigger sensor and take 5 megapixel images up close, essentially cropping the bigger image to match the frame you’re shooting for. Rather than blowing up the pixels artificially, all you’re doing is zooming in on what you actually want to photograph.

It’s an intelligent solution to a problem that affects any smartphone camera photographer who wants to get up closer, and it’s one that requires a big sensor to work, which is why Nokia developed the PureView 808 to test it with.

In that phone, the camera extruded a lot more than it does now, and although Nokia has made some improvements to the sensor and camera since then, Nokia’s 41 megapixel PureView camera on the Lumia 1020 still comes out of the phone enough for you to notice.

Unlike other smartphones, the camera isn’t flush with the back of the handset, with a raised circle on the back, set in black to differentiate it from the rest of the chassis. This is where most of the technology for the camera is, with two types of flash — LED and Xenon — sitting atop the goods, and with a much larger lens than you normally find on smartphones.

You also get two camera apps for the purpose, with a basic camera app called the “Smart Cam,”, and a more “professional” level camera app that lets you chance ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, which is especially useful if you know what you’re doing, or want to play around a bit.

Playing with the Nokia Camera app at a Muse concert. Because we can.

This app, the “Nokia Camera” is the one we spent the most time with, as it allows you to be more playful with your phone photography. With control of aperture and shutter speed, the phone camera becomes more like a semi-versatile compact, and while optical zoom isn’t here, the Lumia 1020 will crop down as you zoom, providing you with a 5 megapixel image of what you framed.

You also will have a 34 to 38 megapixel image too, depending on if you chose the 4:3 or 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, and this is basically the full-size image waiting for you to do things with later, which is usually three to four times the size on the phone’s storage.

Even if you don’t zoom or crop, the Lumia software spits out a 5 megapixel version for you to do things with, because obviously uploading a 34 or 38 megapixel image wouldn’t just take a long time, but eat into whatever data allowance you have.

In daylight, the phone camera performs very well, boasting some very sharp images with lovely realistic colours. You’re not likely to see perfectly crystal clear sharp images against what you might find on an interchangeable camera, but against other phones, it’s a solid performer.

Equally impressive is how the Lumia 1020 handles in low-light, and our blacks didn’t look overly noisy, even if the camera had to jack up the sensitivity to compensate for the darker environments.

One downside to the camera is the macro support, or lack of it.

While the camera is superb in so many ways, it’s useless at getting up close and personal without the zoom, which is totally ironic, and yet a frustrating issue if you like taking pictures of anything up close.

We suppose the camera can’t be perfect, but it would have been nice to see some better macro support here.

It would also have been great for the professional camera app to save your settings as you jump from the app to something else, which it doesn’t seem to do.

Imagine taking a great shot with specific manual settings and wanting to tweet it or share it on Facebook immediately. Once you’ve done this and jump back in the app, it forgets your settings, forcing you to recall them and set them up again. It’s a bug that Nokia really could do with fixing, as it would make it less of a chore in the end.

While the macro is weak on the Nokia Lumia 1020, the camera can handle itself pretty well in other conditions (100 percent crop).

One last thing that would have been nice to see is expandable memory.

We know that Nokia hasn’t been tremendous fans of upgradeable memory, but when you’re dealing with a camera that shoots both a 5 megapixel and a 38 megapixel image at once, and you only have 32GB of storage to share between music, apps, games, and the photos and videos you’re capturing, you’ll likely find that the storage goes out the windows very, very quickly.


Without a doubt, the Lumia 1020 is Nokia’s best phone yet, delivering some of that excellent Lumia 925 performance in a body that is even more comfortable, and with a camera that hands down is one of the best in the business.

It’s hard to say just how excellent this camera is, and while its macro abilities are practically nil, it handles low-light well, and proceeds with one of the more creative ways to get around the problem of zoom in a camera without involving thick lens mechanics.

That’s one thing the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom taught us, because while it was a decent phone camera, it was also a very thick one, and was like carrying two or three phones at once. On the other side, Nokia’s decision to crop a 41 megapixel image down to 5 megapixel images is totally logical, and is one of those ideas you just have to give the company credit for.

It helps that Windows Phone is now at the point where it has enough apps that most people want — hooray, Instagram is a part of that too — and this helps to make the Lumia 1020 a standout device.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a smartphone that can replace most of the things you use a compact camera for, this is a handset you have to check out.

Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Great design and matt finish makes it feel excellent in the hands; Decent battery life; Solid phone and mobile broadband performance; One of the best smartphone cameras ever created; Manual control in a phone camera = awesome;
No expandable storage; Macro support on the camera is practically non-existent;