Nokia Lumia 925 low light camera hands-on and first impressions

The Nokia Lumia 925 is the latest Windows Phone hero handset. Sporting a slick design, Nokia is looking to address the criticisms that were levelled at the Nokia Lumia 920. We've got our hands on the final retail version of the Lumia 925 and we're getting stuck into producing a full review, but first we thought we'd have some fun with the camera and bring you some first impressions.

Nokia is really pushing the camera on the 925, running with the tagline "More than your eyes can see" on its advertising. We joined Nokia for a private preview of Limbo, the extreme circus act showing at London Wonderground on South Bank, for a quick test of the PureView camera.

As a quick recap, the Lumia 925 has an 8.7-megapixel rear camera with LED flash. There are six elements in the Carl Zeiss Tessar lens, designed to make it sharper, along with an f/2.0 aperture.

Nokia is claiming it's the best smartphone for low-light photos and the light was certainly low under the big top. The first thing to note is that the dual-LED flash is very bright, but also that the Lumia 925 will use the LED as an illuminator to assist focusing.

That's also pretty bright, so bright that if you're taking pictures of people, they'll almost certainly be dazzled by the LEDs. But it can be switched off if you're in an area that doesn't like you using bright lights, like an aquarium, for example. That will make focusing slower and less reliable of course.

Focusing is generally fairly speedy, although this drops off over distance in low light, as the phone struggles to find a focal point. That's common to autofocus cameras across the board so to be expected here. Add a little direct light, such as that on the torso of Danik Abishev as he performed his acrobatic moves over his poles on his hands, and focusing is pretty reliable in low light.

The shot here is ISO 800, 1/11 sec, which is a little on the slow side for shooting unsupported as we were, which will account for some of the softness. The combination of lights and smoke makes this tricky. There's plenty of noise although it isn't hugely detrimental: the scene is captured and it hasn't lost the ambience of the occasion.

Vs the HTC One

While under the big top, we also took some shots using the HTC One that we also had with us. Like Nokia, HTC is pushing the UltraPixel camera as a leading feature, again claiming great low-light performance. Comparing these two shots, both perform well, but use the same mechanisms for capture: here the HTC One opted for ISO 500 and 1/14 sec. Minor differences in settings, but the HTC One might just be sharper as a result, but note that these pictures weren't taken at exactly the same moment.

READ: HTC One camera review

The HTC One (below, legs open) has given bluer results, while the Nokia Lumia 925 (above, legs closed) has more of a pink hue. That's true of all the shots we took with these phones while in the big top.

Low-light video

We also captured some 1080p video of Danik in action, he's a pretty talented guy. That low-light video is looking pretty noisy too, but we're impressed with the quality of the audio capture.

Nokia Smart Camera

One of the big new features of the Nokia Lumia 925 is the debut of Nokia Smart Camera. This combines a range of features formerly found under lenses, meaning you can capture a sequence of shots, select the best, create interesting effects, remove unwanted objects and so on.

The first problem we encountered with Nokia Smart Camera is that you can spend a lot of time switching from normal camera to Smart Cam. You have to tap the lenses button, select the mode you're after, then the camera reopens within the mode you've selected. So switching from Smart Cam to normal shooting feels long-winded. You can set Smart Cam to be the default shooting mode, but you're faced to the same problem: you'll launch in Smart Cam, then have to switch back to normal if that's what you're after.

The second thing that we noted about Smart Cam is that once it has captured the sequence of shots, it then flicks through them, as if to prove that they've been captured. Again, it feels long-winded, like it's wasting your time, because the images are actually already captured by the time it's showing them back to you.

When Smart Cam runs off a burst of shots you can access the individual images. We've pulled one out, shown below, so you can see how Smart Cam performs in the same low-light situation. It's immediately obvious that there's a drop in quality on this image. It's shot at a slightly lower resolution, but to enable "burst" capture, the Lumia 925 has to pump the ISO to 3200 to let it capture at 1/67 sec, hence the extreme noise that it shows.

We're going to continue to test the camera, as well as the rest of the phone's features, as we work towards a full review. There are some impressive features in the camera of the Lumia 925 and we're going to test other low-light situations to see how it performs. We'll reserve final judgement until we've had a little longer to play with it.

If you're interested in seeing the show yourself, Limbo is a co-production between Strut & Fret Productions, Underbelly Productions and the Southbank Centre. It headlines the London Wonderground festival on the South Bank until 29 September. Tickets start at £10 and it's well worth a look.



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