Nokia Lumia 1020: We test the new camera in New York, is it really that good?

When someone hands you a smartphone packing a 41-megapixel-camera sensor, you take it out for a spin. So that's exactly what we did. We went to Central Park, Times Square, Midtown, Rockefeller Center ... even the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, and we snapped all the while just to see how the Nokia Lumia 1020 handled the fast pace, bright lights and dark streets of Manhattan. 

Five hours later, after going from a sunny afternoon to a warm, starless night - we have had a chance to look at what we captured and quickly jot down some first impressions on the results and usage of the camera sensor. Yes, just the sensor. A full review of the smartphone's software and hardware will come later this week.

That said, here's the first bit worth mentioning: colours appear realistic. There are no coloration tricks or saturation bumps in "normal" lighting conditions - just simple and pragmatic hues, shades, tints and tones.

We could adjust white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation, but none of these manual settings affected colours. Avid photography pros will likely love this aspect, but we can't help but wonder if amateurs would just rather have the camera serve up doctored - we mean, optimised - photos. 

The next big thing worth discussing is our hatred of the 1020's panorama feature. It took 20 minutes to figure it out and then about 30 test shots before we finally stitched together a decent-looking panorama. It's a super complicated and finicky feature, and no amount of practice can help users to master it better. The end.

Next...low-light shooting. Where to begin? We had all the settings available to capture great-looking photos at night, but they still appeared a bit grainy. Yes, we turned up ISO and other options to get a bright enough shot. And, yes, we know this caused some of the noise. But the smartphone's auto-mode didn't do so well either. The pictures turned out decent - but they aren't exactly Canon 7D quality. That's not good for a sensor aiming for DSLR standards. 

Speaking of DSLRs, we've thought a lot about how the 1020 compares. The fanboys of Canon, Nikon, etc, will certainly love all the manual settings that work with fancy touch gestures, but what about the users without a clue about what shutter speed affects? Sure, they can ignore the Nokia Pro Camera app and simply choose the 1020's basic camera app or even use the Nokia Smart app for grabbing the "best" image - but then what's the point in getting the 1020? Isn't it so that mobile users will have a DSLR/phone combo in their pocket?

Also, for true photography fanatics, will they really leave their favourite DSLR at home and grab the 1020 instead? One photographer we asked scoffed at this idea. But he thought the 1020 was super cool and even captured the one good panorama we have (as seen above). It took him just as long to figure out the feature, though. 

Still, the camera took huge, high-resolution photos. That's where the 1020 really shines. Our MacBook Pro took way too long to open about 30 pictures after syncing with the Windows Phone app for Mac. That's how huge and graphics power needy they are. Impressive.

You know what's also impressive? Shutter speed. It works. Plain and simple. Kick it up to snap, let's say, runners without any blur, or turn it down if you like that sort of thing. Whatever your photog-heart desires, the 1020 offers a suite of customisation options. 

So our conclusion is that the 1020 certainly packs a punch and delivers mammoth pictures. You can zoom in forever and get no pixelation. 

But daytime and overcast photos are going to need some tender loving care from Photoshop to look like they have a little pizzazz (like more vivid colours and saturation). Photos will also need some brightening if you chose to keep the sensor's ISO low to get grainless - yet pitch-black - photos at night. As for the panorama feature, just forget it. Unless you want to hurl your new 1020 across the room after 5 minutes of use.

Stay tuned for Pocket-lint's full review of the Nokia Lumia 1020 coming later this week. In the mean time, check out the gallery below for a closer look at what the 1020's sensor has to offer.



>