Nokia hopes to leave other smartphone cameras in the dust with the Lumia 1020, a $299 Windows Phone 8 device for AT&T that boasts a jaw-dropping 41-megapixel sensor. For those scoring at home, that’s an amazing amount of detail that trumps many dedicated DSLRs. But just how good are those images?
We pitted the Lumia 1020′s camera against three other flagship devices: the HTC One, the Apple iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S4. Although the 1020 offers all sorts of manual settings, we left each phone on its default auto mode to determine which device captures the most accurate images.
One of our first observations about the Lumia 1020 pertains to the megapixels. Although the phone has a 41-MP sensor, you’ll find settings to shoot in 5MP, 34MP + 5MP and 38MP + 5MP. Choosing one of the high-res options results in the camera snapping shots in high-res (7712 x 4352) and low-res (3072 x 1728) simultaneously.
MORE: Best Smartphones 2013
Another thing that makes the Lumia 1020′s images stand out from the rest of the competition is their sheer size. The Lumia’s photos were about a third larger than what the other phones captured. This allowed us to zoom in well past 200 percent without a hint of pixelation. Most of the competition taps out at 100 percent.
We took our five devices to the roof of the Laptopmag.com offices on a relatively sunny day to snag a few shots of our colleagues, Lisa and Marchus. We took each photo in the same location at the same time to keep things consistent. Overall, most of the images came out darker than we would have liked, because the cameras attempted to adjust for the bright blue sky.
Nokia Lumia 1020 (high-res): What a difference 38 megapixels make. Lisa’s beauty mark was clearly visible as was her dimple. The details of the brick building behind her were nice and sharp. However, details on the building in the left corner were softer than we would have liked.
Samsung Galaxy S4: The Samsung Galaxy S4 delivered better results than the iPhone and HTC One in terms of exposure and color. Even though details on the background building facades were somewhat soft, we could easily make out Marcus’ spiky haircut.
HTC One: The HTC One’s image had a noticeable white haze, which obscured the lace details in Lisa’s shirt. The colors in Marcus’ shirt and Lisa’s auburn hair were faded and the sky looked blown out.
iPhone 5: The iPhone 5 didn’t do well with this shot. Details were fuzzy and colors looked washed out.
Winner: Nokia Lumia 1020 (high-res)
The Lumia 1020 is big on detail and color accuracy. However like the other camera’s it can fall prey to darker images from making inadequate adjustments in daytime shots.
Next, we took the phones to Madison Square Park to capture images of some of the large colorful yarn artwork. We took close-up shots of the art to see which device would deliver the most color and detail.
iPhone 5: Apple’s device staged a major comeback in this round, giving us a warm rich yellow and incredibly sharp detail. The sharpness held even as we zoomed in, showing off the individual strands of material.
Samsung Galaxy S4: Details from the S4 were a close second to the iPhone 5, with some slight blurring when using zoom. The phone was able to faithfully capture the yellow of the yarn structure.
Nokia Lumia 1020: The Lumia 1020 delivered outstanding detail well past 100 percent zoom. However, the phone failed to maintain color accuracy for an image that looked more green than yellow.
HTC One: The problem with the HTC One’s image doesn’t lie with the detail. In fact, we love how it managed to catch the sunlight on the left side of the image. The left-to-right color shift from yellow to green kept the One from placing higher in this round.
Winner: Although the Lumia 1020 delivered a very sharp image, the iPhone 5 offered a more solid combination of color and detail for the win.
We took a shot of some nearby flowers in Madison Square Park to see how the phones would handle a variety of colors at once.
Nokia Lumia 1020: The Lumia 1020 delivered the most accurate color overall, including rich purples, deep greens and gentle oranges. Even better, we could see every vein and artery on the purple leaves.
iPhone 5: The iPhone 5 was neck and neck with the 1020 in terms of color. However the device doesn’t quite match the level of detail from the 1020.
Samsung Galaxy S4: While the rich purple is alluring, we couldn’t overlook how blown out the greens and yellows were in the rest of the shot. There was also some fuzziness on some of the finer details, like leaf edges and petals.
HTC One: The HTC One is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Lumia 1020, delivering a washed out image. The purple leaves looked bland and ashen, as did the yellows and greens.
Winner: Nokia Lumia 1020
In a setting with various colors, the Nokia Lumia 1020 captured accurate color coupled with excellent sharpness.
Overall, the Nokia Lumia 1020 looks like the new smartphone camera to beat. No, the $299 price isn’t cheap, but this handset’s 41-MP sensor gives shutterbugs incredibly sharp detail and beautiful color in a variety of situations. Like other phones cameras, the 1020 can fall prey to acclimating for exposure and unbalanced color accuracy. But that’s where the Pro Cam app comes in with its various manual controls. To us, the Nokia Lumia 1020 represents an imaging triumph that further narrows the gap between smartphones and dedicated cameras. Stay tuned for our full review.