White balance on Lumia 1020 and 1520 "Black" (compared with the Nokia 808 PureView)

This afternoon I was in my home town Hilversum in the Netherlands, and I made almost 200 shots with the Nokia Lumia 1020, Lumia 1520 and the good old Nokia 808 Pureview. I was outside, so I have to explain a bit about the weather - it finally was sunny as I hoped, but with many clouds and it was quite windy as well. Why is that interesting?

It just means that the lighting in your shots will be extremely different within only a few seconds. Great for shooting shots at the right moment, not so great for making shots of the same object over a longer period of time. I still have to select the shots I think are really comparable, since I know you guys (and girls?) out here are really (like: really) picky about PureView imaging quality and differences.

Anyway, near the end of the afternoon the sun was out for a longer time, and I suddenly noticed this large sunlit building with a giant tree in front of it, projecting its impressive shadow. Let me start by stressing the bricks of this building aren't white.  They are lightgrey, or off-white - I'm not sure what to call the colour, but I'm quite sure you know what I mean.

The building was lit by the low winter sun, but it wasn't "golden hour" yet - the light wasn't "golden": it was just, well: bright. So it suddenly seemed perfect to test what the white balance settings do on the Lumia 1020, the Lumia 1520 - cpmpared to the Nokia 808 PureView, which represents the standard to many.

The shots you will see in this post are the resized versions of the "highres" results - so 34MP on the Nokia Lumia 1020 and 16MP on the Lumia 1020. As far as the colours are concerned, there are no differences between the high-res and the 5MP results. The Nokia 808 PureView however was on 8MP PureView (I didn't make the same series on full resolution).

You'll first see all three results from these smartphone cameras on auto, next all three on "sunny". I'll share them "chronologically" once again, so 808 PureView, Lumia 1020, Lumia 1520. And you'll see some remarkable differences...

White balance "auto"

Nokia 808 PureView - white balance comparison - auto

Nokia Lumia 1020 - white balance comparison - auto

Nokia Lumia 1520 - white balance comparison - auto

White balance "sunny"

Nokia 808 PureView - white balance comparison - sunny

Nokia Lumia 1020 - white balance comparison - sunny

Nokia Lumia 1520 - white balance comparison - sunny

Now those aren't small differences, right? What I find most interesting, is that both the Nokia 808 PureView and the Lumia 1520 have the best ("most realistic") colours, whereas the Nokia Lumia 1020 - although running on Black instead of Amber - is still too "amber" (or "yellow" or "golden" - whatever).

That's confusing me a bit, since I was under the impression that the Black update would bring the exact same colour scheme to the Lumia 1020 as I had come to know on the Lumia 1520 - the first device running on Lumia Black.

Now it also shows that choosing the right white balance does make a difference - the Lumia 1020 tends to be less "amber" on sunny than on auto, but still, the difference is noticeable.

What I don't get is why the Nokia Lumia 1520 is able to reproduce far more similar (and realistic) colours like the Nokia 808 PureView does. No - that's not true. What I don't get is why the Lumia 1020 doesn't do the exact same thing running on "Lumia Black".

For the time being however, I'd have a workaround for you, if you really feel you need to avoid the "amber" effect on the Lumia 1020 in light conditions like these: change the white balance to "neon" (like it or not). It will look like this:

Nokia Lumia 1020 - white balance comparison - neon

Like I said, it's just a workaround, it's not perfect while a bit to blueish, but at least it will show less of the "yellow" glow you might want to avoid in some cases.

Nevertheless, I did expect the Lumia Black update to bring the exact same colour scheme to the Lumia 1020 as I've seen on the Lumia 1520. Obviously, there still are very different algorythms at work.

Of course, the 1020 still gives you the raw .DNG files to work with. I'm still looking forward to do so, but I have to admit I still need to find the time to learn to work with the software. That may sounds silly to some, but I simply have too many shots to make, select, resize, publish and comment upon :-)

Are you surprised when I tell you that you'll find all these shots in a dedicated set on Flickr? Please enjoy, and don't hesitate to let me know how you feel about all this below!

Update: I received a short reaction from Juha Alakarhu, Nokia's Head of Imaging on Twitter, saying "I recommend to take more images in different scenes and also incl. some skin tones to make this comparison more comprehensive".

I sure can understand the choices made considering the fact that most people will make shots of other people (or themselves of course). I hope to be able to find a few models soon willing to share their portraits here at the PureViewClub.

Meanwhile, many people have remarked they really need the raw .DNG files for a good comparison. I've already apologized I don't have the raw .DNG files of these shots. I dit make many other shots yesterday, including the raw files coming from the 1020, and I will work on that post right about now, you may expect it later today.

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