A low light ode to Nokia (808 PureView and Lumia 1020 and 1520, compared to Galaxy S5)

To tell you the truth I'm not sure where to begin this post. I have in fact a few dozens of shots to share with you, taken in several settings with the Nokia 808 PureView, Nokia Lumia 1020, Nokia Lumia 1520 and Samsung Galaxy S5.

It's the result of a brainwave I had early this morning: I really wanted to share some more low light shots before going on a short holiday, but doing so is pretty hard during daytime.

So I thought of a weird place in my basement. Logically, it's a few meters below the ground, but there is a very small window just in case you need to get out (a "fox hole" it's called here I think).

Anyway: that would provide me with what I needed: a very dark place and just a little bit of light. And after reading that Nokia's handset division is about to become " Microsoft Mobiles" I thought of the subject to capture in that low light as well: a weird collection of old and more or less rare Nokia devices.

Here's the original scene, captured with the Nokia 808 PureView with flash - so you'll get an idea about what I've been up to before you see the low light results.

Nokia 808 PureView - original scene with flash 2

So that's quite a remarkable bunch, itsn't it? It doesn't belong to me though, I borrowed all from a friend and what you see is far from complete even, but at least it gives me a colorful collage to capture in near darkness.

All shots are handheld. I made several shots with all four devices in all different settings and the best results were selected.

Where to start? The Nokia 808 PureView on ISO 50? Why not. Here's a resized version of the 38MP result in 16:9 aspect ratio - the 808 PureView needed the full 2.7 seconds (!) to capture this result:

Nokia 808 PureView 16x9 38MP ISO 50

Detail in this shot is quite amazing when you look at the first 640x 360 crop of this post - this is from the 38MP original, with ISO 50 and no less than 2.7 seconds exposure time, handheld and no OIS...

Nokia 808 PureView 4x3 38MP ISO 50

Looks like my heart even stopped beating for 2.7 seconds just to make sure I didn't move at all :-)

Now, let's move up to ISO 100, the first choice you have when you'd like to change that on the Lumia's and Galaxy S5.

Again, let's begin with the Nokia 808 PureView, this time in 8MP - and demanding me not to move for 1,51 seconds.

Nokia 808 PureView 16x9 8MP ISO 100

 Care for another crop? Here you go - this is from the same 8MP PureView result:

Nokia 808 PureView 16x9 8MP ISO 100

This is quite amazing in my opinion. Let's see how the Lumia 1020 does on ISO 100, in a surprising 2.31 seconds.

Nokia Lumia 1020 16x9 5MP ISO 100

And the crop. of course, this time from its 5MP result.

Nokia Lumia 1020 16x9 5MP ISO 100

Next, the Nokia Lumia 1520 on ISO 100, needing 1.67 seconds.

Nokia Lumia 1520 16x9 5MP ISO 100

And the crop from the Lumia 1520's 5MP result on ISO 100 (1.67 second)

Nokia Lumia 1520 16x9 5MP ISO 100

Now let's compare crops from the high-res results.

Remember I need to make an extra shot for the with the Nokia 808 PureView, but it's what I promised, so here it is. Please keep in mind none of the devices profit from oversampling when put to maximum resolution.

Nokia 808 PureView first (34MP, ISO 100)

Nokia 808 PureView 16x9 34MP ISO 100

And the crop from the 34MP result of the Nokia Lumia 1020 (ISO 100)

Nokia Lumia 1020 16x9 34MP ISO 100 Pro__highres

And the crop from the 16MP shot from the Nokia Lumia 1520 (16MP, ISO 100)

Nokia Lumia 1520 16x9 16MP ISO 100 Pro__highres

It's pretty clear that even without OIS, the Nokia 808 PureView is giving me the best result in this case. Not only is the color much more realistic, it's even much sharper than both Lumia's... How it that possible?

Either the 808 PureView simply proves to be better in these examples. Or I shouldn't have updated my Lumia 1020 to the Windows Phone 8.1 Preview... But I've updated the Lumia 1520 to the same preview software as well - and that appears to give an even better result. Hmm...

So I'm not sure about why the Lumia 1020 appears to be "underperforming" (or so it seems to me) - maybe the fact that I accidently dropped it a few days ago? That wouldn't have given me the great low light results I posted yesterday.

Well, whatever the reason may be, it's simply the way it appears to be and I'm not going to keep it away from you. One other remark I could make is that in this case both Lumia's got a bit brighter result than the 808 PureView, if you look at the left side of the shot for instance.

Samsung Galaxy S5
Let's move on to what the Samsung Galaxy S5 can do. I've got some very interesting new information about it, which I discovered during an earlier comparison - I couldn't publish that since I wasn't aware of one specific setting of the S5, so I simply missed a few crucial shots. I have those now.

Hold on to your horses: here's what you get if you manually set the Galaxy S5 to ISO 100. This is a resized version of the 16MP shot - note you'll get the maximum resolution when you use the S5's camera in the 16:9 aspect ratio.

Samsung Galaxy S5 16x9 16MP ISO 100

Well, the scene was dark, but not this dark I must admit. Then why is the shot this dark?

After checking just about every shot I made with the Galaxy S5, I noticed that when set to manual, the maximum shutter time the Samsung Galaxy S5 offers, is 1/17th of a second. That is 0,059 seconds! Compare that to the shutter times I've mentioned above: up to 2.7 seconds. That's a factor 45 (!) difference we're looking at...

So no wonder, you won't get much in your shot in a very dark scene. Consequently, you'd expect a lighter result when you set the ISO higher - which appears to be the case. Below you'll see the results from the Galaxy S5 with ISO 200, 400 and 800.

Samsung Galaxy S5 16x9 16MP ISO 200 Samsung Galaxy S5 16x9 16MP ISO 400 Samsung Galaxy S5 16x9 16MP ISO 800

And finally in the last shot on ISO 800, you'll finally see some more of the details, but it won't come as a surprise to you that there's way too much noise in it...

Samsung Galaxy S5 16x9 16MP ISO 800

Now is that all you can squeeze out of the Samsung Galaxy S5? Luckily, it isn't - that would have been a tragedy.

There's a button for it in the menu and it's called "Picture Stabilization" as the Galaxy S5 puts it, to "take brighter and clearer pictures without using the flash in low light. Your device will automatically detect low light levels and adjust the camera accordingly. Hold you device steady while taking pictures in the dark".

The result is a dramatic improvement as you can see below.

Samsung Galaxy S5 16x9 Picture Stabilization ON

How much better is clearly visible in the crop as well:

Samsung Galaxy S5 16x9 Picture Stabilization ON

For argument's sake, let's compare that to what I got from the Nokia Lumia 1520 (also on 16MP in this case)

Nokia Lumia 1520 16x9 16MP ISO 100 Pro__highres

I think the Nokia Lumia 1520 clearly does a better job (both in detail and contrast), but it's a good thing the Galaxy S5 can at least come close with its 16MP result.

Now what ISO setting does the Galaxy S5 choose when you hit that Picture Stabilization button? And what about the shutter time? The lens is open much longer than the remarkable 1/17 second, but for how long exactly?

Well, Samsung doesn't share that information. It's simply not in the EXIF data, so I can't tell you. Also, as soon as you choose Picture Stabilization, you can't manually control the ISO settings anymore.

ISO 200
After this I have in fact 36 more shots to share - don't worry, I won't. I will however share a crop from the ISO 200 result I got from the Nokia Lumia 1020 in high resolution, which is a bit of a "revanche" - and much to my relief it shows my 1020 isn't defective (now you can tell I write these posts while I'm in the process of comparing the shots and crops).

Nokia Lumia 1020 16X9 34MP ISO 200 Pro__highres

I could compare it with the ISO 200 shot I got from the 808 PureView, but that would be a bit lame since I simply didn't as good a job in that case - it would look like I'm trying to prove it isn't as good, whereas I've just shown how good it can be: it just depends on the hands of the one using it :-)

While I'm  at it, here's the crop from the 5MP result I got from the Nokia Lumia 1020, ISO 1000 in 1/4 second.

Nokia Lumia 1020 16X9 5MP ISO 1000

When I let it choose by itself (so everything on automatic), the Lumia 1020 chose ISO 1250 by the way - the difference is marginal.

To conclude I'll just share a resized 100% screenshot of that shot - 5MP PureView (originally shot in 4:3), ISO 1250.

Screenshot Nokia Lumia 1020 38MP ISO 1250 (auto)

I really hope you've enjoyed this extreme low light hommage to Nokia's colorful handsets, including a comparison with how the Samsung Galaxy S5 captures them.

Most important conclusions as far as I'm concerned.
- OIS or no OIS, you can still f$ck up a shot on your Nokia Lumia 1020
- the Nokia 808 PureView's camera still offers breathtaking quality, even when it's about two years old by now.
- With a sensor of similar size, in dark situations the Nokia Lumia 1520 outperforms the Samsung Galaxy S5.
- Changing the ISO on the Galaxy S5 appears only to be effective in bright situations
- Samsung's Galaxy S5 maximum shutter time is 1/17th of a second (0,056") when put to manual
- Samsung's Galaxy S5 performs much better in dark situations with "Picture Stabilization" on, but EXIF data will be hidden for some reason.

For my crops, I chose the center part of the shot with arguably the best light. It might not be the part you are most interested in, so once more, you will find the shots I selected on Flickr - all 52 of them. You'll see I haven't done an outstanding job in every shot, but like I wrote it's all handheld and be sure I tried to keep as still as humanly possible. You'll find all the shots in this  dedicated album on Flickr.

This will be my last post for a while, going on holiday for some time with the family. Like I wrote yesterday, I hope to update you from there not just here at the Club, but also, and even more so, on  TwitterFacebook and  Instagram: please do follow me there.

Update: I've received some fierce criticism about this post and what I was trying to "prove". So strong that I put the post offline to give it more thought. After that, I still think there's quite some interesting information here,  concerning the Galaxy S5 for instance,  that I decided to put it back online again. I do urge you to read the reactions below however.

Some of the points against this post are certainly valid I think,  on the other hand I think there is not much wrong with what I did (low light shots with as low as possible ISO to reduce noise, yet still handheld - I call it a challenge as well).

You may think of it whatever you like, I've been very clear about the methods I used and didn't try to hide any outcome - whether you like the outcome or not.

If you like what I'm doing here, please consider making a donation. There's a button on the right hand side of this page, leading to PayPal. Any donation is welcome since this club doesn't support itself. I'll mention you as a sponsor here, so this is your way to be featured in the Club yourself :-)

Please join PureViewClub on  TwitterFacebookFlickrGoogle+ and/or  Instagram. 140320_Nokia_BT_728x90_MB