The King of Camphones. First the Nokia N8, next 808 PureView - now Lumia 1020?

More and more people are pointing out the Nokia Lumia 1020 doesn't make as brilliant shots as its 41MP predecessor, the Nokia 808 PureView we all love so much here at the PureViewClub. I love it too of course, it's what made me start the club in the first place.

In reactions on my posts here, some readers are asking me for detailed comparison shots, preferably in full resolution of both the Nokia 808 PureView and the Lumia 1020, in indoor settings even. Portraits if possible.

Others send me e-mails or direct messages on Twitter to ask me how I feel about all this - is it worth selling their 808 PureView to buy the Lumia 1020 or not? Is it worth selling their Lumia 920 or 925 for? They too, want to know specifically if the picture quality of the Lumia 1020 is better.

So I decided to share my thoughts, based on a few weeks of experience. It has become a pretty long essay, I've illustrated it with some of my own shots from the "Royal family" and I can only hope you'll enjoy it.

A true masterpiece
I'm not going to lie about it, I'm not going to deny it either. As far as picture quality is concerned, I think that in Finland people sometimes curse the close to unbelievable imaging quality of the Nokia 808 PureView.

Most people adore its digital imaging capacities much more than its platform, although Symbian still has a gigantic fanbase. The Nokia 808 PureView is not just a proof of concept, it's a true masterpiece in itself.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 comes close to the imaging quality of the 808 PureView however, and I must say I'm a bit surprised about the impatience of many readers. Especially here at the PureViewClub, we know that the imaging quality of the Lumia 920 has improved significantly in the course of a few updates.

The most important issues of the Lumia 1020 at this moment are the evident oversaturation (especially in darker circumstances), the noise in the high resolution results and the blurriness at both sides of the shots.

I'm sure the Lumia 1020 will get better than it is. Maybe much better even. But at this moment it's images aren't as "perfect" as those from the 808 PureView, and the question remains if they will ever be.

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Size does matter
Pure physics say it's close to impossible: it's 41MP of a bit smaller pixels and I don't think even the smartest software can fix that simple fact. It has been a basic trade-off.

The Nokia 808 PureView was slaughtered by many reviewers not only because of its antique ("dead") OS, but also for its size. It was often condemned for being way too "bulky" or "an ugly brick" - even when hardly testing the incredible quality of the camera. Whereas that was the reason it was that thick: the size of the sensor simply demanded it.

So in order to design the thinner device the market obviously demanded and still with a 41MP sensor, there was no other way than to choose for a bit smaller sensor size, and hence smaller pixels.

Would it have been an option to choose for say a 32MP sensor with the same pixel size as the 808 PureView sensor? I don't know - but the "oversampling " effect would probably have been smaller, the "zoom reinvented" concept a bit less effective.

The high resolution shots might have shown less noise than the Nokia Lumia 1020 is showing at this moment. I specifically write "at this moment" since I know over in Finland they are still tweeking the software, as they've done so succesfully with the Lumia 920.

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High resolution vs. PureView
What do we need high resolution shots for? I don't know anyone spending a lot of money on large sized poster prints of their shots, which is what you can do with the full resolution result of the Nokia 808 PureView - it's that good.

With the current software version, the high resolution shots of the Lumia 1020 do show more noise. Maybe a software update will improve it, we'll have to wait and see - but I doubt it will ever be as good as the 808 PureView performs in this area.

In general however, the oversampled shots from the Lumia 1020 tend to be better, more directly usable than those from the Nokia 808 PureView. In general they are more crisp, show more definition and sharpness. Some argue that's all about compression and software and far from "pure", but I think the result is what counts.

The "old" 808 PureView was about oversampling to an 8MP, 5MP, 3MP or even a 2MP result. The "new" 1020 PureView oversampling is limited to 5MP, so my guess is the imaging team decided to focus on just one size for optimal oversampling effect. It will still give you a shot that is large and detailed enough to print or use as desktop image on your PC. And: it's easy to share.

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Print or share
Most important thing in my opinion is, that this is all about a clash of imaging cultures: "classic" and "modern". The classic being the ones that like to be able to work on their shots on the PC, and/or print the very best result to enjoy it on the living room wall. The modern being the ones interested in sharing its result directly from the phone, preferably with as many as possible contacts via email and/or social media.

The 808 obviously is "classic", the 1020 "modern". With the 1020, you won't use the high resolution result for a large print on the wall, but it enables you to edit the shot on the device to get a 5MP (or smaller) result you want to share. I'm not making this up as an excuse: it's just a different philosophy towards digital imaging, or: imaging in the digital era. It's what Nokia calls Zoom Reinvented.

When I understood the high resolution shot of the Lumia 1020 is meant to edit on the device itself and not for sharing the 34MP or even 38MP result as it is, I just about completely stopped publishing them. It's hardly useful to compare it with the full resolution shots of the Nokia 808 PureView, which quality is unique in itself. It probably doesn't get any better than that.

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It's good though to note there will be some oversampling when saving your edit from the high resolution shot. Not as strong as the first time (from .RAW to JPG), but still. The Nokia 808 only allowed you to make a crop from the full resolution shot - without oversampling when saving what you selected.

The quite fanatic focus on these "full res" shots is remarkable. I love the quality, no doubt about it, I've shown incredible details countless times here at the club.

But it's not like I ever printed one of the full resolution shots, nor was I ever inclined to e-mail it to a friend or post it on my Facebook wall - it's simply too big and it's not even possible to post a photo that size on Facebook, let alone tweet it...

I only shared the full resolution results from the Nokia 808 PureView on Flickr, to show its mind-blowing quality. I've shared resized versions here at the club, as I've shared incredible details from 34MP or 38MP shots. It"s something many owners of the 808 PureView do and I'm sure it inspired Nokia to come up with "Zoom Reinvented".

The high resolution shot of the Lumia 1020 is only meant for editing on the phone, since like I wrote, it will oversample your edit once more.

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OIS and Rich Recording
But there's more: the Lumia 1020 offers Optical Image Stabilisation - the Nokia 808 PureView doesn't. From the Lumia 920 we already know how effective OIS is to make shots in darker circumstances.

Also, thanks to OIS, video results from the Lumia 1020 are better, and after I finally discovered you can manually turn off the bass filter, stereo recording appears in fact to be comparable to what used to be called "Rich Recording" in the Nokia 808 PureView (I have no idea why in the standard settings of the Lumia 1020 the bass filter is set to 100KHz).

Settings menu
The settings menu of the Nokia 808 PureView is a dream, very effective and versatile - I already wrote a long post about it more than a year ago.

In comparison with the Nokia Lumia 1020, it even offers the possibility to manually set the desired saturation (clearly missed on the Lumia 1020!), contrast and sharpness. In "capture mode" it offers bracketing, interval and a self-timer, we still miss the last two in Nokia Pro Cam.

On the Nokia 808 PureView it's extremely easy to change the resolution and aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3), JPG quality (like you would ever set it other than "superfine"?) and color tones (standard set to "vivid" on my 808).

On the other hand, the menu on the Nokia Lumia 1020 - to change white balance, focus, ISO, exposure time (!) and exposure value - is beautiful and very practical as well. Now you can even set the exposure time to no less than four seconds (you'll need the camera grip for that).

In the settings menu, you'll find the shutter delay (so you won't move the camera when it's making the shot) and bracketing option. One step further in settings, you'll find different framing grids, aspect ratio (a bit too far away in the menu in my opinion) and capture mode (standard 5MP and high resolution).

In (even) "more settings" you can choose to wake up the camera by pressing and holding the camera button, or whether you want to make shots by tapping the screen when using the built-in camera app (so not Nokia Pro Cam). Here you can decide which camera application you want to open when long pressing the camera button.

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Platform
I guess in general it goes without saying that Windows Phone 8 is miles ahead of Symbian by now. No wonder.

Apps first. I'll start with Harald Meyer's great imaging applications, and there are quite a few apps for sharing on Symbian: Gravity for Twitter and Facebook (both have their own app as well) and WhatsApp.

So there are quite a few apps for shooting and sharing (in fact, there still is a surprising amount of applications you can find in the Ovi Store, but compared to what Windows Phone has to offer of course it's very limited).

The interface is a totally different story. Nokia Belle works with the icons we know all too well from the way they are copied by other platforms. The interface of Windows Phone is much more interesting visually - like how it uses your shots as a "desktop" in the Gallery menu. It looks fantastic and I think it's a plus for a smartphone that's all about imaging.

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Hardware
Another great plus of the Lumia 1020 is the display itself. That of the 808 PureView isn't bad at all - it's just quite small, especially compared to the size of the Lumia 1020's. I think readability in bright sunlight is more or less comparable, but personally I just love to work with the bigger screen size.

You don't only see what you're framing better, it's also more comfortable to show the result you got (including the great detail you can share from what Nokia Pro Cam captured in high resolution - it never fails to amaze people).

In general, the hardware is much faster on the Lumia 1020 and its software is much more stable, although Nokia does still care enough about the 808 PureView to update the software on a more or less regular basis. I love the speed with which the Lumia 1020 connects with my PC (and the fact it doesn't give me a "blue screen" like the 808 PureView often does to my laptop...).

When you look at the extra's however, the 808 PureView scores many points with HDMI out, USB-on-the-go support and of course micro-SD slot (up to 64GB). All of these the Lumia 1020 lacks. From these I only "miss" the micro-SD option, but I know some people really care about the other two.

I should add that focussing on the Nokia Lumia 1020 tends to be easier than on the 808 PureView, and you can get closer to the subject with it (15cm in stead of 20cm) - from there you can still zoom in to get even closer to the subject.

So in general, whereas the Lumia 1020 is no doubt the modern smartphone, the 808 PureView is the more complete - in fact it's one of the most converged devices Nokia ever produced: a masterpiece, once again.

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Conclusion
So in all, is the imaging quality of the Nokia Lumia 1020 as good as or even better as the Nokia 808 PureView? No, its not that good but it's damn good.

It's better than any other smartphone camera has to offer, and maybe even more important, it gives you fantastic tools to edit your shots on the device itself - including the possibility to reframe or even turn them, or zoom out from the shot you actually zoomed into. That's very innovative.

As a smartphone, I think it goes without saying the Lumia 1020 is ahead of the 808 PureView in just about all possible aspects, although some will argue it doesn't depend on "being online" as much as the 808 PureView, which moreover has a longer stand-by time (one of the great advantages of the now "dead" OS).

I guess you want to know which one I use as my "daily driver", and maybe you're surprised it's the Nokia Lumia 1020. I love the design, the platform and last but not least the quality of the 5MP results - including the ease with which I can work with my shots and share them on Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram, since it's so easy to choose a 1:1 format (I belong to the "modern" user I guess, although it took me ages to join Instagram :-).

But I'm used to carrying more phones, so I practicallly always have the 808 PureView with me as well. To compare the results when I have time for multiple shots, and for those moments I feel the full resolution result really matters to me.

If you already own the 808 PureView and you're completely satisfied with its imaging capacities, I guess you can stay with it, it probably won't get any better than this for quite a while (like the Nokia N8 was King of Camphones for years).

If you have the Lumia 920 or 925 and you're really into mobile photography, without a doubt the upgrade to the Lumia 1020 is highly recommended.

If you have to decide about a new smartphone now - and you're really into mobile imaging - I'd choose the Nokia Lumia 1020, not just because it has a great camera with fantastic editing possibilities on board, but also because it's running on a much more interesting platform that's growing fast.

As far as mobile imaging quality goes, I guess the simple conclusion is the Nokia 808 PureView still is King. But it's getting harder and harder to buy one (it's out of production as far as I know, and has never been available at all in some parts of the world).

So now that the old King isn't quite dead yet, but his country is shrinking fast (and it never was very large to begin with), I think it's time to welcome and salute the new Prince, in the hope that future updates will turn him into a worthy successor of the Throne of Mobile Imaging.

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