Nokia/Lumia Imaging since 2012
I've been following Nokia's imaging development like every step of the way. And it does appear that - after much work to get the 41MP oversampling technology to Windows Phone with the Nokia Lumia 1020 - the focus has been more and more on the development of applications (or "lenses"). Is Microsoft still working on better camera hardware? First let's see what it has been all about in a historical overview, from 2012 onwards.
Of course: 2012 is not just a year. The Nokia 808 PureView with its 41.5MP sensor and incredible versatile user interface still is a landmark in smartphone photography, as I've stated here over and over again - even after almost three years, it still holds true. And by the way: its predecessor the N8 has been King of Camphones for years as well, and my passion for smartphone photography even started with the Nokia N95 from 2007!
The same year however, showed the shift to Windows Phone with the Nokia Lumia 800. Starting on a completely different and far from finished OS, the Nokia imaging team simply gave all they had. This overview will show how much that was.
September 2012: Cinemagraph
The CinemaGraph application was introduced with the Nokia Lumia 920 and lets you make a shot for a few seconds (like a mini video), and allows you to select part of the movement within the "picture" to be shown. Damian Dinning already mentioned it (on Twitter) in September 2012. A photo with some motion in it is a bit like a "magic picture". You could share the result stored as "animated GIF" (via SkyDrive). Meanwhile, the results saved on memories.nokia.com aren't accessible anymore since Microsoft decided to put the server down (probably because it had "Nokia" in the URL).
Now, the application is known as Lumia Cinemagraph, and I wrote in
november last year that as of January 15, you should be able to share your Cinemagraphs as videos, directly on your favorite social networks, but you'll need to install the latest version of Lumia Cinemagraph. I must be overlooking something, since it didn't work as I hoped when I tried to share a Cinemagraph on Twitter.
May 2013: Nokia Smart Camera
In May 2013, Nokia Conversations announced Nokia Smart Camera "for clever pictures". The application "brings together the functionality from the existing Smart Shoot lens, together with the brand new Best Shot, Action Shot and Motion Focus options." You can see some of my own experiments with it here. It was introduced on the Lumia 925 and made available on all other devices with the Amber update. The same month there were already rumours about Nokia Pro Camera from someone who appeared to be extremely well informed.
July 2013: Nokia Pro Camera
Nokia Pro Camera was announced during the introduction of the Nokia Lumia 1020 in New York on July 11 - introducing Rich Recording on Lumia at the same time. On top of the Amber update I mentioned before, Nokia Pro Camera would be made available for the Lumia 920, Lumia 925, and Lumia 928 from August 15, 2013.
September 2013: Nokia Camera
Already one month later (september 23) word got out that Nokia Smart Camera and Nokia Pro Camera would be combined in Nokia Camera. Information had leaked Nokia would officially unveil this app on October 22 when announcing the Lumia 1520. Nokia Camera combines all features of Pro Cam and Smart Cam, and was to be preinstalled on the Lumia 1520. Pro Cam and Smart Cam would be discontinued as seperate applications.
October 2013: RAW
It´s not an application but it certainly has been a ground-breaking innovation that Nokia announced on October 22: support of raw .DNG, " the holy grail" for photography, for the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 1020. Combined with Nokia Camera, it has been nothing less but a quantum leap for mobile imaging, underlining the fact that Nokia was still very much ahead of the pack, leading the way.
November 2013: Refocus
And again, only two months later, the Refocus application was announced in november 2013 on Nokia Conversations. I wrote about my own very first experiences with Nokia Recofus that month as well. Refocus enables you to switch between foreground and background of your shot. I shared my very best result with the application here (the original fullscreen version is here, please check out it has five points to focus!).
January 2014: Black update
The Black update brought Refocus to all Lumia smartphones with at least 1GB of RAM, and it brought Nokia Camera to non-PureView Lumia smartphones.
Februari - September 2014: silence
And then there is silence, for a long time. Sure, the Lumia 930 was announced (after the Icon for Verizon in the US), another high-end 20MP PureView camera, bringing the exact same sensor of the Lumia 1520 in a smaller package.
But the avalanche of applications and innovations appears to have been put on hold for a while. I even asked my readers to contribute to the PureView Wish List, and as far as I can see, none of the many suggestions have come to Lumia Camera (please correct me if I'm mistaken). As far as the hardware is concerned, in June 2014, I urged Nokia to bring more Flagships to the Battlefield.
September 2014: Lumia 830 / Rich Capture / Dynamic Flash / Moment Capture
Next, September 4, the Lumia 830 was announced: "the affordable flagship" (I still wonder if they ever read my post about flagships). Coming on Lumia Denim, Microsoft finally promised some very impressive new innovations with Lumia Camera, offering Rich Capture, Dynamic Flash and Moment Capture - you can read all about them here.
Later however, after buying the Lumia 830 as fast as I could to try out these new applications, I discovered they weren't there, although the 830 has been on Denim from day one - in Juha Alakarhu's words, it was all " a mistake".
Denim is rolling out as we speak, I've seen quite a few folllowers on Twitter sharing they could finally download it - I'm still more or less patiently waiting for it to come to my Lumia 1520. But as of this morning (!) I could install the latest version of Denim on the Lumia 830 and I must admit I'm pretty impressed! I will have to do a lot more testing before I can write about my own experience with it (knowing its possibilities are limited on the 830).
The only other post I can find about true innovation in this field dates from September 14 as well: Joe Harlow speaks about "computational photography", but that story was based on a rumour, and she's has been talking about it in 2013 already!).
There is no other news from 2014 than renaming applications: Nokia Camera is now Lumia Camera Classic, Lumia Camera will come with the latest version of Denim. There's been an amazing amount of innovation in imaging software on Lumia smartphones.
But most of those features have been about - no offence - "fun". I tried all, some are effective, very surprising sometimes, others a bit unpracticle or just not so unteresting (for me, that is). Most of the apps are about adding extra dimensions to your shots, and there's nothing wrong with that in itself. What I've seen from Rich Capture and Dynamic Flash does look very practicle for those who aim to get the best shot. But it leaves us with one question: is Microsoft actually going to bring more imaging innovations in hardware?
Will it be about 41 or even more MegaPixels? Honestly, I don't think so. More likely would be less, but larger pixels - not like HTC's "UltraPixel" failure, but like 20MP in a bigger sized (1 inch?) sensor, as we've seen on the Lumix DMC-CM1. It's all about a carefully balanced blend between hardware and software, as we've seen in the 808 PureView and the later high-end Lumia flagships.
Maybe, just maybe, they have something up their sleeve for the Mobile World Congress in March this year... After all, the Nokia imaging team knew how to blow everyone away with the Nokia 808 PureView in 2012. And the surprise this year might just be about... computational photography after all? They've been mentioning it for two years now. What do you think? Is it too early still? Any alternatives? Hopes, wishes, dreams? Let me know.