You must have read the original review of Nokia Lumia 920 with respect to the behavior of it being a smartphone and how does it stand among the competition. There we have discussed about the design and outfit, the build quality of the smartphone, screen, resolution and display strength and a bit of the PureView camera. We intentionally covered the camera at lower respect with a few sample shots and avoiding the video test completely, as we had scheduled the camera review in a separate article.
PureView Camera on Nokia Lumia 920
Optical Image Stabilization
Sample Photos & Videos with Comparison
Let’s rewind with the PureView Camera specifications in Lumia 920.
- Carl Zeiss optics with OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)
- 8.7 megapixels sensor, BSI (Backside illuminated), 1/3″ sensor size, 1.4 µm pixel size.
- 8 megapixels usable – Resolution: 3552 x 2000 for 16:9, 3264 x 2448 for 4:3
- Lens aperture: f/2, Focal length: 26 mm for 16:9 and 28 mm for 4:3. focal lengths are 35mm equivalents.
- Focus range: 8 cm to infinity.
- Other features: Short pulse high power dual LED flash, Auto and Manual Exposure, Auto and Manual White Balance, 4x digital zoom.
- Video recording features: 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels), 30 fps, Continuous Auto Focus, Optical Image Stabilization, Video Stabilization,
- Still resolution: 1.2 MP (1280 x 960 pixels)
- Aperture: f/2.4, 35 cm to infinity
- Video resolution: 1280 x 720 pixels, 30fps
Secondary camera (front-facing camera) on Lumia 920 can take pictures on 1280×960 pixels resolution and record video on 720p resolution at frame rate of 30 per second. Of course the secondary camera is mostly used for video calls rather than taking self portraits or recording video. There should not be anything to tell that the front-facing camera is usable for voice & video calling services like Skype.
Please Note: This article discusses about some basic to pro terminologies working together in the Nokia Lumia 920. If you are already a camera and photography expert, then this article is not for you. However you are not restricted to continue on.
The focus of this article is on the main camera of Nokia Lumia 920, the PureView camera with another aspect that is different from the first PureView on Nokia 808. First introducing the higher resolution (41 megapixels) camera with the largest sensor size among smartphones and the idea to use those higher megapixels to produce the brilliant ready-to-print shots, Nokia undoubtedly impressed the smartphone world and almost thrilled the digital camera industry with Nokia 808 PureView. Now bringing into the Lumia 920, the feature from dedicated digital or DSLR cameras, the “optical image stabilization – OIS” actually makes Nokia the first smartphone manufacturer to do that. At the time when this article was written, HTC had launched HTC One with the optical image stabilization (OIS) too.
Before we talk about the camera pictures and video qualities, let’s have a little talk over the software and user interfaces relating to the camera.
Camera UI and Software Add-ons
Camera interface in Windows Phone 8 is one of the basic interfaces out there. Android is undoubtedly way ahead when talking about the camera user interface. In Lumia 920 or any Windows Phone 8, you will find very straight forward options to handle white balance, flash, ISO settings, scene modes, exposure values and aspect ratio. The good thing is that these settings at least can be set at vast variations e.g. the ISO sensitivity can be set from the base ISO-100, 200, 400 and 800. The resolution however is limited to the two maximum resolutions, 8MP at 4:3 aspect ratio and 7.1MP at 16:9 aspect ratio. Focus assist light can be turned off. Flash can be set at auto, strictly ON or OFF. A switch icon for toggling the viewfinder to capture still photos or to record video.
On the view viewfinder the swipe gesture is supported for bringing the “Images” the gallery application interface in front with the images taken. A little left arrow icon is also provided to do the same. Swiping back from the “Images” takes you to the camera interface. A pinch-to-zoom feature is available on both still and video mode. Unlike Nokia 808 PureView, Lumia 920 won’t allow zooming in/out once the recording has been started in the video mode.
Optical Image Stabilization at work, can be noticed on the viewfinder just before you take the shot. Half press the camera shutter key and you will quickly notice the steadiness in the frame that will start trying to be still rather than shaking the image view. Half pressing the camera key is where the OIS awakes and gets ready to do its work. While in the video recording there is no option to turn it on or off. It just works all the way.
What we liked in the Camera User Interface of Windows Phone 8 is that it’s well integrated with the third party camera plugins as well as the extra camera features provided by the manufacturer. Within the Windows Phone platform, they are called “Lenses”. Lumia 920 (or any other Windows Phone from Nokia) can be preferred with it’s camera hardware and software bundle pack over any Windows Phone from other manufacturers. However other manufacturers also provide their own collection of softwares/plugins.
The lenses we must mention here, are the “Smart Shoot” and “Cinemagraph”. “Smart Shoot” comes with the stock lenses in Lumia 920. The later one along with many others including “Panorama” can be downloaded from Windows Phone Market under “Nokia Collection” of apps.
We would call “Smart Shoot” here, the dead on one planet rises on another. Remember the “Scalado acquired by Nokia”? Smart Shoot is the new born after the acquisition. Scalado, before acquisition, had announced its “Remove” app for Android to remove unwanted objects from the photos after taking a series of shots and evaluating the differences. “Smart Shoot” in Lumia 920 does the same. Additionally it brings another option to merge multiple shots into one to make it a perfect. Simple, it takes 5 shots of the scene and provides you the interface where you can choose auto-identified differences/spots on the image. e.g. you can pick best faces from 5 different shots in a case of closed eyes of one or two persons in a group.
Cinemagraph on the other hand generates the moving stills. What’s it? It examines a scene for specific duration of time (e.g. a few seconds) and then offers you a picture with highlighted areas identified as moving objects. You have to keep the camera steady, or you can use a tripod. You select from the highlighted areas or add or trim as per your choice. What you see in the final picture, is an image with most of the objects being still having parts of them animated. It produces a GIF image for ease of use.
What’s reality between 8MP and 8.7MP
The phenomenon of 8 megapixels at some places and 8.7 megapixels at others, is only a difference between consumer awareness and technical detail. As for the actual resolution is concerned by the user, that’s the 8 megapixels which is common in today’s smartphones. But in Lumia 920, like Nokia 808, the actual resolution of the sensor is slightly bigger than the output resolution. The difference actually helps to use most of the pixels on the sensor within the “optical format” area to achieve maximum resolution in final output images for multiple aspect ratios. e.g. for both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. For extent, the 8.7 megapixel sensor in Lumia 920 provides access to use full width of the sensor – in 16:9 images – or full height – in 4:3 images. That is, it provides greater horizontal field of view in 16:9 image and greater vertical field of view in 4:3 image. Following illustration on the official diagram will give you more accurate idea of the fact. Click on the image to enlarge.
If you still haven’t got the difference, look at the following illustrations we created from Samsung Galaxy SIII (left) and Nokia Lumia 920 (right). The pictures are the merged versions of both aspect ratios, taken from Galaxy SIII and Lumia 920. On Galaxy SIII, the 4:3 image occupies the same amount of pixels 3264×2448 (8MP) as on the Lumia 920. But 8 megapixels are all on the sensor of Galaxy SIII like many camera phones out there. Hence the 16:9 image is also derived from the same 8MP sensor area unlike 8.7MP sensor area on Lumia 920. And in result the final resolution of the 16:9 image can be only be 6MP occupying the same amount of pixels and same field of view horizontally as in 4:3. While on Lumia 920 the 16:9 image contains 7.1 megapixels occupying more pixels in width and provides larger field of view. That’s what they call the “true multiple aspect ratio” on Lumia 920.
Pros of the Camera
Before we go on to how we tested the Nokia Lumia 920, we’ll categorise the best parts of its camera as the following.
- Almost zero motion-blur at extremely slow shutter speeds, due to camera-shake. – Thanks to OIS.
- Impressive exposure in mixed situations. – Comparisons show well contrasted image.
- Impressive low-light shooting capability along with manipulating deep bright colors. – in both stills and video recording.
- Extremely Low-noise, especially impressive in low-light conditions. – in both stills and video recording.
- The most efficient video stabilization among smartphones. – Thanks to OIS.
Along with the above pros, the cons are equally there which we we’ll point out during the comparison.
Still Photography & Comparison:
We did cover a little of the Lumia 920’s camera in the device review. Here we have a bit more of the comparison with Samsung’s flagship Galaxy SIII which actually doesn’t offer the optical image stabilization. However it does offer the software based video stabilization when recording a video but no stabilization in still photography at all.
So, Optical Image Stabilization is an obvious factor to help Nokia Lumia 920 in both the low-light still photography and smoother video recording whether in night or in the daylight In our tests, Nokia Lumia 920 has used as much slower shutter speeds as down to 1/3rd of a second. Well, that is an impressive achievement for a smartphone camera to shoot at this shutter speed for gaining enough light to create an impressive low-light shot with very low digital noise as well as no motion blur while taking advantage of the optical image stabilization.
Take a look at the night shot on the left. It was taken while turning on the car’s high beam headlight and the only yellow road lights showing up in the frame. The ISO sensitivity was set at the low ISO-200 when the Lumia 920 used the shutter speed of 1/3rd of the second. There is absolutely no motion blur in the picture (thanks to OIS) and very low digital noise due to longer exposure.
Another shot is on the right, taken at the ISO-800 (the highest ISO sensitivity level available on Lumia 920) to bring more darker areas on the background of the reflecting lights to the shot. Being at that higher ISO level, the low-noise is really impressive while the same shot is also showing the involvement of the Optical Image Stabilization in Lumia 920 as the shot took 1/4th of the second for exposure, the picture didn’t introduce the motion blur due handheld camera shake issues. Check out the same shot taken at ISO-200.
Longer exposures, specially in low-light, brings another lovely looking the “trailing lights” of running vehicles into the shots as well as tries to capture the most of the light in the dark view. The following pictures were shot at ISO-800, that made the visuals really appealing with the bluish sky and visible greenery which were naturally not visible to the eyes at that time. There was no light spotting on the sculpture in the middle or anything else in the picture that you can see. (I humbly apology for the reflections in the sky, that was my car’s window screen I forgot to put down before taking the shot.)
Note: Everything in the above scene was mostly dark when seen by the eyes and none of the other camera phones could take this shot even equal to what your eyes could see. We had Galaxy SIII and Nokia Lumia 820. Obviously the unavailability of OIS and the slower shutter speed limit didn’t allow them to capture the scene to match the one captured by the Lumia 920.
In day light conditions, this is very straight, that Lumia 920 is not much better than other competitors. When tested, it performed up and down comparatively with other camera phones in its class. Putting the good things like exposure and the contrast apart, the bad things we noticed are the poor texture details and sharpness. Oversaturated colors can easily be identified and color shading in some specific lighting conditions.
Oversaturation (left) and poor texture details (right) are what didn’t impress us. Zoom in to 100% of the pictures below to see how much texture detail has been lost. Exposures are impressive though.
Following are the 100% crops of the above-right picture comparing with the crops of the pictures taken from Galaxy SIII. – From Lumia 920 device review
Above samples are good to see the better exposure from Lumia 920 but better texture details from Samsung Galaxy SIII.
Full sample shots along with the samples from Samsung Galaxy SIII
Video Recording Comparisons:
The best feature of Lumia 920 in recording videos is of course the smoothest video recording ever found in smartphones. The use of Optical Image Stabilization in Lumia 920 really performs extraordinarily to keep the things steady while avoiding the camera shake issue that will cause trouble to almost any camera phone or dedicated camera out there which is not featured with the OIS. It amazingly performed in low-light when brought the sparkling light from the clean black backgrounds with heavily low-noise. In comparisons, the Lumia 820 rather shown a little more light sparkles but was not as impressive in low-light and as Lumia 920 to bring the sharp and better exposed colors. Galaxy SIII on the other hand was not up to the level of comparison with heavy digital noise.
In our tests Nokia Lumia 920 also provided the better noise reduction from the background voices while recorded the audio in 1 channel (mono). The video recording was performed while driving and both devices were hand held to better understand how much stamina Lumia 920 does have to stabilize the video and how different it is from Galaxy SIII.
We have merged the crops of the video recordings by Nokia Lumia 920 with the ones by Samsung Galaxy SIII and Nokia Lumia 820. Unfortunately we had to remove the audio from the low-light recordings due to some audio content issues. But you can have a great idea of the difference in audio recording in the day-light comparison below.
Day Light video recording and comparison. Nokia Lumia 920 with Optical Image Stabilization vs Samsung Galaxy SIII “Anti-Shake” turned on.
Low-Light video recording and comparison. Nokia Lumia 920 with Optical Image Stabilization vs Samsung Galaxy SIII “Anti-Shake” turned on. – Audio removed due to copyright issues
Nokia Lumia 920 with Optical Image Stabilization vs Nokia Lumia 820. – Audio removed due to copyright issues.
In still photos, the oversaturation in colors is an issue but not at a level where it completely destroys the picture quality. However the texture detail is what we didn’t like being missed from the Lumia 920’s camera performance. In video recording, some have complained about the inconsistency of autofocus in the video recording, while it was good in our most of the tests. Handling white balance was OK. The reservations about the video recording also includes the “Jello effect”.
We consider the Nokia Lumia 920 a better performer than the competitors due to the factors OIS made it capable of, shooting in low-light conditions, with very low digital noise in still photos. Most of it the smoother video recording with Optical Image Stabilization is actually really impressive.