Today Nokia unveiled the Lumia 1020, its flagship 41MP camera-centric smartphone for Windows Phone 8. Aimed squarely at photo enthusiasts, the Lumia 1020, like the 808 PureView before it, employs a large and extremely high resolution 41MP imaging sensor along with clever processing to address two major shortcomings of almost all smartphones: poor low light performance and the lack of a high quality zoom option. The Lumia 1020 has the decided advantage over the 808, though, of running on the Windows Phone 8 platform instead of the end-of-life Symbian OS. In addition, Nokia tells us the Lumia 1020's sensor hardware and design are completely new, rather than a recycle of that found in the 808 PureView.
While a 41MP sensor is bound to stand apart from previous Lumia models, the 1020 can actually be seen as a continuation of Nokia's attempt to differentiate its high-end models by catering to the needs of mobile photographers. Recent Lumia models have featured a multi-aspect ratio sensor, fast F2.0 six-element lens construction, optical image stabilization and a top sensitivity of ISO 3200.
So let's take a look at Nokia's newest addition to Lumia lineup and see just what it promises for photographers.
• 41MP 1/1.5" BSI sensor (capable of 34MP and 38MP output images depending on aspect ratio)
• Mechanical shutter
• Zeiss F2.2 27mm equivalent (for 4:3 still images) six-element lens
• Xenon flash
• LED light for video
• Windows Phone 8 OS
• 4.5" AMOLED WXGA (1280x768) display
• 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor
• Front facing 1.2MP camera
• 2 GB RAM, 32 GB internal memory
Sensor design and hardware
Nokia has taken every opportunity to stress that the sensor hardware and design of the Lumia 1020 is brand new. The challenge of creating a 41MP sensor and appropriate lens in a smartphone sized to fit aesthetically with the Lumia lineup was a significant one. And indeed the most striking thing about the Lumia 1020 is how utterly conventional it looks alongside other high-end smartphones.
Once the novelty of saying your smartphone has a 41MP sensor wears off, it's tempting to look at a 7728 x 5368 image as a marketing ploy. Yet, as it did when the 808 was launched, Nokia has taken pains to stress that the importance of such a high pixel density lies in oversampling for a higher quality image output at more manageable files sizes. With the Lumia 1020, Nokia has upped the ante by allowing you to simultaneously capture a full resolution 38MP and an oversampled 5MP version of every image. This means that you can take advantage of zooming in and out non-destructively post-capture while also having a fully processed 5MP image to share immediately.
The Lumia 1020 sports a 4.5-inch AMOLED 1280x768 screen with Corning's Gorilla Glass, just as the Lumia 900-series models before it. In our brief time with the screen in florescent and diffuse daylight conditions, images appeared pleasingly crisp and bright. The Zeiss lens, recessed into the unibody polycarbonate shell, is also protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass.
UI and software
The Lumia 1020 runs Windows Phone 8, with its tile-based UI. The camera interface is all new compared to previous Lumia models, with the 1020 introducing the Nokia Pro Camera app. Manual control is the order of the day here, as you can adjust not only white balance and exposure compensation, but also ISO, shutter speed and even manual focus. A long exposure option impressively allows you to capture exposure times as long as four seconds. In the Nokia onstage presentation today, we saw a light painting live demo in which the subjects held smartphones set to their home screens and waved their arms to spell out "1020." A bit cheesy, perhaps, but the example does amply illustrate some of the creative possibilities.
The Lumia 1020 includes the standard Nokia apps found in previous models, for music and sharing for example. Nokia also announced that the 1020 will co-launch with Histamatic's Oggl Pro app, which is tailored for the "zoom" capabilities of the 41MP sensor.
The big news of the day, of course is the 41MP back-side illuminated sensor powering the Lumia 1020. Shoot in 4:3 format for still images and you can come away with a 38MP image. At its default setting, the 1020 can save an oversampled, and vastly more shareable, 5MP image simultaneously.
The zoom capability that Nokia has been touting in the lead up to the launch is conceptually the same as what we saw in the 808 PureView. With the full resolution capture as a starting point you can perform a 3x zoom post-capture without requiring any upsampling. While this obviously falls short of even a compact camera travel zoom, Nokia's method of cropping from the center area of the sensor does have the advantage of avoiding the narrower f-stops required from a non-fixed aperture zoom, meaning you can potentially shoot at lower ISO settings.
The Zeiss F2.2 lens is of a six-element construction, with one of the elements being made of glass instead of plastic. The lens uses a mechanical shutter and has a 27mm equivalent focal length. The camera has a top sensitivity of ISO 3200 and exposure compensation can be set at +/- three stops.
Optical image stabilization is included, and while it achieves similar performance as that on the Lumia 920, the version in the 1020 is a new construction, with ball bearings and small motor to move the entire lens assembly.
The Lumia 1020, like previous Nokia models, accepts a snap-on wireless charging unit for a cable-free charging experience. But the 1020 also comes with a $79 camera grip that provides a shutter button, built-in secondary battery and a sculpted hand grip. This combo, while obviously making the 1020 less pocketable, provides a very comfortable and camera-like shooting experience, particularly in landscape orientation.
In the U.S., the Lumia 1020 will be available exclusively through AT&T's retail outlets on July 26 and priced at $299.99 with a two-year contract. AT&T says they will begin taking pre-orders on their site beginning July 16. Nokia promises that the 1020 will be available in China and select European countries, "this quarter."
While we've had access to production model units during today's press event, we've not been allowed to share images taken with the Lumia 1020. Having said that, the images do look impressive in both diffuse daylight conditions and low light samples. Auto white balance settings seem quite reasonable in even more challenging conditions. We're anxious to get our hands on a sample that we can shoot with in a variety of real-world environments, but so far things look promising.
What's undoubtedly true though is that Nokia has managed to take some very novel and impressive imaging technology and fit it all elegantly in a device that is effectively no bulkier than most high-end smartphones. Early signs point to the Lumia 1020 being well worth the wait.