Camera Operation

While the 1020 ships with the uninspired standard Windows Phone camera app, Nokia also includes a new and much improved option, Nokia Pro Cam. This is what launches by default when you long press the shutter button on the phone.

Nokia’s Pro Cam is more capable than the standard Windows Phone camera app.

Basic shooting is straightforward. A half-press on the shutter button locks both focus and exposure, and engages image stabilization so that the preview image floats spookily steady on the screen. Pressing all the way takes a picture. Tapping on the screen moves the focus reticule to that spot and biases exposure toward that portion of the frame, as we prefer. Face detection makes sure faces are in focus, though it’s less aggressive at finding peoples’ mugs than some implementations we’ve seen.

If point-and-shoot is your game, Nokia Pro Cam delivers just fine, but across the top of the frame is a little row of icons that hint at what this app can really do. Some are immediately recognizable: flash mode, ISO, white balance and exposure compensation. The other two are hard to decipher, so you may be shocked to find that they allow manual setting of shutter speed and focus, parameters that you can almost never control on a phone.

Pro Cam provides quick access to manual controls for just about every parameter that counts: ISO, shutter speed, focus, white balance and exposure compensation.

This is pretty exciting for a subset of potential users. For the first time, the balancing act between ISO and shutter speeds familiar from dedicated cameras is practical on a phone. Most camera apps let you set ISO, but since they never report what shutter speed the camera picks and you’re left guessing how high you need to crank sensitivity to avoid blur. Pro Cam reports shutter speed in real time so you can adjust ISO appropriately, or you can simply select the appropriate shutter speed (just fast enough to avoid blur for your shooting conditions) and let the phone pick the ISO.

A wish granted: if you set ISO manually, Pro Cam reports shutter speed so you can adjust accordingly.

Tapping each icon pops out a wheel-style controller on the right side of the screen (or bottom in portrait orientation) that’s easy to use with a little practice. The fat-fingered among us will probably prefer to slide the soft shutter button to the left, which simultaneously deploys all the control wheels as if they were concentric rings and requires less precision than stabbing the tiny icons of the control array.     

If the last few paragraphs read like gibberish to you, fear not: the app does a fine impression of the point-and-shoot simplicity that’s part of mobile photography’s basic appeal. There’s a soft shutter button on the right side of the screen, though you’ll probably never use it thanks to the physical two-stage release. A little video camera icon just off its shoulder takes you straight to video mode (but doesn’t actually start recording). The triple-dot options menu lets you switch to the front camera, toggle a self-timer and image review, or delve deeper (via “Settings”) to a drop-down style menu for changing aspect ratio, capture resolution (full res plus 5MP or just 5MP) and face detection. While the options just under the triple dot are true toggles when possible (i.e., tapping “review” turns image review on or off directly), the drop downs under Settings annoyingly make you choose one of two settings. So switching from 4:3 to 16:9 takes a needless extra tap (and we’d really like to see that option on the first level menu, or even the main screen, anyway — it’s something you’re likely to change far more often than some functions honored right under the triple dot).

The triple dot icon opens Pro Cam’s first layer of settings, which are quick to access and change.
Unfortunately, the deeper settings follow the same scheme as the default Windows Phone camera app.

If you really don’t want to mess with Pro Cam’s bells and whistles, you can also set the shutter button to open the 1020’s standard Windows Phone camera app, which is perfectly serviceable and largely identical to that of the Lumia 920. It offers several manual parameters (ISO, white balance and exposure compensation) and some helpful scene modes (Night, Night Portrait, Sports, Backlight and Close-up). But this app only saves 5MP files, so you miss out on the full glory of the 1020’s sensor. This also means your zooming is final: no post-capture zooming as with Pro Cam. For these reasons, and since the standard camera retains the app-centric design feel we bemoaned in the 920, we much prefer Pro Cam.

For a quick tour of Pro Cam, watch the video below.