Putting Nokia's zoom claims to the test: Lumia 1020 smartphone versus Canon PowerShot S120
In case you've missed the last couple months of excessive media blasting, Nokia's been diligently working to keep its 41-megapixel Lumia 1020 front and center by putting it in the hands of famous photographers and explaining how it works via sophisticated computer animations.
Amongst the claims it's made about the Lumia 1020 are those about "reinvented zoom," extolled in this commercial that shows a roomful of parents at a school play clamoring for a closer position as they snap photos with their non-Nokia tablets and smartphones while the Lumia 1020 wielding parents calmly zoom into their photos shot from the back of the room.
As we explained in our full review of the device, the Lumia 1020 does deliver more advanced zooming capabilities than its camera phone competitors.
On most smartphones digital zoom simulates optical zoom by cropping the image and then upsampling it to the camera’s native resolution. The pixels are enlarged while image resolution and image quality are reduced. But the Lumia 1020’s high 41MP native resolution (maximum output is 38MP in 4:3, 34MP in 16:9) means that even with some digital zoom applied, the image is still downsampled through most of the zoom range. You can zoom into 2.7X (a 74mm equivalent in 4:3 mode) before the cropped image hits 5MP.
But how does the Lumia 1020 stack up against a compact camera with optical zoom?
The Canon PowerShot S120 offers 5X optical zoom with an equivalent focal length of 24-120 mm and a 12MP 1/1.7" backside-illuminated sensor. (For comparison, the Lumia 1020 offers 25mm equivalent focal length in 16:9 and 27mm in 4:3, and a 1/1.5" backside-illuminated sensor.) The Canon's optical zoom works by physically changing the focal length of the lens.
We recently put the Lumia 1020's and Canon PowerShot S210's zoom capabilities to the test. As you'll see in the first table below, we're comparing the Lumia's 27mm wide angle equivalent full resolution 38MP capture to that of the Canon's 24mm wide angle 12MP capture. We're also comparing both cameras at their full zoom capabilities: the Lumia's 2.7X digital zoom produces a 74mm equivalent 5MP capture while the Canon can zoom to 5X for a 120mm 12MP capture.
Now let's take a closer look at a 100 percent crop from the full resolution 38MP Lumia 1020 image at the widest 27mm equivalent focal length and compare it to 100 percent crops from several images shot at different focal lengths using the Canon S120. Each original Canon image is a 12MP file; the lens changes the angle of view but the megapixel count stays the same. The Lumia image is exactly the same in each comparison, while the Canon images will show where an optical zoom differs.
Our results show the benefits of zooming in with a compact camera over even the best-in-class smartphone. The Lumia 1020's digital zoom simply can't stack up against the Canon S120's optical zoom. The Canon can not only zoom in further, it also retains detail and sharpness better when zoomed in to its full 5X power.
Photographers and photography websites like ours will continue to debate the pros and cons of smartphone versus camera, but for now there's simply no contest when it comes to zoom.
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