First impressions and photos from Nokia’s 41MP Lumia 1020

The hype was high for Nokia’s second attempt at a 41-megapixel camera phone when it released the Lumia 1020 on July 11, the follow-up to last year’s 808 PureView phone

The basic imaging principles that set the 808 apart are again at work in the Lumia 1020. The device uses a 41MP imaging sensor to output maximum file sizes of 34MP to 38MP (depending on aspect ratio). The real value of such high pixel density lies in oversampling for a higher quality image output at more manageable files sizes. The Lumia 1020 allows you to simultaneously shoot both a full-resolution capture and an oversampled, immediately shareable 5MP version of every image. (Nokia offers a white paper that further explains the science of oversampling if you want to know more.)

The Lumia 1020 holds even further promise this time around with a more modern redesigned 41MP 1/1.5″ back-side-illuminated sensor, a faster aperture at F2.2 versus the 808’s F2.4, a six-element Zeiss lens with optical image stabilization and the new Nokia-developed Pro Cam app. And it’s powered by the Windows Phone 8 operating system (the 808’s Symbian system was already outdated when the device was released).

We look forward to putting the Lumia 1020 through our full  review process, but until then, we’ve had just enough time with our review sample today to offer up some first impressions after seeing how it performs in a range of standard shooting conditions. 

Image quality

For this first impressions piece, we deliberately left the Lumia 1020 operating in auto settings using the new Pro Camera app. We’ll wait to delve into its advanced capabilities our full review. As a first look, we thought it best to see what the camera’s auto controls can do under some very common lighting conditions: when using flash, in low light, in shade and in bright sunlight. Click to see the high-resolution version of the image.

We also took the Lumia 1020 out on the town today, to see what it could capture on a spectacular sunny Seattle day.

We did run into some serious lens flare during our first day of shooting. We’ll have to experiment further to see how best to combat this issue on the Lumia 1020. Though a fairly common problem when shooting in bright conditions, the Lumia 1020’s large lens may make this an especially frequent problem.

Handling performance

We enjoyed shooting with the the Nokia Camera Grip, which truly made the Lumia 1020 feel like a compact camera (and extends battery life). This does add some bulk, which concerned those in the office who typically carry their smartphone in their pocket, but this wasn’t a worry for those of us who stash our smartphone in a bag or purse.

A long press of the grip’s shutter button brings up the Nokia Pro Camera app quickly. The new app (which Nokia promises to make available for other Lumia devices as well) offers a bevy of capture controls photographers will find familiar: five different flash settings, white balance, focus, ISO (up to 3200), shutter speed (from 4s to 1/800) and exposure compensation (from -3.0 to +3.0).

The 4.5-inch Amoled WXGA (1280×768) screen was especially easy to use on a bright sunny day, and the 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 felt responsive and snappy. The phone itself was comfortable to hold and feels well-made. The raised camera feature doesn’t feel as clunky as it did on the 808, though the protrusion does feel slightly more prone to damage from a fall.

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