Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nokia Lumia 920 camera review

Nokia has a lot riding on the Lumia 920. Their flagship Windows Phone 8 device is supposed to be the device to propel them back into recovery. The Lumia 800 which I praised a lot last year had plenty of faults, one of which includes the sub-standard camera expected from Nokia - but hei it was a stop-gap device, one they engineered and got onto the market in nine months. The Lumia 920 on the other hand, is pretty much their first real made from scratch Windows Phone smartphone, one not bound by previous pre-Windows Phone era projects.

Nokia also prides themselves as a big camera company, one that makes smartphones with the absolute best imaging hardware - that many of their fans insists will bring about the downfall of dedicated photographic companies like Nikon and Canon. The Lumia 920, the second of their device to has the PureView brand attached to it, is one such device. Never mind that physics dictates that a device the size of the Lumia 920 can't possibly bet as good as a five year old compact or even the PureView 808, we were told that it was technically brilliant.

No, it isn't.

During my one week with the Lumia 920, I found it a weak camera, even by smartphone's standard. The autofocus mechanism is irritating, often focusing and then immediately defocusing prior to capturing the image, thus producing soft fuzzy looking images. White balance, while better than the Lumia 800, is still often incorrect. It also could not handle metering well. Point the camera towards a scene with challenging dynamic range, and the Lumia 920 will simply bottle it, forcing users to rely on exposure compensation instead.

The following two images were taken seconds apart, with the camera left on auto setting. Both images turned out sharp, but notice how the white balance is way off in the second image. Nothing has changed after the first shot was taken, and still the camera decided to change the white balance. It is puzzling why it would do that.
Now the wrong white balance is something I can tolerate, even if it annoys me as I can't immediately share it before first editing the image. But a defocused image, or soft fuzzy image as some has called them, isn't something you can fix. There's no real life tools equivalent to the trope used in films and TV where any technician can turn a fuzzy image taken with a 2003 camera phone into something a Hassleband would even struggle to take. Once you are stuck with a fuzzy image, you are stuck with it for good.

So what's good about this camera? The video. That's handy, if I shoot videos, but I don't. But some do, and I am sure it is a boon even despite the lack YouTube uploading app with the phone. At least the video, with floating lens thingy is so darn good, if I had to shoot video I would choose the Lumia 920. During the past week or so, I often carry two permanent cameras with me at all times - my old Canon S90 for imaging and the Lumia 920 for video. Even if I had my Nikon SLR with me, I would default to the Lumia 920 if I had a video to shoot.

Despite the great video recording feature, a camera convergence device this isn't. I hate missing moments, and the Lumia 920's camera is so poor I can't trust it. If there's something going on, the first thing I grab is the camera locked away in my bad and not the phone in my palm - that's just how little faith I have with the Lumia 920 when tasked with capturing memories I want to keep.

On the very few occasion the Lumia 920's autofocus mechanism behaved properly, the image turned out sharp. The white balance can be fixed later, and as long as you do not point the camera at something too bright or too dark, the resulting in an image that is decent, proving that a firmware or two updates lies a hardware that has potential. There are times like when I was shooting a landscape scene where it would refused to focus. This is when the ability to tell the camera to switch to infinity focus would be helpful but no, no such settings exists - not even landscape mode. I will let these image samples speak for themselves:
Which looks decent enough in web size, that is until you see the fuzzy 100% crops:
These samples were the best of a few hundred samples I took, and I only choose the best of each scenes to include here. Looking at the images, it appears the Lumia 920 is able to take better night shots than it can during daylight, which is bizarre! Detailing has also been lost due to the aggressive noise reduction processing the camera software applies to each photograph.

Simply, do not trust the auto setting on the Lumia 920 - almost everything about this camera has failed my expectations. I can just about tolerate these issues on a cheap phone, but not with something that costs £450 and is marketed as an imaging device. A 'PureView' device even! Until Nokia releases a firmware update to fix these rather glaring issues, the Lumia 920 as a still camera, is simply not fit for purpose.

+ Great at video
- Poor autofocus mechanism
- Inaccurate white balance
- Poor metering
- No HDR mode


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your Lumia 800 and HTC One X camera review and was hoping you would review this as well. It is disappointing to see the camera being such low quality. Nokia needs to fix this ASAP.

Any chance of reviewing the Nexus 4?

Jon Choo said...

Not in the near future.

Nokia is pushing an update that will allegedly fix the camera. Whether or not my loaner device will get it in time is another matter.

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Meagan said...
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