The cameraphone is back in the spotlight in 2013, with the Nokia Lumia 1020 taking the title of highest image sensor with its 41 megapixel camera. Even its closest competitor, the Sony Xperia Z1, can only muster a 20.7 megapixel sensor of its own, leaving Nokia customers with the real bragging rights.
But serious photographers know that megapixel count has little to do with the actual quality of the images that are captured; there are so many other variables in the mix. Apple’s new iPhone 5s has the best mobile camera ever equipped on a handset from this manufacturer. But does it stack up against the Lumia 1020, or is Nokia’s photographic prowess just too far advanced for any rival to even come close?
The Lumia 1020′s 41 megapixel sensor is clearly a lot larger than the 8 megapixel unit found on the iPhone 5s. But having lots of pixels is arguably less important than ensuring that each pixel is big enough to absorb a decent amount of light. The iPhone 5s has larger pixels than its predecessors from Apple, with each one measuring 1.5 microns. This is similar to the decision taken by HTC with the One, which has a four megapixel camera, but uses a sensor which is comparable in size to a phone with a 13 megapixel unit. Nokia’s phone has a 1.12 micron size for its pixels, which means that they are admittedly smaller than the iPhone 5s. however, there are many more of them, which helps to take up the slack in many cases.
The Lumia 1020 and iPhone 5s are a lot closer when it comes to aperture, as each has a maximum lens capability of f/2.2. this means that more light is allowed through to the sensor, improving the quality of pictures which are captured when there may not be all that much ambient illumination available. The iPhone 5s sports two LEDs to act as the flash and with a variety of automated settings these can adjust the amount of light which is thrown onto a subject on the fly, helping to reduce red-eye and stop your night-time snaps looking washed out or over-exposed.
The Lumia 1020 opts for a Xenon flash, which is bright and highly capable. One thing which it has over the iPhone 5s on a technical level is optical image stabilisation, which means that although Apple’s handset can do this digitally, Nokia’s model is more likely to take clear, blur-free shots automatically using techniques found in standalone digital cameras.
Apple’s updated phone app is now more flexible than ever, allowing you to customise the way you take photos. There is also a good array of built-in editing software to allow you to tweak your pictures after you have captured them.
The iPhone 5s even takes advantage of the power of its 64 bit A7 processor to record 720p HD video clips at 120 frames a second, giving you instant access to smooth slow-mo playback, which is great for the purposes of editing. Meanwhile FaceTime on iPhone 5s is enhanced thanks to the FaceTime HD front-facing camera that has been added, with its 1.9 megapixel resolution outshining the 1.2 megapixel secondary snapper on the Lumia 1020.
In keeping with the high end nature of the Lumia 1020′s camera hardware, the availability of the Nokia Pro Cam and Smart Camera apps will help serious photographers get to grips with the pictures they take. Pro Camera is particularly special, because it offers an interface that allows you to adjust the ISO, change the white balance, focus manually and even alter the shutter speed. Everything is attached to easy to use sliders, so there is a shallow learning curve. Video capture at 1080p HD is stunning and the Lumia 1020 has a higher quality microphone than the iPhone 5s, which is perhaps a minor point to make, but one which could be relevant for budding directors. When it comes to manufacturer-made apps, Nokia has done well to take the lead in this important area.
As with previous generations, the Apple iPhone 5s camera features can be enhanced thanks to the availability of a wide range of third party applications and services. Although the Lumia 1020′s Windows Phone 8 platform has a decent selection of such apps, the iPhone 5s still leads the way when it comes to choice. From fun and funky image alteration to professional third party editing software that will set you back a premium price, there are lots of reasons to pick the iPhone 5s when you are comparing Windows Phone 8 or iOS 7.
Of course it is also important to remember that photography fans may prefer to get their images across to a dedicated PC or laptop to do some serious touch-ups, which might help to overcome the difference in the number of smartphone apps that are available.
It is a little difficult to argue that the iPhone 5s is superior to the Lumia 1020 in the camera department, because Nokia’s phone is focused around photography, whereas it is simply an important but far from central feature of Apple’s device.
There is still a lot about the iPhone 5s that will keep snap-happy users on Apple’s side. You could also point out that even with all its prowess, the Lumia 1020 is not going to replace a standalone digital camera, making it less necessary for photography fans who want a casual accompaniment. So as with most choices in the mobile market, it is not going to be an easy one.