Best smartphone cameras

Like the old Nokia 808 PureView - which we previously described as the 'apex' of the smartphone as a photographic device - this tile-based Windows 8 phone 1020 successor is most notable for cramming a new-generation, class-leading 41-megapixel sensor at its heart. That's double that of closest competitor here for pixel count, the Sony Xperia Z1.

As we noted when we looked at the 808, you'd have to be a professional commercial photographer with £20K to spend on a digital medium format camera to achieve that level of specification from a dedicated device.

Indeed, Nokia is referring to this device as its "Nokia Pro Camera" though, while you can adjust the likes shutter speed and white balance, of course it's not offering like-for-like.

For starters the 1020 is autofocus by default - though there is a cool manual option that allows a focus slider to be adjusted by a fingertip. And, as with all the devices reviewed here there's only the ability to capture JPEGs rather than higher-quality unprocessed Raw files available on higher-end cameras - although this is changing in the near future.

Lumia 1020

To make the handset's look and handling more camera-like, there's a slip-on accessory camera grip with its own connection port and screw thread for attachment to a tripod.

This should please true photographers who gravitate to this phone, as should a mechanical shutter and the six-lens-element Carl Zeiss Tessar optic, plus a bright aperture of f/2.2 (the lower the number the brighter).

Lumia 1020

The handset's sensor is back-illuminated to improve performance, and optically image stabilised too to counter any hand wobble and prevent blur in lower light, with a light sensitivity range stretching from ISO 100 to ISO 3200 provided. For getting closer to the action there's a 3x digital zoom.

To ensure sure operation zips along there's a 1.5 GHZ dual-core Snapdragon 54 processor on board. Meanwhile the camera's viewfinder is provided by a 4.5-inch, 1280x768 pixel resolution touchscreen offering a 15:9 aspect ratio.

It's an AMOLED display, which typically means deeper blacks and better contrast than a standard issue LCD screen, though you're only really going to see the benefit of the larger files on your desktop or even in print.

It also has enthusiast-pleasing Xenon flash with a four-meter range (although this is the same as the older 808 and again we're limited to a flash on/off or auto option).

Though the canary yellow colored edging on our review model (white and black is also available) makes it look larger than it actually is, the handset dimensions of 130.4x71.4x10.4mm make it shorter in profile than the Sony Xperia Z1, and it boasts a weight of 158g, wireless charging option, and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, micro USB, NFC connectivity.

New this time around is dual capture, whereby the monoblock handset captures a hi-res 38-megapixel shot plus a simultaneous email/social media-friendly five-megapixel version. The front/user facing camera weighs in at a comparatively underpowered 1.2MP, with an f/2.4 aperture.

Best smartphone cameras

As with all the smartphones here, there's the facility to effortlessly flick between stills and Full HD 1920x1080 pixels video at 30 frames per second (fps), which is on a par with any consumer level pocket camera.

A neat extra is that we get digital camera-like picture info provided alongside images in playback mode - such as when the shot was taken along with the settings used. As the Nokia's lens is set further from the handset edge than others here, there's less likelihood of fingertips straying into shot - though it can (and did) still happen.

Settings

Shooting settings are displayed in a thin band down the right-hand side of the screen, or placed at the top in landscape orientation.

Choose one, and its available functions show in an arch that sits over the camera icon/shutter release button on screen - recalling the shape of a lens so that running a fingertip over the screen simulates the feel of making real photographic decisions and manual adjustments.

Lumia 1020

The collected options here are flash, white balance, ISO (a broader than most ISO 100-4000), shutter speed (from 4 seconds to 1/16000), plus manually adjustable exposure compensation running from -3EV to +3EV.

Tapping of your subject where they appear on the (full) screen biases focus toward them and subsequently fires the shutter (though we found the response to this slightly sluggish).

We liked that there's also a "hard" shutter release button on the bottom right-hand edge (in portrait orientation; it's conveniently top right if used landscape fashion) for more conventional use.

All this aside, for actual images the Nokia 1020 gives Sony's Xperia Z1 a run for its money. The pictures from the Sony are a little better saturated to our eyes, and also less noisy at the top ISO setting (of course on the Sony's chip there are less pixels too). But the Nokia displays a subtlety that the other devices reviewed here can't compete with.

Its bright/fast aperture lens also enabled us to achieve shots with a shallow depth of field - sharp foreground, blurred background - that was more noticeable here than on competing handsets similarly offering an aperture of f/2 or thereabouts.

Verdict

Pictures from the Nokia feel more rounded and realistic - which, if you're buying a smartphone principally for the camera, will be music to your ears (or balm to your eyes).

Pros: New generation 41-megapixel sensor. Bright f/2.2 lens aperture. Carl Zeiss lens. Xenon flash. Higher resolution and larger display than its predecessor.

Cons: Tap focus response is a little sluggish, shutter lag and shot-to-shot times can take up to several seconds. It's easy to miss a moment due to this slow performance.

Read our full Nokia 1020 review

Sample images

Best smartphone cameras

Click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Click here for full resolution image

ISO samples

Best smartphone cameras

Click here for the full resolution image

Best smartphone cameras

Click here for the full resolution image