A lack of dynamic range is why mobile phone photos often look dull or overexposed. With fairly poor dynamic range, a phone has to judge exposure compensation carefully and it doesn't always get it right.
Other phones get around this by using HDR modes, which merge multiple exposures to artificially boost range. But Nokia's phones don't offer a proper HDR mode. It's something we've been complaining about for years.
We decided to test these four phones' dynamic range by shooting a very tricky scene – where the sky is cloudy but very bright. In this sort of condition, the phone needs to decide whether to overexpose the sky or leave the foreground looking pretty glum. Unless it has the dynamic range to cope, that is.
Let's have a look.
Only one phone here demonstrates decent dynamic range: the Nokia Lumia 1020. It hasn't dramatically overexposed the sky, but the grass in the foreground is much brighter and the highlights in the trees more obvious, than in the 930.
If anything, the Lumia 930 seems a tiny bit worse than the Lumia 635, although in both the foreground is very dull-looking.
The Nokia Lumia 530 takes a different approach that – funnily enough – leads to what is probably the most satisfying photo.
It has overexposed the sky to bring out more detail in the foreground, making it as bright as the 1020's. The strange warm tint seen in the other Lumia 530 photos is very apparent here, though.
While this test shows the Nokia Lumia 1020 is the more adept of the four, it also shows that Nokia still needs to work on an HDR mode. It's long past due.
Night and Low-light
We've seen a few surprise results so far, but what about the real mobile phone barrier: low light? We took to the streets to take some night shots of Wimbledon theatre to see how these phones cope.
They show that you can't always make up for hardware deficiencies with processing, as the phones with the larger sensors perform much, much better than those with smaller ones. No surprise there.
We're talking about the Lumia 1020 and the Lumia 930, which have sensors much bigger than the Lumia 635 and Lumia 530.
Once again, though, the lower-end phones have a good stab at holding onto their colour saturation, where colour often flies out of the window in phones as soon as the lights go out.
There's commendably little noise too, although not exactly much detail to go with that.
The battle between the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 930 is harder to call. In the close-up the Lumia 1020 is the clear victor with more detail, less noise and more colour. Increased dynamic range comes in handy once again too. Just check out the 'Rock of Ages' sign in the bottom-left. It's much clearer in the 1020 shot than any of the others.
However, the Lumia 1020 also suffers from light bleed from a street lamp that's well out of shot to the left. We think this may be down to having a bigger lens and no shielding.
It produces the best photos, but, as we saw with its slow speed and rubbish minimum focusing distance, needs some care and attention to get the most out of it.
This comparison goes to show you don't necessarily need to pay the earth to get a Nokia camera with respectable performance.
The Nokia Lumia 635 photos are oversharpened in places and a little cool-looking, but they can hold their own. Only the Lumia 530 disappoints here, with soft images and a flexibility-bashing fixed focus.
Which wins on the high-end side? Well the Lumia 1020 does provide the best photos, but the added flexibility of the Lumia 930 makes it the best all-rounder for everyday use. It's a good deal faster than the 1020, and is able to focus a lot closer up.
The Lumia 1020 remains the photo purists's choice, though. Nothing like a vague verdict, eh?
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Andrew is a freelance journalist and has been writing and editing for some of the UK's top tech and lifestyle publications including TrustedReviews, Stuff, T3, TechRadar, Lifehacker and others.