Nokia Lumia 1020: first impressions


Nokia Lumia 1020

Yesterday, I upgraded my Nokia Lumia 920 smartphone to the Nokia Lumia 1020. I’ve barely used it yet — installed a few apps, taken 20 or 30 photos, made a couple of phone calls, sent/received a few text messages and emails – and here are my initial reactions:

  • The camera rocks. Not because it has lots of megapixels, although the ability to re-crop and still retain lots of detail is definitely cool. It’s the nicest lens I’ve seen on a phone camera, and the Nokia Camera Pro software has a well thought out set of controls for things like white balance and exposure compensation.
  • The rest of it seems a perfectly acceptable phone. But truthfully, I could care less about anything other than the camera, so let’s get back to that …

Jamie at Marymoor dog park

The photo above is typical of what I’ve seen so far. It’s very sharp, and properly exposed despite a variety of potentially confusing bright and dark areas in the frame. I haven’t seen the 1020 badly miss the right exposure yet, and my experience with smartphones has been spotty on that aspect in the past.

One negative on the 1020, as with all smartphones, is the shutter lag. For the shot above, Jamie was trotting toward me and I had to guess when to press the shutter to get a good shot, knowing that there would be a delay of a half second or more. I would have liked to have him a little closer, but that’s hard to control precisely if you’re not using a DSLR. I don’t know whether that’s something that can be significantly improved on current smartphone hardware – if it can, my Nikon D800 will start logging far fewer miles each day.

The controls on the Nokia Camera Pro software (the default “lens” for the 1020) are wonderful. It’s quick and simple to spin through various settings, via an interface that uses a set of concentric arcs to represent white balance, focal distance, ISO sensitivity, shutter speed, and exposure compensation:

Nokia Camera Pro controls

Coming from an SLR/DSLR perspective, one thing that feels missing is an aperture control. The lens on the 1020 has some nice bokeh, but you can’t spin an aperture control to select how much depth of field you’d like. Perhaps the shutter-speed setting can be used to back into that – more research needed. Hey, this is just a first impression!

Much has been made of the 41 megapixel resolution of the 1020. My D800 has 36 megapixels, and as I’ve said many times, I think that’s way too much. I loved the D700’s 12 megapixel FX sensor, with its amazing low-light performance (since the pixels are so large and so far apart on the sensor – less noise, less grain), and I never post a photo of more than 2 megapixels resolution on Facebook or Flickr, but I still get comments sometimes about the “crazy detail” and sharpness in my photos. Generally speaking, I’m in the less-is-more camp on megapixels.

But the 1020 (or, more accurately, the Nokia Camera Pro software) makes good use of those extra megapixels in such a way that you reap the benefits without paying a price in file size and bandwidth. When you take a picture, it’s saved in high resolution (somewhere around the high 30s to 41 megapixels, depending on your chosen aspect ratio), but the version you share via email, SMS, Facebook, or whatever is roughly a 5MB copy. So what’s the point of the extra megapixels?! Well, you can re-crop your photo and save any 5 megapixel chunk of it as a separate image. This is very powerful and useful. Here’s an example:

re-cropping a photo

I’ve joked on Facebook that I carry a Lumia 1020 for maximum megapixels, since my D800 is “only” 36MP. But I found today that I’m actually getting 32MP out of the 1020 (7712 x 4352 pixels), as opposed to the 34MP I get out of the D800 (7360 x 4912 pixels).  By the way, those are “true” numbers, counting a megapixel as 1048576 pixels, but it seems some manufacturers round that off to a million pixels in a megapixel. This is a “controversy” for which I have no time or energy. Whatever.

Now, you may wonder: how do I know that my photos on the 1020 are 7712 x 4352 pixels, if I can only email myself a 5MP slimmed-down version? Good question, and the answer is that I plugged my phone into my computer with a USB cable, so that I could copy the highes versions to my laptop. When you plug in your phone like that on a Windows 8 machine, it shows up in Explorer as a “drive” and you can drill down into the “camera roll” folder and see the details:

file size details

As you can see, the highes versions are up to 13MB in size.

Getting back to the camera’s actual performance, one thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised with is the amount of detail it captures in the shadows. This bodes well for low-light performance, although I haven’t played around with that yet. For example, check out how much detail/texture it captured on the shady side of this tree trunk in bright sunlight:

Robinswood Park, Bellevue

Regarding the ergonomics of the 1020, one thing to keep in mind is that it has a larger and thicker lens than other smartphones, so it doesn’t lay flat. I don’t mind this at all, but some folks might:

Nokia Lumia 1020

Nokia Lumia 1020

Note one non-phone detail on the left above: by default, this phone shows the current time at all times, moving it around the screen randomly so as to not burn in a particular spot on the screen. If you’ don’t wear a watch (as I don’t), this is a handy feature.

So that’s it, my first impressions. I’ll surely have a lot more to say going forward, but so far this is my favorite phone ever because it’s a camera first and a phone second. As it should be!

Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop



  1. Great post; given that the primary function of my IPhone has become by default to take pictures of the boys or things I see when I am out and about, this looks like it would be a logical choice for me to upgrade to.

  2. Your dog looks so cute, especially in the photo where is sitting in the car. As for the Nokia Lumia 1020, it looks so amazing and beautiful. I might buy this phone later this year during the Christmas holidays.

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