Yesterday, Nokia finally made one of the most leaked, rumored, and talked about phones official – the Lumia 1020.
Ever since the 808 PureView was announced in February last year and it was discovered the Lumia 920 would come with an entirely different type of PureView camera, optical image stabilization instead of lossless digital zoom, Windows Phone fans have been dying for more PureView love. It’s not that the low-light performance of the 920 wasn’t great or that the phone was disappointing, but a phone with lossless digital zoom and a 41-megapixel sensor is in an entirely different league of mobile image sensing.
In essence, the 808 PureView was three parts camera to one part phone. On the other hand, the Lumia 920 has always been more phone than camera – one part camera to three parts phone. Finally, the Lumia 1020 is a balanced blend of the two – equal parts phone and camera.
While Nokia slaved away for the better part of two years working towards a PureView Windows Phone with both lossless digital zoom and optical image stabilization, other mobile manufacturers were also working on their own image sensing innovations.
HTC brought forth the UltraPixel camera on the One. It features a meager 4-megapixel sensor. The trick was using a physically larger sensor to capture more light. And, for the most part, it worked. It disproved a longstanding misconception that megapixels are the end all be all of mobile image sensing.
Samsung went in the other direction, fitting its flagship with a 13-megapixel sensor. Naturally, since the sensor size didn’t change, low-light is the camera’s Achille’s heel. But it’s certainly capable of taking some great photos. Samsung also went one step further and incorporated a phone with a 16-megapixel camera with 10x optical zoom – the Galaxy S 4 Zoom.
Apple hasn’t technically innovated anything in the mobile image sensing space, but the last three generations of the iPhone have come with some of the most well-balanced and popular smartphone cameras (using Sony sensors) around. And Sony isn’t doing so bad in that area either.
In all, however, Nokia just leapfrogged all of its competition in mobile image sensing, and it’s now miles ahead. (The only reason we don’t count the 808 is because it never amounted to much. It was a proof of concept which never received a ton of recognition outside small tech circles.) Windows Phone, in just two weeks, will have bragging rights. And Nokia will once again be the dominant force in the mobile image sensing department.
Further, it could be a long time before anyone catches up, for two reasons: Nokia has fueled a ton of cash into research and development for these tiny 41-megapixel sensors, and if the 1020 doesn’t end up selling like hotcakes, the competition may not be compelled to, well … compete.
Remember, I said the 1020 will likely be nothing more than a foundation for the future of Nokia. It may not necessarily be the savior device that propels Nokia and Windows Phone to the top, and that’s perfectly fine. But, by the long shot it is a success and the PureView camera proves to be a huge selling point, other manufacturers could find themselves in a tough spot.
HTC, for one, is moving in the opposite direction, trying to prove more megapixels doesn’t necessarily mean better quality. Nokia is actively proving otherwise, that if implemented properly, more megapixels can be very useful, i.e., lossless digital zoom.
The iPhone’s camera is impressive for what it is. But Apple has very long product cycles and doesn’t play by other companies’ terms. Chances are, Apple would ignore any such success until it’s nipping at the heels of the iPhone.
Sony may be forced to more tightly integrate its successful camera business with its struggling smartphone business. (Honestly, I don’t know why it hasn’t already.)
Of all the companies innovating in image sensing, however, Samsung may be the only company currently prepared to compete with Nokia. The Galaxy NX, Galaxy Camera, and Galaxy S 4 Zoom lend credence to that. Samsung has been preparing for a revolution in mobile image sensing all along.
Still, Nokia has nailed down an aspect Samsung cannot yet grasp: the combination of superior optics and portability. The Lumia 1020 with a 41-megapixel camera and up to 6x lossless digital zoom is 10.4mm thick, while the 16-megapixel Galaxy S 4 Zoom (with last year’s specs, no less) is a chunky 15.4mm thick. And on top of the lossless zoom, the 1020’s camera offers optical image stabilization with up to a four-second exposure for better night shots.
In other words, Nokia has effectively outclassed every other mobile manufacturer in image sensing – not by a little, by a country mile. And if the Lumia 1020 is a hit, or even if the successor next year is a hit, the competition will have their work cut out for them.
I’m sure I speak on behalf of the entire Pocketnow team when I say I can’t wait to get my hands on the Lumia 1020. And, honestly, I can’t wait to see how Apple, Samsung, HTC, and all the other mobile manufacturers react. Here’s to hoping they acknowledge Nokia’s move. It’s the future of mobile cameras, and there are very few who will dispute that.