Published on November 2, 2012 10:53 AM

Nokia Lumia 920 Camera Test: PureView to the Rescue?

UPDATE: 9/11/12. Full Nokia Lumia 920 review now online.

UPDATE: 6/11/12. Nokia sent us a second Lumia 920 so we could double check it with the same set of tests in our camera lab. The results were very slightly different, but not enough to change our overall verdict: apart from in low-light conditions, the Lumia 920 camera takes shots that are uneven in quality. Photos look fine in the centre but quality drops over the rest of the frame, with other parts of the shot lacking detail and even looking blurred (see below).

The Nokia Lumia 920 has got to be one of the most eagerly awaited Windows Phone 8 handsets. The good news is that Nokia's hottest new mobile has already been put through its paces in our camera test lab. The full review will be following soon.

Nokia's PureView technology (as seen in the Nokia 808 PureView on Symbian) is back again in the Lumia 920, promising top-rate pictures in low light with no need for a flash. The Lumia 920 is also the first smartphone to come with optical stabilisation—other smartphones are still using digital stabilisation systems.
Nokia Lumia 920 Camera Test: some random girl

But does all this onboard technology make Nokia's Lumia 920 the best cameraphone on the block? Can it outdo the iPhone 5 in low-light conditions? Does it beat the HTC 8X, another new Windows Phone 8 handset? Is it good enough to replace a stand-alone compact camera? Answers below.

Surprising Stuff!

Actually, the answer to all those questions is no. The Lumia 920 didn't perform as well as expected in our standard set of lab tests for smartphone cameras. In fact, we were surprised to see that this phone isn't really up to much when it comes to taking photos.

For starters, the sensor isn't as impressive as promised. Shots taken at 100 ISO are still OK, but noise is very visible from 400 ISO, even in small-sized shots.

The lens gives decent results in the middle of the frame, but the edges of shots soon get very soft and hazy. As a result, images are sharp in the middle at 1/12 ths (while many smartphones need to push up to 1/20 ths or even 1/40 ths) but the rest of the shot is blurred. Lines and edges aren't particularly crisp and photos are generally lacking in sharpness and detail.

Nokia Lumia 920 Camera Test: face-off
Compare the Nokia Lumia 920 with other cameras and cameraphones in the Face-Off

The stabilisation system is very effective, however. In fact, it's probably the one saving grace of this cameraphone, especially in low light. That said, you'll have to cope with an autofocus that doesn't always lock on to your subject first time around.

Nokia Lumia 920 Camera Test: blurred!

As far as Windows Phone 8 cameraphones go, we prefer what we saw with the HTC 8X on the whole, even though it does sometimes over-accentuate lines and edges. Otherwise, the Lumia 920 doesn't stand up to the iPhone 5, whether for detail captured, noise levels (especially in low light) or colour reproduction. It's no match for the Galaxy S3 either, which gives better overall results. Worse still—the Lumia 920 doesn't compare favourably to the Lumia 800 on image quality.

Nokia Lumia 920 Camera Test: Barbie

While we were seriously impressed with Nokia's PureView technology in the 808, the Lumia 920 just doesn't have the same wow-factor (although it does use a different sensor). Like many people, we were expecting to see an exceptional-quality smartphone camera in the Lumia 920, but our tests have shown that that's clearly not the case. All in all, the verdict is as surprising as it is disappointing.

We were so surprised with these results that we got in touch with Nokia to tell them about or findings. As a result, they'll be sending us a second Lumia 920 handset to double-check with the same set of standard tests. Was our test model faulty or is the Lumia 920 camera really so disappointing? Stay tuned for confirmation.

Low Light: Lumia 920 vs iPhone 5
Nokia Lumia 920 / test nuit
Nokia Lumia 920
iPhone 5 /  test nuit
Apple iPhone 5
While we thought the iPhone 5 handled shooting in low light pretty well for a smartphone (objects can be made out clearly), with the Lumia 920 we can not only make out the various objects clearly, but we can actually see everything in the test scene relatively well! Low-light shots are much cleaner and more detailed here. The Lumia 920 has a very good white balance.

Test results from second Lumia 920 Handset (6/11/2012)
Lumia 920 centre de la scene nouveau test
Centre of image
Lumia 920 bord de l'image nouveau test
Edge of image

Test results from first Lumia 920 handset (2/11/2012)
Lumia 920 centre de l'image ancien test
Centre of image
Lumia 920 bord de l'image ancien test
Edge of image