In the white corner: Nokia 808. In the yellow corner: Lumia Black

Yes, yes, these colour combinations are getting crazy.... With the Lumia 1020 (on Windows Phone) having started to get its long awaited 'Nokia Black' firmware update, and with the imaging enhancements in this update essentially targetting lower digital noise and more accurate colours, there has been a lot of demand for one (really) 'final' imaging showdown between the 1020 and the Nokia 808 PureView, famed for the purity of its images, with almost no noise. Can the 1020 really match the 808 in this essential attribute? With Black under its belt, how does the Lumia 1020/Nokia 808 balance sheet now stand?

As usual, I'm using the fancy All About sites' interactive comparator tool - just use your mouse or pointer to drag over the sample crops in order to compare one against the other as many times as you like.

(And, yes, I keep saying that I'm not going to feature the Nokia 808 on All About Windows Phone ever again - but this surely has to be the very, very last time, I can't see a need for a future cross-site comparison!)

Test shot 1: Sunny, distant detail, no zoom

A distant bus would test the absolute purity of the detail from the 5MP shots from the two phone cameras. Here's the overall scene, shot on the Lumia 1020 with the Black update:

Overall scene, as shot on the Lumia 1020

And here's the interactive comparator of central 1:1 crops:

Nokia 808 Nokia Lumia 1020 with Black

[You can download the original images from the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 by using the hyperlinks, should you wish to examine the images yourself more closely]

Look closely, very closely, and you can see that this is a good example of what made the Nokia 808 so special - the detail at the pixel level is astonishingly natural, with precisely zero sharpening artefacts. Colours are accurate, too, whereas even with the Black update, the Lumia 1020's photos, at the pixel level, show artificial sharpening of edges and colours that are too saturated (the bus really isn't that orange!) But times change and the modern preference seems to be for warmer, saturated colours, plus at first glance the 1020's 'sharpened' version looks better to the naked eye. 

A microcosm of current smartphone camera trends, this shot demonstrates perfectly the difference between hypernatural and 'processed' photos. Which one do you prefer?

Test shot 2: Sunny, distant detail, PureView zoom

Using a cell tower lit up in the sunshine, this time I allowed full PureView zoom (common to both phone cameras). Here's the overall scene, shot on the Lumia 1020 with the Black update:

Overall scene, as shot on the Lumia 1020

And here's the interactive comparator of central 1:1 crops:

Nokia 808 Nokia Lumia 1020 with Black

[You can download the original images from the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 by using the hyperlinks, should you wish to examine the images yourself more closely]

Surprisingly, even though (being zoomed) there was no oversampling involved, looking at the pixel level it's seems that, despite the lack of a BSI sensor, the Nokia 808's image is purer (less artefacts in the solid blue sky), more colour accurate and slightly more detailed.

Test shot 3: Sunny, plenty of natural and artificial detail

A suburban scene with plenty of greenery to capture and encode. Here's the overall scene, shot on the Lumia 1020 with the Black update:

Overall scene, as shot on the Lumia 1020

And here's the interactive comparator of central 1:1 crops:

Nokia 808 Nokia Lumia 1020 with Black

[You can download the original images from the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 by using the hyperlinks, should you wish to examine the images yourself more closely]

This is another good example of the choices made in image processing between two very different camera phones. At first glance, the Lumia 1020 with Black photo looks miles better, sharper, and so on. But look closer and there's plenty of delicate detail in the 808 image which ends up somewhat submerged beneath the sharpening going on in the 1020, even after the Black update. 

So, again, a personal and very subjective choice that has to be made - your comments welcome, as before.

Test shot 4: Church with wide variations in light coverage

A shot in sunshine, but with big variations in light and shade. Here's the overall scene, shot on the Lumia 1020 with the Black update:

Overall scene, as shot on the Lumia 1020

And here's the interactive comparator of central 1:1 crops:

Nokia 808 Nokia Lumia 1020 with Black

[You can download the original images from the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 by using the hyperlinks, should you wish to examine the images yourself more closely]

I was hampered here by the sun flitting in and out between clouds, and it's possible that this was at least party responsible for the 1020's photo being slightly (arguably) over-exposed. But there's still plenty of detail here on the arch and stonework, to compare at 1:1 level above. And, it has to be said, the Nokia 808's natural detail wins out fairly easily. Even with the improved algorithms in the Black update, the Lumia 1020's software oversampling can't match the bigger pixels and hardware oversampling in the 808. In this example, anyway.

Test shot 5: Night, no flash

My standard night test, in this case while there was still a slight illumination in the sky (though nowhere near as much as the 1020 shot shows!) Here's the overall scene, shot on the Lumia 1020 with the Black update:

Overall scene, as shot on the Lumia 1020

And here's the interactive comparator of central 1:1 crops:

Nokia 808 Nokia Lumia 1020 with Black

[You can download the original images from the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 by using the hyperlinks, should you wish to examine the images yourself more closely]

I think I did pretty well with the Nokia 808 to hold it still enough here, to at least get close to the OIS photo from the Lumia 1020. Yet, even though the final result looks too 'light', this is OIS's comfort zone and the crisp detail (and, with the Black update, the lower digital noise and not-so-yellow cast) produce an impressive result from what would traditionally be an impossible scene to photograph on a phone.

Test shot 6: Artificial lighting, flash enabled, macro subject

Trying to replicate the original device macro shots that first showed over-sharpening artefacts in the 1020's photos. Here's the overall scene, shot on the Lumia 1020 with the Black update:

Overall scene, as shot on the Lumia 1020

And here's the interactive comparator of central 1:1 crops:

Nokia 808 Nokia Lumia 1020 with Black

[You can download the original images from the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 by using the hyperlinks, should you wish to examine the images yourself more closely]

Thanks to the Black update, the extraneous 'noise' previously present in some 1020 photos is absent and there's very little to choose between the two macros - if anything, I prefer the 1020's here. What about you?

Test shot 7: Weak artificial lighting, flash enabled, human skin tones, 'party' shot(!)

My traditional Xenon shot, modified for Christmas here! Also captured on my own, since I didn't trust any of the rest of the family to do it right...! Here's the overall scene, shot on the Lumia 1020 with the Black update:

Overall scene, as shot on the Lumia 1020

And here's the interactive comparator of central 1:1 crops:

Nokia 808 Nokia Lumia 1020 with Black

[You can download the original images from the Nokia 808 and Lumia 1020 by using the hyperlinks, should you wish to examine the images yourself more closely]

Again thanks to the Black update, the over-yellow cast from Nokia Amber on the Lumia 1020 has been largely abolished. I still prefer the skin tones on the Nokia 808 rendition, but then the Lumia does a better job of allowing in ambient light and the colour of surroundings.

Verdict

There's no doubting the purity of the Nokia 808's photos in good light conditions or the effectiveness of its flash for capturing people indoors, but the 1020, with the Black update, is now oh so close to the 808's results, sometimes even down to the pixel level, while retaining other advantages.

To put all this in context:

Nokia 808 PureView  Nokia Lumia 1020 (w/Black) 

Slightly purer shots in good light, slightly more natural results generally, slightly better skin tones when used with flash

Traditional Symbian OS benefits (full multitasking)

Better gathering of ambient light in 'low light' situations

Sharper photos to the casual observer, more saturated colours

OIS for low light static shots and wobble-free video capture

Much higher resolution display

Faster interface and OS 

Base OS, apps and service which are still 'young' and thus future proof

It has to be said that even a hardened Symbian fan like me has to stop and take stock when faced with the weight of advantages in the right hand column above.

To put things further into perspective, I've been using a Lumia 1020 as my primary smartphone for the last month now. Yes, there have been times when I've missed Symbian. Even occasions when I've missed Android. But day in, day out, the 1020 has served me well and, judging from the results above (on our review AT&T 1020), when the Black update hits worldwide 1020s my still photos will get even closer to the gold standard - the older Nokia 808.

PS. Of course, the entire comparison is somewhat moot, because you can't actually buy the Nokia 808 anymore, nor would anyone except hardened Symbian fans want to. But I'd had many requests for this particular camera comparison, so.... Comments welcome!

Published by Steve Litchfield at 8:37 UTC, December 26th

Section: Articles
Categories: Comment, Hardware
Platforms: General, Symbian^3, General, Windows Phone 8