Battle of the best - Nokia Lumia 1020 and 808 PureView take on the Galaxy K Zoom

What happens when you set out to create an ultimate camera phone, when a hump is not a dealbreaker, when Xenon flash is a must and when no compromises are involved? From 2012, 2013 and 2014 come the two Nokia PureView camera phone flagships, plus - hot off the production line - the new Samsung Galaxy K Zoom. The latter, unlike the monstrous S4 Zoom from 2013, is streamlined and eerily similar in form factor and scope to the Nokia couple. But which will win out?

Nokia 808/1020 Galaxy K Zoom

If you thought the Nokia Lumia 1020 had a camera hump, if you thought the 808 PureView had a bigger bulge, then both are somewhat overshadowed by the form of the Galaxy K Zoom. Not that it's as 'monstrous' as last year's S4 Zoom, which really was a standalone camera glued to a low end smartphone - here, the K Zoom slims things down a lot, with curves and integration of the camera into the form factor that reminds me very much of the 808 PureView. Most importantly, the overall thickness is acceptable as a 'phone', there are no 'sticking out' bits that catch on pockets, and the underlying smartphone spec is very decent indeed.

But we're looking here at raw camera performance in all light conditions. And, as usual, I'm going to focus on results, not on experience. The Lumia 1020's 4 second shot to show time is the main issue here, with the 808 and K Zoom coming in comfortably at well under a second - but it's hard to assess how much of an issue this might be to a user, so just photo quality is being tested here.

As usual, there are some notes and caveats. The disparity in default output resolutions again wrecks any hope of a like for like comparison, at least in terms of resolution. 5MP oversampled (808) vs 5MP oversampled and 34MP full resolution (1020) vs 15MP (K Zoom). My methodology instead was to therefore approach each shot/scene with a fresh mind, deciding on the best way to approach it on each device in order to get the best results. The option of using either the 5MP oversampled version of the 34MP version on the Lumia 1020 is a point in its favour, but then again, the micromanagement of which file is which quickly becomes a pain, so it all evens out in the end.

I haven't gone with a points system here, since:

All photos were taken with full 'auto' everything in the software.

Test 1: Sunny

A shot so easy that anything could nail it - though, to be picky, I'm also looking at exposure, colours and raw detail. Here's the full scene:

Scene, as snapped on the 1020

There weren't significant differences in exposure, so I moved ahead to raw detail. Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

Just as on last year's S4 Zoom, the K Zoom's high resolution images are on the verge of over-exposure when shooting in sunlight - clearly there are some tweaks still needed to this new device's firmware. Crisp, sharpened detail though, while the two Nokia PureView devices' oversampling ensures high quality 5MP results in both colours and detail.

Now, what about zooming in? With lossless zoom on the two Nokia PureView devices, to around 2.5x, and by 10x optical on the K Zoom. Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

The new K Zoom's 10x optical zoom, as one might expect, nails this comparison, with fantastic zoom detail - simply amazing. Meanwhile the Nokia 808 does well enough, but suffers from the loss of oversampling at this end of the zoom spectrum. And the Lumia 1020 makes a mess of the exposure when zoomed in. I'd have gone back and reshot this photo with manual reduction of exposure, but the K Zoom was (naturally) so far in front here that there wouldn't have been much point.

Test 2: Zoom indoors, decent light

Looking only at zoom and maximum resolved detail, this was an indoor tableau at the same military museum as above. Here's the full, unzoomed scene:

Scene, as snapped on the 1020

There (again) weren't significant differences in exposure and colours, so I moved ahead to raw detail, in this case only looking at the zoomed version, since I was interested in the mannequin's head. Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

As expected, at full PureView zoom, the lack of oversampling reveals the raw noise in the Nokia sensors - not unpleasantly so, but certainly noticeable - the K Zoom's sensor noise seems of about the same order, which was a pleasant surprise, as I'd expected worse. The 10x optical zoom does reveal extra detail, too, so thumbs up for the K Zoom here.

But let's not spend all our time on the zoom - what about using the Galaxy K Zoom as an as-is camera phone, i.e. shooting the full scene in front of me. Can its higher resolution live with the oversampled but lower resolution purity of the Nokia PureView pair?

Test 3: Overcast landscape

With light good, but not sunny, a mass of greenery and detail, plus a handy sign near the edge of the frame. Here we're looking at both purity and optical accuracy then. All unzoomed, so as to gather the whole scene, here's the view:

Scene, as snapped on the 1020

Here are 1:1 crops from left hand side detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

No real surprises here - the 16MP result from the K Zoom has more pixels, but is a little noisy and only has slightly more detail than the 5MP results from the two Nokias, with their bigger optics and oversampling. It's apparent that, zoom aside, we really need to start pushing lighting conditions a lot more if we want to see major differences and deficiencies.

Test 4: Low light macro

Indoors at the museum, shooting through glass at a display of models in very low light (with flash disabled, obviously, to avoid reflections!). Here's the view:

Scene, as snapped on the 808

Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top, 5MP), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle, in full resolution mode this time, for a change) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom, 16MP) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

The lack of surprises continues. The 808's oversampled photo has immaculate colouring the feel, while the 1020's full 34MP version here has enormous raw detail but not really punchy enough at the pixel level. And the K Zoom gets a nice compromise between colour, detail and contrast - the only controversy here is overall handling of the ambient yellow/green lighting (grab the JPGs to see more of this) - the K Zoom image is best here to my eyes, but it's debatable.

Test 5: Night time

Time to really push the (non-flash) envelope then, with a true night shot. Only a little light left in the sky (it was darker than the photos make it seem!), let's push the sensors and sampling systems. All unzoomed, so as to gather the whole scene, here's the view:

Scene, as snapped on the K Zoom

Here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

Again, all as expected. The Nokia 808's oversampling does what it can, but with no OIS there's an understandable blurriness from the long exposure and hand wobble. Meanwhile the 1020's OIS and oversampling produces a terrifically clear result, and the K Zoom produces something with higher pixel count but also a lot more noise - and little extra detail.

Now, one of the reasons for Nokia going with software zoom rather than optical was that the latter suffers in low light, with not enough light getting to the sensor - so I'd expect that the K Zoom's optical zoom to be unusable under these conditions. Surprisingly, this wasn't the case. Here's the 1020 crop again, followed by the K Zoom's results at 3x (middle) and 10x (bottom) optical zoom:

1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

Yes, there's a healthy degree of sensor noise (though not as ghastly as on other recent industry sensors, such as Sony's on the Z2), but being able to read a car number plate at 100 metres in almost pitch dark conditions is a tremendous feat for a phone-hosted camera.

Test 6: Xenon flash time

Starting with a static subject (me) and taken with fill-in flash indoors (though with bright light coming from a doorway nearby) by my nephew. So we're talking about 'normob' levels of hand shake - though with Xenon being employed hopefully all this should be catered for. Here's the whole scene:

Scene, as snapped on the 1020

As you'll see from the crops below, without my usual steady hand on the shutter button and attention to detail, even these devices can produce less than ideal results. Sometimes these things are half to do with the photographer, you know 8-)

Anyway, here are 1:1 crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom) - use the hyperlinked names to download the original JPGs if you want to examine them yourself, etc.:

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

The complication here is that there was some light, so the Xenon flash's normal 'frozen' results are being masked a bit by captured light from ambient illumination that's also captured during the exposure. It'sa tough trick to pull off and the Lumia 1020's more advanced image processing and intelligence nails it, while the 808 struggles to expose properly (and I was a good 2.5m away) and the K Zoom is rather overwhelmed with light, producing a somewhat ghostly effect.

Right, let's get rid of most of the ambient light and get back to my traditional 'party mock up' selfie:

Test 7: Party, moving subject

As usual, I'm making no attempt to stand still and, obviously all three of these Xenon-flash camera phones make a decent attempt at freezing my motion. You'll be familiar with the set up by now, so let's jump straight to the crops from central detail, from the Nokia 808 PureView (top), the Nokia Lumia 1020 (middle) and Galaxy K Zoom (bottom):

1:1 crop from the 808
1:1 crop from the 1020
1:1 crop from the K Zoom

Each of these shots has something to recommend it - the Nokia 808's is fairly dark, but then it was pretty dark in the room, while the Nokia Lumia 1020's shot ramps up brightness enough to produce a more pleasing photo, even if it didn't reflect what your eyes might see. It's a tricky balance to get right. The K Zoom errs even more on the 'bright' side, adding in some impressive detail as well.

If I were to pick a smartphone for snapping at parties in mid 2014, I think I'd still go with the 1020, overall. At least if no zooming in was required - you have to remember that zooming in can be a great way to get 'candid' snaps at social events.

Verdict

That I've been picky about minute details in some of the above photos should be put into perspective - these are three of the world's best camera phones. I was touring the museum above with my nephew, armed with your average 'normob's Android smartphone (a 'Vodafone' something or other), and the difference between these three phones and his was roughly analagous to a calculator next to a modern supercomputer. Sensor, optics, flash, resolution, zoom, display quality, speed, all were a generation apart.

Of course, a more valid comparison would be devices like the 1020 and K Zoom to more general purpose 2014 smartphones, such as the Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2 and Apple iPhone 5S. And it quickly becomes apparent that there are two reasons for choosing the 1020 or the K Zoom: you need zoom capability, to get closer and get more detail; and/or you need proper Xenon flash, for better evening and indoor shots. If neither of these apply then you don't need to consider these devices.

However, zoom and Xenon are both quite addictive, once you start to realise that you can shoot any subject, any time, with relatively few limitations. The K Zoom, in particular, is surprisingly close to having a £150 standalone camera with you all day inside the body of your go-everywhere phone.

Picking a winner here is tricky, of course. The Nokia 808, based on results above, comes out a narrow third place, but then is out anyway for all practical purposes, with its lossless zoom being outclassed here and with it being almost impossible to recommend to others, with Symbian support now almost completely withdrawn by Nokia (now Microsoft).

If the form factors were identical then I'd go for the K Zoom every time because why wouldn't you want optical zoom? But the Lumia 1020, in particular, is noticeably sleeker and thinner than the Galaxy K Zoom, and I suspect that (even though the latter is smoother and thinner than last year's S4 Zoom) most people would find the Samsung just that little bit too large and bulbous.

Galaxy K Zoom and Lumia 1020

Yes, they're both camera humps, but the K Zoom and 1020, at least, are very different in thickness and feel...

If your needs are less towards needing a standalone camera inside your phone and if you're OK with Windows Phone then the Lumia 1020 is still the best camera phone in terms of maximum quality at minimal inconvenience, while the Galaxy K Zoom's results are very comparable to the 1020 in most conditions and leaps and bounds ahead when zooming is needed - at the not inconsiderable expense of another 5mm of camera 'hump' and a whopping 42g extra in weight. 

It all depends on what you need. And, given that the two camera phones run completely different operating systems, means that, for the very first time, you now have a real choice. It's not just Symbian and Windows Phone anymore. Xenon and zoom and Android do go together after all.

Watch this space for more comparisons, including an OIS video stabilisation test, 1020 vs K Zoom.

PS. I've concentrated on photo quality and form factor above, but there's the user experience, too, of course. The Lumia 1020's shot to shot time is legendarily slow, at four seconds, while the 808 and K Zoom are well under a second. The software environment and choice of modes and settings, is comparable across the phones, with the Samsung perhaps having the biggest range of modes and options overall (on Windows Phone, a lot of the extra bits are bolt-on applications).

Nokia 808 and K Zoom

The Nokia 808 and Galaxy K Zoom do share a curved design language that does its best to hide the camera bulk...

Published by Steve Litchfield at 19:55 UTC, June 1st

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