Camera head to head: N95 vs 930, the difference 8 years makes!

With eight years since the classic Nokia N95 was selling in the mainstream, with one of the first five megapixel cameras in the phone market and the best, with 1/2.5" sensor and 'Carl Zeiss' optics, I thought it would be interesting to see how far the technology has come. After all, the Lumia 930 occupies pretty much the same photo-enthusiast consumer spot, at least in the Windows phone world, yet it outputs at a nominal 5MP still. But how different would the pixels themselves be, with eight years of sensor, optics and processing tech improvements under the 930's hood?

Lumia 930 and Nokia N95

So yes, consider this article something of a curiosity, but a reminder of where we've come from is always a good idea, putting today's smartphone camera tech into perspective. And note that this is in no way a criticism of the Nokia N95 - in good light its photos are still usable, even by 2015 standards. Given that the sensor size (1/2.5") and output resolutions (5MP) are identical, I thought the Lumia 930 would be the best device camera to put up against the groundbreaking N95.

The main improvements over the last eight years have been:

Six separate factors then, all playing a big part. The crops below are all at 1:1 as usual. I've deliberately put in an emphasis on tricky subjects or conditions, to push the camera phones to the limit.

Note that the interactive comparator below uses javascript and does need to load each pair of images. Please be patient while this page loads, if you see a pair of images above each other than you've either not waited long enough or your browser isn't capable enough!

Test 1: Landscape, sunny, HDR allowed

Out for a nice walk among the woodland bluebells, Rich Capture was allowed on the 930 - just because I thought it might help. There's no HDR option on the older N95, of course. Here's the overall scene, for context:

Overall test scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 930 and Nokia N95, click the links to download. And here are detailed 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 930 Nokia N95

Despite the Rich Capture HDR, the 930 shot still has small portions where the reflected sun is 'blown out', but the overall photo is still much more satisfying tham the N95's, with over-neutral colours, more artefacts and less detail. Of course, the N95's competition at the time was still making do with 1MP (and worse) camera units, so it's all relative!

Test 2: Sunny, no HDR allowed

A good test of image processing, with some signage to look at (the human eyes and brain are good at discerning the quality of text). Here's the overall scene, for context:

Overall test scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 930 and Nokia N95, click the links to download. And here are detailed 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 930 Nokia N95

Although the colours aren't that different, the big takeaway here is the improvement in precision over the years, with the newer optics and better sensor producing better, clearer, crisper detail. And yes, probably help from the better GPU doing more processing with similar levels of sensor data.

Test 3: Landscape, Light contrasts, HDR allowed

One of my standard test shots because of the clock detail at the centre and because of the frequent variations in light. Here's the overall scene, for context:

Overall test scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 930 and Nokia N95, click the links to download. And here are detailed 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 930 Nokia N95

This is a great demo of not only how well the HDR works in the Lumia 930 (grab the full images to see) but also how much crisper the detail captured is (again, remember that both the photos were at the same nominal resolution) - look at the consistent fine detail on the roof and on the clock face above.

Test 4a: Low light, flash allowed

Another standard test shot, typical indoor lighting, LED fill in flash allowed. Here's the overall scene, for context:

Overall test scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 930 and Nokia N95, click the links to download. And here are detailed 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 930 Nokia N95

Things get more dramatically different as the light level goes down. Here the lack of precision in the N95 photo is partly down to inevitable movement while taking the shot (no OIS) and partly the more primitive optics and sensor, yet again. 

Test 4b: Low light, flash and zoom both allowed

The same overall scene as above, but this time I allowed the Lumia 930 to use its PureView 'lossless' zoom (into the raw resolution of the sensor):

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 930 and Nokia N95, click the links to download. And here are detailed 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 930 Nokia N95

The difference eight years makes is demonstrably staggering. Again I'd emphasise that the N95's photos were considered cutting edge (for a phone camera) in 2007!

Test 5: Night, absolute light gathering

An ultimate test of how much light is gathered and processed. To my eyes, the scene wasn't quite as dark as portayed immediately below, but it was certainly late-dusk. Here's the overall scene, for context:

Overall test scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 930 and Nokia N95, click the links to download. And here are detailed 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 930 Nokia N95

Oh dear. No, your eyes don't deceive you - the N95 failed to gather very much light at all under such dark conditions (just a little detail in the sky, if you grab the original JPGs). The N95 did have a 'night' mode, for use on a tripod, but this is a test handheld, so everything was on 'Auto'. The Lumia 930's photo looks pretty bad at the pixel level, but the OIS has still kept the shot blur free and a significant amount of light has been gathered from detail on the side of the summerhouse.

Verdict

Again, I have to emphasise that I'm not being nasty or unfair to the 2007 Nokia N95 camera here - it was what it was - and very good for the era. But we've come a long, long way. In fact, I'd say that we've come just as far from the N95 to the Lumia 930 (despite the 5MP resolution being the same) as from first smartphone camera (the VGA, 0.3MP unit in the Nokia 7650) to the N95 itself.

It's called 'progress' for a reason, you know....!

Lumia 930 and Nokia N95

Published by Steve Litchfield at 13:40 UTC, May 7th

Section: Articles
Categories: Comment, Hardware
Platforms: General, S60 3rd Edition, Windows Phone 7.5