Nokia's Lumia 1520: The first phone that'll take raw photos

For the better image quality and flexibility of raw photos, Nokia's Lumia 1520 will shoot with Adobe's DNG format. Similar raw support will come to the Lumia 1020 in early 2014.

Giving the smartphone market an option that's been successful in attracting photo enthusiasts to higher-end cameras, Nokia's new Lumia 1520 phablet can take photos in raw image formats. The Lumia 1020 will get raw support next year, too.

Juha Alakarhu, head of camera technology for Nokia, announced the feature in a tweet Tuesday, saying Nokia will use Adobe Systems' DNG (Digital Negative) format for raw photos.

"It will be available for 1520 from the beginning and 1020 with the Black [software] update early next year," he said in a follow-up tweet.

Raw photos record data from a camera's image sensor before it's been processed into a more convenient form like JPEG. Although that makes raw photos unwieldy, since they require processing in software like Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture, it also gives the photographer higher image quality and more flexibility over more control over details like color balance and sharpening.

Why add raw support?

"We are responding to consumer feedback," Nokia spokesman Doug Dawson said. "It's clear that our Lumia range appeals to people passionate about photography. They've asked for raw format support, and we are happy to be the first smartphone camera that offers this kind of professional-quality data."

The Nokia Lumia 1520 comes with a 20-megapixel image sensor and a Carl Zeiss f2.4 lens.
The Nokia Lumia 1520 comes with a 20-megapixel image sensor and a Carl Zeiss f2.4 lens. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is notable for having an image sensor with a whopping 41 megapixels. More pixels doesn't necessarily mean each pixel is better, but the technology has drawn accolades for sharpness and low-light performance.

The Lumia 1520 also gets the PureView brand that Nokia uses to denote high-end camera technology. Though its sensor has a mere 20 megapixels, it's also got a premium Carl Zeiss lens with a relatively fast f2.4 aperture.

Adobe's DNG format is an attempt to sweep away the hundreds of proprietary raw formats with a single, standardized one. Though Adobe's years-long effort to formalize a standard hasn't yet borne fruit, DNG is free to use and openly documented.

"We consistently opt for the most open standards," Dawson said.

The DNG support means that many image-editing programs will be able to edit the photos without having to wait for specific camera support to be added -- a common plight with new SLRs and high-end compact cameras.

Raw photos usually record a checkerboard of color data that's the byproduct of a camera's Bayer-pattern color filter. Converting that into conventional image data, with red, green, and blue color data for each pixel, is called demosaicing. Although DNG can be used to encapsulate "linear" data that's already been demosaiced, Alakarhu said the Nokia 1020 and 1520 use the original data.

"True Bayer raw data," he tweeted.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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