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Nokia Lumia 1020 review: Photographers, meet your camera phone

With its 41-megapixel camera and creative photo controls, the slim-for-what-it-is Nokia Lumia 1020 will hook avid photographers.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
Expertise Content strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Jessica Dolcourt
13 min read

You can sum up the Nokia Lumia 1020 in three words: 41, megapixel, camera.


Nokia Lumia 1020

The Good

The <b>Nokia Lumia 1020</b> smartphone's camera captures extremely high-resolution images with fine detail, and puts creative controls at your fingertips.

The Bad

A niche device, the Lumia 1020 is $100 pricier than most high-end smartphones. The lens makes it a little bulky. Multiple camera apps are confusing. It lacks manual f-stop control and presets for common shooting scenarios.

The Bottom Line

Avid mobile photographers will love the Nokia Lumia 1020's exact controls, but casual users should stick to cheaper camera phones.

It's the Lumia 1020's high-octane shooter -- along with Nokia's custom camera app -- that defines this next marquee Windows Phone 8 device, and that gives mobile photographers a reason to salivate. In the 1020, Nokia pushes the smartphone camera envelope with a combination of raw image-capturing prowess and close-cropping capability that makes it one of the most artistically able smartphone cameras we've tested.

Would we ditch our point-and-shoot cameras and rely on the Lumia 1020 instead? For day-to-day and weekend events, absolutely; the 1020 is the ultimate in convenience and approaches point-and-shoot quality. However, based on our tests so far, Nokia still has a ways to go before it can completely supplant the need for a higher-level standalone camera. We'd take it away for the weekend, but wouldn't use it to shoot our kid's first birthday.

Nokia Lumia 1020: A camera phone powerhouse (pictures)

See all photos

Like the 16-megapixel Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom (reviewed), the Lumia 1020 is a niche device. Casual users may not venture from automatic settings and may not notice much difference in image quality unless they frequently crop photos tightly. Of course, the S4 Zoom's optical zoom element gives the 1020 a run for its money where that's concerned. However, overall, the 1020 offers often technically better images in a much more portable chassis.

The 1020's $299.99 on-contract price with AT&T is too steep for casual users, who can capture high-quality everyday stills and videos with handsets that cost $200 or less. Serious photographers, however, will appreciate the phone's genuine two-in-one capabilities. The Lumia 1020 also is sold globally.

Design and build

The first thing you're probably asking yourself is if owning the Lumia 1020 is like carrying a bulky point-and-shoot camera in your pocket. Blessedly, it is not.

Compared with the chunky Galaxy S4 Zoom and bulbous Nokia 808 PureView (the company's first attempt at a 41-megapixel phone), the Lumia 1020 seems only slightly thicker than the Lumia 920 and 928, both of which it physically resembles.

Blake Stevenson/CNET

Dimensions of 5.1 inches tall by 2.8 inches wide are pretty standard, and the 1020 measures 0.4 inch thick throughout most of its body. It's that large camera module on the back (about 1.75 inches in diameter) that protrudes a full 0.51 inch from the phone's face.

That means the phone won't lie flat on its back, which is surprisingly sometimes helpful when the face tilts toward you as if on a stand. Amazingly, I did carry the phone around in my back pocket for long stretches without noticing it too much. When I held it, my fingers adjusted to grip the 1020 below its bulge.

Keeping the phone this slim was quite the design feat, especially when you compare the 1020 with the chunky S4 Zoom, which is shaped more like a point-and-shoot with a smartphone attached.

Nokia Lumia 1020
A huge camera module defines the Nokia Lumia 1020. Sarah Tew/CNET

At 5.6 ounces, the matte yellow, white, or black 1020 is hefty, sturdy, and undeniably solid. I'm used to carrying heavy bags and backpacks, so the weight didn't particularly bother me, but those who travel light will notice the 1020's density right away. We tested the phone in all three colors; the white version picked up smudges most readily, but they wiped off easily enough from the polycarbonate material.

Nokia pulled off a design feat in keeping the large camera mount from sticking out too far. Josh Miller/CNET

Like all the Lumia 920-series phones, the 1020's 4.5-inch display features a 1,280x768-pixel resolution (WXGA) and pixel density of 334ppi. Its AMOLED screen is also supersensitive, which means you can operate it with fingernails or gloved fingertips. Gorilla Glass 3 helps resist cracks, though smash any screen hard enough or often enough and it'll break.

In keeping with the Lumia design philosophy, you'll find oblong volume, power/lock, and camera shutter buttons on the right spine, and the headset jack and micro-SIM card slot up top. In addition to the front-facing camera there are three capacitive navigation buttons on the front, and the Micro-USB charging port is down on the bottom edge. On the back, the massive camera module includes a wide xenon flash and a six-lens Carl Zeiss lens, plus an LED sidekick that's mainly used for focus.

The Lumia 1020 does not lie flat. Josh Miller/CNET

A completely sealed unibody device, the Lumia 1020 doesn't have a removable battery or microSD card storage, which may make avid photographers jittery about storage limits, especially with large photo files.

Understanding the camera

The most important thing to know is that the Lumia 1020's 41-megapixel shooter doesn't actually give you 41-megapixel pictures. In fact, not much about the camera or its software is particularly straightforward.

Here's what's essential:

1) The Pro Cam app creates 5-megapixel photos. In addition, it also saves a high-resolution image of each one. If you crop in tightly, your photo looks even more detailed. I recommend CNET camera guru Joshua Goldman's must-read explanation of what's going on with this particular type of lossless zoom.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Nokia Pro Cam is the 1020's default camera app, but you can also switch among other apps, or change the default in Settings. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

2) By default, the Lumia 1020 takes photos using Nokia's Pro Cam app. Not to be confused with Nokia Smart Cam, Pro Cam gets you sliding controls for flash, exposure, ISO, and focus among other settings. Nokia Pro Cam is technically a "lens," a separate camera app that supplants the native camera. You can only capture the higher-resolution images using Pro Cam.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Choose resolution and aspect ratio in the Pro Cam app settings. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Making matters more confusing still, the size of the high-resolution photo you shoot depends on your camera settings. Pick a 16:9 aspect ratio, and the phone saves a 34-megapixel shot in addition to the 5-megapixel picture you eventually see and share. A 4:3 aspect ratio gives you a 38-megapixel file in addition to the smaller snap. You won't see these choices -- or any resolution options -- when using the native camera app.

You'll only be able to upload and share the smaller file size from the 1020; if you want all 34 or 38 megapixels, you can access the raw files through a computer connection.

In some cases, the 1020's creative settings are no big deal. Most smartphone cameras have many of these within submenus. The difference here is that surfacing them on the app's top layer makes them a lot quicker to access, set up, and change from shot to shot.

One setting is conspicuously absent for serious photographers, and that's the power to manually change the depth of field. It also threw CNET's photographers that the "live preview" of manual controls that you see on the screen before taking a picture often didn't represent the actual image once it was captured.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
CNET editors help demo the Nokia Pro Cam app. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

In the menu, you can switch to the front-facing camera, get at settings, and launch the tutorial. Unlike the Galaxy S4 Zoom, there aren't mode presets for night shots, sports, or other common scenarios, so it helps to know what you're doing, or have the patience to play around.

I'm not sure why there's no onscreen control for the front-facing camera; digging into the menu just seems like an unnecessary step. It's also a little strange that there are two buttons for reviewing your photos. One reviews the last shot you took, the other lets you get at your whole photo stream. Unfortunately, you can't swipe to the left as you can in the phone's native app to access your camera roll.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
I don't like having to dig into settings to use the front-facing camera, but I do like having easy access to the tutorial. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

There are cursory editing tools you can access when you review a photo, including rotation and a sort of cropping tool that changes the aspect ratio to 4:3, 3:2, 1:1, and 16:9. I wish that Nokia had included a more robust suite of editing features here. Instead, you'll have to swap to a different editing app if you want to crop or auto fix. Luckily, the 1020 makes this fairly easy to do from the settings when you access photos through the review strip.

Nokia Lumia 1020
Sliding controls let you adjust exposure, ISO, brightness, and white balance. Sarah Tew/CNET

Image quality

To test how well the Lumia 1020 backs up its claims of photog greatness, I shot dozens of pictures with both the Pro Cam app and the native app, using a combination of automatic modes and fancier settings. Full disclosure: I'm a completely casual photographer, so my photos here represent the perspective of an average user. For the more-artistic shots, I enlisted the help of CNET photographer James Martin and CNET camera editor Joshua Goldman, who independently called the Lumia 1020 a "really good smartphone camera" after taking their own rounds of test shots.

Many pictures I took looked fantastic in terms of color, contrast, and detail -- especially fine detail like a visible background cobweb. When an image was focused correctly, the camera's lossless digital zoom also produced terrific detail, just as Nokia promises.

Must-see: Nokia Lumia 1020 versus Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, HTC One, Galaxy S4, and iPhone 5.

I never took a bad photo with the 1020. That said, not every photo was a complete hit. Of course, even good cameras can take the odd bad picture if conditions are off. Sometimes, I wasn't sure that another high-end smartphone couldn't have taken the photo just as well.

Edges usually appeared sharp to my eyes, but then some centers sometimes lacked shadows, detail, and depth. I also had a hard time nailing great portraits. Lighting was sometimes off, and faces often appeared a tinge out of focus. That can cause problems when taking photos of a group. Overall, my photos of objects were a lot more beautiful than my pictures of people. James and Josh had much better luck with portraits; photo enthusiasts should take my results with a grain of salt.

This kid clearly loves his snack. Click to enlarge. James Martin/CNET

I also noticed that the 1020 seems to color-correct a couple of seconds after taking a picture. When using the flash, photo color also grew warmer, yellower, which can be a little weird. Then again, yellow is better than the blue cast you sometimes get when taking photos with a flash.

Since the Pro Cam app saves pictures in one small and one large resolution, the camera takes longer to reload. Instead of shot-to-shot times about 2.5 seconds apart, it's about a 6-second wait before the Lumia 1020 is ready for the next round.

I will say that I got some terrific pictures of objects even in the Pro Cam app's automatic mode. That and being able to crop in tight on an element without losing detail definitely made me want to take a lot more photos than I normally would.

Unless otherwise specified, the following pictures were taken using automatic settings, and have been resized. To see more of what this camera can do, check out this Lumia 1020 photo gallery and a camera showdown between the Lumia 1020, Samsung Galaxy S4, and iPhone 5.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Shoot outdoors using Pro Cam. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Taken with the 1020's native camera app. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Full-resolution crop. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
This grape cluster, shot with the native camera app, was one of my favorites of the bunch. Here it is at full resolution, no cropping. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Despite focusing on the palm trees, this landscape shot, taken on an overcast day, looks a little soft. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Words to live by. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
The text looks great even cropped close. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Keep cropping ever tighter, but know that once you save an image this way, you can't revert. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I've cropped in so tightly on this text, the 100x112-pixel image below is as large as it gets:

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
This full-resolution crop of the leaf and grass looks great. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Here's a full-resolution crop of the same image, drawing from the 1020's saved higher-resolution image. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
The Lumia 1020 was fantastic at switching focal points. This picture snaps onto the foremost cluster. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Here, the rear cluster is the photo's main subject. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Here's another exercise in playing with focus. Click to enlarge. Kristina Rosa/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Click to enlarge. Kristina Rosa/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Tacos, anyone? Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
The Pro Cam app made the appetizer appear yellower after I took the photo. The fried shallots look focused, but the yellow sauce isn't as well defined. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
This flower bouquet was shot indoors at night using the native camera app. It's sharp, but the blooms lack depth, especially the white ones. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Shot outdoors at night using the Pro Cam app: 1/400s shutter speed, ISO 800. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Full-resolution crop, shot at 1/800s shutter speed and ISO 4,000. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Once again, the Lumia 1020 is good enough to abandon your point-and-shoot for much of the time, but it still lacks some manual controls that more serious photographers will want for momentous occasions.

You can compare some smartphones' image performance in our periodically updated gallery of studio shots.

Video and front-facing camera

The Lumia 1020 shoots clean, smooth 1080p HD video -- once you change the default from 720p HD video in the settings. The same clear zoom the Nokia boasts for its still camera extends to video as well when you use the 3x digital zoom in the Nokia Pro Cam app. Nokia has hidden zoom gestures in the app. You can pinch to zoom while shooting, but you can also swipe up to zoom in and swipe down to zoom out.

Testing the Nokia Lumia 1020's 41-megapixel shooter (pictures)

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Zooming in actually worked pretty well in my tests; for instance, patterns in rugs and faces showed up pretty clearly when I zoomed. Audio capture was my one complaint with taking video using the native camera app; my voice rang loudly -- almost too loudly -- while my subjects standing a few feet away were hard to hear. Nokia's "rich recording" in its Pro Cam app seems to have captured clearer sound.

Reviewing the Pro Cam video prompts you to install Nokia Video Trimmer from the app store. This is yet another tool that boosts Nokia's Windows phone capabilities, though it would be far more valuable to include that in the photo apps from the start.

For its front-facing camera, the Lumia 1020 plugs in the same 1.2-megapixel wide-angle lens we get on the Lumia 920 phones. Its 720p HD video recording is a boon for video chats. I was impressed with front-facing image quality on this camera, which was wide enough to take in my surroundings and tell a vibrant visual story when I shared photos with friends.

Nokia Lumia 1020 camera test
Documenting the food truck scene with the front-facing camera using the Pro Cam app. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

OS and features

The Lumia 2010 runs a version of Windows Phone 8 that's been slightly modified to accommodate the phone's enormous 41-megapixel camera.

You won't notice any difference on the front end, though, which looks and behaves like any other Nokia Windows phone. The usual complement of Nokia apps includes Nokia Music, Here-branded maps and driving apps, and a couple of extra photo tools in Nokia Pro Cam (of course), Nokia Smart Cam, Panorama, and Cinemagraph. AT&T also has its say with a suite of apps that include AT&T Radio and a family map.

Other key features include NFC for Tap + Send, and Bluetooth 3.0 (which could soon turn into 4.0). There's no integrated wireless charging on the 1020, but you can buy an aftermarket back cover if that's your jam.

Shutterbugs will more likely seek out other camera accessories, like a tripod case, or the camera grip case ($79) that really does convert your 1020 into a point-and-shoot camera, hand grip included.

A Nokia Lumia 1020 accessory turns your phone into a point-and-shoot. Josh Miller/CNET

Nokia Lumia 1020 with camera case.
A closer look at the 1020's camera case. Sarah Tew/CNET


Call quality
I tested the Lumia 1020's call quality (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) using AT&T's network in San Francisco.

When speaking in a quiet spot indoors, I kept volume at level 5 of 10, but pumped it up when it was noisier outdoors. Voices didn't sound completely natural. Instead, they came across a little flat, robotic, and lispy. There weren't huge distortion spikes or blips, but the audio weirdness persisted throughout my calls. I could still carry on conversations, but I definitely noticed that my caller sounded off. One high point is that the 1020's sound was absolutely clear, with no background noise.

On his end of the line, my test caller says I sounded a little distorted on the peaks, with occasional gargling. Otherwise, I sounded clear and comfortably loud, though my voice also sounded overly sharp in almost an uncomfortable way. The muddiness and crispiness made the call OK overall for my main test caller, but it wouldn't be his top choice. He gave it a B to B-.

Nokia Lumia 1020 call quality sample Listen now:

Speakerphone was impressive on my end when I tested it at hip level; I could tell I was shooting out audio through the speaker, but it mostly sounded good. Volume was the biggest problem: I had to boost it to the highest level to hear conversation clearly, even indoors. Still, the phone wasn't echoey for me. I could see myself using this to take a conference call or to talk while driving.

Unfortunately, speakerphone quality tanked for my caller. He called it "muddy" and said it emphasized rather than reduced that telltale speakerphone echo. He said he would have a hard time hearing amid any ambient noise.

Data, processor, battery
AT&T's 4G LTE blazed on the Lumia 1020 in my San Francisco tests, consistently delivering speeds in the double digits.

I often saw diagnostic results ranging from 15Mbps to 38Mbps down and 5Mbps to 15Mbps up. In real-world tests, even graphically rich desktop versions of Web pages loaded pretty quickly and completely. Apps and photos downloaded fast as well, and status updates and pictures uploaded without much wait.

Nokia Lumia 1020 diagnostic speed test
Some diagnostic test results using the Free Speed Test for Windows Phone. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Like other Lumias, the 1020 has a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor. Although it isn't as fast as Qualcomm's quad-core processor, this is as speedy as you get in a Windows Phone, and it's a plenty quick chipset. Gameplay was engaging with Xbox games and others.

Nokia Lumia 1020 (AT&T) Performance
Download Endomondo (3MB) 19.5 seconds
Load up Endomondo mobile app 4.1 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 13.7 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 30.7 seconds
Camera boot time 2.8 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time Pro Cam: 6 seconds with flash and focusing;
Native: 2.5 seconds

The Lumia 1020's 2,000mAh battery has a rated talk time of 13.3 hours over 3G. We'll conduct independent battery drain tests as well. This is the same battery capacity as the Lumia 920 line, and just like those phones, this one should continuously last a full workday before needing a charge. Keep in mind that batteries do degrade over time.

There's 32GB of storage on the Lumia 1020, which is enough for most people. The Nokia Pro Cam's large photo format will suck up more space than others, so that might make some jittery. Still, I took and kept dozens of shots without running close to the barrier. The 1020 does come with 7GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage, though, with an option to upgrade to more. The 1020 has 2GB of RAM, rather than the other Lumias' 1GB of RAM.

FCC tests measure a digital SAR of 0.82 watts per kilogram for this phone.

Notable moments in Nokia camera phone history (pictures)

See all photos

Buy it or skip it?

The 1020's larger sensor, image stabilization, incredible lossless cropping, and low light performance make it stand out from the crowd. However, for casual users, there may be more camera -- and bulk and a higher price -- than necessary, especially when smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 920 models, the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the HTC One produce some good-enough snaps to upload and share.

For purists, the Lumia 1020's sensor size may be smaller than Nokia's Symbian-running 808 PureView antecedent, but that helps it achieves a pocket-friendliness it may not otherwise have had. I have some complaints about the Pro Cam app's look and layout, but these are ultimately minor issues.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
Samsung's Galaxy S4 Zoom has a 10x optical zoom lens. James Martin/CNET

The 1020 isn't as flexible to use as the S4 Zoom, and its lack of presets and limited manual controls add some frustration. On top of that, photos aren't tremendously better than pictures you can take with other phones. Avid photographers should stick to their standalone cameras for the best quality images.

Buy the Lumia 1020 if you:
- Subscribe to AT&T
-Want better-than-average smartphone photos
- Are willing to invest in a pricier device
- Crave precise control over exposure and other settings

Skip the Lumia 1020 if you:
- Are looking for a slim or budget smartphone
- Prefer preset scenarios to help photograph a scene
- Highly value fast shot-to-shot times
- Are happy with your current smartphone camera
- Dislike Windows Phone OS


Nokia Lumia 1020

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 9