Nokia Lumia 1020 shootout versus Galaxy S4, iPhone 5

Can the Lumia 1020's 41-megapixel sensor and PureView processing make it the top smartphone camera? So far, so good.

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
4 min read
Watch this: Lumia 1020: Calling all photogs

As has become standard practice when a major new smartphone is released, we gather up a couple of its top competitors, open up their cameras, and start shooting.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is no ordinary smartphone, though. With its 41-megapixel sensor, optical image stabilization, and a whole mess of algorithms, the 1020's camera is more than just marketing (though there's some of that as well).

Going up against the 1020 are the 13-megapixel Samsung Galaxy S4 and 8-megapixel Apple iPhone 5. Unfortunately, the weather in New York City wasn't cooperating when I was testing, so I had to do most of my shots indoors. I plan to head back out for a second round of tests, however (hopefully with an HTC One, too).

When looking over the shots below please keep in mind that each of these cameras shoots at different resolutions, and has different lenses and capabilities. This means that, while I did my best to be consistent with framing and conditions, they won't match up perfectly. Also, the cameras were all set to full auto to keep things simple, and because that's really all that's available on the iPhone 5 without resorting to third-party apps.

Lastly, each of the images can be clicked on for viewing at full size, or larger sizes in the case of the portrait and color examples. These are large images, though, so you may want to right-click and either save or open in another tab/window. If you do click and open the image, head to the lower-right corner to close the image.

Studio scene

Nokia Lumia 1020

Apple iPhone 5

Samsung Galaxy S4

These are shots of the scene we use for camera testing. The Nokia picked ISO 100, while the iPhone and Galaxy S4 went with ISO 50. When viewed larger, the 1020 definitely turned out the best results as far as fine detail and noise are concerned. Exposure and white balance aren't great from any of them, though; the 1020 overexposed some while the other two underexposed and none of them liked our tungsten studio lights. The Galaxy S4, however, handled the lights most like a point-and-shoot camera would, which is something I guess.


Here's another studio shot for color and, again, none of them are perfect. The iPhone overall is brighter, but also blew out the edge of the table. The Nokia's colors appear more accurate, but it underexposed some, as did the S4.


CNET TV Senior Editor Bridget Carey was nice enough to pose for some head shots for this simple test. Other than blowing out the highlight on top of her head, the iPhone 5 (middle) produced the best exposure for the shot. The Nokia did almost as well on exposure, but had better fine detail and didn't blow out the highlight detail on her hair. The GS4 underexposed some, which isn't the end of the world. However, she does look slightly oversharpened.

Low light

Nokia Lumia 1020

Apple iPhone 5

Samsung Galaxy S4

Here's the obligatory food/low-light shot (my apologies for all the brown). As I said at the top, all of the cameras were set to full auto and all three devices selected ISO 800 and slow shutter speeds: 1/12 second for the 1020 and 1/15 second for the iPhone and Galaxy S4.

Frankly, the Nokia beats the Samsung and Apple without question, with far less noise and sharper fine details. That said, if you don't mind trading off some overall softness for less noise, the Galaxy S4's auto night mode worked really well. Because it takes several shots and combines them to remove noise and blur from hand shake, it requires some extra processing time and a still subject, but the results are worth it.


Nokia Lumia 1020

Apple iPhone 5

Samsung Galaxy S4

A big part of the reason Nokia used such a high-resolution sensor was to get a better digital zoom. At small sizes, you can see that the 1020 certainly gets you better results than the other two. The differences are much more dramatic when viewed at full size.

That goes for the regular shots here, too. The Lumia 1020 has much better detail when viewed at full size. For example, take a look at the bricks in the buildings off to the sides. In the Lumia's photo, the bricks are sharp and clearly defined, while both the iPhone and Galaxy look soft and mushy (though the S4's detail is better than the iPhone 5's).

More testing to come
While the shots above are a good indication of what you can expect from each of these devices, it doesn't tell the full story of what each of these cameras smartphones offer mobile photographers. Nokia has clearly put a great camera in the Lumia 1020. But, then again, so has Samsung in the Galaxy S4. And, really, for a device that's coming up on its one-year anniversary, the iPhone 5 is still pretty strong.