Apple iPhone 5S vs. Nokia Lumia 1020: Which Camera is Better?
Apple's brand new iPhone 5S has an enhanced iSight digital camera, but how does it stack up to Nokia's impressive 41-megapixel PureView Lumia 1020 camera? CIO.com's Al Sacco pits the two popular devices against each other in this hands-on iPhone vs. Lumia camera comparison. The results might surprise you.
By Al Sacco
Managing Editor, CIO
UPDATED: As noted in the comments by user “M_F,” the Nokia Lumia 1020 images that were originally included in this post were scaled-down, 5MP images and not the Lumia 1020’s full-resolution 34MP images. The Nokia Lumia 1020 saves two versions of every image captured with its Pro Camera: a full-resolution 34MP image and a smaller, 5MP version for sharing. I have updated this post to include iPhone 5S images and both the smaller 5MP and larger 34MP Lumia 1020 images; the 34MP images are marked “High Res” in the photo captions. I have also updated the final Conclusions page.
Apple last week released its latest iPhones, the high-end iPhone 5S and midrange iPhone 5C. Among the most notable features is the iPhones’ iSight camera. The new iPhone 5S has an 8MP camera, which is the same megapixel count as last year’s iPhone 5. But Apple says the new device has “a redesigned camera sensor that allows for bigger pixels. Bigger pixels equal better photos. And better photos are precisely what inspired the advancements we made with the new iSight camera on iPhone 5s.”
The camera is one of the most used and most valued features in today’s top-of-the-line smartphones. I put Apple’s latest and greatest to the test against the best Nokia has to offer: The Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows Phone, which is among the best camera phones available today.
Apple says, “What makes the iSight camera so remarkable is how beautiful photos look without your having to do anything at all. Just aim and shoot. That’s it.”
So that’s what I did. The following comparison is not meant to be scientific; it’s meant to serve as a quick image-quality comparison. I did not use any “advanced” settings; in all cases, I used the cameras’ default and “auto” settings.
Nokia Lumia 1020 rear-facing camera: 41MP PureView camera; Carl Zeiss Tessar lens; f/2.2 aperture; autofocus; and Xenon flash.
Apple iPhone 5S rear-facing camera: 8MP iSight camera; f/2.2 aperture; autofocus; and True Tone flash with dual LEDs.
Now for the photos…
Apple iPhone 5S vs. Nokia Lumia 1020: Comparing Cameras
Apple iPhone 5S vs. Nokia Lumia 1020 Camera Comparison: Conclusion
To reflect the addition of the full-resolution Lumia 1020 images that were missing from the original post, I’ve amended my conclusions appropriately below. Changes are in bold. Most of the conclusions made in the piece stand. The only real difference is in the zoomed in versions of the high-resolution images.
So I went into this latest experiment expecting the Lumia 1020 to again come out on top. But that’s just not what happened.
Most of the images I used for comparison are of comparable quality; it’s not easy to look at any of them and pick a clear winner. That in itself says something about the new iPhone 5S camera.
In fact, in some cases the iPhone 5S images provide more true-to-life color representation than the Lumia 1020 photos. Take, for example, the first images of Fenway Park’s brick façade (page two) – which, by the way, is the same brick face that stood in 1912 when Fenway Park first opened to the public. The color of the bricks is much more realistic in the iPhone images. And you can even see slightly more definition.
The same can be said about the images of Fenway’s Teammates Statue (page three), which is an ode to famous Sox players Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doer, as well as David Halberstam’s 2003 book based on the four men, “Teammates: A Portrait of Friendship.” Look at the bricks and you can see a clear difference in both color and definition.
I truly expected the Lumia 1020 to stand out when zooming in on small areas of images, and in the high-res image you can see a slight difference; the text is more legible. But look at the zoomed-in image of the plaque on the Teammates Statue in the 5MP version. The Lumia image might be clearer, but the difference is negligible. After looking at the zoomed in versions of the high-res images, it’s clear that the Lumia images do provide more detail when zoomed.
The images of Fenway’s interior face, behind home plate (page four), are probably the most similar. It’s difficult to say which device provided better-quality photos, but you can notice a slight difference in color between the two sets. But again, you can see a bit more detail in the zoomed in version of the high-res Lumia 1020 image than in the zoomed in iPhone image.
Fenway’s Green Monster in left field (page five), the only wall like it in all of professional baseball, looks more “lifelike” in the iPhone images, and again, the iPhone photos look clearer. Look at the “B Strong” circle or “Fenway Park, Stay Strong” banner; the colors are more crisp, and they’re slightly less pixelated in the iPhone photos. Again, the zoomed-in, high-res image look more clear than the zoomed-in iPhone image.
The images of the vintage Red Sox sign inside Fenway’s third-base concourse (page six), which is meant to commemorate the year Fenway was built (1912) and then reconstructed (1934), show more of the same.
To sum that all up, in my tests the iPhone 5S iSight camera mostly provided better images across the board than the Nokia Lumia 1020 PureView camera, demonstrating that it really isn’t only about megapixels when it comes to smartphone cameras. However, if you plan to blow up our images for printing, the Lumia 1020 high-resolution images will look better.
All of that said, I’m not sure I’ll say that the iPhone 5S camera is “better” than the Lumia 1020 camera, because they each have lots of unique advance features that let you capture all kinds of cool images. But if you don’t want to mess with all of those settings, and you mostly just use the auto mode on your smartphone, the iPhone camera will often outdo the Lumia’s digital shooter.
Al Sacco was a journalist, blogger and editor who covers the fast-paced mobile beat for CIO.com and IDG Enterprise, with a focus on wearable tech, smartphones and tablet PCs. Al managed CIO.com writers and contributors, covered news, and shared insightful expert analysis of key industry happenings. He also wrote a wide variety of tutorials and how-tos to help readers get the most out of their gadgets, and regularly offered up recommendations on software for a number of mobile platforms. Al resides in Boston and is a passionate reader, traveler, beer lover, film buff and Red Sox fan.