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Nokia improves Lumia 920 camera. We do a before and after comparison.

We just reported this morning that the OS and firmware update for the AT&T Lumia 920 is sitting on Nokia’s servers, presumably getting ready to be rolled out. When software appears via Navifirm, it’s the finalized version and is handed off to the carriers for testing, meaning this update is near.

While we have detailed the OS update ‘Portico’ before with the HTC 8X (and it’s the same feature set here) it’s the firmware that we’re interested in. The firmware update (build 1249) will fix and adjust a few things on the phone but it’s the camera fix that most are curious about. It’s not secret that currently the 920 is a bit “soft” during daylight shots and so Nokia has fixed it up with this update and we have the evidence.

Methodology

We took two Nokia Lumia 920s side by side using a tripod to steady both devices and simply swapped out the phone, keeping the tripod as steady as we can. We used “tap to focus” on the same spot in the viewfinder and all settings were on ‘Auto’ (note: there are no new settings in this update for the camera, just algorithm improvements). The AF assist lamp was on and no flash was used.

In the next series of shots you will see the “old” 1242 Lumia 920 firmware on the left and the 1249 always on the right.  The majority of the photos are heavily cropped to compare the new sharpening features of the camera. Click on a photo on a desktop browser will enlarge them (likewise, you can open in a new tab to get a better look).

Results

The differences should be obvious. Nokia has done, in our opinion, a great job on improving the camera. Clearly the images are significantly sharper with the new firmware (the white balance also seems tweaked for the better). 

The first comparison photos tell the whole story from our experience with the new firmware.

Update: 4PM ET: The last two sets are from the Front-facing camera, which also improves with the update.


Old Firmware (L) versus New Firmware (R)

 


 Old Firmware (L) versus New Firmware (R)

 


Old Firmware (L) versus New Firmware (R)

 


Old Firmware (L) versus New Firmware (R)

 


Old Firmware (L) versus New Firmware (R)

 


Old Firmware (L) versus New Firmware (R)

 


Front facing camera: Left is old, Right is new firmware

 


Front facing camera: Left is old, Right is new firmware

 

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Reader comments

Nokia improves Lumia 920 camera. We do a before and after comparison.

204 Comments

I just sent WPCentral indoor and outdoor comparison pictures taken in 4:3 & 16:9 ratio. I "feel" the 16:9 are coming out a tad better indoors. It was the other way around before Portico.

I don't see why that would be considering there is a resolution drop of 11% when going from 16:9 to 4:3. I have all but abandoned 16:9 aspect due to that cold hard fact.

@Pete C: You've abandoned 16:9 because resolution drops 11% when you go to 4:3? That makes no sense. Wouldn't you want to stay with the higher resolution? Or am I thinking about this wrong?

@glassadam: He meant that he has not abandoned 16:9 aspect ratio because of the drop of megapixelz. Notice the "all but abandoned".

@glassadam & @JussiRM- He meant that 4x3 pictures have more resolution than 16x9 so he has pretty much given up on 16x9.
If you look at pictures both ways, you'll see the following-
16x9 = 3552x2000 = 7,104,000 pixels
4x3 = 3264x2448 = 7,990,272 pixels
16x9 basically is a cropped 4x3 image.  Take the 4x3 picture and do your own cropping if you want.

This is not correct on the Lumia. 16:9 is a truly wider picture on Lumia, 4:3 will loose detail on the sides (but gain detail upwards and downwards).
While many smartphones do crop 16:9 from 4:3, Lumia does not. It actually uses a 8.7 megapixel sensor so that it will produce a truly wider picture in 16:9 mode and truly higher picture in 4:3 (while leaving out corner pixels that are outside the optimum lens area). It is true that 4:3 has more megapixels, but it is a more narrow view so some image data on the sides would be lost - use 16:9 if you need a wide view.
Nokia did this already with the N9 and Lumia 800/900. Here's a pic explaining the magic:
http://cdn.esphoneblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nokia-Lumia-920-Pu...

big improvement ? I was about to return my phone till I saw this article . Waiting for the update yet to arrive in Australia. 
If the camera is not fixed , I am switching back to iphone

wow. seriously? the photos are fine on the lumia! I dont know what all the bitching is about, let alone you making such a BIG deal out of it that you would return it for an IPHONE? jesus. calm down princess.

The picture quality is indeed bad. It might looks ok from the phone display but looking from 19" monitor will show how bad  it is. Even my blackberry bold 9780 produce better pics with its 5 MP camera. Glad to hear bout the update, else its a disgrace for a phone with pureview title.

Now just waiting for india launch. I was always waiting for it, but now i'm sure i'm not getting anything else. Its 920 all the way..

btw, i used the 'tip us' button on wpcentral app on my 710 regarding windowsphone7.8 in india. Hope u got it..

Cheers!

Is there any word on whether there is anything else in these updates? Is it only camera fixes? I ask because I ended up selling my 920 due to issues with crashing/freezing/rebooting. Camera is a welcome improvement, but the phone isn't usable (for me) if these issues aren't cleared.

We've detailed the Portico OS update in the past--it features improved stability and is supposed to fix reboots/crashes of the OS.

There are two components with this update: OS and firmware. They are different things and both add new features and improve the device. We'll have more on specifics later as this post is only concerned with the camera improvement.

As can be evidenced from the photos I just posted 20 minutes ago...IT'S DAYTIME NOW.

Besides, the main complaint was the 920 was soft during brightly lit days. Nighttime was always great.

> Nighttime was always great.
Doesn't mean that they didn't screw up the night photos while fixing daylight sharpness.

WHat about the colors? They seem really different from one version to the other, which ones do you find more accurate?

If you read the post, they say that "white balance also seems tweaked for the better". So that should give you a hint of their opinion...

Ultimately the soft focus issue was camera wide. Daytime photos were simply more obvious. Definitely post night photos when you get a chance. Thanks. Not that the night photos were bad, but they could be better.

My initial response about "low light photos" is that they look the same to me with this update with no discernable difference.

if you were truly dedicated you would travel to somewhere it is night time so 'Hiiiiiiii' can see some night shots. LOL.

Daniel Rubino I love you. Thank you for bringing much needed personality to tech blogging :) and awesome insight into our WP camera tech

Wow! That old firmware is terrible with a tripod. Are you guys using dollar store tripods with a maximum weight of 184g or something? If you use a Manfrotto tripod or something anything should be sharp, including Toys R Us digital cameras. That is some pretty terrible software that Nokia let slip through if the tripod was steady at all.

Umm...it's not camera shake that is the problem with the early Lumia 920 firmware. The Lumia 920 has OIS and a tripod is only used to control the environment and rule out hand shake.

Sharpening on a camera can either be a hardware thing (lens, shutter/aperture) a software thing (focus points) or a JPG processing thing. During shots on a brightly lit day, you can have a camera mounted on a 10LB tripod and still get blurry shots if any one of a dozen areas are off slightly. 

PS Manfrotto's are over-rated.

Someone put Dan out, he's on fire. Makes me laugh my ass off every time he comments on his posts.

what would you suggest over a manfrotto. I am in the market for a lightweight tripod and was looking at some manfrottos

SLIK are nice. I have one of their monopods and love it... (Pro Pod 382, light as heck).

Honestly though it comes down to preference e.g. clasps vs. screw extensions, the weight, build quality, size etc. As long as it's smooth to use the grip bar, etc tripods/monopods barely register for me as far as differences. George may have a differing opinion.

Manfrotto's are nice, they're just...I mean it's like the ONE and only tripod manufacturer that people can actually name, so they always reference it.

Look up Really Right Stuff.  They make good tripods. :) 
Also look up Induro and Giottos.  Few manufacturers I've seen on a suggested lists recently.

I had plenty of experience with compact digital cameras with poor optics, tiny sensors, fancy image stabilization marketing names like steadyshot, and mushy software. I also have steady hands and the one constant I notice is that images are much, MUCH, MUCH sharper with a tripod. That applies to any camera I have ever used in my life.
So my point about the Nokia JPEG processing being ridiculously poor is quite accurate.
Yes, Manfrotto, just like Bose, have really dropped the ball lately and are now purely riding on marketing over quality now. You can thank Apple for that though.

Wow...I was worried there could be some hardware related issue but I was wrong! What a dramatic fix!
 
This is big. Really big. The whole camera. This is the kind of innovation that competitors will have a hard to time to catch up in just a year. Nokia has a huge advantage point in their hand. They should advertise the hell out of it.

I just wish they had done this right the first time. That would have prevented some people from badmouthing 920 camera.

I thought that was available too...the rm-821 version. Can somebody check, I am already in bed (1:57 am.....lol)

I have a very strange issue...sometimes my 920 doesn't get locked...i have restart the phone...hope it gets fixed in this update..

Why would Apple want to fix the purple haze, it's a feature of the iPhone 4SS, or the iPhone 5 as Apple calls it.

Looks like all they did was increase shutter speed and crank up ISO to compensate.  Pictures look horribly grainy to me after the update.  But it is a phone afterall... all camera phone pictures look like junk to me.

I'm hoping that's what they did. I'm not expecting miracles from a phone camera but before it would default to lowest ISO and use a shutter speed of like 1/3 second. I'd much rather have a grainer but sharper image then grain free with lots of motion blur.

@nspooty

False. Images have nearly the same shutter speed (~ 1/1500 sec on the outside shots) and 100 ISO. That is not what they changed at all.

But if images do look more grainy it is because of sharpening...that is after all, a side effect.

Daniel, wouldn't sharpening applied to the RAW file like this update does be better than doing it on a JPEG via Creative Studio like we had to before?

Possibly but honestly, how photos work on WP8 i.e. the whole process is a bit of a mystery. But yeah, in theory sharpeing the image directly is always better. Then again, with such a small sensor, I'm not sure how important it is here.

Also possible that they were using too much noise reduction, which would make sense for high ISO and likely why night shots were ok, but it would soften up images at 100 ISO, you can especially see it in blue skies
 
 

Looks good. Can anyone with hands on comment on whether the exposure compensation works in low light situations now? And does the camera's use faster shutter speeds then before? It looks like the new pictures are exposed a little lower in the samples so I'm hopeful.

Which is a good thing. I was a bit afraid that the tweaking on the day light pictures would have an effect on the night light pictures.

Not unless HTC is doing camera tweaks to their line.  This specific part of the update package is Nokia specific camera software tweaks.  I don't know that HTC has an issue with the "soft" daylight images the Lumia's do.

Video was never an issue imo, I've taken some amazing footage, I think the issue was too much noise reduction applied to shots when converted from raw to jpeg.

Daniel, did you notice how pictures blur right after shots are taken? They look really sharp initially, then soften right before sliding left. Curious if that's gone after the update.

For me, the picture of magnets on the fridge most easily confirms they made improvements with this update.  One of the first major tells for me that there was a problem was when I took a picture of printed text.  It was just plain blurry/soft no matter what setting I used.  We did comparison shots with an S2 and the 920 could not beat the old S2.  It was not a close match either.  Bottom line, this is enlightening to see.  I'm very excited that an update is coming this soon.

Interesting. I find that shot to be the least telling of the change. IMO the details on the grain in the wood is what is most obvious. Open the first two comparison pics in new tabs and then click the image to zoom in fully. You will see huge differences there. The leaves as well.

The outdoor shot with the yellow shed out back is very telling too. The lighting is so much better there now and of course with the sharpness boost, really pops.

Wow, the lighting IS much better in that shot! I was so busy looking at the sharpness that I didn't notice that. It is so dramatic that I wonder if a cloud might have passed overhead. Also in that same shot...compare the branches of the trees in the distance. Amazing job by Nokia on this one. This will leave little doubt as to which cameraphone is top dog.

I think you'll find the light improvement in that post-update shot is largely down the sun having come out.

What are you people talking about, the camera looks worse much worse. I can't believe Nokia is going to mess this up. Naaaaaaaa just kidding. I love it can't wait for update. But it still doesn't compare to ios camera. I can hear it now.

I just LOVE Nokia's dedication and devotion for their WP phones. They listen, they act. A lot of campanies out there can learn a thing or two on this front...

Blown away! Now we get to see what the camera is really capable of. The initial device reviews at launch are going to require rewrites.

And that's exacrtly the problem with releasing it with faulty code in the first place.  All those reviews sitting out there will never be updated and this phone's camera will never get it's reputation back.

hmmm, Daniel can you see the f stop number used on two same pictures? is it maybe that they raised the f stop number from 2.0 to 4 then the pictures would be far sharper. like your first picture. but then the bokeh is less then before.

as far as I know it's a fixed-aperture lens at 2.0 and there is no way to change it software-wise...

The bokeh is lower with P1.1 unfortunately - aggressive s/w sharpening applied liberally across the pics I believe

Well, bokeh and blur are not the same thing in this case. What was causing the blur problem was software related, nothing to do with f stop. Software issue would have blurred an f2 or f4 shot.
If your subject is farther from the camera, the limited bokeh already would basically disappear. From what I read, these are ZOOMed in shot to display the detail, not taken from 6" from the subject (correct me if I'm wrong).
And bokeh blur only occurs with differing DEPTHS of field. Even if close up, if the whole frame is within the same depth of field, the blur will be minimal or none at all. If, however, you take a shot of an object 6" from the camera, with objects feet away in the background, the background will be blurred out. Albeit not amazingly so as in DSLR quality, but good looking for a phone camera nonetheless.

You definitely notice the difference with the bare trees; the smaller branches looked fuzzy prior to the update. Well done Nokia!

CAN SOMEBODY PLEASE SUPPLY ME WITH A NOKIA LUMIA 920!!!
Sorry for my frustration, but heck, where can I get one. I've been waiting almost 1,5 months now. Shipping date still unknown at Cyberport. I really want to test this baby out for myself. Those pictures with the new firmware look absolutely fabulous! Hope our national tech site Tweakers.net will come with an updated review of the L920 soon, cause they screwed up pretty badly.

That's great!!! I left my S3 for the Lumia 920, big leap of faith and I use the camera so much. This will really fix those shots  out doors and it's pretty amazing how fast Nokia did this. Any idea when AT&T will push?

I can see the sky shot has more noise in it. That confirms it may have been overly aggressive noise reduction. That's a welcome change as there are great NR reduction programs available for PCs but you can't get softened detail back.

Looks comparable to or better than iPhone now.

Noise - is it just me but there is a lot of noise in the pics

The WB seems to be far far better
 
But they still need to use some smoothing for the noise - they got the edges right now just the noise
 

Are there any changes on the video camera performance? Wasn't there some out of the box issues related to the white balance or continous AF (not exactly sure)? Haven't filmed that much with the phone myself but I think I remember there were a few discussions about that sort of thing.

Any chance that this update also enables more customizability on the Lumia 920 camera?  The 920's manual camera settings are pretty bare compared to even the 900.

Read first, comment later is a good rule to follow 

From the original post:
"(note: there are no new settings in this update for the camera, just algorithm improvements)."

Ha, missed that.  Or maybe I saw it the first time I read the article earlier today and forgot it by the second or third time I looked at it just now. :D  Thanks though.

Looking good, can't wait to Update. Could you be so nice and take some portrait pictures and compare and upload so we can see and judge. ( like people at party) both with flash and without, please!
 

Any difference on video at all? The video quality was great to begin with, but wondering about the white balance and focus there are well.

This is great! Much much better. Especially on the shot with the shed. The softness is completely gone around the edges and the WB looks better as well. So glad I dropped Android for the L920! I am amazed at the support/updates from Nokia/MS since day one of release. They are on top of it and it shows! Keep up the great work. I'm really loving WPCentral as well on how well they keep on top of the latest updates and news. Awesome work!
 

The difference is visible. The colors and light are more true with the enhacement. Hopefully AT&T pushes out the update soon

Wow, I didn't realize how bad it was before; assive improvement. Anohter speedy fix by Nokia but it really shouldn't have been released that bad either.

This is a stretch but can someone test to see if by chance Skype got fixed?  Either syncing with a MS Live, Hotmail or Outlook account and does it stay logged in running in the Background?  :)

Does the new firmware address the audio distortion on ATT 920? The pops and stutters when a message or alert sound is played?

You are either talking about the noise inherent with the 920 camera (because its floating), or you have a bad speakerphone.

No, the audio studders even at low volume. It's not the speaker or a vibration in the hardware. It's just an audio problem when notifications are played.

Thanks so much for adding the front camera shots.  This was the primary change from my 900 that I was disappointed in when getting my 920.  Actually, I think that was my only disappointment.  Looking forward to getting this update!

Sure would be nice if this was pushed before Christmas when people are likely to be taking a lot of pics.

AT&T rep told me the update should be rolling out on the 19th. It should be fixing some issues with bluetooth so I am stoked :)
 

Having owned nokia phones before there was ios or android because of the amazing carl zeiss camera and now owning a new lumia 920 I was very dissapointed with the loss of sharpness and contrast in the 920s pictures; although the night ones are terrific. After seeing these samples I quickly wet my pants!!! NOKIA IS KILLING IT
 

How good is the bright light pics with the new firmware compared to iPhone 5? Hope it outperforms iPhone 5 in bright light too with this new firmware??

Thanks Nokia for update. (how abuot iphone5 apple maps? people dowloaded google maps in stead, no update from apple :)  )
Hope Nokia rolling out updates for Sweden this week too so we have it before christmas !

Now it would be good time to compare the macro shots of iPhone 5 and L920 updated. clos-up pics of colorful flowers and all are pretty good with iPhone 5.

Got my update pictures instantly look sharper. I've taken about 250 shots before the update and will repeat most those shots now and compare. I'll post in the forum but def see sharper image.

Okay.  It's official, the clarity is as good as it gets.  Very happy.
I just took a photo using my colleague's iPhone 5.
Truth is, Lumia has a much wider angle lens than the iPhone.  And you will not see as much detail at a distance.  But the Lumia's focus is no longer 'soft'.
 

... In addition, I felt as if the Lumia's color (comparing side by side on a PC) looked more accurate this time (daytime scenery).

Ok Daniel, I swear my AT&T 920's camera got worse after today's update. To me my pics look less sharp than before.

Does anyone know if this was a fix or just a bandaid?

i.e. Did they "fix" the problem by improving compression/image handling or did they just drop in a mild post-process sharpening filter?

The Nokia 920's camera is still needs a lot of improvement after the update. The two fatal flaws are long shutter lag and slow shutterspeed.
Long Shutter Lag. There is a good 1 to 2 seconds delay from when you tap the screen to when it actually takes the photo. This is because it tries to refocus the image on where you tapped (which takes time), then take the photo. You can workaround this by using the physical camera button. Half-press to focus first, then full press when you actually want the picture taken. The shutter lag in that case is much shorter, but the downside is that it's difficult to keep the camera stable when you are using the physical button. Compare that with Android or iPhones, you can tap to focus the picture first, then tap on the shutter button on the screen for zero shutter lag photo.
The long shutter lag is a big problem when you are taking pictures of kids. By the time the camera fires, the moment is already gone.
Slow Shutter Speed. This is perhaps a bigger flaw. On the Lumia 920, it takes great low light photos *IF* things don't move in the picture. So I have taken great photos of city night scenes. However, when I tried to take low light photos of my kid (at home, under somewhat dim lighting), there is no way to do this. Every single photo turns out blurry. Compare that with my wife's iPhone 5, the photo comes out clear, even though they are darker. I'd rather have an underexposed non-blurry photo any day over a blurry bright photo. IMHO, they should have locked minimum shutter speed to 1/60s, or allow manual adjustment.
Because of these two reasons, I find that the camera is actually much worse than the iPhone 5 or iPhone 4S (I had those phones before) in day to day usage.

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