Windows Phone Camera Face-off: AT&T Nokia Lumia 1520 vs. Lumia 1020

Nokia has released two eye-catching Lumia Windows Phones this year.  The Nokia Lumia 1020 turns heads with its 41 MP PureView camera and the Nokia Lumia 1520 turns heads with its massive six-inch screen.  The Lumia 1520 also sports a respectable 20 MP PureView camera.

While the six-inch screen of the Lumia 1520 dwarfs the Lumia 1020’s 4.5” screen, but how does the Lumia 1520’s 20 MP camera stack up?  The Lumia 1020 is easily one of (if not the) best smartphone cameras on the market.  If camera performance is key, are you sacrificing too much with the Lumia 1520 for the sake of a larger screen?

We took the two Lumia Windows Phones out this past weekend to see how well they compared.

General Comparison

In using both the Lumia 1520 and Lumia 1020 side by side, you can make a strong argument for either Windows Phone being the better of the two.  The Lumia 1020 is a little easier to handle one-handed but the 6” screen of the Lumia 1520 can be seductive.  Here are a few of our general observations in using both these outstanding Windows Phones.

  • The Nokia Lumia 1020 has 3 2GB of internal storage compared to the Lumia 1520’s 16 GB.  However, the Lumia 1520 has the ability to save new photos to a microSD card (up to 64 GB).  I think the microSD card expansion will prove beneficial when shooting the larger DNG/RAW file formats.
  • The Lumia 1020 has the camera grip accessory that not only gives the Lumia 1020 better feel as a camera but also extends the battery life of the Lumia 1020.  If you are looking for your Windows Phone to replace a stand-alone, point-n-shoot camera this grip will come in handy.
  • The Lumia 1520 wins easily for screen size, which makes for a fantastic viewfinder.  The screen opens up a lot of detail in your photos and is like shooting a medium format camera.  The only downside (and I use the term loosely) to the large screen is that I found myself accidentally brushing a finger against the screen causing it to zoom or shift the focus point.
  • I have never been a big fan of smartphone flashes but the Lumia 1020’s Xenon flash is one of the stronger performers.  The Lumia 1520 relies on dual LED lights as a flash.  They work but not as effectively as the Xenon of the Lumia 1020.
  • Both Lumia Windows Phones enjoy optical stabilization and PureView technology.  The Lumia 1520 has a slightly smaller sensor and uses a 26mm f2.4 lens.  The Lumia 1020 has the larger sensor and sports a 26mm lens.  However, it is a slightly faster (lets in more light) f2.2 lens.  As far as the camera design is concerned, we will call it a draw with both cameras performing admirably with their respective hardware.

Image Quality

Photos were taken hand held (hence the slight differences in framing), using Nokia Camera and the resolution set to the 4:3 image ratio, giving the Lumia 1520 a 19 MP resolution and the Lumia 1020 a 38 MP resolution.  The only the only editing being resizing the high-resolution image files for publication purposes.  Images from the Lumia 1520, straight from the camera measured 4992 x 3744 and images from the Lumia 1020 measured 7136 x 5360 pixels.  Due to the size difference, image pairs are from the same Windows Phone.  To view the full image, just click on the photo set.

While both Lumia cameras are respectable on paper, the proof is in the pudding.  And the pudding is just fine from either of these Windows Phone cameras.

Indoor Photo Samples - Nokia Lumia 1020

Indoor Photo Samples - Nokia Lumia 1520

The 41MP image of the Lumia 1020 gives you a little more wiggle room when using the zoom later feature of Nokia Camera and may help with printable images.  The 20MP camera of the Lumia 1520 produces quality images in its own right and it isn’t fair to say the smaller resolution is restricted.  You can zoom into images nicely with the Lumia 1520, just not as much as you can with the Lumia 1020.

Zoom Later Test Images - Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520

Both of the inserts in the images above are zoomed to the maximum on both the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520.  While both cameras perform respectfully with regards to the "zoom later" feature, you can make out more detail of the chicken wire that lines the inside of the attic vents with the Lumia 1020.

Outdoor Photo Samples - Nokia Lumia 1020

Outdoor Photo Samples - Nokia Lumia 1520

I did notice a slightly warmer tone with the Lumia 1020 images at times.  It wasn't a consistent issue and there were times that the Lumia 1520 had the warmer tones.  Sharpness, color saturation and contrast were very close with both Lumia cameras and equally respectable between the two Windows Phone cameras.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Photo Samples

Nokia Lumia 1520 Photo Samples

Night photos were a smidgen better with the Lumia 1020 due to the slightly faster lens and image tones were more natural.  The color tone in the Lumia 1020 park bench image is in line with the tones present while the Lumia 1520 cooled the tone down significantly.

Night Photo Samples - Nokia Lumia 1020

Night Photo Samples - Nokia Lumia 1520

We also took video footage from both Lumia Windows Phones.  While the video quality was good from both the Lumia 1020 and 1520, the optical stabilization seemed to be a touch better with the Lumia 1520 and the color tones slightly better with the Lumia 1020. Another difference was with the audio quality.  The Lumia 1520 with its four, noise-cancelling microphones (High Amplitude Audio Capture or HAAC) gives your audio a deeper sound with more bass than what you find with the Lumia 1020.

While there were slight performance variations between the two Lumia Windows Phone cameras, nothing was critical or to the degree that a little post-processing would not right things.

Overall Impressions

The Lumia 1520 is a fun Windows Phone to use as a camera.  The larger screen makes for a great viewfinder.  Viewing images and videos from the big screen is a treat as well.  However, no matter how intoxicating the six-inch screen is the sheer size of the Lumia 1520 may not be practical for everyone.  You also have issues with the lack of built-in Qi wireless charging, smaller internal storage and the nano-SIM card that may make the Lumia 1520 less appealing (I really wish the 1520 used a micro-SIM card).

Indoor Photo Samples - Nokia Lumia 1020

Indoor Photo Samples - Nokia Lumia 1520

Nonetheless, judging the Lumia 1520 on the camera alone, Nokia hit the nail on the head once again by producing a stellar Windows Phone camera.  Choosing which Windows Phone has the better camera is a tough call with both phones capable of capturing quality images.

I really enjoyed the 6-inch viewfinder on the Lumia 1520 and image quality on the 1520 is right up there amongst the best.  I also liked shooting with the DNG/RAW format but that ability will land on the Nokia Lumia 1020 eventually.

However, if I had to lean one way or the other, it would be towards the Lumia 1020.  The Lumia 1020 has a larger sensor, faster lens and higher megapixel count.  It is also more pocketable and easier to use one-handed.  As far as the megapixel count is concerned, it isn’t a case of more megapixels automatically being better but with the Lumia 1020, you do have greater editing latitude with the larger images. You also have the advantage of the camera grip accessory which extends the camera time with the grip's internal battery.

Having said that, based on the camera alone, you really cannot go wrong with either of these Lumia Windows Phones.  The hard part is deciding which Lumia, overall, fits your needs and tastes the best.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Photo Samples

Nokia Lumia 1520 Photo Samples

George Ponder

George is the Reviews Editor at Windows Central, concentrating on Windows 10 PC and Mobile apps. He's been a supporter of the platform since the days of Windows CE and uses his current Windows 10 Mobile phone daily to keep up with life and enjoy a game during down time.