Nokia Lumia 521, does the lack of a flash really matter?

The Nokia Lumia 521 is a very nice, budget oriented Windows Phone. To keep cost low, Nokia trimmed back some of the features part of which was the camera light.

Admittedly, I've yet to meet a camera light that performed very well. They often lack the power to distribute enough light to your subjects or create a blue color cast. While I'm not particularly fond of these lights, others may feel differently. Which brings us to this comparison.

In low lighting situations how does the Lumia 521 measure up against a comparable camera that is fitted with a light?

Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2

The most similar Windows Phone camera I have available to the Lumia 521 is the Samsung Focus 2. The Focus 2 sports a 5MP camera with a 30mm f2.5 lens. The Lumia 521 has a 5MP camera with a 28mm f2.4 lens. Both cameras were set to 4:3 ratio to maximize image resolution. Other than that, the settings were left on automatic. I took four test shots with somewhat mixed results. Images have been resized for publishing and each shot was taken without support.

The first shot, indoors using just a table lamp. The Lumia 521 (left image) was taken at ISO 160 at a shutter speed of 1/125th. The Focus 2 (right image) was shot at ISO 64 at a shutter speed of 1/60th. The flash seemed to create a slight blue or cooler color tone while the Lumia 521 image has a little warmer tone.

Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2 low light test

Next up we set up a few toys on a light table, turned off the photo lamps and only used the two ceiling lights in the room. The Lumia 521 (left image) was shot at ISO 800 at 1/10th second and the Focus 2 (right image) was shot at ISO 80 at 1/125th. The Lumia 521 didn't do a bad job of things but with the flash the Focus 2 had noticeably deeper depth of field.

Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2 light table test shots

The photo lamps were turned up to 25% and the close-up image quality was tested. The Lumia 521 (left image) was shot at ISO 500 1/60th while the Focus 2 (right image) was taken at ISO 40 at 1/250th. The light helped the Focuse 2 focus while I had to pull back a little to provide enough ambient light so the Lumia 521 could focus.

Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2 low-light close-up test shot

Lastly, we headed to the garage and snapped this shot with three 60 watt ceiling lights illuminating a two car garage. The RC Car (which has seen better days) is on a wall about six feet from the closest light. The Lumia 521 (left image) was shot at ISO 500 at 1/20th and the Focus 2 (right image) was shot at ISO 50 at 1/30th. Again, the light helped the Focus 2 focus and provided better depth to the image.

Nokia Lumia 521 and Samung Focus 2 low-light indoor sample

I did take both cameras outdoors at night to see how things measured up (and neither really shined).  These two shots were taken just after sunset with only house lighting through the windows available.  The Nokia Lumia 521 image (left) was shot at ISO 800 and a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second.  In contrast, the Samsung Focus 2 image was shot at ISO 100 at a shutter speed of 1/15th.

The Nokia Lumia 521 did take its time focusing and because of the slower shutter speed, motion blur is often present.  While the Samsung Focus 2 was able to shed a little light on things, the light just lacks the power to cover a lot of distance and often over powers subjects in the foreground.  Then you have the issue that the Focus 2 dialed down the ISO because of the flash so low that very little of the background detail is present.

Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2 outdoor night sample

Personally, I'm more of a natural light photographer so the absence of a light on the Lumia 521 isn't that much of a loss to me. However, some like to use the camera light and it does help add some depth of field to images.  Most importantly it acts as a focus assist light for those low light conditions and I think that may be the biggest loss in not having a light on the Lumia 521.

Can you survive without the light on the Lumia 521? I think so, but keep in mind the Lumia 521 is what it is.  

The Lumia 521 is a budget oriented Windows Phone with a base-line camera.  If you're looking for a Windows Phone with a knock-out camera, the Lumia 521 might not be for you.   The Lumia 521's camera does perform surprisingly well in many conditions but does have limitations.  Limitations, in part, due to the lack of a light.  Outdoor images are still the Lumia 521's strength and while you may not be able to take good photos of friends while your enjoying a cold one in a dark, smoke filled bar, you should be able to capture decent photos where the indoor lighting is more ample.

So what say ye'?  Does the loss of a flash on the Lumia 521 matter or is it a feature you can live without?

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.