Nokia Lumia 920 takes on a DSLR with night photography

We know that the Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone captures impressive night photos. The optically stabilized camera with BSI sensor sheds light on some of the darkest scenes.

But how does it compare with a stand alone digital camera? Windows Phone Central Reader, Keng Chang, took the issue to task and compared his Canon 1DX (opens in new tab) DSLR to the Lumia 920. The results aren't all that surprising but does speak highly of the Lumia 920's low light performance.

Keng's set up was to mount the DSLR on a tripod and take a series of photos at various ISO levels with both the DSLR and Lumia 920. While the DSLR was supported by a tripod, the 920 images were taken handheld, using the tripod as support.  First the Canon 1DX image.

And now the Lumia 920 image.

Taking a look at the settings for the brightest of shots, the Canon 1DX image was shot at f2.8 with a shutter speed of two seconds at ISO 800. The Lumia 920 on the other hand was shot at f2.0 at a shutter speed of one second at ISO 800.

The one second difference represents the one stop difference in the aperture settings of the two lenses. While the 1DX clearly sheds more light on the subject the 920 doesn't do a bad job of things. Keep in mind that the Canon 1DX has a full-frame sensor that is vastly larger than the 1/3" sensor of the Lumia 920.

Here's the full comparison captured by Keng using both Night and Auto Modes on the Lumia 920.

While the Lumia 920 is impressive in its own rights with optical stabilization, the DSLR gives you far more controls over the shot, has a better auto focus system, and overall has more horsepower. Even though these two cameras are in separate leagues, the Lumia 920 does a respectable job of things.

Big thanks goes out to Keng Cheng for the photos!

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.

  • The Nokia 920 still does a great job!
  • And then they say I I'm always talking about my Lumia 920
  • The fact that you are comparing it to a top shelf DSLR instead of just destroying other smartphones shows the brute power that is the Lumia 920 PureView camera!
  • Well, one could do the same with the iphone or gs3, ect... Where are the daylight photos?  
  • 1. We know that the Lumia 920 isn't the best at daytime photos.
    2. No one REALLY has a problem with daytime photos; any camera can handle that. However, many smartphone cameras (including the entire line of Android devices, really) struggles with low-light pictures, so finding something replaces unusable images with decent ones is a big enoguh upgrade to have slightly-lesser pictures in the daytime.
  • Actually with 4:3 ratio pictures, 920 can easily take on daylight pictures of iPhone 5.
  • You havent owned a lumia 920 yet, have you :)
  • Amen to that! Low light has been my biggest issue since buying the dreadful camcorder jvc mz20 something. When I complained I was told it was meant for outdoor daytime:) I often shoot in crappy light since sunlight is hard to come by in Norway at this time of year
  • My daylight photos on my 920 are a delight.  I add some sharpening and contrast and they are perfect.  That suggests that the problem isn't with optics or hardware, but rather JPG processing which is said to be tweaked in the near future. 
  • Why are you always comparing the L920 to the L900, the latter has a crap camera, I know cause I own it.
    Compare it to the iphoe and GS3 so we can see if the L920 is better than those two. Comparing a DSLR to a phoen is like comparing bananas to oranges: they don't compete in the same league. The consummer isn't going to compare phone cameras  to DSLR.  
    Ok, we got it that the theL920 is good compared to a DSLR, but this ads no value if teh iPhoen and teh GS3 have the same result!
  • It blows the iPhone 5 and GS3 out of the water. The Lumia 920 is so good at low light pictures that it CAN be compared to a top shelf DSLR. 

  • Now take those pictures again without a tripod on the DSLR. Nuff said. That Pureview is amazing.
  • Exacly I don´t understand why they used a tripod at all. They should have had both the DSLR and the lumia take pics hand held. I suspect the DSLR will not cope with the movement and it´s aperture will have to be smaller to have a blur free image. In other words, The lumia should be about as bright as the DSLR in a real world scenario because of OIS
  • Every DSLR kit lens has OIS too.
  • Huh?  Pretty sure my XTi didn't come with a kit lens that had OIS.
  • I mainly did this to compare the noise generate by the ISO under the same lightning and setting. ISO 400 is very usable from Lumia 920. By hand-holding everything, I am introducing an random element that I can't reasonablly replicate everytime.
  • True, and that kind of proves my point. OIS and Pureview are aptly equipped to handle the randomness experienced in real life scenarios. I'm just amazed at how close they are given the differences and price points of each device. Given the constraints, Nokia has done an amazing job. DSLR quality? Maybe not, but the difference is not THAT great. Btw nice work and thank you for taking the time to do the comparison.
  • the 18-55 every rebel bring from factory sure it has OIS its the second switch you have in the lens is called IS and you can turn it on or off.
    It uses a lense with a gyro that rotates to eliminate the shake from the pictures, depending on the lens you can get up to three full stops.
  • The L900 does have a crap camera, but you have to learn how to tune it. Ironically L900 still has a better camera than the Galaxy S3. That camera is way too dark.
  • Impressive.
  • I think it would be nice to have thrown the iPhone in there. Then shoot photos freehand without using the tripod for comparison's sake. The reason the 920 can take great photos at low light is the OIS, and using a tripod, theoretically, assuming you had controlover the shutter, you could get any camera to get pretty nice low light photos. So a freehand test would be really something to show how the OIS compensates, and still gives quality low light photos.
  • Unfortunately I don't have other phone I can do test with. I mainly did this to compare the noise generate by the ISO under the same lightning and setting. ISO 400 is very usable from Lumia 920
  • I can't prove it, but I think the Canon was cheating.  We need a rematch!
  • Yea I think I saw the canon was riding in a van. 
  • Impressive but it's not fair to Lumia if Lumia was handheld and Canon was on a tripod.
  • I have no bracket that I can mount a phone on a Tripod, I hand-held the phone while using the camera as support for my hand to minimize movement.
  • Wait why couldn't you have just done the same with the DSLR then?
  • If the Lumia 920's camera was improved just a little, it would be hard to tell the difference. It's mostly the noise and the reflection of the light that makes it look worse than the DSLR.
  • maybe its hardly to tell on this little format pictures here. but if we look closer everything would be pro DSLR and contra lumia 920. nothing against the lumia 920 but even if it was way better, it can not be so good to be even to the canon 1dx or another DSLR which is pro class. this 1dx has an 36 x 24mm CMOS sensor, this is bigger then the whole lens on the lumia 920. you can not say that it would be even. a smartphone camera will alsway be an smartphone camera, a camera for fun not for pro pictures. :) and it should not be even, or are you willing to pay for a lumia 920 8.000-9.000$ with this capabilities to have a perfect picture.
  • Of course the DSLR would be superior, that is what it was built for. However, the point is ISO 400 is very usable from Lumia 920, ISO 800 is usable after you resize it.
  • Now let's compare some real life DAY TIME images.  I wonder if Nokia only works at night so never really tested much day time camera performances.
  • Have you heard of 808?
  • Actually the 920 takes better pictures than 808 because of the sensor and camera (not lens) stabilization.
  • For those not aware, that Canon is US$6800. Body only. A decent lens to go with would add $500-$2000.
  • yes and a a sot taken with 1dx at 51000 iso with a $100 lens is better than the one taken with a lumia 920 at 100 iso...when i will get my lumia 900 i will post a face off between lumia and my canon 50d with 100% crop
  • We all know Nikon's have better noise reduction and are better for night shots......hahah thought I would throw that in there.
  • Well its great for the wintertime when the damn sun sets at like 4pm... So deprssing
  • I am with you on that one. By the time my son comes from school (4:15), sun is already below the horizon.
  • Yep... Its pretty miserable... I go to work and come home in the dark
  • I like it, good when you want to do some gaming once in a while haha
  • even more, i have seen prices of $8.000
  • Does anyone know if the 920 was set to auto or nightmode also?
  • Both mode were used.
  • Well the 1Dx can go to ISO 256000 while the Lumia 900 maxes out at 800.... Its not a surprise that at the same ISO the two cameras take pictures that are of a similar brightness level... That's the point of ISO.
  • yeah thats simple mathematic logic. if both of them use iso 800 lens f2.0 or 2.8 or whatever, and the same amount of light coming thru the lens. it should give similar results :) and the 1dx you can crank it up to iso 10.000 and use it for very good pictures.
  • I did it mainly for ISO noise comparison, which would require all other parameters to be controlled.
  • Meant Lumia 920
  • I believe Smart Shoot gives better quality than stock camera app.
  • How can people judge quality from a small downscaled image? Sure 920 can take on DSLR viewing at that size.
  • The comparison photo is 100% Crop, see the link at the top.
    I video a lot of UFO's in my area, and usually the video looks like it's been shot during a sandstorm.. will this make it better?  
  • If they really wanted to test againts a professionnal camera they shouldn't have taken a Canon. Canon's have one of the worst sensor of all the DSLR currently available. The sensor quality of a Canon DSLR is really bad!
  • And you base this on what?
  • Very good question. I am waiting on the answer.
  • Sure canon is lagging behind sony atm (Sony makes sensors for pretty much every other slr on the market except sigma). But they are like 10-20% worse, the 1dx is still waaaay better then any smartphone on the market. I'd say canons full frame sensors are still ahead of Sony's aps-c sensors, though same sensor size and generation Sony is ahead of canon.
  • I base this on my experience working with both Canon and Pentax cameras, and on the numbers:
  • And, ok, maybe saying Canon is "really bad" was a little too much, but still, I don't understand why so many people buy Canon when Nikon and Pentax are better, and Pentax camera's are much cheaper than Canon when we look at all the extra functions they contain compared to Canon.
  • Okay I see what your saying based on that review. However when was the last time you took a picture with no lens? On top of that anyone who will tell me that a pentax k-5 II is a better than the 1dx is a moron thus you have to take that link with a grain of salt.
  • That composite score is meaningless
  • Based on my own experience, there's nothing wrong with Canon sensors.  Nikon, Pentax and other digital camera manufacturers offer respectable alternatives but that doesn't mean Canon sucks. Why did I opt for Canon?  About ten years ago the Canon 300D was the first sub-$1000 DSLR.  Pentax didn't have anything comparable on the market and I just didn't like Nikon's control layout.  True, Pentax cameras are less expensive but Pentax has let their lens stock dwindle terribly and unless they've released something new recently, they don't have a camera than can match Canon's 1D series.   Does Pentax have a 10fps camera?  A full-frame DSLR?  Pentax makes some nice cameras but some of those extra functions you mention may not meet every photographer's needs.  In my opinion, there's really not a bad DSLR on the market today.  Some may suit your needs or tastes better than mine but any DSLR on the current market is capable of capturing fantastic images.
  • Many people are invested in lenses. And its only since Nikon and Pentax started using Sony sensors that they pulled so far ahead of Canon, in fact not to long ago Canon was ahead of Nikon. If you have 5,000 dollars invested in Canon lenses you aren't going to jump ship because one generation of cameras falls a bit behind the competitor. I imagine that if Canon can't make competitive sensors they will also end up switching to Sony like everyone else already has.
  • i might gotta use my 920 and make a test shot then
  • Its all well and decent when shooting at light sources.  This changes dramatically when there isn't light at all.  Put them both on a tripod and shoot in the dark.  My 5 year old $600 SLR destroyed the Lumia.  It basically comes down to whether or not you can adjust all the parameters to get the shot with a half second shutter speed.  The Lumia doesn't seem to go above that no matter what.  Even just a whole second makes a ton of difference in these conditions, I can't figure out why they limit it so much.
    That said, I do like the lumia's camera a lot, for what it is, a camera in a phone.
    I am of course comparing the images at full resolution, not this scaled down trickery.  There is a huge difference in quality even with the shots in this post.  It isn't even a contest if you look at the photos as if you might put them on your wall.
  • Auto Mode 920 goes up to 0.3 second.
    Night Mode 920 goes up to 1 second.
  • How is the call quality on the 1DX?
  • Can i fit a 1DX in my pocket?
    If the 920 is a brick what would that make the 1DX?
  • The DSLR is obviously better, but that's pretty damn good for a phone.
  • Impressive for a smartphone camera
  • Well, according to Engadget, the iFob nor the GF3 have the same results. No where near. The L920 blows them away.
  •   The Lumia is less than one seventh the price of a 1DX with lens. Canon 1DX: 1340 grams (plus lens). Lumia 920: 185 grams. Canon gets a tripod, Lumia gets stabilised hands. Canon has a sensor that's more than 10x the size of Lumia 920s sensor.   Just a few things to think about as to why the pro DSLR's photos are so much better - although the 920 has done pretty well for itself in this test!
  • Comparing a 18.1 megapixel DSLR camera with a full frame sense on a tripod (costing $6800+) to a handheld Lumia 920 costing ~$450 locked to AT&T seems a tad unfair.
    But the Lumia 920 does very well, its incredibly close in quality and making me start to doubt the benefit of buying a lower end camera at all, I'd like to have seen what the first shot would have been with the Lumia 920 on a tripod and given the same 2s shutter speed.  I definitely do want one of these bad boys :)
  • This test is meaningless because he used tripod with the dslr.
  • Its like comparing a Bugatti Veyron to a Ford KA yes they both have 4 wheels and 2 doors but thats where the comparison ends! so the 1DX and the 920 have a lens and digital sensor but thats it. nobody expects a camera phone to be as good as a £4'000 Purpose built camera but for what it is it does an exceptional job and way obove other phones on the market today. so for that it gets 10 out of 10 for being what it is a Camera Phone.
  • Damit folks, Lumia shot was NOT handheld! NO! Read the damn article! It was handheld with tripod as support! That's basically the phone was just held against the tripod but not screwed to it (no pun intended). Apart from pointing that out, I'd like to point to something else - the noise level on Lumia shot is way higher than on Canon shot. And THAT is basically THE difference. Apart from that, Lumia 920 is a beast phone shooter. It just cannot hold a candle to a DSLR in low light. It's stretching it too far to say it is comparable.