Thoughts and impressions of the Nokia Lumia 920’s PureView camera

The Nokia Lumia 920

Of all of the announcements today by Nokia, the 920’s PureView camera is probably one of the more impressive. We told you what we thought it meant and we weren't too far off. Today we had a chance to not only play around with it but in talking with Ilari Nurmi, VP of Product Marketing for Nokia, we were able to learn a bit more behind the technology as well.

First, let’s talk about the specifications and what they mean to you, the consumer…

As many of you know, a few of us here at Windows Phone Central are camera enthusiasts. That’s why we’re very excited about the 920: it really is a game changer. Here are the camera specs:

  • F/2.0 aperture
  • BSI sensor
  • 1/3 inch sensor size
  • 8.7MP
  • Floating lens

Let’s break that down for everyone: the F/2.0 aperture is the lowest found any smartphone. Think of aperture as how “open” a lens can get—the more open, the more light comes in. That’s crucial as light is what camera’s crave and is the key to getting a good image. You want to buy an expensive lens for your DSLR? Search for one with an F/1.4 aperture—basically the lower the number, the better.  Reaching F/2.0 on a camera-phone is a pretty big deal, make no mistake about it. It will also greatly help to make your photos better as the shutter speed can go faster.

We’ve discussed back-side illuminated sensors (BSI) before—it’s what is found on the iPhone, Titan II and many Samsung phones. It puts the wires behind the sensor, allowing more light to be received and once again, making brighter photos. We’ve wanted Nokia to do this for a very long time and now they have.

The Lumia 900, Lumia 920 and 808 PureView

Sensor size is also crucial. Here, the bigger the better and the fact is, most smartphones have tiny sensors. Why do some “pro” DSLRs cost so much? It’s because they have a giant sensor (it’s also why they’re so big). The Lumia 920 sports a 1/3 inch sensor that beats many phones who roll with a smaller one.  That brings us to megapixels…

Photographers hate megapixel discussions because it’s all consumers focus on, instead of all of the above. It’s often the least important aspect as those pixels won’t improve your photo much. It’s good for cropping, yes, but other than that?

Nokia informed us they could have added more than the 8.7MP to that 1/1.4” sensor, as some of their competitors have on their devices. But as we mentioned last night, jamming more megapixels on a sensor can have negative consequences, like reduce image quality. The more pixels on a sensor, the more light you need to illuminate them all. In turn, cameras with high megapixel count tend to have worse low-light performance.  That’s right folks, putting 16MP or 32MP into a camera can be a bad thing, especially if it’s on a small sensor.

No, Nokia took the good route here—the one that photographers would have preferred: larger, BSI sensor with less megapixels so there is less noise in low light conditions.

Throw in their whole “Floating lens”, which is a mechanical form of image stabilization (aka better than software based) and we’re talking a whole new category of a camera phone. We’ve seen some of the images and so far, we really like what we see.

What about the Lumia 820? While it lacks the PureView technology, it does have a better sensor and Nokia’s coveted photo algorithms for image sharpness and reduced noise. From what they told us, the 820’s camera is a good if not better than any top camera phone on the market today, while the 920 simply hurdles over everything.

So while we still need to see the finished product, to photo-enthusiasts everywhere, Nokia spoke our language today. They got it right, they focused on the right camera aspects and we like what we see.

Finally, while we saw a few of those Nokia Lenses, that was just a taste of the Scalado acquisition. Expect more in the future.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.

  • If it is really 8.7MP, they should just say 9MP.  That would get the attention of some consumers who think that it has same MP count as other smartphones.
  • Is it just me, but I like the 808. It looks smaller not thinner. I wish that had WP OS on it.
  • Not just you, I think the 808 is a pretty sweet looking phone, but I also like the 900/920 look.
  • If they are making up numbers and saying 9...why not just say 10 MP?  It is closer to 10 than it is to might as well, right?
  • Ask your little sister to round the number 8.7 for you.
  • His sarcasm eluded you...
  • Because you round spec sheets now?  The phone is ~180 grams, so are you going to say it is 200 grams now because you want to round numbers?  The phone is also 4.5" diggity damn, Nokia just made a "5 inch" smartphone!!!  That stupid 820 is only "4 inches".
    @Aldoron, some just don't get it, haha.
  • feel i have to post this

  • If it is not legitimate video, then it brings into question all of the video and pictures provided by Nokia.  Bottom line - we really will not know until devices are released into the wild and tested without influence by Nokia, but if it turns out to be video not taken with the 920 it can't help an already struggling company. 
  • roll forward to 1:30 mark, and tell me you can do this with any phone
    and here too, if you want to get geeky
    the point being, it is amateurish for this kind of mistake.  however, the technology is real.
  • There has been some images taken with Lumia 920 and iPhone 4S and it's all pretty mindblowing really.
  • Mother of god.....
  • This warranted a "Holy Shit!" emerging from my lips.
  • Shit just got real!
  • Ok.  Just converted from ATIV S to 920.  And found out Nokia may be only WP8 with 1280x768 RGB.
  • Not to forget it's only phone out there with 60hz screen and super touch for now at least. It's the camera and screen i have been super impressed looking pictures and videos.
  • L920 has a higher res RGB screen vs slightly lower res pentile matrix of Ativ S. Also the L920 has a slightly smaller screen for an insane pixel density. And there is no comparison with the cameras. Never thought I'd say this but the Lumia 920 smokes the Ativ S.
  • The metal construction of the Samsung does look quite nice too though, but yea that Nokia screen and camera look real nice.
  • is there metal in ATIV? I thought the whole back was plastic.
  • The back is plastic, but the construction of the phone is metal.
  • I was so excited about this fall because I was going to have a hard decision between the new Nokia, Samsung, HTC, and the new iPhone (please no fan boy comments, the OS might be blah but they make good phones)  After seeing that it's not going to be a hard choice at all... Nokia Lumia 920! Nokia Lumia 920! Nokia Lumia 920!  
  • Nokia, could i ask your daughter Lumia 920, to be my wife? Snd no, i don't love her for her looks ... I love her because shes freaking amazing!
  • I'm excited about the PureView stuff and I'm excited that PV is more technological leaps than shoving 41 mega pixels onto a sensor.  The stuff they showed in the press conferecne was awesome.
  • I love how the video ends... THIS IS LUMIA
    Can't agree more this is what I have been waiting for from Nokia all the time!
  • The image stabilization, floating lense technology is truly amazing. The 920 will be a beast and now the sad part...please T-Mobile....give us the bigger brother phone for once. We all know it's going to ATT. But why not release to all carriers like what they do with the Samsung Galaxy lines? No carrier(maybe Sprint) is gonna say no to a phone like this. Please T-Mobile...
  • I'm in the same boat, I really want T-Mobile to get the 920.
  • I couldn't agree more with you on the Sprint part. I had to leave Sprint and go to AT&T so I could get a Lumia.
  • I understand your wanting Tmobile to bring this, but if their a willing participant, I hope you wouldn't expect ATT to say, "Well since other carriers do want it, we don't either". ATT has been getting a lot of hate because they're ready, willing, and able to carry the Nokia Lumia phones. STOP THE HATE PEOPLE!
  • +1 I also really REALLY want this phone on T-Mobile.  And I agree, MS/Nokia need to release this to ALL carriers at the same time.  PLEASE T-Mobile, for the love of God do the right thing and give us this phone.  I'll be yours forever. ;)
  • Tmo won't get it (they'll get 820). That being said anyone know what frequencies this works on? Unlocked in tmob would def work, just a question if it supports same 4g or lte band they use/will use.
  • The bands on the nokia page suggest that it will support T-mobile... just buy it unsubsidized if it isn't picked up by them. 
  • Thanks binder. And I agree, tmob is much cheaper than other carriers so you'd make up that cost either way. I do wonder whether or not lte will be the same though, but tmob lte don't be for another yr or so anyway. By that time who knows what will be out. Not to mention lte really isn't needed as aws hspa 4g is super fast.
  • And of course, it's gonna cost like what? 700? 800 dollars unsubsidized?
  • double checked nokias specs. Does not support tmobs 4g (2100). Its like the iPhone. Will work (1900) but no at fastest web. Oh well.
  • According to the spec site the 710 also doesn't support tmob 4g so, you know, take those specs with a grain of salt.
  • Unsubsidized as in an arm and a As much as I love this phone unless I get a job paying close to at least $40k a year, I'll have to wait until my contract renews. I'll be a father any day now and my wife would kill me if I got another phone just because I wanted But if I get this job I'm applying for, heck yeah I can afford it.
  • Anyone else wonder if this will come to Verizon? Forget att, and mobile.. I wonder what they'll announce at BUILD.
  • That's badass. Too bad I can't upgrade until 2013, but then again, just think about what they'll have by that time :-)
  • In the same boat as you. My contract expires May next year and hopefully Sprint has something by then.
  • HTC One X also has the F 2.0 aperture, its not unique to Nokia.
    If the Lumia 920 should have got the 41 MP Pureview camera, then everybody would be so happy it got the fantastic 41 MP from Nokia 808. And now, the 920 just got an ordinary 8 MP, and we should be happy it DIDNT get any more pixels? Because more pixels can be so bad... Well look at the 808, it can be incredible too.
    But I guess the Lumia 920 will be on pair with the HTC One X when it comes to photos.
  • One X doesn't have floating lens image stabilization, so how can you say they'd be about the same? Look, I'm here playing with the Lumia 920...I'm telling YOU directly, this is a game changer.  
  • Im adding this to my family plan...or early upgrade
  • I think he was referring to this "the F/2.0 aperture is the lowest found any smartphone"
  • It's not necessarily untrue, just a little deceptive.  It is the lowest found on any smartphone, but it's also found on other smartphones :P
  • such conviction, this post alone convinced me its the real deal, can't wait to see it in person.
  • How does it compare to the iPhone's camera? That one is really fast and sharp.
  • An "ordinary 8MP"? Are you high? What about the image stabilization and F2.0 aperture? Wake up, bro!
  • The amount of megapixels, 8, is ordinary. I am not saying the camera is ordinary, it will probably be really nice. Although "image stabilization" and "aperture" doesnt sell phones, MP does.
  • Lol!  The Nokia 808 isn't really selling well; and the Titan II - well, it wasn't on AT&T's top 3 smartphone sales list EVER.
  • My ancient, ordinary 2 megapixel camera takes better pictures than any smartphone right now.  Nokia really needs a campaign to re-educate the masses.
  • People have to realize that Nokia is using this physical image stabilization to keep the aperatue open slightly longer than other smartphone cameras. So on top of the F2.0 it is exposing longer in dark scenes than the One X would (which is already a great camera to begin with). I mean, if that actually works this will be the best performing low light cameraphone, period. I can't wait to see more comparison shots when the production device is reviewed.
  • The video is impressive, if its representative of real life results and not cherrypicked or post-processed.
  • Yeah im having a hard time believing the commercials too haha. Please let it be that good.
  • Nokia just admitted to The Verge that the video was not taken with a 920. In other words, it was just another ad, not a true test of the 920's OIS.
  • Nice!
  • If this phone (or a clone with a different name) is released on Verizon I will buy it Day 1.  I've been eligible for a new phone since May so let's go Nokia - take my money all ready!
  • I've been waiting since last June. :(
  • It all seems a little deceptive.  We see the guy on the bike videoing the girl.  We then cut to the video of her and note the stabilization.  We assume it is shot from the guy on the bike, and yet at 0.27 we see the reflection of a person  in a van videoing her.  Who the heck knows if he videoed her with a pureview Lumia or not.  My guess is she is recorded with it.  They get a smoother video and can claim pureview without being untruthful.  Regardless, our mind is led to believe something that is not exactly the case.  Deceptive.
    PS: I am not the first to note the reflection.
  • If you watch closely you can clearly see that he is not holding a lumia device. Kinda upsetting.
  • Wait what? What makes you think he isn't holding a lumia 920?  It sure looks like it. 
  • That is a great point, obviously they took OIS Off with the dude on the bike and OIS On in a van, I mean, the reflection means that in the OIS Off sample there was clearly NOT a van.  Plus, in the second sample, they used that same van and dude on the bike to record the girl on the swing set.  It is so obvious.
  • you can't tell either way....could be that the guy is using a side by side setup. I have paused the video multiple times and can't really tell.  It's unfortunate that the perception of the situation will not favor Nokia until we actually see it tested in the real world by non-production artists.
  • Apple does the same thing with Siri, Trust me, she doesn't interpret perfectly when spoke to in the car, conference roo, or while jogging in the commercial, yet everyone believes it and goes out to purchase it after being decieved.
  • Who's looking at the Van?  I am too busy staring at the chick.
  • How did they fit the van on the swing?
  • My point is not that the technology does not work but, in the first example, it was shot from within a moving van.  The result is smoother video than if shot from a bike.  However, we are led to believe that it was shot from a bike because that is how it was presented.  There is a bit of deception in this.
  • But really, if my vehicles could go on rides it would help justify the $14 parking fee.
  • The male biker is to create setting to make the "advertisement" more fun and carefree. It not meant as deception. Both examples are filmed the van, but the swing comparson takes all doubt away. I had a harder time beleaving the photos were real and not majorly photoshopped. If they are real... Hot damn this is a game changer!
  • did you watch the event this monring?  that showed that van this morning.  it is a piece of the equipment they use to do the comparison videos.  the use the van to film with two devices side by side so they can get comparable videos
  • I watched the event.  I do not recall the van, but I do remember the rig that had the two phones side-by-side.  Regardless, in this video the public is led to believe that the video is shot while riding a bike.  In actuality the stable shot--at least in the one instance--is shot via a stable and reasonably smooth riding van.
  • Wow~! I like what I saw... Take my money!!!
  • Looks like I'm terminating my T-mobile contract a few months early to jump ship to AT&T.
  • Much more important then the fact that the lens is f/2 is the fact that the sensor is 1/1.4! That's not only way bigger then other cell phone cameras but larger then low end point and shoots. In fact... Its almost to good to be true being that it's flush with the phone's body. I'm gonna wait a bit longer to believe it
  • Low end point and shoot? The s100 which is easily one of the best point and shoot has f/2.0 and a 1/1.7 sensor(smaller than 920's)....but I do wanna see actual side by side comparisons
  • No way it has a 1/1.4" sensor.  The Nokia website says 1/3".
  • Dear Sprint,
    Kindly remove your head from your derrier and offer us this phone.
    Your Arrive Users
  • sorry we are stuck with iphone
  • where did you get the 1/1.4''.  official says 1/3 inch?
  • I second this. I see 1/3 on the Nokia site. Also, where's the BSI information coming from? Haven't been able to verify that anywhere.
  • BSI is on the official spec sheet
  • I knew it was to good to be true. Also most smartphones have a 1/3.2" sensor. Most p&s cameras are 1/2.3" high end p&s are 1/1.7" so 1/1.4 was crazy impressive. So we get slightly larger sensor with a good lens and really good image stabilization. Not bad, but not revolutionary like the 808 was with its almost 1" sensor.
  • Wow, everyone is so positive about this phone. I don't see it. The design is ugly, last generation. No CB AMOLED. All it is...A HYPED UP LCD! The only interesting thing about the phone is the camera and NOKIA'S commitment to the platform. Everything else is Meh....
  • Its a much higher resolution LCD then any oled phone display under 5.3", only the galaxy note phones have similar resolution and their screens are much bigger.
  • Have you watched any of the videos. it looks damn impressive and people have tested have said that the scrolling feels like no other device.
    I'm not sure what esle Nokia can anymore do. They have an amazing screen and camera inside the phone and finally add the curved screen, plus best software support.
    It's all Microsoft after that to bring the software out in time. 
  • you have no idea.
  • It doesn't HAVE to be AMOLED to be a great screen.
  • I was disappointed that the thickness is just over 10mm. I was hoping < 10mm.  Other than that, it's a perfectly well designed phone.  Given the benefits of the Nokia experience, more than compensates.  I've held the G3 and was actually debating whether the phoen is too thin.  Now we have the Razr HD being announced.  The Lumia certainly looks fatter compared to the competition.
  • I don't mind the extra thickness.  Wanna know why? Because I won't need to use a case on this phone.  That's right, I can use this phone and show off it's true beauty unlike other phones that have to wear armor, which of course, hides thier looks and adds to thier wieght and thickness.
  • I saw the razr m and it looks just like the other with that ugly gray/white case. What have they really done besides added an HD display? Yet i don't hear people crying like they are about the Lumia 820/920. Not impressed with the Razr, super impressed with the Lumia & ATIV S, but I'm going 920 despite loving the home button on the ATIV....The chrome and brushed steel on the ATIV will start to be scratched looking very quickly and don't tell me to put a case on it, because the phone design is meant to be on display, but as stated wear & tear will be visible on it quickly
  • I'm not impressed with Motorolla period. I've had an android in the Xperia Play and others. There's nothing as buttery smooth as a wp to me. Don't get me wrong, I like the 820 and would recommend it to others, but for me it was between Nokia and Sammy. Sammy delivered with that awesome 4.8 screen and design. Yes, NOKIA has better service and features, but I, like most people prefer aesthetics. The 920 is a Lumia 900 beefed up, with a lack of CB technology. It doesn't matter what branding they give it. LCD will not have the oversaturated COLORS of AMOLED. In other words, it won't look as colorful on the screen
  • I have used optical image stabilization with high end Canon lenses for years. They cost thousands of dollars each. If this is any where as good, it will be a winner.
  • The first phone in history that has a camera with optical image stabilization. If that is not a game-changer, I don't know what is.
  • Where is that shut up and tank my money jpeg when I need it? 
  • Wonder what a 900 will go for on eBay when this launches...
  • I'm with you on that one, but I will keep it as a backup if i have too!
  • :D
  • Pureview in a sleek phone sporting a modern OS is a game changer. But I don't think they should have announced it without any carrier details or release dates. When will they ever learn.
  • Totaly agree on this post 20 mp is so unimportant. Good iso performance thats what counts.
    As a D50 owner with 17-55 f2,8 and 300MM F4 glass i know what i am talking about.
  • Only downside I can think of is that since it's an IPS, it probably won't be possible to add a sleeping screen clock without draining the battery. On the other hand... screen, camera, stabilization, battery, wireless charging, design, wp8... yeah, I guess I can do without.
  • And yes this is a way better cameraphone as the TitanMKII :)
    Nokia uber alles
  • Is the OIS Video really shot by a Lumia 920?
  • How are the auto features for those of us that want good pictures, but don't want to learn any of the tech?
  • Wow is all I can say
    "Note: The Lumia 920 pictures in this post were taken using prototype hardware and software, and then reduced dramatically in size. In addition, the OIS video, above, was not shot using the Lumia 920." (emphasis mine)
    As I said above...deceptive.
    Thanks, nParallels for the lead.
  • If is ok buddy.. Everybody tries to exagerate their stuff.. Every one will get caught when the product is released if it does not live up to the demo. Anyway for the OIS, here is the working sample.
    check it out at 1:30
  • Can I possibly take a lower resolution picture at 5MP, and still have the 8.7MP used for oversampling? This is my question so far, but it is not quite clear thus far ... isn't oversampling part of the PureView toolset?
  • No. The 920 uses PureView branding, not a PureView toolset. It describes the new camera features in 1 marketing word.
  • I've always loved Samsung...but Nokia just converted just smoked everything that's out there...
  • People going on about this whole video malarkey..
    Apple do EXACTLY the same thing with their TV advertisements.
    You get someone on the ipad or iphone zooming in on maps and doing something really quick (like seconds) and then at the end in small print at the bottom (you have to be quick to catch it) they say it's a simulation (basically speeded up)
    So.. Get over it.
    I'm defo getting a 920 as soon as it comes out, and keeping my 12month old lumia 800 as backup (Not that it will need a backup) :)
  • how Siri works so flawlessly. It's a commercial...everything supposed to run smooth.
  • Now if they had put a 12mp sensor with the oversampling that would have been awesomer
  • I like it.. 8 GB is no big deal for me.. I've got a zune pass so I don't carry alot of my music around anymore.. everything else syncs to my skydrive (25 GB).. I don't really like the 920 design, I just can't get over the corners for some reason. But that's just me.. Everytime I look at the 820 and 920 side by side I am drawn to the 820... so that's the phone I will get. Wish they would give the release date already.
  • This looks amazing
    What they've done with the stablisation and low light technology is incredible
  • I wanted to see more than 8MP.  I tihnk the sweet spot is 16MP, like HTC squeezed into the Titan.  I **really** wanted that lossless digital zoom.
  • "Nokia informed us they could have added more than the 8.7MP to that 1/1.4” sensor, as some of their competitors have on their devices."  I think you mean to that 1/3" sensor.