Windows Phone Camera Faceoff: Nokia Lumia 900 and 920

What many may see as an unfair fight between Windows Phone cameras, some have asked how the Nokia Lumia 900 and Lumia 920 cameras compare. We took both Windows Phones out for a comparison shoot and the results weren't too surprising.

While the Lumia 900 has turned out to be a decent little camera, the Lumia 920 has an improved design and the Pureview software.  It's like comparing two sports cars with one having a nitrous booster installed and the other is stock.

Okay... before we jump into things... the 920 blows the 900 out of the water with regards to low light photography. We didn't give low-light performance much of a look and the sample below should say it all.

Nokia Lumia 900 (left) and Lumia 920 (right) night test shots

Okay... so that might not be a fair comparison but how about this one? The Lumia 920 clearly sheds more light on low light images.

Nokia Lumia 900 (top) and Lumia 920 (bottom) night test shots

While the low light battle is dominated by the Lumia 920, what we did look at is how the Lumia 900 and 920 handled themselves in typical outdoor lighting.

But first, the tale of the tape.

  • The Lumia 900 is fitted with a 8MP camera with a 28mm f2.2 lens. The sensor is a front illuminated (FSI). The Lumia 900 has no stabilization features.
  • The Lumia 920 is fitted with a 8.7MP camera with a 26mm f2.0 lens. The sensor is a back illuminated (BSI) and the camera is fitted with optical stabilization (OIS) in addition to custom Nokia processing algorithms for noise reduction (which were not possible in Windows Phone 7)

The Lumia 900's camera menu gives users control over scenes, white balance, exposure compensation, ISO, metering modes, effects, contrast, saturation, focus mode, resolution and flicker reduction. Additionally through Nokia's Camera Extras you have Smart Group Shot, Action Shot, Panorama and Timer features.

The Lumia 920's camera menu gives users control over scenes, ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, aspect ratio, and turning on/off the focus assist lamp. Instead of Camera Extras, the 920 has the lens feature of Windows Phone 8 that identifies any app that utilizes the camera. Nokia also offers Smart Shoot, Panorama, and Cinemagraph apps for the 920's camera.

On paper, the 920 wins out as far as camera build is concerned. The optical stabilization and BSI sensor (and even the slightly wider 26mm lens) lends themselves to better low light performance that includes night time and indoor photography.

Lumia 900 (left) and Lumia 920 (right) outdoor test shots

However, the 900 gives users more control options which helps the 900 tackle more diverse situations and may eliminate the need for post-processing software. If you need more contrast or saturation, the 900's menu gives you that option Granted not everyone will miss the more detailed settings of the Lumia 900 but many will.

Lumia 900 (top) and Lumia 920 (bottom) outdoor test shots

As far as image quality is concerned, the Nokia Lumia 900 started out a little rough. The original firmware for the camera held the camera back and image quality... well... image quality was marginal at best. But then Nokia updated the firmware back in August and the Lumia 900's camera performance noticeably improved.

The Lumia 920, on the other hand, hit the ground running with tons of pre-release samples that gave everyone pause. The low light samples were stunning as were samples taken under other lighting conditions. However, while production models continue to shine with their ability to capture very nice low light images, the also produce slightly soft images. The softness isn't something to pull your hair over but we feel that it holds the camera back. As with the Lumia 900's problems, the 920's softness can easily be fixed with a firmware update.

Lumia 900 (left) and Lumia 920 (right) indoor test shots

In comparing the images taken from both of these cameras, the 920 gets an edge in outdoor, daytime pictures. Both camera's aspect ratio were set to 4:3 and the settings were set to default.  Images have been resized for publication but no further adjustments have been made.  Color was warmer and more natural with the Lumia 920.  The 900 also had a little difficulty handling glare at times.  While both captured quality images, our opinion is that overall image quality is better with the 920.

But that's what we expected, right? By no means does the Lumia 900's camera suck wind but the hardware and software are now dated. Just as last year's DSLR isn't a slouch but not as good as the current year's model. Nokia has researched, developed and improved their camera's performance over the past year so it's natural for the 920 to be the better performer.

Lumia 900 (top) and Lumia 920 (bottom) outdoor closeup test shots

The Lumia 900's camera (post update) is a decent little Windows Phone camera. But the Lumia 920's camera significantly raises the bar for Windows Phone cameras.  Night time photography aside, if you're making the move from the Lumia 900 to the Lumia 920 you will be pleased with the camera's performance.

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.