The Nokia Lumia 1020 has been hailed by many as the best camera phone on the planet, and there are lots of reasons for that. This Windows Phone device packs a whopping 41-megapixel sensor that not only captures spectacular detail but enables you to zoom in on your photo after the fact. Plus, the ProCamera app lets you tweak all sorts of manual settings.
However, the iPhone 5s is no slouch in the imaging department. The 5s’ camera packs a larger sensor than its predecessor and a dual LED flash, as well as built-in image stabilization. But how does the 5s compare to the mighty Lumia? Pretty darn well, actually. We took both phones out for a few days of shooting with our staff photographer and compared the results.
For the purposes of this face-off, we set both the iPhone 5s and the Lumia 1020 to their Auto settings, with HDR off, and used the Sony NEX-F3 mirrorless camera as a control.
We took a photo of colored glass bottles indoors to see how well each camera would handle indoor lighting and the nuances of the colors. The Lumia 1020 produced an image that was bluer than the images taken by both the iPhone 5s and the Sony NEX-F3. As a result, the white wall in the background has a blue tint, and the bottles and wood counter appear much colder. The iPhone 5s’ image was truer to life but had slightly more contrast, as evidenced by the red bottle in the center: The middle of the bottle is much paler. Finally, more of the background in the iPhone’s image is in focus, which is more of a personal preference.
The iPhone 5s, Lumia 1020 and Sony all performed well when shooting a close-up of an espresso machine. All three cameras recognized that we only wanted the foreground in focus. As we saw with other images, the iPhone tended to compensate for the tungsten lighting, resulting in more neutral tones, while the Lumia and the Sony images had warmer hues. When we zoomed all the way in on the label, the iPhone image was the sharpest, but there was more of a cinematic quality to the Lumia’s photo.
An octopus in a fish stall offered the opportunity to see how the cameras would handle ice crystals under indoor light. The same bluish cast we saw in the Lumia 1020′s image of the bottles was even more pronounced when we took a picture of an octopus in ice. The iPhone 5s’ image was a little too pinkish, but at least it got the color of the ice and the squid (on the left side of the image) correct. The Sony NEX-F3 (our control) provided the most accurate color, even if the overall image was a little dim.
A street vendor’s kiosk of scarves and flags was a riot of colors, but how well were they recorded by the phone cameras? The iPhone 5s and the Lumia 1020 performed nearly identically, with the former capturing slightly more saturated colors than the latter. As we saw with the image of the bottles, the iPhone 5s kept more of the background in focus, which, in this case, is more of a personal preference.
One of the toughest shots to take — with any type of camera — is a nighttime photo with little available light. Bracing both the iPhone 5s and Lumia 1020 against a railing, we took images of lower Manhattan at night. The iPhone’s image, while much grainier than the Lumia’s, was much more in focus. (Look at the water in the foreground.) When you look at the full-size images, you can make out individual lights in buildings and waves better. The lighting in the Lumia’s image was more even, but we’ll sacrifice graininess for focus any day.
WINNER: iPhone 5s
High-Res Versions: iPhone 5s – Nokia Lumia 1020
How well can a camera capture a cityscape during the day? In a shot of the New York City skyline, the Lumia preserved more detail in 1 World Trade Center. When we zoomed in to 100 percent, we could make out lines in the windows better. The Lumia also handled whites better. We were able to see more detail and subtle color variations in the clouds. The Lumia’s picture was slightly bluer, but far less grainier than the photo taken by the iPhone 5s.
Selfies aside, a camera needs to be able to take good photos of people. We took a photo of a person sitting in a chair surrounded by pumpkins and other gourds, illuminated by natural light. The iPhone again bested the Lumia, producing a less washed-out image.
One of the new features of the iPhone 5s is its dual-LED flash, which is supposed to better accommodate for different lighting conditions. Likewise, the Lumia’s xenon flash is much better than your standard smartphone flash. So, how do they compare? When we took a photo of a Grover doll indoors using the flash, the iPhone’s flash proved superior, offering truer colors.
Both the iPhone 5s and the Lumia 1020 are adept at taking photos in dim and low-light conditions. To test this capability, we first took an image of a flower at dusk. The iPhone 5s’ image, though somewhat grainy, showed much more detail in the surrounding leaves. Also, the flower in the iPhone’s image was more accurate; there was a bluish cast to the Lumia 1020′s photo.
In a close-up shot of a bunch of gourds, both the iPhone 5s and Lumia 1020 produced equally crisp and detailed images. Once again, though, the Lumia’s images had a slight blue tint, while the iPhone 5s’ were more accurate. In addition, the orange gourd on the right side has better contrast.
The iPhone 5s conclusively beat the Nokia Lumia 1020 in our photo face-off, taking seven out of 10 rounds–and tying one. Even after updating the Lumia 1020′s camera software, which reduced issues with the blue color cast on many images, colors were still more accurate on the iPhone. Apple’s device also excelled when delivering detail and contrast.
The advantage that the Lumia 1020 has is that you can recompose your shot after you take it because of the phone’s very high 41-MP resolution. Overall, though, the iPhone 5s snapped better-looking images in a wider range of conditions.
To be fair, the Lumia 1020 offers much greater control over individual settings, letting the user manually adjust ISO, shutter speed, white balance and more. However, when it comes to being able to whip your phone out of your pocket and fire off a quick shot or two — the way most smartphone cameras are used — the iPhone 5s is the better everyday smartphone camera.