Nokia Lumia 1520 review: Finnish fable

Finnish fable

GSMArena team, 20 December 2013.

20MP PureView camera

The Nokia Lumia 1520 has a brand new Nokia PureView camera. It uses a 1/2.5" sensor with 20MP resolution. To put that in context, the sensor has 15% smaller surface area than the 20MP 1/2.3" sensor in the Xperia Z1 and about a third of the size of the Lumia 1020's PureView sensor. On the other hand the Lumia 1520 camera imager is still almost twice the size of most of its competitors, and 30% larger than those who tout "big" 1/3" sensors - like the iPhone 5s and the HTC One.

The Nokia Lumia 1520 offers ZEISS lens, but it has a relatively narrow f/2.4 aperture (compared to f/2.2 on the 1020). There's no xenon flash either, all of which should affect the low-light performance.

Still, the good news is that Nokia managed to keep the optical image stabilization and the dual-LED flash is stronger than the common single-LED units, so the Lumia 1520 should still be competitive against other devices in the dark.

Nokia has created a special app for its flagship Lumias dubbed Nokia Pro Camera. Being one of the phone's key software features, it's there to compliment the PureView camera with a simple user interface that allows users to fine tune the camera settings. It may sound intimidating, but Nokia has done a great job of making the app simple to use for both novices and professionals alike.

The Nokia Camera is the successor of Nokia Camera Pro and is the advanced imaging software the Lumia 1520 is meant to be used with. It features transparent box in the top center with six camera settings. From left to right they are flash, white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation.

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Nokia Lumia 1520 review Nokia Lumia 1520 review
Nokia Pro Camera app user interface

Tapping on each of them opens a ring-based interface on the right side of the screen. You can access all of them simultaneously by sliding the on-screen shutter button to the left. This will stack sliders for all six settings next to one another allowing you to easily fiddle with them all at the same time. The settings you modify are kept at the values you chose, with the others adjusted accordingly by the software. We really like this interface - it's intuitive and powerful at the same time.

One major complaint about the Lumia 1020's camera is how slow it is to save photos. We're happy to report the Lumia 1520 camera is a significant improvement in this respect - it's clearly faster (about three times depending on the scenario) and while still not the snappiest around it's certainly not bothering.

As we mentioned earlier, the Camera lens has another cool trick up its sleeve. It snaps two photos at once - one in full resolution (16MP or 19MP depending on the chosen aspect ratio) and another one in 5MP, which benefits from the pixel oversampling technology, while at the same time being far easier to share.

You get lossless zoom of just under 2x for the 5MP shots. It's not completely lossless as it using it means you will have to do without oversampling, but it's miles ahead of the digital zoom competitors are offering.

Nokia Camera also comes with a brand new option - shooting in RAW. It's DNG - digital negative - format developed by Adobe, which has wide support in photo editing software. While casual consumers are way better off sticking to JPEG, photo enthusiasts can use the RAW files, which contain all the information captured by the sensor, to produce even better results. Without the JPEG compression applied you get more headroom for editing.

Keep in mind that those DNG files are around 20MB big, while a full-resolution JPEG is around 4MB, the 5MP JPEGs are a mere 1MB. RAW files cannot be viewed by most desktop software either (e.g. web browsers) without processing, which is another thing to keep in mind if you want to share photos.

The latest version of the app also has the Nokia Smart Camera suite, so you don't have to switch from one app to the other to get the cool effects. The Smart camera makes you hold the phone steady for a few seconds for each shot, but then allows you to remove moving objects, change the faces of those in the photo, simply pick the best shot from the bunch of clips it makes.

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Nokia Smart camera features

Nokia Smart Camera shoots a burst of 10 photos at 5MP resolution and allows you to edit those photos later. When editing a Smart Camera photo you choose one of several modes by swiping through their respective cards, each with a helpful label.

The basic feature here is best shot - automatically selecting the best photo out of the 10 (you can manually override the selection). You can also select the best expression for each individual face in the photo.

The multiple photos can be used to remove moving objects as well.

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Smart Camera can pick the best expression for each face • or remove moving objects

Then there's Action shot - a moving object is overlaid on the photo several times to create a sense of motion. You can pick which of the 10 photos are used to create the action shot and the multiple copies can either be opaque or semitransparent.

The other mode that enhances motion is Motion focus - it locks the moving object, but blurs the background around it. Imagine turning the camera to track a fast moving object, that's the effect that Motion focus simulates.

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Action shot • Motion focus

Nokia has a number of cool camera lenses, which we've covered before and are exclusive to the Lumia line, but the most impressive is the new Refocus lens. It snaps several photos at different focus points and allows you to interactively change the focus of the image after the fact or bring the whole image in focus.

Best of all, these interactive images are easy to share by email, Facebook and messaging, unlike some other proprietary camera apps that lock you into the maker's ecosystem.

Here's a Refocus images in action:

Panorama lens is self-explanatory - you press the shutter and then align the camera as instructed (the app will put circles you have to aim for). It's good, but you always shoot right to left (can't switch direction), which is a bit annoying. Shooting in portrait orientation is impossible too.

Cinemagraph lens creates photos that are mostly static, but a part of them is animated. You have to hold the phone steady while shooting - a tripod works best. When you're done, the Lens will offer two (sometimes three) areas that can be animated and when you pick an area, you can tweak the animation, trim it, and set the loop pattern. You can get back to the image later and correct it if you didn't get it right the first time around (we did that to reduce camera shake visible in the background).

The Nokia Camera app isn't limited to shooting still images, it can capture video too, and does quite well. Tapping the video icon at the top gets you to the video part of the app. There you have access to just the relevant settings: flash, white balance and focus. The focus can be set to either manual, auto or infinity.

Video recording also makes use of OIS and oversampling. Zoom is enabled even during video capture and it can go up to 3x in 1080p mode and up 4x in 720p mode. The 1080p videos are recorded at 30fps, but you can pick 24fps and 25fps too.

The Nokia Lumia 1520 has a total of four mics (two at the front, two on the back) with the company's proprietary Rich Audio Recording for distortion-free sound recording in loud environments. These can be used for another intriguing feature as well - it's dubbed Directional stereo. When you enable it, the sound in front of the camera is recorded clearer than the rest, potentially dealing with unwanted noises in your video and enhancing a subject's voice.

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Nokia Lumia 1520 review Nokia Lumia 1520 review
Shooting video is straightforward

Reader comments

  • Neldon
  • 17 Mar 2022
  • IJE

The Nokia 1520 is the best phone ever made. * Privacy is hard to find. * The Nokia 1520 is ‘app less’ * This is wonderful !

Why are you replying to me. I don't care if you want this outdated phone with a new battery.

  • Anonymous
  • 30 Aug 2020
  • rRT

I wish Nokia would reissue the Nokia Lumia 1520 with a 5000 mha battery. The same hardware and software for the Camera and run it on Android 20. With that same black bar style. Greatest phone I've ever had. Even with the Windows system and i...