The Nokia Lumia 1020: The Perfect Travel SmartPhone?

This is a review of the Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows Phone.  I have had the phone since September 2013 and have updated this article most recently in November, 2013.

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One of the best things that happened to me this past year was my eventual give-in to smartphone photography.  I have always been a massive proponent of the fact that you don’t need a DSLR camera to take great photos.  Hell, I’ve even written a book on how to take great photos with a point and shoot camera.  However, the smartphone photography world had been one that eluded me because 1) I didn’t even have a cell phone for 4 years, and 2) why would I use my camera when I have a nice DSLR?  With the rise of instagram, however, I began to find the fun in smartphone photography as well as its use.

A couple months I was offered the opportunity to go to New York and attend the unveiling of the Nokia Lumia 1020, a new super-powered smartphone with a 41mp camera sensor.  Unfortunately, I was occupied in Namibia and missed the event.  I did, however, get my hands on one of the new phones and have had a brilliant time playing with it.  I thought it was worth a review.

I should note, I am not a smartphone savvy tech guy, I am a travel photographer.  Thus, this review will focus on the camera functionality of the Nokia Lumia 1020 more so than anything else.

Nokia Lumia 1020 windows phone

Smartphone functionality

Before this phone, I had a cheap android and an iPhone 4 (which I still have).  And well I can’t speak in specs and details I will tell you this: I’ll take the windows phone over the other two any day.  The windows layout is much more customizable and sleek, I haven’t once had a glitch, and the ability to use Microsoft Office items is a bonus.  The LCD screen is miles easier to read than the iPhone under harsh light, the larger size makes it feel more natural to read off the screen, and the battery life is unreal.

The only downside, and to some it’s a big one, is that there is a very modest selection of apps.  However, this is changing.  Well the apps were a bit tough to come by at first, as of late the most popular apps for smartphones such as vine and instagram are now available for the lumia 1020 and other windows phones.

The Camera

The biggest selling point of the Nokia Lumia 1020 is its camera.  Not only is the lens a crisp shooting Carl Zeiss, but it also has a flash much larger and more powerful than other phones.  The biggest selling point, however, of the 1020 is the 41 mp sensor, so let’s talk about that.

Is 41mp too Much?

Most mid-level DSLRs only shoot about 18mp, so what’s the point of tossing 41mp on a small phone?  Zoom.  The reality is that when you have 41mp of photo you can zoom in digitally without sacrificing any size to your image. It makes sense on a smartphone.  For someone using the smartphone for personal use, this is a great option.  To a photographer, it doesn’t make much difference.  When 41mp is stuffed onto a tiny sensor it can cause technical and quality issues.  To avoid them, I’ve just been shooting at the lower mp setting anyways.

Camera Functionality

For me, the best part of the Lumia 1020, and what it sets it apart from the other smartphones, is that you have loads of control over the camera.  In fact, you might even have more control than most point and shoots.  If the point and shoot camera wasn’t dead already, this phone might be the last nail in the coffin.  Using the pro cam, a photographer can adjust: white balance, ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and even manually focus the lens.  In fact, if you pick up the camera housing for it, the phone even grips like a camera and has a tripod mount.

The only slight downside is that the longest shutter speed you can take is 4 seconds.  And well that is more than enough for most situations, it is slightly limiting.  Another minor grievance is that it doesn’t have a timer function to shoot, however I compensated for that by using a time lapse app called “time-lapse cam”.

Image Quality

I have been incredibly impressed with the image quality of the camera.  Even in low light with the ISO jacked up, the Nokia Lumia 1020 seems to create a pretty sexy and high quality image.  If I get it mounted up on its gorilla pod and I’m shooting in the right light, the images I get are fantastic, although still not DSLR quality.

My minor grievance here is that the camera seems to bring out the colours too much and can sometimes be over-saturated before you even edit them.

Photo Editing

Another one of the great things about the Nokia Lumia 1020 is that there is very good photo editing software in the camera.  In my review of the phone, I used both the creative studio, which allows you to make the usual adjustments, as well as the fun ones like blur and tilt-shift.  Beyond what comes with the phone, there are loads of different photo-editing apps available.  I’ve just been editing all images from this phone right in the camera, and don’t see any reason I’d need to bring them to my laptop to do any more editing.

Video Functionality and Quality

Although I haven’t used the video as much, this is something else that is very sleek.  The phone actually shoots full HD 1080 video.  All the images I filmed were crisp, clean, and the colour popped.  The only strange bit is the dimension which is widescreen which makes it difficult to use the footage in conjunction with footage shot on other cameras, although the dimensions can, of course, be manipulated.

Nokia Lumia 1020 windows phone

Review Conclusions

As a photographer I love this phone.  For me, it’s the first camera that has a smartphone in it.  Everything about this phone was built with the photographer in mind, and you can tell as you use it.  As a smartphone user, I can tell you I haven’t picked up my iPhone once since using this.  I know some people out there give Windows 8 a bit a hard time, but those must be the ones that aren’t using it on a regular basis, because I love the way it is set up on the phone.

While anytime you create a camera and a smartphone one device you’re going to have to make compromises, this is likely the best you’ll ever get of both worlds.  I love it as a photographer, I love it as a smartphone user, and I hope that I have this product a long time.  It really is an industry game-changer.

Photos taken with the Nokia Lumia 1020

All these photos were taken and editing using the Nokia Lumia 1020:

Taken with nokia lumia 1020, friends Taken with nokia lumia 1020, hiking Taken with nokia lumia 1020, food Taken with nokia lumia 1020, canmore Taken with nokia lumia 1020, moraine lake Taken with nokia lumia 1020, lake louise Taken with nokia lumia 1020, Alberta Taken with nokia lumia 1020 Taken with nokia lumia 1020, waterfall Taken with nokia lumia 1020, food

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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9 Comments

  1. Very impressed I do love the Lumia series and the Windows mobile operating system the OS is nice and well put together my only issue is it really does lack app support like that found on Android and iOS but I hope in time this will change as long as Microsoft drive the phones.
    It is crazy just how good phone cameras are getting now and although I can’t seem them replacing DSLRs any time soon they are definitely pushing out the conventional point and shoot camera. It’s nice to have such a powerful camera in your pocket at all times that you can grab and still take a stunning photo with.
    Great photos and an interesting review glad you have been enjoying the phone.

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    • Exactly Alex. It’ll never take out DSLRs, but I think good smartphones like this are starting to convince those wanting an upgrade from their iphone or android, not to upgrade all the way to DSLR and instead grabbing one of these guys.

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      • people will still love there DSLR no matter what, but the quality of this camera easily beats a $200 point and shoot camera

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  2. great photos!
    I think, this would be great for someone who like travelling without bring DSLR

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  3. Nice review and excellent photos. I own this phone and while I am not a photographer, it produces some great shots in my hands. Only problem I have is that it does not come with external memory card, so everything goes in the phone’s 32gb. With each photo averaging 12 mb and videos easily hitting 100’s of mb, the space gets filled quite fast.

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    • Yeah Pete, that’s a good point about the memory card. I think the thought with a phone is that you’re constantly going to have a laptop nearby to upload everything. But yeah, very good point.

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  4. I never really got into photography till I got this phone, now I can not stop taking photos, I was going to get a point and shoot camera, but this is way better, you have a very good sensor and six element carl ziess optics,
    so I don’t see the need to get a point and shoot camera

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  5. is any unique feature in nokia lumia 1020 except its camera quality ?

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