Back in the Autumn, I pitched the Lumia 950 XL against the (then new) Samsung Galaxy Note 9, concluding that the Android newcomer didn't quite match up in terms of image detail and purity. But since then we've had three monthly updates for the Note 9* and, while waiting for the likes of the Nokia 9 and Galaxy S10, I thought a rematch was in order. Can the Lumia keep its crown?
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I think I can be allowed a little backwards-gazing now that we're into 2019 and the (nominally) last year of Windows 10 Mobile support from Microsoft*. Which is why I'm going to be gazing at the array of Windows-powered phones on my desk and picking a few standouts. Starting with my current favourite Windows phone, heck I was salivating the moment it was rumoured - the Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro. No, don't laugh, please read on. I have my reasons...!
A few months ago I pitched the (then new) Huawei Mate 20 Pro against the Lumia 950 XL and found that the former's edge enhancement rather ruined the phone's imaging scores against the purity of the classic Lumia. I suggested that software updates were key and Huawei was listening, it seems. The update that hit my Mate 20 Pro a few days ago significantly dials back the horrific image processing that the phone started with. So a re-test was in order, and I've thrown in the Google Pixel 3 XL, which has also had a big 'feature' update in the last few days. It'll be a battle royale, so sit back and let's see how the three flagship camera phones do...
A debate on Twitter earlier in the week (see below) put up one of THE most frequently asked questions about phone imaging. Why do I/we both pixel peeping when most phone-shot photos are only ever seen on 5"/6" phone screens? It's a good question, but I think I have a great answer. If you're a phone imaging enthusiast then you'll know where I'm going with this already, but for the casual user, here's why I do what I do and here's why enthusiasts care...
I know I emphasise imaging, microphones, and speakers, as unique selling points and differentiatiors among smartphones here on AAWP, but when I look back at the last couple of years of smartphone use in my own hands, there's one aspect which has grown and grown in significance: secure biometrics. The ex-Nokia engineers at Microsoft foresaw this in 2015 when completing and launching the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, with iris recognition, but that's where everything just about ground to a halt.
By popular demand (no, really!), I'm comparing the ability to capture remarkable shots at night here - handheld, i.e. no tripods allowed. We all know that the Lumia 950 range takes stellar low light shots, thanks to PureView oversampling, the good OIS and long shutter times allowed. But can the new multi-frame computational techniques used by the Google Pixel 3 and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro win out overall? And what do the new techniques do for the character of the images captured?
With the Pixel 3 in for review for a short period, and with a glimpse of sun here and there in November in the UK, I wanted to pit PureView phase 1 (Nokia 808) and phase 2 (Lumia 1020, adding OIS) with the Pixel's (as good as) PureView phase 3, doing all the pixel combination in the time domain rather than across a high-res sensor. There's a lot to compare, it's our biggest and longest imaging comparison piece ever, so let's press on and do allow time for the page to fully load!
I've talked before about how Google's HDR+ software is effectively the latest generation of Nokia's original PureView concept. Except that instead of amalgamating pixel data from a high resolution to a lower resolution, all with a single exposure, HDR+ takes pixel data from many separate exposures at the same resolution. The former is - in theory - superior. But put the latter together with a modern fast chipset and all of a sudden multi-frame PureView becomes practical and with decent results. Taking the Lumia 950 as my modern era gold standard for imaging, can the brand new Google Pixel 3 really compete?
One of the reasons why there has always been a big debate as to what exactly constitutes "a smartphone" is that the definition itself keeps changing. Once we had dumb phones, then high end communicators and touchscreen multimedia gadgets for geeks, and then - by 2010 or so - enough people had what we had been calling 'smartphones' that they became mainstream and just 'phones'. But just what functions got added in each era, where are we now, and where do the different platforms stand?
My camera (phone) comparisons over the last few years have been gradually stymied by manufacturers choosing to over-sharpen, to edge enhance, and to reduce noise. All in the name of producing 'wow' images for social media. Yet, living in the UK, greenery - so trees and grass - and nature generally form part of many test scenes. And it's nature itself, with all its incredible textures, that proves hardest of all to capture using modern camera phones. By way of some data points, I investigate!