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...
Recent Features - Hardware
The Lumia 830 (and the 735, for which all this also applies) aren't exactly computing powerhouses, with only 1GB RAM. However, they're not only compatible with Windows 10 Mobile, they work just fine for casual use right up to the very latest Fall Creators Update (1709) - if you know the tricks and hacks. Early in 2018 I covered how to take the much more powerful Lumia 930 (and 1520) on this journey, but I've had requests from readers for the exact sequence for the Lumia 830 (and 735), so here goes...
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?
A few days ago, in part 1 of this feature, I looked at the imaging specifications of the new Huawei Mate 20 Pro, relative to the 'benchmark' Lumia 950 XL. My conclusion that the former outgunned the latter and I went into some detail, especially looking at the 5x hybrid zoom. But in this, part 2, I go through a dozen or so test cases, lighting and subject scenarios. Can the Lumia's imaging 'purity' win out over the 2018 flagship's higher horsepower and extra lens options? PS. Please be patient while this page loads - there are LOTS of test images!
One of the last great strongholds of Windows Phone and then Windows 10 Mobile is imaging, of course, thanks to the insane work done by the Nokia engineers in creating the Nokia 808 PureView, the Lumia 1020 and then the Lumia 950/XL (the latter under Microsoft branding). To such an extent that the Nokia 808 was five years ahead of the competition and even today the three year old Lumia 950 camera is beating off most of the 2018 competition. But PureView tech's creators have scattered, to Apple and Huawei notably, with Eero Salmelin heading up imaging for the latter and here's his latest creation, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
Back in April 2018, six months ago, I looked at imaging on the (then) new Samsung Galaxy S9+ versus the champion Lumia 950 XL and concluded that the 'tipping point' had been reached. Sure, the Lumia held its ground for regular images in all light conditions, but the telephoto lens on the S9+ gave it a vital overall edge in terms of distant detail. And now we have the S9+'s bigger brother, the new Note 9 (I refuse to write 'Note9', as PR people would have me do!) - the Note 9 has the same camera hardware as the S9+ but claims extra processing and a 'Scene Optimiser' intelligence. Will this take the device further away from the Lumia or does the AI stuff get in the way?