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iPhone 5S vs. Nokia Lumia 1020: The Definitive Camera Showdown



December 14, 2013, 10:forty eight IST

Swapnil Mathur

iPhone 5S vs. Nokia Lumia 1020: The Definitive Camera Showdown

The iPhone has been a game changer ever since it was introduced and even though the pace has considerably slowed down since, it is still the most sought after mobile phone in the market. One of the areas that it really made an impact was imaging. Up until the introduction of the iphone, photography was the domain of actual cameras, but since its inception, the iPhone has become the defacto camera of choice for many across the world. Then Nokia changed the game again with the PureView 808, and then again with the Lumia 920 and no with the Lumia 1020.

The Lumia 1020 is a 41 megapixel shooter courtesy a much larger sensor complimented by Zeiss optics with optical image stabilization. The iPhone 5s has none of that. It has an 8 megapixel sensor with a slight increase in sensor area. It has a fast f/2.2 aperture lens, which the Lumia 1020 does as well. So which of the two is better? We set out just to determine that and here are our findings.

Note: All iPhone 5S images are placed on the left while the ones on the right were shot on the Lumia 1020. Stock camera apps were used on both the phones and shot on auto, unless where mentioned. Clicking on any image will open it in a new

Like: The iPhone’s accurate white balance. The 1020’s Bokeh!

The left image (iPhone 5s) is clearly a much better balanced image than on the right, which was shot by the Lumia 1020. We used the full resolution file from the 1020, which was downsampled to 8 megapixels before making the 100% crop, which you see on the top right corner. In terms of sharpness, both the cameras seem to be on top of their game, although the 38MP file from the Lumia 1020 does harbor far more detail. The larger sensor also lends to a more pleasing bokeh, but the white balance seems to be completely off.

Like: The Lumia 1020’s accuracy of exposure. The iPhone’s sharpness.

This shot was shot under shadows, but during the day. Both the phones were set to focus and meter according to the orange flower that stands the tallest. As visible here, the Lumia 1020 did a much better job of nailing the explosure and white balance as we start to see some detail get lost due to over saturation on the iphone shot. Also notice the bokeh, where the leaves in the pot of the Lumia shot are blurred, while the ones from the iphone shot are not. The larger sensor shines here and in a few other places that we’ll talk of later.

Shooting in low light, good with both cameras!

A low light shot of a painting in our office. This is oil on canvas and as you can see from both the shots, the 100% crops are rather devoid of the canvas texture. However, what is evident is that the Lumia 1020 shot has lesser noise, while the one from the iPhone 5S shows a little bit of grain. We explore more low capabilities in a few moments.

Like: Iphone’s level of detail even in tough conditions. Lumia 1020’s overall sharpness and dynamic range

One of our colleagues being lit mostly by the light from his laptop. The iPhone shot seems to be more colder (and accurate) in white balance than the Lumia 1020 shot. It also seems to have retained more detail in the blacks, as you can see in the bottom edge of the 100% crops. The facial hair is still discernable in the left shot, but not so in the Lumia 1020 shot.

Like: The detail from both cameras!

Going all out, we went out! Bad puns aside, a lot of us shoot outdoors under the harsh light, so to that end, we see that while the iPhone 5S shot has a slightly warmer tone, it has a richer saturation that the Lumia 1020 (and more contrast too). The 100% crops on the top right corner are of the tree leaves and from what we can tell, its rather impressive that both these cameras are able to clearly capture this fine level of detail.

Like: The Lumia 1020 is SHARP! The iPhone has better contrast

Once again, the lower contrast levels of the Lumia 1020 are present, but the center crop shows that the Zeiss optics are totally dominating the iPhone’s lens. The crop shows that the Lumia 1020 renders a much sharper image, something to be quite mindful of.

The iPhone shot is brighter, but the Lumia 1020’s is overall more pleasing

Clearly, we love shooting flowers, since there seem to be so many of so many kind all over the city! We found a little patch by the road just around sunset and took this photo. It would seem that in order to compensate for the light and colour, the iPhone warms up the image, while the Lumia 1020 retains its cooler tones. We, quite frankly love both the shots, the Lumia’s for its soft out of focus bits and the iPhone’s for its crisp colours. 

When the light ges difficult, the iPhone tends to take on warmer tones, unlike the Nokia Lumia 1020

The reds, pinks and the greens are so well complimented by the Lumia’s ability to maintain the correct white balance in the not-so-ideal lighting conditions. The iPhone does seem to have done a better job at metering the correct exposure though, something we have seen consistently in at least 90% of our shooting time with the phone. 

Shooting in pitch dark, the iPhone 5S does a better job at AF

Shot in absolute dark, a signboard in one of the residential colonies. While taking this photo, we had a very interesting revelation. The AF on the iPhone actually managed to lock onto the text on the sign (that’s where we told it to focus) despite thje fact that the screen showed nothing. The Lumia 1020’s screen was also blank due to the darkness, but it needed the AF assist lamp in order to lock focus (it just didn’t focus without it!). As for the image, the Lumia 1020 shot its image at 1/3 seconds at ISO 4000 while the iphone’s was at 1/15 seconds at ISO 2500. Despite that stark difference in ISO levels, the Lumia 1020’s image seems to have lesser noise than the iPhone’s, but that isn’t to say the iPhone’s image is bad. If it wasn’t for the overtly strong orange tone, the iPhone would have been the winner here. 

Like: iPhone managed a crisp shot despite not having OIS. The Lumia 1020 on the other hand…

Another low light shot illuminated by a small CFL lamp 20 feet away. Both the cameras were3 instructed to focus on the nose. The iPhone’s image is not only well exposed (actually just slightly over, but that is ok) while the Lumia 1020’s image is underexposed. Worse yet, it seems like the optical image stabilization was of no help as the camera shake is totally evident on the shot on the right.

Like: The Lumia 1020’s ability to retain blacks, the iPhone 5S’s optics that curtail halo and flare

This shot was taken to determine how the two cameras would handle strong sources of lighting placed just outside the frame. The bookshelf (yes, that’s what it is) was lit by a very bright 23Watt CFL lamp just 15 inches above it. As you can see, the iPhone totally kills the blacks in an attempt to bring out detail in them, while the Lumia 1020 retains the smooth blacks on the drape. However, the Lumia 1020’s optics are susceptible to the halo effect (and even flare in some condition), but the iPhone 5S seems to be somewhat impervious to such artefact. 


Yes. Bacon. Everyone loves it. Both shots are simply amazing, because they have bacon as the subject.

A Flower arrangement shot at a wedding, being lit by those ugly purple-red-blue kind of LED lamps. Again we see in the crop that the Lumia 1020 has lesser noise than the iPhone, but we also see that the iPhone shot is just slightly brighter than the Lumia’s. The Nokia device seems to have a sharper image though,

The Lumia 1020’s bigger sensor shows off its superior dynamic range

The best show of the Lumia 1020’s large sensor’s capabilities. While you can see the shot for yourself, you will notice that the shadow areas have far more detail. That is simply due to the fact that the larger sensor on the Lumia is able to capture far more dynamic range than what the iPhone 5Sis capable of. Does this make the iPhone 5S a bad camera? Well, do you think the image on the left is bad, because we sure as hell don’t think so!


After using the iPhone 5S and the Lumia 1020 side by side for a lengthy period of time, we have come to the conclusion that both cameras phones have their strong suites and weak points. The iPhone’s optics seem to be simply better in most conditions, with visibly better corner sharpness. It would also seem that the white balance on the iPhone is great under harsh sunlight, but tends to be a little off when the light goes down. The Lumia captures great detail for a camera phone and is unrivaled in that arena, but the camera is slow as a tortoise and so very frustrating to use!

Both the iPhone and Lumia 1020 spit out excellent images, both the conclusion to which is better being a more personal opinion. However, what is clear is that the iPhone 5S will nail the shot at least 95% of the times. As an Apple product, it just works! The Lumia 1020’s camera requires tweaking and a lot of patience and any burst capabilities are out of the question. Also, do you really NEED 38 megapixel images when you easily make do with 8MP ones?

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