Nokia Lumia 1020 Features a Camera That Rivals Can't Touch

That the Nokia Lumia 1020 features the "best smartphone camera ever," as backer AT&T said, is an understatement.

Nokia, fighting to reestablish itself as a leading smartphone brand and solidify the Windows Phone OS as the third major platform, today introduced the Lumia 1020.

Given the demonstration Nokia provided during a July 11 event in New York City, the Lumia 1020 might best be described as a fantastic camera with a phone in it.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop called it the "next chapter in smartphone photography."

The Lumia 1020 features a 41-megapixel sensor; Nokia PureView technology, which stabilizes still images as well as video; and a dual-capture feature. The latter means the camera takes a high-resolution, 38-megapixel image, which can be edited and zoomed-in to, as well as a 5-megapixel picture that's easy to share on social networks.

This dual-photo business means that if you zoom in to take a photo, later you can zoom out. The camera actually captures more than you frame in your shot. Nokia calls this "shoot now, edit later."

Also impressive are the camera's zoom capabilities, which lose none of the image's crispness. Nokia playfully put a needle in a haystack, photographed the haystack and zoomed in to the point that one could see the eye of a needle. Another photo, a waist-up shot of a woman drinking tea, could be zoomed in to the point that the message on the teabag tag could be read.

"You'll see things with this device that you've never seen before," said Elop. "The Nokia 1020 will change how you shoot, how you create and how you take pictures forever."

Users can also zoom into video without losing clarity. Elop showed a video of bees at work, taken at a safe distance, and then zoomed in to the point that pollen could be seen on the bee's back legs.

This comes thanks to "oversampling" technology that keeps the camera processing over 1 billion pixels per second. While an impressive number, said Elop, it's not what really matters.

"What matters is that you can capture videos with amazing clarity," he said.

Thanks to a back-side illuminated sensor, users can also take far crisper photos using flash—a Xenon flash, in the case of the 1020—than has previously been the case. To demonstrate, Elop showed photos taken under the same conditions using a Samsung Galaxy S 4, the Apple iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia 1020. The contest was no contest, as the first two captured entirely blurry shots.

The 1020 also includes Rich Recording technology, which Nokia says "handles sound pressure levels six times louder than conventional smartphone microphones."

Informa Principal Analyst Malik Saadi, in statement released after the event, said that the 1020 "enables the capture of SLR-quality images in a phone form factor, which is a very good offer as it enables a significant cost savings while dramatically improving the overall camera experience."

Those characteristics, he added, "no doubt put the bar far too high for ... Nokia's competitors that are looking to differentiate."