The Curious Case of the Lumia 920’s Camera

| April 5, 2013 | 19 Replies

DSC01479There’s no denying that the Lumia 920 is “revolutionary” in terms of camera performance on the smart phone level; but I’ve have a bone or two to pick with it. The source of my issue is mainly behind the “pureview” concept powering the 920, I know it pulls off some amazing pictures, but the issue stems from the fact that it relies more on software trickery than hardware grunt; and of course all software is buggy and susceptible to misbehaving. Occasionally I’ve found that the 920’s low light imaging decides not to perform and instead captures a picture as is (even when setting the mode to “Night”), simply exiting the camera and re-entering puts an end to this nonsense immediately; but the other major issue is how these camera modes perform.

The other day there was a pretty awesome sunset in front of my house, so I decided to take a couple pictures with my 920, unfortunately the 920 kept over compensating with its low light powers, to a degree where a natural looking picture wasn’t possible.

Below is a screenshot of what I saw through the viewfinder, and it was pretty darn awesome (minus the blurriness)! – of course the 920’s viewfinder is notorious for darkening the scene in front of it, but it was close to what you see below.


Unfortunately the 920’s night mode automatically kicked in pumping up the colors, giving an admittedly nice picture, but not the one I wanted (nor a true resemblance of what I saw)- although I do truly love that lens flare effect.



Toying with the mode settings got me no-where, in fact it seems that putting the 920 in “Backlit” mode pushes the low light compensation into overdrive, producing even brighter pictures than those in “night mode” (unfortunately I idiotically deleted the super bright picture). The only setting that I found actually didn’t compensate for the low light was “sport” which obviously uses a faster shutter speed to get that moment of action, and the difference between the two modes is quite obvious as you can see below


However it is worth noting that even though the sport mode picture is obviously not a great low light picture, it is nice to see it reproducing black as “black” rather than the grey/blue colors that the lumia 900 and 800 used to push out as a pitiful excuse of darkness.

In normal everyday well lit conditions the Lumia 920 also seems to switch between taking amazing pictures, and taking others that get deleted instantly; and it’s confusing. But of course when it does get it right (I’d say about 75% of the time) the results do tend to be fantastic. I do wish it had a built in HDR mode though, as in some places it really would make pictures look even more amazing (the picture below looks awesome when viewed on the 920’s screen when it’s in the high visibility/pastel colors mode).

WP_20130220_008And unfortunately the 920 still has the same issue with closeups as every Lumia before it, when in closeup mode they do take some amazing pictures, but there’s no way you’re getting that picture in auto mode. (while in closeup mode keep your finger pressed on the object you want to capture until the picture is taken- the focus box will shrink onto it).

So am I doing something wrong with my 920? or does anyone else have similar issues (namely the fact where low light mode fails to kick in occasionally?) chime in or leave your shooting tips down below …



Category: Lumia, Nokia, Windows Phone

About the Author ()

Hey, my name's Ali- Currently a fifth (and final) year Dental Student from Chicago; studying in Jordan. I love all sorts of gadgets almost as much as I love my cookies! Be sure to follow my Twitter handle @AliQudsi and Subcribe to my Youtube for the latest videos - no pressure. Thanks.
  • AreOut

    well it’s not the pureview at all anyway, the same way your chinese “Turbo” hair dryer doesn’t have the turbocharger built-in

  • marcelobarras

    I have every issue too. But when you know how to solve the problem, it’s less bad. I hope for some fixes in camera UI and the camera software in general.

  • Laborant

    Taking a sunset to a CMOS/CCD sensor isn’t easy. The hard problem is the light from the city, which jams into the Lighting Correcture. For a proper result, you should use a DSLR with a (far too expencive) <f/2.0 objective.

    The Lumia 920 has a great camera… but it's still a Smartphone-Camera and no DSLR 😉

    • Marc Aurel

      Well, the F/1.8 standard lenses are one of the cheapest you can buy for a Canon or Nikon DSLR system… Back in the Good Old Days (before 1990s and cheap zooms) new SLRs (no ‘D’ there of course) often had such a lens in the kit.

      It’s the F/1.4 or faster lenses that are really expensive, although still cheaper than high quality constant F-number zooms.

      In any case, sunset pictures which do not have the actual sun in the picture (like Ali’s example) are not that difficult even with a decent camera phone. I have taken many fairly good ones (even if I say so myself) with Nokia phones starting with the N82. It just requires some manual adjustment of exposure compensation and steady hands or some support for the phone (like a tree, fence, you name it) unless you are using the 920 which has OIS.

  • virobloc

    Did you try touching on different parts of the screen? You know, to change the point where the camera detects the “measuring center” (not sure if it’s called this way)


  • aboodesta

    I find that putting the ISO on 200 easily over rides the pureview mode, producing more real to life night shots. Try that.

    • jazdawariaty

      Its very simple but great idea. There are a lot night shots in my photostream on Flickr. Some of them are quite good (almost really black sky in the night) and most of them were taken with ISO 200 mode. Auto mode is good only in very, very dark conditions.

  • arg0

    In the sunset shot there was still quite some light. Did you try to manually force flash? this should override the computed exposure time but still lead to a longer exposure time than in sports mode.

  • B Jay

    Basic rule for photography-


    Settings that should’ve been used/applied-
    • ISO – 100, 200
    • WHITE BALANCE – CLOUDY (for warm colors)
    • EXPOSURE – MANUALLY SET IT SOMEWHERE BELOW 0 (-1 does the job most of the times)

    *Capital words do not mean that I’m shouting, they are used to highlight main points.

    • B Jay

      Many times it will work without manually setting the exposure.
      Tap on the brightest part on the image instead (centre weighted metering mode)

    • Marc Aurel

      Couldn’t say it better myself. Exposure compensation and ISO setting are the key to good small sensor photography (whether smartphone or small sensor compact camera). Auto modes do get better all the time and most of the time they give satisfactory results, but it’s the last 10% of photos that still require manual adjustment of exposure settings for good results.

      • B Jay

        Auto modes of compact cams are useful but those of cameraphones are still useless in many situations.

  • Andy

    Forgive me if I seem to be splitting hairs here but the issue you’re describing here seems to be more related to the auto exposure system rather than the camera as a whole. Before post processing you have 3 parameters you can change: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. In this incarnation of PV, stabilisation was added to the lens with one of the effects being you can use a slower shutter speed without getting “shake” blur.

    When you take a picture you (or the AE system) have to decide what is the correct exposure for the scene. I.e what you want to be light, dark, in the middle. There is only one exposure setting (in the vast majority of cases) per shot. Reducing the exposure will darken the sky and the street scene.

    In the sunset picture above you have a very large dynamic range – the sky, even at night is going to be a lot brighter than the street light. If you want to have the clouds and the sky pretty dark then the street scene is going to be very dark/black. You need to find a way of either manually setting that exposure or telling the AE system that’s what you want. I don’t own a 920 but a common method on other cameras is find a point in the scene that you want to be “middle brightness” and use that as the exposure point. Or use the sky and dial in some negative exposure compensation. Often the exposure point is linked to the focus point. On a scene like this it doesn’t really matter where the focus point is but for close ups it’ll be a pain.

    AE systems get more and more complex but ultimately they don’t know what kind of picture YOU want to produce. The AE system in the 920 seems be afraid of the dark and really doesn’t like letting things falling into the shadows though.

    Re the points about manually setting the ISO – I’d expect that the camera is choosing the widest aperture and longest shutter it can but you’re limiting the exposure by stopping it ride the ISO up any further to where it thinks it should be.

    • Marc Aurel

      Since we’re in the hair splitting area already (actually your advise is very good in general), no phone cameras (except the 2009 vintage N86 8MP*) have an adjustable aperture. They all shoot wide open all the time. Some of them do have built-in ND filters for very bright conditions, but that is not relevant for low light photography.

      * Nokia dropped the adjustable aperture after the N86, because it added mechanical complexity and price, and was not that useful with the 1/2.3″ sensor of the N86. Ironically, with the larger 1/1.8″ and especially the 1/1.2″ sensor of the N8 and 808 (respectively), an adjustable aperture would be somewhat useful. I suppose they just could not justify the costs. It would have also add even more thickness to the already thick 808 camera module.

  • Damian R

    Just buy and install ProShot – you’ll get pictures what you want – just set everything on manual – If You want good pictures you must use manual mode not automatic.

    • Antero

      This. With ProShot you can select the shutter and ISO manually and get exactly the shot you want. I find it is also great for close-ups as you can manually focus to the minimum distance and then nail the focus by moving the camera (a technique I use with macro work all the time).

      • boogieman

        pro shot was great up to.previous release. the last one sets the screen refresh rate too the value of your exposure time on the l920. try using 1s exposure. after the shot screen update change to 1hz 🙂 I have notified them but they did not seen eager to listen. also a long exposureissue. set more than 2s and camera hangs. they know about it but told me it’s Lumia specific. ok…shiuldnt u change max to less than 2s for l920 then? who wants to restart phone for such a . thing?

  • Douglas

    You need to change the ISO to either 100 or 200 and that will bring that photo back down to reality.