Flashback: The Nokia Lumia 1020 turns three years old

Ah, the Nokia Lumia 1020. Still a device that's praised by many, it just turned three years old. In fact, you probably can't find a device that's so old but still used in camera comparisons to this day, and even still used by some enthusiasts (I'm looking at you, Adam Lein).

The beginning

It was February 2012 when Nokia announced the Pureview 808, which ran on Symbian OS. The 808 had a 41MP camera with a 1/1.2" lens. It produced an image by oversampling - saving one large image and then downgrading it into something smaller and more shareable.

On July 11, 2013, Nokia finally unveiled another phone with a 41MP sensor, this time running Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. With a slightly larger 2/3" sensor, the Lumia 1020 added optical image stabilization (OIS), combining the two features that had defined Pureview (the Lumia 920 was 8MP with OIS).

It also offered a camera case sold separately. The case included a battery and a tripod mount, giving it the shape of a camera.

You could also make the case that the Lumia 1020 was the last true Windows Phone 8 flagship. Just four months later, the Lumia 1520 would launch with a quad-core Snapdragon 800 under the hood, which ended up being Windows Phone 8.1 hardware, despite shipping with Windows Phone 8 Update 3.

Because of the much more powerful hardware that would come in future flagships - and the software updates that would be optimized for them - the 1020's dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus would begin to slow down pretty quickly.

The camera

The Lumia 1020 packed a 41MP rear camera with a 2/3" sensor and f/2.2 aperture. Of course, one can't look back on the 1020 and forget that it was one of the only - if not the only - smartphones to use a real xenon flash.

Having such a large sensor allows more light to enter for better low-light performance. Of course, the sensor wasn't just big; the entire camera unit was enormous. Like the Pureview 808, the Lumia 1020 had an unsightly bulge where the rear camera was.

The hardware was only half of the picture though. The other half was software. The device shipped with Nokia Camera, which was a brand-new app at the time.

Nokia Camera was the basis for the imaging software that you know today. When Microsoft acquired Nokia, it became Lumia Camera, and when Windows 10 Mobile was released, it was replaced with Windows Camera.

Nokia Camera introduced manual controls for things like focus, white balance, ISO, brightness, and shutter speed. Suddenly, a smartphone camera was closer to a DSLR than ever before. Other companies would follow suit, adding manual controls to their own apps.

The app also took advantage of oversampling - a feature that Microsoft would later abandon in Windows 10 Mobile. The Lumia 1020 offered three options for taking a photo: 5MP JPEG, 5MP JPEG + 38MP JPEG (35MP if 16:9), and 5MP JPEG and 38MP DNG, although the latter option would be added later.

These three options allowed the 1020's camera to do things that few, if any smartphones could ever do. Nokia promised 4X lossless zoom, which meant that you could snap a photo and zoom in on it four times without losing any quality.

Original photo With zoom

It's also important to note that users had the option to save a RAW (DNG) file. RAW files save more information about the photo, giving the user more options to edit it. Very few phones at the time had this ability.

The ending

The Nokia Lumia 1020 saw something of an unfortunate end. With Lumia Cyan, which was the firmware that was bundled with Windows Phone 8.1, Nokia introduced Living Images (think Apple's Live Photos, but two years earlier). The camera-centric Lumia 1020 did not receive this feature with the update.

After Lumia Cyan came Lumia Denim, which would offer Lumia Camera 5, a redesigned Lumia Camera app that would be faster and include new features, such as Rich Capture. While the 1020 received Denim, it would not receive support for the new Camera app, or any of the features it would bring.

it was around this time that fans of the device began clamoring for a "Nokia Lumia 1030", a successor to the 1020. Microsoft would go on to confirm that there was no such device coming, as the bulge in the camera would not appeal to a mass audience.

The Lumia 1020 would finally see the end of its life when Windows 10 Mobile was released. A problem presented itself early on in the Insider Preview process, when Microsoft stopped allowing users to keep Lumia Camera upon upgrading. As mentioned earlier, the oversampling technology is gone, so it only saves one image. Lumia 1020 users would have to only have a 41MP image from every shot, which can be quite cumbersome.

Eventually, the Lumia 1020 would become the only device allowed to keep Lumia Camera upon upgrading to an Insider Preview build; Microsoft promised to offer it through the Windows Store later.

After all, why wouldn't they? The company did promise to upgrade all Windows Phone 8 Lumias.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 would never receive an official Windows 10 Mobile upgrade, a decision that would spark outrage from the Windows phone community. Users can still grab an unofficial upgrade through the Release Preview ring of the Insider Preview, but that likely won't last forever.

The future

If there is one thing that has been true of Lumias since the very beginning, it's that they have fantastic cameras. Was the Lumia 1020 the best of them? Some would say so, but others would disagree, myself included.

One of the major problems with the 1020's camera was that it was very slow. It was a very powerful camera powered by what needed to be a better CPU. You might be able to get a professional-looking shot with it, but you also might miss your kid's first steps.

Phones like the Lumia 1520, Icon, and 930 solved this issue. With half of the resolution and a powerful Snapdragon 800 chipset, camera performance was a marked improvement. These devices, along with the Lumia 830, would see new features like Rich Capture as well, something that actually allows the user to adjust the exposure of an image after taking it.

Last October, Microsoft introduced the Lumia 950 and 950 XL. Like the 1520, Icon, and 930, these phones had 20MP rear cameras, but that's where the similarities ended. They have f/1.9 apertures, along with phase detect autofocus (PDAF), which would allow for even faster pictures, while remaining perfectly focused.

With new features like Rich Capture and the imaging improvements made in the new flagships, it's fair to say that the new devices are on par with the Lumia 1020 in many ways. Of course, the only way to get the lossless zoom of a 41MP camera is a 41MP camera.

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