The most disappointing feature of the Lumia 900 is the camera

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| April 15, 2012

From the time the Nokia Lumia 900 was announced, I knew I would eventually cave and buy one for myself, if only for a trial. I had been eyeing the Nokia N9 since it first leaked. But I was too gun-shy to pull the trigger on a device running MeeGo. So when Nokia and Microsoft announced their partnership and revealed their first Windows Phones would be very similar (read: almost identical) to the N9, I was excited, to say the least.

No matter how you look at it, the hardware is lustrous. The polycarbonate, unibody design is both unique and sturdy, and it gives the device a very high-quality feel. And, in a sea of hundreds of cell phones that launch every year, the Lumia series stands out with ease.

I've been using the Lumia 900 as my personal device since last Monday and, overall, I'm very pleased with the device. Save for a few grievances, Windows Phone has been a pleasure to use. The hardware is just as great as I imagined it would be and, despite a relatively low-res display in a market where 720p is becoming the norm, the ClearBlack AMOLED display is gorgeous – colors pop and the heavy contrast really makes Metro UI stand out.

But there is one feature of the Lumia 900 that doesn't make any sense to me. The camera, which was one of the most glorified features at Nokia's CES press event, is a hot mess.

First and foremost, Nokia has had success at producing multiple awesome image sensors several times in the past. The Nokia N9, which is the Lumia 800's MeeGo-powered look-alike, had a great camera. It wasn't quite up to snuff with the Symbian-based N8, which featured a 12-megapixel shooter, the N9 took great photos. Color reproduction was spot-on, white balance was essentially problem-free and images were sharp and clear.

Despite touting an 8-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics (f/2.2), the Lumia 900 is a totally different story. Aaron touched on this in his Lumia 900 review, saying the camera is "mediocre at best." My sentiments are much of the same, so I figured I would elaborate a bit more.

As far as interface goes, everything is great. The UI layout is very simple and clean. You can touch on the viewfinder where you want to focus, which snaps a picture once the sensor finishes focusing. You can switch to video recording or the front-facing camera at the touch of a soft button. Likewise, opening settings is as simple as touching the cog icon in the lower right corner. Tucked away beneath the settings icon is a plethora of different features that you can toggle, like manual white balance settings, scenes, focus mode, effects, contrast, resolution (which includes a wide angle mode) and flicker reduction. Flash settings are also accessed within this menu. And to view your recent shots by swiping from left to right.

In that respect, I have no complaints. And nothing makes a phone camera better than having a physical shutter button. I honestly love that feature. The first thing I noticed that I didn't like, however, was the fact that I cannot touch on-screen to focus without actually taking the picture. There is no separation between "manual" focus and the shutter. Still, that's something I can get over without much effort.

It wasn't until a couple days into using the Lumia 900 that I realized just why I hated the camera so much. When looking through the viewfinder in a well-lit area, everything looks great. Even taking a picture when lighting is sufficient, the image comes out quite well. As you can see in the above shot (click the image for a closer look) of a brick wall, the Lumia 900 and iPhone 4S both produced great quality images. The picture from the Lumia was a tad darker, but more closely represented the actual color of the bricks while the iPhone 4S produced more detail but is a tad washed out.

The only problem I have noticed when taking pictures outside with the Lumia 900 is how the sensor tends to overexpose on whites. In the comparison above (again, click the image to enlarge it), you can see that the leaves on the closest tree is great and full of detail ( though a little blurry due to my unsteady hand). However, the white handrail caused some distasteful blurring and a halo effect with the Lumia. It is still overexposed on the iPhone 4S, but the white didn't bleed into the green from the leaves.

All of that is generally fine. Using some settings you can usually work your way around some the white balance problems. It isn't exactly ideal for a quick snapshot, but great images can be taken with this camera. It just takes a little effort and time toying with settings. But if you aren't outside, the chances of snapping a photo worth keeping are slim. Images begin to suffer from discoloration. If you point the camera at a mostly white surface, you will notice pink spots. In my case, the pink spot is one large, pink splotch that takes up the majority of the viewfinder. That said, once you snap the shot, sometimes the pink spot turns to a dark green tint. Other times, it just disappears completely.

Initially, I thought this issue was isolated to just my unit. After consulting some other colleagues that had the Lumia 900 for a while, I concluded that I wasn't the only person with this problem, but that my case might be worse than the norm. The next day, I stopped by the AT&T store. At first, the reps didn't see what I was talking about. But once they tried pointing their Lumias at white objects, they also saw the unsightly pink spot.

I was told they would be willing to switch my Lumia out with another once their stock is resupplied. But I have a feeling that another device won't fix these problems. I've been doing some reading over the weekend and have come to the conclusion that this is a widespread issue. From Twitter to various forums and reviews, people aren't exactly impressed with the quality of images produced by the Lumia 900 and are up in arms over the mysterious pink splotch.

Normally, if a phone has a poor camera, I'm not all that upset. The Galaxy Nexus is a testament to that – I still loved that phone. I still carry an iPhone 4S primarily for taking photos and sharing them on Twitter, Instagram, etc. But Microsoft built up my hopes for the future of Windows Phone devices. Back in October, Microsoft said they intend to make "Windows Phone the best camera you will ever own." This, paired with the high quality cameras Nokia is notorious for gave me high hopes for the Lumia series. Not to mention the PureView technology demonstrated at Mobile World Congress in February was very impressive.

I was really hoping the Lumia 900 could oust the iPhone 4S as my favorite mobile camera. Unfortunately, it will not. Not by a long shot.

Products mentioned