PureView on the Lumia 920 is quite impressive

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: September 7, 2012

You may have heard through the grapevine that Nokia wasn't exactly forthright about the commercial advertisement they used to promote the optical image stabilization (OIS) of the PureView technology in the new Lumia 920. Nokia first released a teaser clip of the very same video last week to rile up suspicions that PureView, in fact, was one of the highlight features of at least one of their new devices.

The full clip was later played at the press event in New York and released online following the event and it wasn't long before some discovered the clip was misleading. At the very beginning of the demonstration video, a male is shown riding a bicycle, using a Lumia 920 to record a female, also riding a bicycle. However, at the 0:27 mark, you can clearly see the reflection of a white van and a man holding what appears to be something along the lines of a DSLR.

Nokia apologized for not being transparent with the video, claiming to have been demonstrating OIS instead of PureView or the Lumia 920 camera itself. (That doesn't answer why they show a male at the beginning holding a Lumia 920 and then switch to a first-person perspective, seemingly depicting what is being shot with the Lumia 920. But I digress …)

Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that Nokia "faked" the still sample images, too. Instead, the still pictures used to show off the OIS and low-light capabilities of the Lumia 920 were actually just stills extracted from the earlier scandalous video clip. Ouch.

Again, Nokia issued another apology, unlisted and captioned the YouTube video, clarified that the previous pictures were misleading and offered actual samples taken with the Lumia 920 on the PureView page of Nokia's website. They also provided a video of actual Lumia 920 footage and offered a chance for The Verge to compare results side-by-side as photos were taken in Central Park. Earlier today, Dieter Bohn posted full-size, low-light comparison shots between the Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X, Apple iPhone 4S, Lumia 900, Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 920.

The results (above, click for a larger view) were very promising for the Lumia 920 and its PureView camera. Every one of the competing phones had very poor low-light capabilities. The HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III have night modes, however, so The Verge made sure to test those features, too. Still a bit blurry, the Lumia 920's low-light image was clearer, brighter and of a noticeably higher class, though still shy of DSLR quality. Bohn says:

"If we had to pick one complaint about the low-light performance from the Lumia 920's camera, it would be that the resulting image is almost too bright. Nokia could dial it back a bit, tweaking the software to keep the shutter open for a shorter period of time to reduce blur even more."

The fact of the matter is that while Nokia may have made some very poor decisions when it came to advertising and using anything but the Lumia 920 to depict the capabilities of PureView, the camera on the Lumia 920 is actually very impressive, specifically for a smartphone and the size of the sensor.

How does the Lumia 920 capture so much more light (which is generally a major problem with smartphone cameras)? Simple, and it all has to do with OIS. The shutter is simply kept open longer to capture more light. But if the phone kept the shutter open without any kind of stabilization, you would get a nasty, fuzzy photo. Trust me, no matter how still you can keep your hands, the outcome of your low-light photos will look like you have a bad case of the jitters. So Nokia encased the entire camera rig in the Lumia 920 with springs and the outcome is rather impressive.

The software definitely still needs some tweaking done to it – after all, the 920 isn't a finished product yet. (I have my own bone to pick about that.) But I wholly agree with what Bohn says:

"… everything we experienced last night makes us think that Nokia's hardware deserved much better than what Nokia's marketing team did to it."

It's a shame, too. A lot of people are taking offense to Nokia's shadiness and won't give the Lumia 920 or Nokia a chance on principle. I don't necessarily blame them. I would be skeptical if I had not seen the power of PureView firsthand.

I watched as Microsoft employees demoed the Lumia 920 following the press event and at a party later that evening. I didn't get a picture of the results, but I watched as several fellow attendees tested their cameras against the Lumia 920 in low-light. In a dark, enclosed space (a literal hole in a wall), attendees were asked to aim their phone's camera in the hole and take a picture. The demonstrator did the same with the Lumia 920. Here you can see the remarkable difference, thanks to ArsTechnica.

As you all probably know, I was very skeptical about PureView in the Lumia 920 as the event neared. Seeing as PureView in this device definitely does not mean the same it meant in the Nokia 808, everyone should have been at least a little skeptical. But after watching countless demos, in person, with my very own eyes, I came away with a different perspective. Having a sit-down with Nokia's Mike Bebel as he briefly showed the camera off to me helped, too.

I am definitely excited for both the Lumia 920 and Nokia's future in both mobile photography and cell phone hardware innovation. However, I didn't actually get to play with the phone myself. Nokia and Microsoft were very adamant about keeping the press' hands off the actual units. I reserve my final opinion until I can extensively play with the camera. But so far, I am thoroughly impressed with Nokia's work, although they certainly could have handled the marketing a lot better.

What say you, folks? Is PureView in the Lumia 920 impressive to you? Or did Nokia's questionable marketing turn you away for good? Is a great camera something you feel you have to have in a phone?

Products mentioned