Nokia Lumia 1020 Camera vs DSLR Camera

Nokia Lumia 1020 and professional DSLR camera

In this article I want to discuss the reasons why the Nokia Lumia 1020 can or cannot be an alternative to a digital SLR camera. For those of you who don’t know what a DSLR camera is — A Digital single-lens reflex camera or Digital SLR in short uses a reflex mirror design, in which the light that passes through the lens reaches the optical viewfinder. The photographer therefore can see what the lens sees. When the photographer presses the shutter button, the mirror flips up and the light travels straight to the image sensor (or film on a film SLR camera) where the light data is recorded and stored.

DSLR cameras use interchangeable lenses with a proprietary lens mount. Photographers change the lenses and mount the lens that best fit the current scene and for what the photographer wants to achieve.  DSLR cameras cost as low as $300 more or less, up to thousands of dollars (e.g. Leica M9: $7000, Leica S2-P: $30,000,  Nikon D4: $6000).

DSLR cameras offer many advantages over current cameras that embedded inside smartphone or tablet device. Let’s take a look at the main advantages that a DSLR has over a phone camera.

Larger sensor / Larger Pixels

DSLR cameras employ a relatively very large sensor. The most common ones are APS-C and Full-Frame sensors.  An APS-C measures 23.6 x 15.6 mm (can be smaller depends on the camera model), and a full frame measures  36 x 23.9 mm more or less. There is also the Canon APS-H size sensors (27.90 x 18.6 mm) that are slightly larger than APS-C and Medium format sensors (53.7 x 40.2 mm) that are much larger than a full frame sensor. However the most common ones are APS-C and Full Frame (35mm).

Now  let’s compare the two  most common sensor format found in DSLR cameras to the Nokia Lumia 1020 sensor. Just a reminder, the Lumia 1020 features a 1/1.5″ (also referred to as 2/3″) size sensor.

Nokia Lumia 1020 sensor size comparison
Medium Format vs Full Frame vs APS-C vs 1/1.5″ (Nokia Lumia 1020) vs 1/3.2″ (iPhone 5)

The Nokia Lumia 1020 sensor is in green color, APS-C is in yellow, Full frame in blue and medium format in pink. You can also see the iPhone 5 sensor in purple at the bottom-left corner.

This can give you a good understanding how large a DSLR sensor compares to the Lumia 1020.   The pixel size is what’s important here. Larger pixels mean better low light performance, higher dynamic range, better details and better color accuracy. Image quality may also vary depending on the sensor technology. There isn’t any APS-C sensor using Back-illuminated technology This technology is used on the Lumia 1020 to help the camera perform much better in low light.

Having said that, due to the very high sensor resolution of the Lumia 1020, the Lumia 1020 was able to resolve more resolution lines than the Canon EOS 60D (16 vs ~12-13 lines in the resolution chart; test was made by Jay Montano from

This shows us that in terms of detail’s resolving power and under special test environment, the Nokia Lumia 1020 was able to beat the Canon EOS 60D, an APS-C SLR camera.

However, it’s important to also understand that although the resolution resolvement power is better in the Lumia 1020, the Canon EOS 60D has much larger pixels. Each pixel on the Canon 60D measured 4.3 microns (aka pixel pitch) – on the Lumia 1020 rear-facing camera sensor each pixel measured 1.12 microns. That’s almost 4 times larger pixels on the 60D than the Lumia 1020 PureView camera.

The iPhone 5, although smaller than the Lunia 1020 sensor, has 1.4 micron pixels due to its reduced resolution. The Nikon D4 (a full frame DSLR) pixel size is 7.3 microns (µm), Canon 1DX (full frame DSLR) pixel size is 6.95 µm. So the main advantage of a digital SLR is having a larger sensor, and larger pixels (depends on the model of course). This means much better low-light performance and higher dynamic range, but doesn’t always mean higher details’ resolving power as you can see from the test done by Jay Montano from

This also means that photos (and videos) taken with a DSLR camera will have much less visible image noise.  I remember that this was the first reason why I wanted to buy a DSLR camera. I hated seeing noise in landscape shots, which was very noticeable in the sky area. When I upgraded from a point-and-shoot to the Canon EOS 400D, I was blown away by the image quality.

The thing is that the Nokia Lumia 1020 camera also use a pixel oversampling technology. This technology also allows the camera the group pixels together and in 5MP image for example, 7 pixels will eventually resolve to represent a single data pixel in the final image, further enhances the low light performance of the camera. This will result in an image with much less noise compare to mobile phone cameras that don’t utilize this technology.


Ability to mount Interchangeable Lenses / Optical Zoom

Unlike phone camera where you stuck with fixed lens, with DSLR cameras you have the ability to attach various types of lenses, each lens with its own unique optical properties and performance.

The what makes DSLR cameras such an advanced photographic tool for advanced photographers, allowing them to unleash their creativity in ways that just aren’t possible with a phone camera.

If you but the Canon EOS 70D for example (APS-C SLR camera), you have the option to mount Canon EF or EF-S interchangeable lenses. You have a very wide selection of high-quality lenses, including ultra-wide lenses, superzoom lenses with optical image stabilization, super fast prime lenses with an aperture as low as f/1.2, 1:1 macro lenses, video optimized lenses, etc. Furthermore, you will also be able to mount lenses made by third party manufacturers like Sigma or Tamron. This is something that you don’t get with any camera phone, let alone the Nokia Lumia 1020.

One the problems with many mobile phone cameras is the lack of optical zoom. This issue was solved in the Samsung Galaxy S4 zoom that now employs a 10x optical zoom lens. On the Lumia 1020 this problem was countered by utilizing a different part of the sensor to allow lossless zoom, but up to 3x and at the cost of reduced resolution. With DSLR cameras (and the Galaxy S4 zoom), you have the option to zoom in and still capture a full resolution image.

The main problem with camera phone lenses is that they are meant for general purpose use.  The Nokia Lumia 1020 lens cannot provide 1:1 macro capabilities, doesn’t have a super fast AF speed as DSLR cameras, don’t have an ultra-wide focal length nor it offers F1.4 or F1.8 aperture or the ability to shoot at very long focal lengths (e.g. 200mm, 400mm, etc.).

The good news is that with fixed lenses, the lens is perfectly optimized to match the sensor’s performance.  You still get to enjoy a  fast f/2.2 lens, Carl Zeiss optics and advanced and highly-effective optical image stabilization. So although you stuck with a limited zooming capability, this is by far better than what you get with other Smartphones, and the closer you can get to a DSLR image quality.

Much Better Bokeh

The depth of field represents the distance between the area behind and in-front of the subject which is in focus. Any other elements outside the depth of field will appear out of focus in some degree. The depth of field depends on the lens focal length, lens aperture opening and the distance from the subject.

The longer the focal length, the smaller the f-number (larger aperture) and the closer you are to the subject, the smaller (shallower) the depth of field is.   DSLR cameras have the ability to produce much better defocus background effect than what can be achieved with a Smartphone, even when shooting with a camera phone like the Nokia Lumia 1020 that has a relatively larger sensor.

The sensor is smaller than a DSLR sensor, therefore camera manufacturers need to use lenses with smaller focal length to give the same equivalent focal length in a DSLR.  Let’s assume that we use the same f/2.2 lens on both the Lumia 1020 and Canon EOS 70D and we are at the same distance from the subject, still, in order to get, let’s say.. 35mm equivalent field of view, with the Canon EOS 70D we’ll use 26mm / 1.6 (crop factor) = ~16.25 mm lens, and with the Nokia Lumia 1020 we need a 26mm / 3.93 = ~6.6 mm lens. As I mentioned, the focal length has a direct effect on the depth of field, and therefore we’ll get a larger depth of field with the Lumia 1020, and shallower depth of field with the Canon EOS 70D.

Nokia Lumia 1020 Bokeh
Nokia Lumia 1020 Bokeh quality (image credit: nokia)

In the above image you can see that it’s possible to achieve quite a nice background blur effect, but you need to be very close to the subject (in this case the baseball) to enjoy this effect.  Using shallower depth of field you can achieve better subject separation, separate the subject from distracting background elements.

Now take a look at the two sample images below from Flickr..

Shot with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (full frame DSLR). Focal length: 85 mm | aperture: f/1.8

capturing video with two fingers. Coachella Music Festival, Coachella Valley, California.

Show with Nikon D600 (full frame DSLR). Focal length 85mm | aperture: f/1.4

I left it hanging..


Nothing beats the Bokeh of a DSLR camera, and you can see why so many people, including professional photographers prefer shooting with a DSLR camera. This effect allows you to capture beautiful images with a unique effect that it’s not possible to achieve with today’s camera phones, at least not to that high degree of buttery smooth blurriness.

Professional-grade Accessories

Canon Speedlite 600EX RT flash
Canon Speedlite 600EX RT flash

With the Nokia Lumia 1020 you have the option to purchase an optional snap-on battery grip and wireless charging cover, but  nothing stands close to the accessories that are available for you with DSLR cameras.

With DSLR cameras you can can enjoy a wide range of optional accessories, including:

  • Very powerful Flashes and the ability to use a flash commander to control other external flashes
  • Powerful batteries that allow you to shoot even more than 1000 images on a single charge
  • Attachable Camera Lens filters like UV protectors, polarizer filters, graduated neutral density (ND) filters, color gradient  filters, soft focus filters and other type of creative filters
  • Diffusers and softboxes
  • The ability to mount high-quality stereo microphone (even wireless ones) to improve audio quality for videos (model dependent)
  • The ability to mount headphone to monitor the audio in videos (model dependent)
  • Remote shutter triggers
  • Professional tripods
  • White Balance lens cap
  • And much more..

DSLR cameras were designed for expert photographers that want to take their photographic skills to a new level. You get the option to use a wide variety of accessories to help you get that perfect shot.

Fast Access to Favorite Camera Settings

Most DSLRs were designed from the ground up to give photographers a tool to become more creative.  DSLR cameras offer physical buttons that offer photographers very fast access to change camera settings without browsing through menu settings. With the Nokia Lumia 1020 you get a very useful camera app, but you still have to press a few buttons to change the settings.

Foe example, some DSLR cameras have a dedicated ISO button, that with a single press you can increase the ISO settings without moving your eyes from the subject. You can change the white balance, shutter speed or aperture very easily by either using the lens aperture ring or using a wheel dial to increase or decrease the shutter speed. This functionality varies depends on the camera model, but all in all, DSLR cameras will give you must easier and faster control over the camera functions.

Canon eOS-1D X
Canon eOS-1D X professional full frame DSLR camera – Look at all those buttons!


Optical Viewfinder

The optical viewfinder ((OVF) is a device in the camera made of a piece of glass or mirrors, showing you the field of view of the lens. This device is used by the photographer to focus on the subject and compose the shot.  DSLR cameras use an optical viewfinder, rather than electronic viewfinder that exist on mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

DSLR cameras also have the ability to switch to Live View and stream the image directly to the rear LCD. This is the same functionality that you get with the Nokia Lumia 1020 where the sensor transmits a stream of the viewed scene as seen by the lens onto the Lumia 1020 4.5-inch AMOLED display.

Some DSLR cameras like the Canon EOS 70D has a touchscreen and touch user interface to make the focus and compose the shot, same as the Lumia 1020. However, using an eye-level optical viewfinder has several advantages over LCD:

  • Saves battery – the LCD is the phone is one of the most power hungry hardware components. This dramatically reduces the amount of shots you can take with the device
  • Superb visibility in bright daylight
  • Easier to focus on the subject, much better for manual focusing. OVF image is sharper than LCD and its easier to judge when something is in focus or not
  • Some SLR cameras have the option of using a split prism focussing screen that aids in manual focusing
  • You can view the scene for a long period of time without worrying of sensor overheating
  • Helps to steady the camera when you hold the camera against your face

However, using the LCD as the viewfinder on the Nokia Lumia 1020 has its own advantages:

  • Zoom very close to make fine focus adjustments
  • Ability to increase the brightness and have better visibility of the scene when shooting in low light and with slower apertures
  • See how the final image will look like when applying camera settings like White Balance, ISO, exposure compensation, depth of field, effects, etc.
  • 100% coverage, many optical viewfinders won’t give you 100% coverage (approx. 95% on average)
  • View a Live RGB Histogram
  • Instant playback
  • Not limited to the eye-level when framing
  • Easier for people who wear glasses

Most DSLR cameras now have a Live View function, so you can choose to shoot either in Live View or via the optical viewfinder.  So with DSLR cameras you have the option to enjoy both worlds, of course not any DSLR camera has a touch screen.


Canon EOS 70D rear side
Canon EOS 70D: multi-touchscreen articulating LCD and optical viewfinder

Another advantage that some DSLR cameras have is an articulated LCD display. This is something that we yet to see on a Smartphone, a camera that can articulate to give photographers the option to view the LCD when shooting low and high angle shots. The Canon 70D DSLR for example comes with a fully articulated LCD. Using this feature you can compose your shots when holding the camera above your heads or below the waistline – super useful when recording videos!

Faster Performance

DSLR cameras provide photographers with much faster performance.  The performance depends on the camera model and lens, but overall, with DSLR cameras you will enjoy the following advantages:

  • Phase-detection (some have hybrid AF) – faster and more accurate subject tracking AF performance
  • Faster focusing speed (depends on the lens and camera model)
  • Faster start up time (can shoot immediately after you turn on the camera)
  • Much faster shutter lag

This can be the difference between failure and success for professional photographers. The Nokia Lumia 1020 doesn’t have the same responsiveness, nor it was designed for such a faster performance.  For professional demanding tasks, there is not substitute to a DSLR camera — at least not yet.

Shoot RAW (Digital Negative)

Any DSLR camera gives you the option to shoot in Raw file format. A camera RAW image file contains the data that was processed by the camera image sensor, but before it was processed to construct the final image. This is an uncompressed file format, as opposed to JPEG images that are highly compressed to produce a smaller file size.

Raw files considered to be the best image file format and are used by enthusiast and professionals to allow more room to tweak the image later on using image editing software. In Raw file format, the white balance, saturation, sharpness and all the other camera settings are not applied, but their values are saved in the file’s metadata. This means that you can change the values of those settings later on in your favorite Raw image editing software for best results.

The disadvantage of Raw files is that they weigh much more than a compressed JPEG file, and take quite a lot of space on the memory card. Nevertheless, this is the preferred image file format by professionals and designers.  The Raw file can be processed on your laptop or desktop computer, which means that more advanced Raw processing algorithms can be used due to the home computer superior computing power. This helps to produce higher quality images with more details and higher dynamic range.

This feature is absent on the Nokia Lumia 1020 and all other mobile phone cameras on the market, even absent on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom.

Look & Feel

This is something subjective of course, but DSLR cameras give people a good feeling of holding a professional high-quality equipment in their hands.  This might even drive people to further exploit the DSLR camera advantages and go outdoors and shoot.


A DSLR camera will give you a better performance, faster and smoother operation and the versatility that you need to become a more creative photographer.  However, DSLR cameras lack the installable apps and built-in Internet wireless sharing functionality that you get with a Smartphone device like the Lumia 1020.  DSLR cameras are also much larger and heavier. This means that there are many occasions where you have no choice but to leave your camera at home, whether the Nokia Lumia 1020 can be carried in your pocket everywhere you go.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 can be an alternative to a DSLR camera only if you find yourself not taking advantage of the added features that you get over the Nokia Lumia 1020. For most people, a DSLR camera would provide them with a more robustive photographic tool that will help them be more creative.  The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a big leap from a conventional camera phone, a well-worthy replacement for a conventional digital compact camera, but still far away from being an alternative to a DSLR.

Have a different opinion? — Share your own opinion by leaving your opinion in the comment section below. Big Smile

8 thoughts on “Nokia Lumia 1020 Camera vs DSLR Camera

  1. I like the technical info you provide. Super. That encourages me to put a question to mobileandphone.
    Apparently the Lumia 1020 has no HDR bracketing mode like the Nokia 808 PureView has. What is your opinion about that? There will perhaps come dedicated HDR apps for the 1020 but:
    1 Why did Nokia not built it in?
    2. Can you think of certain hard- or software limitations (speed?) of the 1020 that prevented Nokia to implement it?

  2. This article is much more accurate than some other Nokia fanboys’ ones, better as a photographer point of view.

    Totally agree with all the info in this post.

  3. The problem with your article is that you are comparing professional or semi professional equipment with a camera phone. Nokia never said they could replace a DSLR. What they are hoping is that it will replace a point & shoot camera. If you could do the same article with a point & shoot, it would be much more relevant.

    1. Nokia may have never said that, but there are plenty of people that ARE saying that on the internet. I’m guessing that is what this article is in response to.

      1. It also helps with consumers such as myself.

        Currently, I do not own a phone. I will be purchasing a phone somewhat soon, but I’ve been trying to pinpoint a phone worthy of an outright purchase because I do not want to be tied to a contract and I’ve been through so many different phones (iPhone 1, 3, 3S, 4, 4S, 5 & Galaxy S4).

        I am also in the market for a DSLR camera, although my photography skills are nonexistent, but I do want to learn.

        Hence why I Googled Lumia 1020 vs DSLR and stumbled upon this greatly written article. Now I know to focus more on a phone I’d like, with features a phone should have that are catered toward my preferences, while purchasing a DSLR camera. The only downside is bulkiness, but I figure there are moments when a pocket camera is handy, but for most photographs worth capturing, a DSLR camera will most likely be readily available.

        Thank you for the great article!

  4. Impressive comparison. Definitely it is informative for those who buy the high end cellphones merely seeing the megapixels. As someone commented above, phone cameras are hopeless and shall not be compared with an amateur or entry level DSLR or even not with point & shoot cameras; but I can make out the objective of your article has been fulfilled.

    Those who are interested in photography or to take some video footages please go for a DSLR, I wasted 1000 pounds in purchasing high end cellphones, You will get a good DSLR camera for 1000 pounds like Canon 60D, 70D, 600D or Nikon D7100, D5300 are competitive & inter-mediate level DSLRs; always a phone is just a phone and a smart phone just smarter than a phone; with smart phone you can have fun but cannot become a PRO.

    A digital point and shoot cameras are good to keep your first step into photography and to know more on how to understand the features like ISO, aperture, light metering, shutter speed, focusing etc and definitely performs better than a 41MP mobile phone, on developing some skills and techniques.

    At first, I purchased a Canon EOS 600D; I was so happy with my first shot which realized me what a DSLR is ? Now I own Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Nikon D800E and Sony NEX – EA50H (HD Video Cam); with these I became a PRO not with mobile camera.

  5. Update: The Lumia 1020 now shoots RAW using the DNG format. It is the real deal kind of RAW and not like you see with iPhone apps that claim RAW but only convert the camera’s JPEG data to RAW. The Lumia actually takes RAW sensor data and wraps it up into DNG. You can shoot RAW in 16:9 and 4:3 formats.

  6. Currently the 1020 has HDR bracketing and the ability to kick files out in DNG (digital negative/raw). These are hidden in the options as most users will not need them.

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