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IRL: Is the Lumia 1020 good enough to replace a standalone camera?

Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

You only need to look at Jon Fingas' Instagram feed to understand how much he enjoys smartphone photography. We get it: you probably have an Instagram account too, but for Jon, taking photos of flowers, Christmas ornaments, ice sculptures and even other gadgets is how the guy unwinds. So what happens when you give him a camera with more megapixels than your average point-and-shoot? Just about what you'd expect.

                               To call me a mobile photography fan would be an understatement: it's all too common to find me shooting flower macros when I should be enjoying the scenery. You can imagine that I was over the moon, then, once Nokia launched the Lumia 1020 in Canada back in October. I picked one up to see how it would stack up against other mobile phone cameras -- and whether I could afford to leave my "big" Sony NEX-5N at home.

To some extent, I can. The biggest appeal of Nokia's 41-megapixel shooter is undoubtedly its zoom. It's not just that I can get closer to distant subjects. It's that I can get just the right framing for a close-up without having to get overly cozy with my subject. The experience is almost like shooting with a constant-aperture zoom lens on a DSLR, since the brightness and depth of field largely stay the same regardless of distance. What's more, Nokia Camera provides a level of control I'm not used to in mobile photography. I've captured long exposures and other shots that are tough (if not impossible) to pull off using other smartphones.

The image quality also lives up to my expectations... usually. Colors pop in most images, and it's easy to focus on just the right object in a given scene. Low-light performance is also superb. The Lumia 1020 doesn't quite have the 920's almost surreal ability to take bright photos in the dark, but it's one of the few phones I'd willingly use for night shots. Color accuracy is a sore point, though. As I've seen on the Lumia range since the 800, the 1020 occasionally captures sickly hues. It's not a dealbreaker when the flaw only creeps up in certain (usually dim) lighting conditions, but it's frustrating when I have to either retake a picture or settle for an oddly tinged image.

As good as the Lumia 1020 is, though, there's one major flaw that would prevent me from getting the phone again if I had to: the Lumia 1520. It "only" has a 20-megapixel sensor, but its faster performance and superior display are easily worth the step down in picture detail. I don't regret owning the 1020, but I see it as more of a niche device these days. It's what you get if you crave image resolution above all else, or if you have to get one of the best Lumias that fits comfortably in one hand. Me, I'd like something a little more futureproof.

-- Jon Fingas

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