Camera Analysis

Camera quality has almost always been Nokia’s strongest suite, and the Lumia 900 isn’t an exception. The device builds on the Lumia 800 by including the same 8 MP rear facing camera module with 28mm effective focal length (in 35mm ‘units’), F/2.2 aperture, Carl Zeiss branding, and built around a 5 plastic element optical system. Like a number of other new Nokia phones, the Lumia 900 also includes a 4:3 and 16:9 option with unique horizontal field of views for both. Switch into the 16:9 mode and you get a wider field of view which uses the full horizontal extent of the sensor at 7 MP (resolution), or use 4:3 mode at 8 MP (resolution) and use the full height of the sensor. For example, I've uploaded a photo of the same scene taken in roughly the same position with both 7MP (16:9) and 8MP (4:3) for your perusal.

Where the Lumia 900 builds on the Lumia 800 is inclusion of a 1280x720 (1 MP) front facing camera for video calling.

Like other Windows Phones with front facing cameras, the primary camera application can switch between the front and rear camera for shooting photos and videos, but on the front facing camera settings go away. The rear facing camera still includes all the settings options that I’ve seen on previous Lumias - recall that this is one of the Windows Phone menus that does change between vendors depending on their camera emphasis.

To tackle image quality, we've turned to our standard image testing suite which consists of photographs taken at five locations in our test bench (3-7), our lightbox tests with the lights on, and lights off, and photos of an ISO12233 chart, a GMB color checker card, and finally a distortion chart. I've also taken miscellaneous photos during my limited time with the Lumia 900 which I've put in a gallery below. 

The Lumia 900 ends up performing very close to the 800 (unsurprisingly) and has great optical quality. In the distortion chart there's limited distortion, and in the test bench photos things end up nice and sharp pretty much everywhere. It goes without saying that obviously Nokia continues to have a dominant position in the smartphone camera space, even when it isn't building phones around the camera like with the N8 or PureVision 808.

Where the Lumia 900 does seem to struggle is white balance, as pretty much all the Lumias have weird color rendering in the lightbox test with lights on, creating a strange washed out cast. I would wager that this is more an outcome of the older ISP onboard MSM8x55/APQ8055 than anything else, and it's entirely possible that things will get better in later updates as Nokia continues to mess around with the sliders on Qualcomm's ISP. In addition, the preview image sometimes contains the colored center dot chromatic aberration we've seen on other phones, though the lens shading ISP does seem to fix it when you look at the actual captured images. As an aside, this is really another area where eventually moving to dual core SoCs will make a difference - the successors to 8x55 have better ISP. 

Video quality on the Lumia 900 is very good. Video on the rear camera is encoded at 14 Mbps 1280x720 at 30 FPS in H.264 baseline with CABAC and 1 reference frame, as opposed to the CAVLC I’ve seen on a number of other devices. This is also a pretty high bitrate for 720p, and the result is subjectively very good quality. Note that none of the Windows Phones can record 1080p yet due to the devices all using single core Snapdragons whose encoder only can handle H.264 at 720p or below. Eventually we’ll see 1080p as Windows Phone adopts dual core SoCs with the rumored Apollo update which include 1080p encoders that will even encode high profile video. Audio on the rear camera is stereo AAC at 86 kbps with 48 kHz sampling, it’s good to see the Lumia 900 doing stereo audio using those two microphones onboard.

Front facing video is 1.5 Mbps VGA at 30FPS with the same audio quality. One thing I did notice about the front facing video is that it doesn’t seem to obey the rotation or orientation. Even if the camera UI is rotated properly, video shot on the front facing camera is always portrait orientation (480 x 640). This is pretty annoying but probably just a bug.

I’ve done the usual thing and uploaded samples straight from the device to YouTube, and made them available for download if you want to look at quality without YouTube’s transcode.

720p Rear Camera Video

 

VGA Front Camera Video

 

Again, the Lumia 900 video looks good even if it’s just 720p thanks to a generous bitrate, and inclusion of stereo audio is also a plus. Eventually Windows Phones will do 1080p30 video encodes, but that’s something which will come with even better SoCs.

Performance Analysis Display Analysis
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  • Denithor - Tuesday, April 03, 2012 - link

    Kinda sucks. You put in three Nokia models? Why not a comparison to other phones US buyers are likely to be considering? I know the specs are available but it makes for a much quicker reference. Reply
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, April 03, 2012 - link

    That's a valid point, and honestly picking the phones for the comparison table is always a bit of a struggle, I just wanted to show how the other Nokia WP7 devices line up in comparison with the flagship. Perhaps another one with Galaxy Nexus GSM/UMTS and iPhone 4S? I mean we've shown those in tables many, many times.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • Operandi - Wednesday, April 04, 2012 - link

    Uhh.. yeah I would say so. This is the only WP7 I would ever consider, the others migh as well not exist frankly. Reply
  • abhaxus - Wednesday, April 04, 2012 - link

    What he said. This phone is sexy, I'd like to see it's size compared to other sexy handsets. Most WP7 handsets are... plain. Reply
  • niva - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Performance wise it's not much different from the 710 or the 800, which are both phones worth considering. I think the 800 is better than the 900, but I prefer smaller phones. I think I might just bite the bullet and settle on the 710. Reply
  • geddarkstorm - Wednesday, April 04, 2012 - link

    Why is no one mentioning the absolutely abysmal battery life of this phone? It's at the very bottom of the tethering chart for instance. I don't see this phone rising above the lower half of the tests in anything other than 4G. And who really wants a phone with sharp corners and no sense of hand ergonomics?

    Can't wait for Windows 8, and good hardware.
    Reply
  • seanleeforever - Wednesday, April 04, 2012 - link

    that and this phone is actually slower than it looks on the chart.

    great review, but the chart is seriously outdated.
    take my HTC sensation for example, i just run the sun spider 0.91 and i get 1935ms and browsermark of 77138 with andriod STOCK browser. my phone does have ICS and ARHD rom, but if you honestly think a mod rom would somehow increase the phone performance by 94% faster (39768 on your chart vs 77138 i get), or by 221% faster(6217.4ms vs 1935 ms), you must be drunk.

    this is with ICS stock browser, i think if you updated your chart, you will find windows phone will looks even worse (a lot worse) than it is now.
    Reply
  • dtolios - Friday, April 06, 2012 - link

    "who really wants a phone with sharp corners and no sense of hand ergonomics?"

    - It has hard corners - where you DON'T hold the phone from...iPhone 4 series has sharper edges - where you do hold the phone from...If that's not an issue - and marketing wise clearly it's not - then the 900 is fine. Afaik most ppl really like the design, and so do I.
    Reply
  • UltraTech79 - Saturday, April 07, 2012 - link

    Yeah iPhone 4 has sharp edges, if it weren't for all the rounded edges. And who are you to tell us how to hold a phone? Never played any games on a phone have you?

    Its badly designed.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - link

    Who are *you* to tell us how to hold a phone?

    See how easy that was? Try a better argument. You had a valid point (worse gaming ergonomics) until you made yourself sound like an idiot (opinion as fact, referring to meaningless notions of sales figures).
    Reply

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