Chief executive Stephen Elop unveiled the Lumia 1020 handset in New York
Nokia has unveiled a new handset with a 41 megapixel sensor which it claims can record “details never thought possible from a smartphone”.
It says consumers will be able to zoom in and reframe their photos without worrying about the image quality suffering.
Analysts who have tested the device said that it was “without doubt” the best smartphone camera on the market.
But they said that was not a guarantee that it would be a bestseller.
The consultancy IDC recently carried out a survey of smartphone owners in 25 countries to identify what factors were most likely to drive future purchases.
The results placed camera resolution 15th on a list of 23 features. Audio quality for voice, battery life, device security and browsing came top of the poll.
“Most people just look at their photos on their smartphone or a social network on a computer – and for this the other vendors already provide very good quality,” Francisco Jeronimo, a mobile phone analyst at the firm, told the BBC.
“Nokia needs to convince consumers that this new handset outperforms others in low-light conditions, otherwise they would only really notice the difference if they zoomed in on the images on a large screen or printed out a poster.
The new handset allows owners to adjust focus, shutter speed and white balance via a new user interface
“It may be the best smartphone out there but I doubt it will be enough to convince many users to jump platform from Android or iOS which accounted for 92% of global shipments in the last quarter.”
The Lumia 1020 marks the second time Nokia has fitted a 41MP sensor to one of its phones.
However, last year’s Pureview 808 model ran the Symbian operating system, limiting its appeal since few are developing software for it anymore. The new handset instead runs on Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform which crossed the 100,000 app milestone last month.
As well as offering highly detailed 41MP-resolution photos, the phone also uses a process called “oversampling” to combine the pixels into a smaller 5MP version from which it removes unwanted visual noise.
Unlike its predecessor, the Lumia 1020 can save both types at the same time, meaning that the owner does not need to worry about switching settings.
In addition, the handset’s video recording capabilities take advantage of the extra resolution, allowing the user to zoom in four times while recording a 1080p high definition video without losing quality, and six times into a 720p version.
It also adds a stabilisation system, which mounts the lens system on ball-bearings and uses a gyroscope and motors to counteract any movement to prevent the problem of camera shake.
However, all this comes at a premium price, and one analyst suggested the firm wanted it to act as a “halo” device to attract shoppers to other products in its range.
Nokia suggests its system “reinvents” the way smartphones handle zoom
“Nokia is positioning the Lumia 1020 as a flagship product for the next generation of smartphones,” said Ben Wood, chief of research at the CCS Insight consultancy.
“Alone it will not transform Nokia’s fortunes but the significant media coverage it will generate centred on its innovative camera technology will be a major boost not only to the Lumia brand but also the Windows Phone platform.
“Its high price will undoubtedly come under scrutiny and Nokia must carefully manage this, stressing that it is a flagship product that will likely generate relatively modest volumes.”
Nokia’s boast that its device is perfect for users wanting to “shoot first, zoom later” contrasts with the approach taken by other brands.
Samsung recently unveiled the Galaxy S4 Zoom – a handset with a 10x optical zoom which extends out of the device to allow users to close in on a scene at the time of the snap. This feature is more commonly found in compact cameras.
Menawhile, HTC introduced what it calls an “ultrapixel” sensor to its flagship One model.
The camera only has a 4MP resolution, but because each pixel on the sensor is bigger than normally found in a handset the Taiwanese firm claimed it could produce the highest-quality low-light shots of any smartphone when it launched.
But IDC said that Nokia now had the edge.
Samsung recently launched a handset with a lens that zooms out of its body
“For an amateur or professional photographer who needs a quality camera on the move, this is the best option available on a smartphone,” said Mr Jeronimo.
“The camera’s user interface is a lot more intuitive and easy to use, as well.
“But to be able to compete with Apple and Samsung, Nokia will need to price it aggressively and to increase activities in the stores to show consumers how much better the camera performs against the competition.
“Failing that, the Nokia Lumia 1020 will become a niche product for a niche segment – professional mobile photographers.”
Nokia said the device would go on sale on 26 July in the US, and would launch before September in parts of Europe and China.