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Guide for shooting with Nokia Lumia and Lightroom

Why a Lightroom workflow with a Lumia?

Normal phone cameras are pretty restricted, delivering suboptimal quality unless you have perfect light, and do not offer many options to manually fine tune the camera settings while shooting. So most people usually just apply a very filter and post a small version to Facebook, Flickr, etc.

However the Lumia 920/925/928 (and up) change the game. The quality with f2.0 lenses, low light capable sensor and an optical image stabilizer cranks up the quality so much that it is comparable with a compact camera (thought a DSLR is still a whole class better). At that level, an image is worthy enough to run through a full Lightroom treatment, not just simple auto filters.

This guide is made using my Nokia Lumia 925, but it should at least be transferrable to the Lumia 920 and 928. However it is important they have the GDR3/Nokia Black installed, which changes the camera characteristics for color.

1. Choose the right photo app

Like with a DSLR you want to have as many manual controls as possible (ISO, EV comp, WB…). This leaves basically two options for professional shooting apps: ProShot and Nokia Cam. ProShot is compatible with all manufacturers and also allows you to control many manual settings. However the often used EV compensation control is small and fiddly to use, no comparison to the elegance of the Nokia Camera app. Also you cannot delete image from the app (an OS security restriction), which is a big drawback.

Then you might be tempted to use Nokia Smart Cam because of the burst shot mode, allowing you to e.g. select the best shot afterwards. However the problem is that to perform quick bursts, Smart Cam has to increase ISO. So the shots don’t have the maximum quality, especially when having lesser light.

This leaves Nokia Camera app as best choice. However since the image is done in the OS, the values given here will be the same with ProShot.

3. Holding the Lumia most steadily

Like with DSLRs, a steady grip still is the key to be able to reduce ISO while keeping sharpness. ISO affects the image quality massively. A smartphone without a grip and surrounded by knobs is not easy to hold comfortably.

You can try yourself which grip works best for you by opening Nokia Smart Cam and zoom in a lot on a distant point. You’ll see every movement you make.

I came up with the following grips as most steady while not blocking the camera lens:

(Sorry for the quality, made with a cheaper smartphone)

While holding it like this, stem the holding hand into your body, so the arm is not floating freely. If you can lean against e.g. a wall or table this is always great.

With the other hand you hold the index finger on the shutter button and the thumb on the opposite side of the shutter button to not cause shake while pressing it. Though you can use the on screen shutter button, it lacks the capability to half-press it for holding focus. So it’s good for static scenes because it causes less shake, but for dynamic scenes you need the lock feature of the physical button to catch the moment.

4. Setting camera controls

Many apps focus on editing the picture after the shoot itself. That is limited, since e.g. burnt highlights, noise from setting too high ISO etc. cannot be corrected afterwards. So camera controls are the key. Just like with DSLRs, which mostly lack many automatic modes.

Nokia Camera controls are simple and fun to use. Press anywhere on the image to set the focus point. The menu above lets you access the single settings:

Flash

Turn on Focus light only. Camera built in flashes mostly destroy the image anyway. Because they are flashing parallel with the lens (naturally), they are no comparison for softened studio flashes modeling the light from the sides. The focus light helps a lot in dark situations though.

White Balance

If you have artificial light, set to AUTO, since these tend to be pretty difficult with all the different lamp types around. If you have sunlight or overcast sky, set it to “Sunny” (yes, also on cloudy skies). For details see Lightroom White Balance chapter.

ISO

If you got a steady grip and no moving objects in the scene, lower this and hope for the optical stabilization to reduce the shake.

EV compensation

With ISO this is the most important dial, as the automatic exposure is often right in simple settings, but tends to underexpose on night shots. Also in some scenes with one bright spot (e.g. reflections on a window, or lamps), it also tends to underexpose a bit. If it is the case try to increase EV compensation a bit. A little bit like  +0.3 ... +0.7 is usually sufficient. If you do not correct the exposure, you may create burnt shadows or highlights that cannot be recovered afterwards.

5. Transfer to PC

Do not try to import the images directly from the phone on USB via the Lightroom import dialog. Lightroom will try to crawl the whole phone for images. If you got larger sets on You Lumia, it will slow to a hang.

You may upload the files to SkyDrive and add images in Lightroom from that directory (install the SkyDrive Desktop app first). I prefer the direct copy, as it is fastest. Connect your phone via USB and unlock it via PIN, otherwise you don’t see any folders on your phone. The copy all files over to local hard drive and add image in Lightroom from there.

6. Set Lightroom 4/5 development settings

Camera Calibration

The Nokia Lumia (like other smartphones) does not shoot strictly neutral colors. I shot some reference image with a color checker chart and retro-fitted the camera calibration to have a neutral image, however that is not a good way. I found the Nokia calibration to be like a neutral color image adding a few points Vibrance and Saturation in Lightroom. Since you often set this anyway, there is no point in correcting this with calibration in the first place.

White Balance

Here is the trick: When you shoot with fixed setting to "Sunny" in Nokia Camera app, you can now set an almost perfect color balance here. After some experiments with a color checker I recommend:

Real condition Camera setting WB Temperature WB Tint
Sunny Sunny -7 +10
Cloudy Sunny -1 -1

Please be aware that these settings are for Nokia Black/GDR3. Color rendering changed significantly from GDR2/Amber.

Detail - Sharpening

For base sharpening (the image is already sharp), you don’t want to increase the inherit artifacts and noise. I found the following settings to be a good start:

Amount Radius Detail
+10 0.7 (yes, pretty low) 25

Then set Masking relative to image content (hold ALT key while dragging the slider).

Detail – Noise Reduction

The Color noise reduction is practically useless on Nokia Lumia images, since the built in reduction is already quite effective here. But Lightrooms luminance noise reduction can add some improvements:

ISO Luminance Detail Contrast
100 10 95 10
200 14 90 14
400 17 85 17
800 23 75 23
1600 25 70 25

If you set ISO to AUTO, Lumia will also set uneven values. So it is not advisable to use Lightrooms feature to set develop defaults by ISO values.

Lens correction

Set all neutral here. Lumia already correct distortion and chromatic aberration itself.

 

Always good light! If you got any comments, drop me a mail oduis (the magic sign) oliverduis.de