Nokia Lumia 520 as a Travel Camera for My Vacation in Berlin

October 7, 2013

Reichstag Berlin in the background with Lumia 520 phone

I am planning a trip to Berlin, Germany. I’ve decided to get the Nokia Lumia 520 as my main travel camera, rather than going with a conventional point-and-shoot camera or a DSLR camera which I already own. In this article I want to share with you the reasons I’ve chosen the Lumia 520 to serve as my primary travel camera, and talk about its advantages and disadvantages as a primary photographic tool for the passionate traveler on a tight budget.

Why the Nokia 520 Camera and Not a Standard P&S?

There are several reasons why I’ve decided to buy the Nokia Lumia 520 and used it as my main camera.

Tight Budget

The first and probably the most important part of making my decision is that I am on a tight budget.  My budget is around $200 for a camera. I do own a DSLR, but portability is also an important factor, and I will talk about it in the next section. So at this price range I can afford buying a few budget-friendly entry-level smartphone. There are plenty of them available on the market, but due to the camera playing a significant role in my buying decision — I need to pay close attention to the camera’s specs, features and performance.

The Nokia Lumia 520 is one of Nokia’s most affordable smartphones. You can find the International Version Factory Unlocked Nokia Lumia 520 8GB for $185 on Amazon as of the time of writing.  So the Lumia 520 fits perfectly to my budget.


I already have a DSLR camera, but I personally don’t want to carry a camera bag nor be burden with carrying a heavy and bulky equipment. I just want to walk in the streets of Berlin without any bag, just my phone in my pocket — and when I find something interesting to shoot, just grab my phone and get the shot.

Indeed, there are hundreds of ultra compact cameras out there and cameras like the Olympus XZ-1 seems like an excellent camera for my needs. So why I’ve decided to skip those type of cameras? — The answer is in the next section.

Apps and Wireless Communication

If it wasn’t because of the installable apps and wireless communication option with smartphone devices, I would probably would have bought the Olympus XZ-1, and I would have gotten zoom lens, excellent image quality and overall a great point-and-shoot camera to take photos on my vacation in Berlin.

Indeed, there are Wi-Fi -enabled compact cameras on the market which allow easy sharing to social networks like Facebook and Twitter — But that ends there. I want to be able to use other third-party online photo storage and sharing services. when going with a Wi-Fi enabled P&S camera, you have very limited selection — although you can easily find a good Wi-Fi camera if that’s what you are after.

Smartphone device like Android or Windows Phone 8 based devices have tends or even hundreds of thousands apps that you can install on the device, depends on the operating system installed on the device. Nokia Lumia 520 is a Windows Phone 8 (WP8) device, so it has less apps compare to Google Play app store, but I find all the apps that I need on Windows Phone store so it’s not a problem for me.

Apps extend the camera’s functionality and together with a constant data wireless capability you can enjoy many features that you want get with a regular P&S camera. You can use any app of your choice for editing and sharing your images in very different ways, including apps originated from some travel websites that offer a unique platform for sharing your images with your friends and family.


Another reason why I’ve chosen to buy the Nokia Lumia 520 as my primary travel camera is due to the build-in GPS. There are P&S cameras with GPS, but the selection is quite limited, and many of those camera models with GPS are over my budget or don’t have the specs that I am looking for.

Every smartphone these days has a built-in GPS. This means that every photo that you take (or video) is automatically geo-tagged. This location metadata and later be used to display, sort and share your photos based on the location they were shot using apps, computer software or online photo sharing services.

Just note that you do have the option to use your smartphone’s GPS with some WiFi-enabled devices to geotag your photos.

Nokia Lumia 520 camera

Nokia Lumia 520 camera

Nokia Lumia 520 Camera

So these are the main reasons why I’ve decided to get a smartphone over a conventional digital camera, whether it’s a compact camera or a DSLR camera. However, there are many smartphones out there, so you might ask me why the Nokia 520 and not other smartphones?

I first start doing my little online research on the Nokia Lumia 520 because I’ve read many positive reviews about its camera capabilities. Not that it’s the best on the market, but because for its price, it delivers very good results.

From that point on I start reading many Nokia Lumia 520 reviews, have viewed many Nokia Lumia 520 sample images and watched some sample videos on YouTube and Vimeo. After doing my research, I’ve decided to buy the Nokia Lumia 520 as my main camera which I take to my vacation in Berlin, Germany.

I’ve written this article to share with you the reasons why I bought the Lumia 520, but also talk about its features in more in-depth details. Those of you who are thinking of buying the Lumia 520 as their primary camera — this section is for you.

What Leading Phone Review Websites Area Saying?

What Leading Smartphone Review Websites are saying about the Nokia Lumia 520 camera: – “The 5 megapixel camera is good for the price..” (phone rating: 4.5/5) – “..good focus and slightly washed-out but relatively true colours. ” (phone rating: 4/5) – “accurate color representation and enough detail in the photos..”, “White balance measurement were mostly correct, and color saturation just right”. – “The pictures clicked are clear and sharp..” (phone rating for camera: 3/5, overall: 3/5)

So the overall opinion about the phone and the camera is pretty decent. Let’s not forget that we are dealing with a relatively very cheap smartphone here, and that’s something that you should put into perspective. I personally didn’t expect to get a superb camera for that price, but if you compare it to other smartphones at that same price range, you see that the Lumia 520 is quite a gem.

Lumia 520 Camera Specs

Let’s take a look at the Nokia Lumia 520 camera specs before we continue talking about its key features. Just keep in mind that these are the rear-camera specs, as the Lumia 520 lacks a front-facing  camera.

  • Resolution: 5MP (2592×1936 pixels)
  • LCD: 4-inch
  • Storage: 8GB built-in (expandable using MicroSD card up to 64GB) + 7GB free cloud storage
  • Focus type: Auto focus with two-stage capture key (half press focuses, full press captures)
  • Digital Zoom: 4x
  • Sensor: 1/4-inch 3.20×2.40 mm) Front-illuminated (not BSI)
  • Carl Zeiss Tessar Lens: No
  • Lens: 28mm f/2.4
  • Minimum Focus Range: 10 cm
  • Flash: No flash
  • ISO 100 – ISO 800
  • Video Recording: 720p 30 fps MP4/H.264 with Continuous autofocus
  • White Balance Modes: Cloudy, Incadescent, Fluorescent, Daylight, Automatic
  • Exposure: Auto or Manual
  • Add ons: Nokia smart Camera (sequence shots with options: actions shot, motion focus, change faces..) , Cinemagraph lens (easily create animated GIF files), Panorama lens, Bing vision (image recognition app by Microsoft)

The Nokia Lumia 520 is a cheap smartphone and it has a decent camera. Unfortunately, it doesn’t employ a back-illuminated sensor, neither Carl Zeiss optics or flash. It has a limited ISO 800 maximum ISO and lacks 1080p video recording.  On the positive side, it offers autofocus for both stills and videos, has microSD card slot, pretty large screen and manual exposure control.

Lumia 520 Sample Images

Let’s take a look at some Lumia 520 sample images from flickr.

A nice sequence shot using Nokia smart Camera app.
Action Shot - Burton APP

ISO 100 | f/2.4 | 0EV | 1/816 sec


ISO 100 | f/2.4 | 0EV | 1/270 sec

ISO 800 | f/2.4 | 0EV | 1/9 sec



As you can see from the last image shot at ISO800 (also resembles the same result from many other ISO 800 photos that I’ve seen),  the Nokia Lumia 520 struggles in low-light. You can get a good usable image in low-resolution, but that’s about it. The image is very noisy and chromatic noise is all over the place.

The reason for that is the lack of BSI sensor technology for most part.  This means that when night falls it becomes harder to get a good shot. you can shoot at lower ISO, but that can lead to very slow shutter speed and therefore a blurry image. It’s a good practice to put the phone on a steady surface when shooting at night if possible and shoot at the lowest ISO possible — but as I said again, this is not a low-light performer, and obviously I didn’t expect it to be for that price.

Images look much better when shooting in daylight or when you have a good light source. You can see the image of the flower and cityscape above — colors looks natural but punchy and sharpness is also very good.

If you intent a lot of photos at night, the Lumia 520 might not be the best camera phone for you.  A flash wouldn’t help in helping with remote cityscape shots because it has a very close effective range and it usually good for portrait or indoor shots where the light can lit the subject or bounce in a close room to lit up the subject inside it.

The 28mm equivalent focal length gives a good wide-angle field of view which is suitable for landscape and indoor shots. So although the Lumia 520 camera lacks an optical zoom, it has a field of view that it useful for travel shots, whether you are shooting indoors or outdoors.

The fast f/2.4 aperture and the high ISO helps the camera to survive in low-light situations and still be able to capture some good captures — but as I said, those are OK for web sharing and maybe for small prints, but nothing more.

Nokia Lumia 520 Video Samples

First video shot in London by Engadget at 720p (maximum video resolution available).

You can see that video quality is pretty decent in daylight, pretty sharp and with natural colors. The Nokia Lumia 520 lacks an optical image stabilization (OIS) and therefore you can notice some noticeable  jolting when shooting and walking at the same time, like in engadget’s video.

Next video by

We can see that the Lumia 520 handles exposure pretty good but with a tend to overexposure for both stills and videos. Autofocus is pretty good I have to say and very useful when shooting videos. Due to the fast aperture, it allows you to get a beautiful defocused background (shallow depth of field) when shooting a subject up close and the background turns blurry.

What I liked about the video recording:

  • Pretty Good sharpness
  • Very Natural yet punchy colors
  • Good autofocus speed

What I didn’t like:

  • Excessive jittering due to the lack of optical image stabilization
  • Only mono sound (98 Kbps / 44 kHz sampling rate)
  • Tend to overexpose

Some people report frame dropping while shooting videos. I have a feeling that you probably need a microSD card faster than class 4 to have enough bandwidth and prevent getting frame rate drops — just a thought.

So video quality is pretty good, and for online sharing with friends and family I think that’s more than enough for my needs.

Lumia 520 Camera Impressions

I think that the Nokia Lumia 520 provided very good image quality when shooting stills and videos in daylight, but can’t cope with low-light situations. If don’t need to make large prints or shoot videos in low-light, the Lumia 520 does a very good job. I really liked how natural the Lumia 520 renders the scene: green and blue look very natural — just the way I like it.

I prefer the natural look because in some situations it fits perfectly and if I want to exaggerate the colors, I can always use an app to edit my images before uploading and sharing them with friends online.

As I said earlier, we need to remember that we are talking about a  sub $200 smartphone. You can pay more for the Lumia 620 to enjoy a better screen, LED flash and a VGA front-facing snapper or get the Lumia 920 for almost twice the 520 price and get a much better handset and camera.

For me, the Nokia Lumia 520 is all about portability, good image quality, decent video quality, storage expandability and GPS, wireless connectivity.

If you are planning a trip abroad and don’t want a portable cheap camera, the Nokia Lumia 520 should be high on your list. Some of you might be tempted to pay more for a a better phone camera — that’s ok if you got the budget. For everyone else on a tight budget that want a good quality phone camera, the Nokia Lumia 520 is an excellent choice.


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