Nokia Lumia 928 Review: Xenon Flash Is Not Worth the Purchase

The Nokia Lumia 928 for Verizon Wireless largely functions in much of the same way as AT&T’s Lumia 920, but the new flagship adds a Xenon flash that replaces the dual-LED flash of the 920. Given what we know about Xenon flash–it’s brighter, able to freeze motion so you don’t have motion blur in your images, and can capture and reproduce color more accurately in your photos–the Nokia Lumia 928 should be a Windows Phone 8 device with photo capabilities that excel beyond most smartphones on the market today. However, in my testing of the Lumia 928, I was surprised that this is not the case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lumia 928, front

Lumia 928 (rear) showing PureView camera with Carl Zeiss lens alongside single LED auto-focus assist lamp and Xenon flash bulb

Lumia 928 (rear) showing PureView camera with Carl Zeiss lens alongside single LED auto-focus assist lamp and Xenon flash bulb

Given the similarities between the Lumia 920 and the Lumia 928, I’m not going to talk much about the phone as not much has changed. In this initial review, we’re going to focus mainly on the PureView camera of the Lumia 928. Temporarily, I’ll direct users interested in the Lumia 928 to the Lumia 920 review; we’ll cover more about the Lumia 928 in an on-going series of posts to highlight the main features.

Xenon Flash Design

On AT&T’s Lumia 920 flagship, we have a dual LED flash design. Both LED units light up at the same time to help with autofocus and when the flash is employed, both LED units also flash up to provide lighting to capture the image.

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Front: Lumia 928 with Xenon flash and single LED auto-focus assist lamp for Verizon; Rear: Yellow Lumia 920 with dual-LED flash on AT&T

Front: Lumia 928 with Xenon flash and single LED auto-focus assist lamp for Verizon; Rear: Yellow Lumia 920 with dual-LED flash on AT&T

On Verizon’s Lumia 928 design, one of the LED lighting unit is replaced with a Xenon lamp. Xenon is traditionally better than LED and is the flash of choice on point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras. The single LED unit remains to help with auto-focus assist while the Xenon is used as the flash to capture images. The LED is also used as a video lamp, same as on the Lumia 920.

Camera. Action. But Where’s the (Good) Lighting?

There are several problems with the Xenon flash on the Lumia 928. First, it’s theoretically rated at the same brightness output as the Lumia 920’s dual-LED solution, which is rather weak. The second problem is that when the Xenon flash is used, the scene has an orange tint to it.

Josh Smith and myself at dinner post-Google I/O. With the use of Xenon flash, skin tones came out orange and image isn't as bright as it should have been given the Xenon technology.

Josh Smith and myself at dinner post-Google I/O. With the use of Xenon flash, skin tones came out orange and image isn’t as bright as it should have been given the Xenon technology.

This second image was captured without any flash in the dark restaurant and renders skin tones more accurately. Looks like Xenon flash on the Lumia 928 is more of a hindrance than a selling point.

This second image was captured without any flash in the dark restaurant and renders skin tones more accurately. Looks like Xenon flash on the Lumia 928 is more of a hindrance than a selling point.

Needless to say, I didn’t expect to look like an Oompa Loompa when the Lumia 928’s Xenon flash was activated, nor did I appreciate having skin tone that looked like I sat through a bad spray tan with the wonky Xenon on the Lumia 928.

PureView low light image sample without the use of any flash on the Lumia 928 renders more realistic skin tones, comparable to the above image captured with the Lumia 920 on AT&T.

PureView low light image sample without the use of any flash on the Lumia 928 renders more realistic skin tones, comparable to the image captured with the Lumia 920 on AT&T.

Xenon flash on the Lumia 928 renders orange images that look washed out. This is a whole lot worse than the dual-LED flash solution, surprisingly, on the Lumia 920 on AT&T.

Xenon flash on the Lumia 928 renders orange images that look washed out. This is a whole lot worse than the dual-LED flash solution, surprisingly, on the Lumia 920 on AT&T.

I am not sure if it’s because of the weaker Xenon output or if Nokia hasn’t fine tuned the auto white balance on the Lumia’s camera mode. This issue is not apparent on the dual-LED flash of the Lumia 920, however. As a result, I would have to say the Lumia 920 on AT&T with its dual-LED flash solution out-performs the Lumia 928’s Xenon setup.

More natural skin tones and a bright image captured in the dark halls of the Stanford Memorial Church with the dual-LED flash on the Lumia 920

More natural skin tones and a bright image captured in the dark halls of the Stanford Memorial Church with the dual-LED flash on the Lumia 920

Lumia 920's PureView technology completely illuminates what otherwise would have been a dark image inside a very dark church.

Lumia 920’s PureView technology completely illuminates what otherwise would have been a dark image inside a very dark church.

In fact, images captured with people using the Lumia 928’s Xenon flash came out looking worse than the single LED flash solution on AT&T’s HTC One unit.

Using the single LED flash on the AT&T HTC One

Using the single LED flash on the AT&T HTC One

Low light image capture, no flash, on HTC One on AT&T

Low light image capture, no flash, on HTC One on AT&T

What’s curious is that the Nokia 808 PureView–the one with the 41-megapixel camera–has better flash capabilities with its Xenon hardware. The Nokia 808 was able to capture better images with the Xenon flash that didn’t appear washed out.

Nokia 808 image capture without any flash assistance leads to a much darker image than that captured with either the Lumia 920 or 928 without flash.

Nokia 808 image capture without any flash assistance leads to a much darker image than that captured with either the Lumia 920 or 928 without flash.

Xenon flash on the Nokia 808 captures a more natural image than the Xenon flash of the Lumia 928.

Xenon flash on the Nokia 808 captures a more natural image than the Xenon flash of the Lumia 928.

Low Light Capture Without Flash Assistance

One of the areas that the Lumia 928 excels is low light photography without the need to even use the Xenon flash. This feature is a carry-over from the 8.7-megapixel PureView sensor on the Lumia 920. Nokia is able to achieve bright images without the need for artificial lighting because it uses an optical image stabilizer on the camera while at the same time keeping the shutter open longer; the former helps to reduce and eliminate camera shake as a result of the latter and the latter allows more light to pass through to the sensor, allowing a brightly lit image, even in dark conditions.

Low light image capture without any flash in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

Low light image capture without any flash in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

Another low light image capture without Xenon flash aid in a dark museum.

Another low light image capture without Xenon flash aid in a dark museum.

I explored the Stanford Memorial Church at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California and found that both the Lumia 920 and Lumia 928 performed about on par with each other. And while the HTC One boasts similar low light capture capabilities, the Lumia 920 and Lumia 928 provided more details and less noise in the resulting images, especially when blown up, as the latter two have more pixels than the 4 Ultrapixels of the One.

Low light image capture, no flash, on HTC One on AT&T

Low light image capture, no flash, on HTC One on AT&T

PureView low light image sample without the use of any flash on the Lumia 928 renders more realistic skin tones, comparable to the above image captured with the Lumia 920 on AT&T.

PureView low light image sample without the use of any flash on the Lumia 928 renders more realistic skin tones, comparable to the above image captured with the Lumia 920 on AT&T. The Lumia 928 renders a brighter image than the Ultrapixel HTC One camera.

Image Samples

Lumia 928 camera focus is a little soft, even in bright light.

Lumia 928 camera focus is a little soft, even in bright light.

Sutro Tower in San Francisco at sunset

Sutro Tower in San Francisco at sunset

Stanford Memorial Church; the Lumia 928 does a good job given the dark lighting in the church.

Stanford Memorial Church; the Lumia 928 does a good job given the dark lighting in the church, but focus is still not as good as a mirrorless camera system, like the Fuji X-E1.

Tones are a bit over-saturated, but adds pop, to some outdoors photos in bright light.

Tones are a bit over-saturated, but adds pop, to some outdoors photos in bright light.

Conclusion

I will continue testing the Lumia 928, but for now, the Xenon flash is considered to be a major drawback of the phone. When the phone was initially announced, I had expected the Xenon flash to be a big selling point as it theoretically is superior to LED flash, but having used the Lumia 928 for about a week now I can safely say I long for the dual-LED flash solution of the AT&T Lumia 920. To keep the price low on the Lumia 928 ($99 with a two-year contract), Verizon and Nokia had cut too many corners with the phone.

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For now, users looking for a superior Xenon flash bulb on a smartphone camera should take a look at the Nokia 808, else they ought to wait for the mythical Lumia EOS, if and when that device comes to market. That said, the Lumia 928 is still a great phone, and it’s the best Windows Phone on Verizon right now. If you like Windows Phone 8, appreciate Nokia’s build quality, and want superior low light photography (without the aid of an artificial flash) on Verizon, the Lumia 928 should be an easy choice. Technically, the change from the dual-LED flash of the Lumia 920 to Xenon on the Lumia 928 should make this phone an easy choice, but I found the Xenon flash to be more of a hindrance than a selling point in this case.

Comments

  1. Tym says

    So your two examples of Xenon flash for the 928 include a picture that has a flower in the foreground which the camera exposes and focuses on, and a shot in which your finger is clearly covering part of the lens, and therefore part of the flash?

  2. nick says

    My Nokia Lumia 928 pictures are some of the best I have seen, the photos this guy takes look nothing like mine

    • Adam Tuliper (@AdamTuliper) says

      Unfortunately I have the same issue. Pics of my kids look pretty washed out (bad – and orange-ish) with the flash, same effect as above. Without the flash there are noticeable similar color spots – ie rather than seeing smooth skin tones a consistent color appears on the image in a larger spot like you would see with lower quality images. I’m going to test with more settings. While I do agree some of the tactics here in this article aren’t the best (finger over the flash), I have to say I’ve experienced lower quality – including the same orange look (without my finger over the flash!) over a wide array of pics taken under a variety of conditions over the last four days of having the phone.

  3. fuzzysunc says

    The low light photos I’ve taken on my 928 are fantastic. You might try making some changes to your photo settings based on the particular conditions.

  4. CBB says

    I definitely don’t agree with this article. I have the 928 and the flash works very well. I think this author needs to spend a little more time learning some things about this phone…

  5. pluggyboy says

    i’ve found that using auto settings with the flash doesn’t work well… you need to set the scene and white balance for the flash photos to have more accurate color cast

  6. John says

    You should really learn about cameras if you’re going to review them. These are very unscientific comparisons, using a picture where your finger is in the way, what??

  7. erzhik says

    If you want to review smartphone cameras, how about learning some basic photography first? One shot is clearly not focused correctly, you focused on the flower, this is why the picture is so dark. Now about that other picture, hoe about making sure that your finger doesn’t cover the flash? This effect can be achieved even on a$1000 camera. If you cover the flash, the sensor will act out of wack. You covered (deliberately?) the part of a flash, so the light bounces back into the lens, creating a halo effect and making the picture darker than its supposed to be.

  8. SeamoreButts says

    I most definitely call bullcrap rigged here….or either the guy just doesn’t know how photography works.

  9. Ben says

    Very poor review, clearly the author doesn’t know anything about photography,shame! He looks like an idiot…

  10. Johnny says

    Good article, I have been saying all along Lumia Camera is all Hype, expecially day shots which I find are often poor on my 920.

  11. Mark Gibbs (@gibbyhome) says

    in order to put your finger over the xenon flash you would need to know that your are doing this ? I tried to mistakenly cover the flash but you relay need to know that you are doing this.
    I say for some reason this person does not like either Microsoft, windows phones or Nokia.

  12. loo says

    Love my yellow 920 with its accurate LCD display. Hmmmm can’t wait till the real next Gen global Lumia.

  13. Alex (@alexbigkid) says

    The 1st image with 928 X-flash (in the church) – xenon flash was covered, abstructed not allowing light reach the subject!
    2nd image with 928 X-flash (restaurant table) – I think it is a perfect picture … of the flower! It looks so sharp and properly exposed! Hahaha. Here is obvious that user used touch to capture feaute on the flower. So camera does calculate the exposure and reduces the flash power for the near located flower and leaving the guys in the back in the dark! That’s why you cannot see no flash light reflection in the window.

  14. CansaoDeTantaInculticia says

    Oh my God… so you take a picture with your finger covering the xenon flash and part of the lens, and you complain about the result? Try to make a review of a car with a wall in front of it and tell that the car is not worth the purchase becouse it cannot move forward. Unbelievable… Seriously, I’m shocked.

  15. gennady tennis says

    In the second shot of you and your friend, you say that no flash was used, yet I can clearly see a flash in reflection in the window. Pls explain

    • Alex (@alexbigkid) says

      The reflection you see is not very strong. But it was not a very strong flash. Looks like the touch to capture feature was used on the flower in forground. So the exposure was calculated for the flower and because it is much closer to the camera the flash power was reduced.

    • John says

      While this is a horrible review, I do believe that the picture had no flash. Otherwise the bridge in the background would not have been exposed very much.

  16. GalNexus says

    I’m not even a WP fan but this article is pretty bad and biased. Talk about not knowing what you’re doing. I was impressed with the 928 when I checked it out.

  17. Samsung Sucks says

    YOu frikkin Idiot, you block the xenon flash wit finger and call it red tint? are you that dumb? or are you paid by samDUNG?

  18. erichanes says

    There must be something wrong with me, because after reading this awful review I read his 920 review, even with all of its blurry poor quality pictures, he still rated that phone very highly and then in this review says it the same phone except the Xenon flash is a hindrance. Obviously, looking at the images in both his reviews he can’t take a picture worth a crap.

    When I read this review, I couldn’t wait to read the comments, this review is so poorly written I knew they would be fun to read.

    Almost every review I read like this I chock up “fan boy” but I don’t think that is the case, I think he shouldn’t be writing blogs and reviews. He just isn’t good at it. Reviewer fail for sure. But… amusing.

    I also noticed on the 928 even when you turn the flash off there are some settings that will still use the Xenon to light up the picture. There are a lot of settings here and when I tested it on some standard low light shots that I know are historically difficult (food in low light restaurant and all white hairy dog) the 928 blew me away. I have tried them all and restaurant pictures come out red and discolored and white hairy dogs come out blury or contrasty and you can’t see detail at all. Many phones wont even focus on a white dog at all.

    I am still getting used to all of the settings and features, but I am blown away by this phone. The reviewer doesn’t accurately describe how the flash works, I had to double check he was talking about the 928. He also fails to mention while the phone is 98% the same as the 920, there are many much needed improvements.

    I always say, just because you have an expensive camera doesn’t mean you know how to take a picture.

  19. [email protected] says

    LoL what an idiot, please please be reading my comment: You are an idiot, your knowledge is close to zero, your article is a piece of shit and I hope nobody reads it. BTW I own an iPhone 5, and never even considered a Lumia, but please…

  20. Cord K says

    This seriously needs to be taken down and redone after the reviewer learns some basics of photography like not putting your finger infront of the flash and bouncing the light back into the lens. The fact that he didn’t even realize how useless that shot is basically invalidates the rest of the comparisons.

  21. William says

    I love how the device is being blamed for his finger, lit by the flash and looking bright as the sun, ruining a photo.

  22. Geebox says

    A User Review on the Nokia Lumia 928.

    Got my Nokia 928 a few days ago. First, overall the phone is
    GREAT and I would recommend it to anyone. IMO it is the Best Windows Phone to date. I will also say that in comparison to the other Operating System’s; Android and iOS, Windows Phone 8 OS is better and faster in my opinion. Of course that is Subjective. Everyone has his or her preference as to the features, apps, size, style, color and specs of a phone that work for them and that’s just fine. My sister likes the iphone 5 and it works just fine for here. My younger
    brother likes Android ICS and it works fine for him. The point is, I nor anyone
    else has to convince each person that they should buy a particular Phone. Having said that this is just a review for anyone not sure of Windows Phone 8.

    The Pros and the Cons.
    Pros:
    1. The Operating System: The Windows Phone 8 OS is
    smooth fast and responsive. It runs faster on a lower processor than a newer Android’s faster quad processor. The point is, it doesn’t have to have 4 or more
    processors to run smoother and faster. Though I have not had it longer the 8
    days as of this review I nor the persons I know who have a WP8, have not
    experienced the lags, bugs and many reboots I have had with Android Phones and Tablets. I didn’t like the Windows Tiles when I first heard or seen them in pictures, but expect for the plain colors (you eventually get use to them) they work great. The Live Tiles update you on all the info you need on one screen without having to click on a bunch of different apps Mail, Facebook, Weather, Agenda, Calender, Messaging are all updated right on the front screen. You can customize the look, size, color of your Tiles and change them with ease.

    2. The Camera: This has to be one of the best cameras on a Phone. You will not be disappoint on the pictures it takes in daylight or low light. Nokia is hyping up this Camera and I have to agree. The Camera alone is a good reason to get this phone.

    3. Call Quality is good: Both calling and receiving. The speaker on it is loud and clear.

    4. The Display is great with the AMOLED Display. It makes the screen sharp and clear and great even it sunlight. The Size at 4.5 inches is also a nice size, not too big and not too small.

    5. Xenon Flash: Brighter and better Flash as found on some standalone cameras.

    6. HD 1080p recording with great noise canceling mics. Also has front Facing 1.2MP camera.

    7. 32 GB internal storage

    8. 4G Network: I haven’t had the chance to fully test it yet, but my pages load super-fast and my downloads are fast as well.

    9. Battery: Battery usage for a smartphone is Good. It also has wireless charging.

    10. APPS: There is a lot of criticism with this OS
    and lack of apps. This area is where people have to put things in the right
    prospective. Yes iOS and Android has more Apps than WP8. I have to laugh a
    little when this argument is brought up. First who downloads that many apps?
    Second putting thing in the right prospective, iOS and Android is 5years old. Developers have had plenty of time to make apps. Windows Phone is going on 3years old with Window Phone 8 being only 6 months old with over 145,000 to date. Most of the top apps or equivalent is available right now on the WP store, with more being added as the months go buy. The point is, it took both Android and Apple years to get to the app count they have now. Besides most of the apps on those system or useless apps that don’t say on a phone for long yet alone even make it to ones phone. Again my point is most of the main or equivalent apps that people use are either on the store or in development. If Windows Phone 8 sells great(and I think it will) more apps will come faster. Anyway Nokia has a set of apps that make this phone stand out itself, Nokia Music, Nokia City Lens: Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive. There are plenty of other apps that make this a great pick.

    Cons:
    1. No External Storage. I think Nokia made a mistake here. Even though it has an internal 32 gig storage( 23G usable) they should have made room for external storage. I like having my music, videos and some data on a storage card so I am not tied to a computer or downloading data on a cell or wifi. I almost didn’t get the phone because if this.

    2. No removable battery. I am a heavy user, both personal and work. I like having a couple of charged batteries to throw in when I just can’t charge.

    3. Lack of Apps? I put this here because in comparison to the other two OS’s, WP8 does have less apps, however I think I make a good point above as to why this is not a good reason to not buy this Phone.

    4. No FM Radio: other Nokia Phones have the radio turned on. Though I heard that it can be turned on in a firmware update.

    5. No Etiquette: My own personal preference; a feature that mutes the phone when you face it down.

    6. Wish it had a stylus for notes: My own personal preference

    7. No Swype Keyboard: My own personal preference

    8. Unless I am wrong, No Video output to TV.

    Ok so for what it is worth, this is just an opinion for a user and not a article writer,
    and Yes I have had both Android and Iphone.

  23. Peter says

    My 2010 nokia N8 still takes betters pics than any android-iphone and windows, phone except lumia 1020

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