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Can changing the aspect ratio on the Nokia Lumia 920 sharpen images?

Nokia Lumia 920's Camera

While we all think the Nokia Lumia 920's camera is a quality camera, we also note that image quality from the Windows Phone camera can be slightly on the soft side. The softness isn't something to send you running from the room in a panic but evident.

Until Nokia updates the firmware on the Lumia 920 to bump the in-camera sharpening you can easily fix things with Nokia's Creative Studio or even the auto-fix in Windows Phone 8 can help.

There also may be another fix available. WPCentral Reader Atif sent in a tip where he's found changing the aspect ratio on the Lumia 920 from 16:9 to 4:3 produces sharper images from the get go.

The aspect ratio is simply the proportional relationship between an image's width and height. The 4:3 ratio is more square like while the 16:9 has more of a wider, landscape feel to it. Here's what Atif discovered in the sample shots he submitted.  The 4:3 samples are posted above the 16:9 samples.  Images have been resized for publication purposes.

Photos by Atif

While the 4:3 image does appear sharper in the above samples, we tried to replicate Atif's results but couldn't. Here's our sample.

Nokia Lumia 920 4:3 and 16:9 samples

So to answer the original question: Does changing the aspect ratio improve sharpness? We don't think so. Rather, we surmise users are getting different, sometimes better results due to the camera re-focusing (and how you focus comes into play to e.g. tap-to-focus versus shutter button). In conferring with other Windows Phone Central staff writers who own the Lumia 920, none were able to verify that switching to 4:3 yielded better results.

We still believe the solution is a simple firmware update to boost the in-camera sharpening. As is, the images the Lumia 920 produce are quality images and the slight softness may not be an issue to most. We aren't being picky about things, we just would like to see a great camera reach its full potential.

Thanks, Atif, for the tip and sample photos!

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Reader comments

Can changing the aspect ratio on the Nokia Lumia 920 sharpen images?

45 Comments

For one thing, look at the pixels. The 16:9 images are clearly cropped from the sensor's image, clocking in at around 7 million pixels. Go to 4:3, and you get the 8 you're supposed to get. No mystery there, and silly default setting. Who takes 16:9 photos? (Answer: People who do vertical video. :))

You're right, I remember reading something about this in one of Nokia's white papers :-) would be cool to see circular images using all of the sensor!

I honestly can't understand how so many people can be so dense to film like that. There is absolutely zero logic behind it.

I take 16:9 photos on my Lumia 900. Cause I can't stand watching 4:3 on my computer, notebook or TV. What is the point of 4:3 photos? Maybe there is a hidden sense and I'm too silly to get it, but it was a question for a long time to me "why all screens are already 16:9 and all cameras are 4:3" and I was really surprised that Lumia 920 has 16:9 by default. That is awesome.
 
Sorry for my English, it's not my native language

Do not be sorry about your English, I think it is great. I respect anyone who speaks a second language and a third. 

I disagree with your last sentence. Even at 16:9 the photo is still completely useable, whereas filming vertically gives a ridiculously narrow spectrum of view and makes no sense in terms of videoing something.

Legendary comment!
[Off-topic] This phone shown in the pic, what colour is it?
I thought black version was pitch dark black and the grey version was light grey. I'd love a graphite grey option!

I think the evidence is right there.
In the first set of submitted pics, you can especially see a difference with the curtains/blinds. The top 4:3 ratio photo clearly shows more detail and sharper lines.
As for your own test, take a look at the wrinkles on the face of the gnome, especially under its right eye. The texture on its hat is also defined in the 4:3 shot. The chipping at the middle of the brim of the hat above his nose is also more crisp in the first pic.
I didn't zoom in on these pics or anything though, but that's just what my own eyes of noticed. Your mileage may vary.

You picked on the right thing. In both cases I focused the curtains but the 4:3 always came out sharper. Look at the pattern on the sofa cloth, there is a visible difference. (Atif)

Does changing the aspect ratio improve sharpness? We don't think so.

You don't think so? Well, the pictures say otherwise. Look at the window details in the first picture. It's clearly sharper on 4:3 than in 16:9. Also the 2nd picture shows sharper details in 4:3. I've read this on other websites as well. Setting the camera to 4:3 clearly improves quality.

That's ONE set of photos where the focusing could vary. It doesn't prove anything, it is anecdotal by definition

When we tried *multiple* photos we saw no significant increase in sharpness when using 4:3. Read the rest of the article...

Better yet: Explain to me the techncial rationale why taking a photo in 4:3 would result in sharper image processing over 16:9 when no such distinction is found on other phones?

Don't know about the rationale Daniel, but I replicated these results at least 4 times (8 pics). 4:3 are coming out sharper every time. Try taking pictures of a scenery, not something just a foot away in full sunlight.

Sadly, I don't have a 920 - yet - contract is up Jan1
I am however a Photographer, and deal with digital image sensors of many types.  I would submit Daniel, that thsi may actually be a focus/metering issue.  I don't know how many points the 920's camera uses for its autofocus and metering algorythms, but there may be a few towards the edges that are ignored or utilized depending on the aspect ratio selected. The result could easily be a diferent exposure or focus point insome photographs, again, depending on the subject.
When I look at the photos posted of the room, the image of the muntin bars in the window, and their reflections on the glass table top, are very distinct in the 4:3 photo, but nearly non-existant in the 16:9 one. This effect could be easily reproduced in a DSLR by a slight difference in the focus point or the exposure, particularly if the latter was obtained by an alteration in aperture.
 
I can clearly see a distinctly different color caste to the 16:9 photo, which has a greenish tint, most clearly visible in the wall panel to the right of the windoe.  It looks suspiciously like the original camera shots from my "aging" Lumia 900 before the software was fixed.  Some cause for optimism there.
 
I'm not saying this IS the cause of the effect, or even if there IS an effect.  I only note that there is a clear difference in the color temperature and sharpness of the two photos.  But you asked for a possible explanation, and for the sharpness I think there is are some clear candidates.  The color temperature diference is really striking, and this implies that ther is indeed a different image processing  process being applied.
I am suspicious that they spent a lot of time tweeking the processing for the 4:3 setting, and then either assumed it would work correctly for the 16:9, but it doesn't, or they found it didn't work well for the 16:9, and because of time constraints ported over a non-optimal algorythm from another phone.
Finally, it's worth noting htat various image processing algorythms are in fact sensitive to the aspect ratio/pixel numbers processed, with some efects beign so bad that certain number/ratios are 'forbidden' for soem algorythms, but not for others.  Its just the nature of the algebra involved.  So possibly this is the case here, and they can't use the same one for the different raios.

Just wanted to add, the original colors of my walls in that room are Metallic Green (window) and Metallic Copper.

I wish there was a 2:3 aspect ratio option!  I hate having to crop pictures i decide to print out as a 4x6!!!

Is it possible this is a trick of the mind when viewing photos on the phone itself?
In 16:9 the phone can dislay the whole picture and use the whole of the screen, in 4:3 it is slightly 'zoomed out' to incorporate the extra height so it feels like you can zoom in and get more detail when zooming in on a 16:9 image would appear fuzzier. Put them both on a web page though and you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Just a theory!

I just tested this out with a couple of closeup shots and I see a signifigant difference!
I snapped a couple of my keyboard.  The 16:9 images were washed and the text on the keyboard was blurred.  The 4:3 ration was MUCH sharper, no wash and the text on the keys was crisp and clear.  It even picked up dust on the keys that I cannot ssee with my naked eye!!!  SOLD!

I know that in WP7 that all pictures look softer because the resolution is decreased for viewing. When zooming in, it bumps back to full resolution. This is what probably makes the Lumia 920 have soft looking photos
 

I just tested this.
 
First of all - they are NOT the same resolution 4:3 vs. 16:9. 16:9 is 3552x2000 and 7MP. 4:3 is 8MP at 3264x2448.
Regardless, I DO see a difference (after a small sampling). I'll shoot some more with it and see if it holds up.
 
I can see why the 16x9 is the default though - it fills the screen.

After a few more samples.. I'm convinced. It's made me look at what the camera is doing, and I've noticed a couple of things.
 
First of all, as I noted before, 16:9 is throwing away pixels. The "full" image is the 4:3 one.
 
But beyond that, there's something else going on. The framing is different. What I mean is, it appears that the 16:9 is something different than just tossing 400+ pixels from one dimension... in a sense, NEITHER aspect ration is using the full sensor. They are just "different" crops off the same sensor. Which means there are many different ways the images could be processed internally, including using some kind of interpolation... it's also important to note that the different aspect ratios are using the lens differently. This could also account for changes in how the image looks.
 
In any case, I am pretty sure I'm seeing sharper shots at 4:3. I don't think I'll be shooting 16x9 anymore.

They both throw away pixels. 16x9 is a wider image. 4x3 is taller. The real sensor is a circle, and they are taking two different crops of it, so it's true 16x9 and true 4x3.

I don't know if it's round, but the pictures I've seen, teh lens and sensor and enclosed in a little cube.

Thank you for seeing what I saw. When I was sending those pictures in, I thought, am I doing something wrong with 16:9. Then I reset the camera and tried again. Those two were my final pictures with default settings, changing only the ratio settings.

I wonder if this is an actual WP problem.  Because I discovered early on with my HD7 that if I set my camera to 3MP down from 5MP my shots came out a bit crisper.  We know that Windows Phone doesnt have the most robust camera UI, so maybe its partially WP related.  I'd be curious for anyone else to try this with other phones as well.
I plan to check out an 8x soon, so I'll be checking it out there too.

You've guys got it all wrong, its not a matter of sharpening its a matter of detail. The reason that iPhone 5 pics tend to look "sharper" in well lit conditions is not because the iPhone applies heavy sharpening in post its because those details aren't destroyed by JPEG Compression which is what I believe is happening with the 920. NO amount of shapening in post can bring back lost details, once their gone their gone. If you look closely at of the 920 photos that have been posted recently you can clearly see that there is heavy compression going on around high contrast areas and edges which is causing that detail to be lost. So I just wanted to clarify thats its not a matter of sharpening its a matter of detail and clarity and simply boosting sharpening is not going to fix it. 

Unless you put the camera on some sort of a tripod you wont know if the images are different because of the focus or the  aspect ration.

@ColeHarris You're exactly right! I just tested this on a 920: Compare the detail you get zooming in before taking the picture vs. zooming in after taking a zoomed-out picture.
The sensor is capable of amazing things, but they're throwing away the detail: Probably in an attempt to make automatic uploads to SkyDrive palatable to the carriers.
The JPEG compression is too high. We need a RAW option or the ability to tone down the compression.

Here's my example:
no_digital_zoom_920_crop.jpg: This is a cropped version of a standard photo that folks are pointing out is "soft":
https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=E2C33B39719545F!1452
digital_zoom_920_original.jpg: This is a full-frame original of the same subject taken using digital zoom in the 920 picture app:  https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=E2C33B39719545F!1453
The main thing I also noticed, is that the full frame both with and without digital zoom have the same 1279x959 resolution, so it's clear they are throwing away a ton of information compared to what the sensor actually collects.
 

You are absolutely right!!!! The Digital Zoom shows it clearly! its way sharper when taking the Zoom then making a Full size Pic!!!!

I actually switched to 4:3 on the Lumia 900 to get sharper pictures. They would look sharp before I took them, but after I pressed the shutter button they would look worse. That situation improved when I changed to 4:3. I haven't tried this on my Lumia 920 yet because I've been thrilled with the camera quality.

You know it's funny you mention that. I noticed too that the pics LOOK very sharp, and then after the pic is taken, sometimes, not so much. When in 4:3 mode seems to not happen.