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Nokia Lumia 521, does the lack of a flash really matter?

Nokia Lumia 521

The Nokia Lumia 521 is a very nice, budget oriented Windows Phone. To keep cost low, Nokia trimmed back some of the features part of which was the camera light.

Admittedly, I've yet to meet a camera light that performed very well. They often lack the power to distribute enough light to your subjects or create a blue color cast. While I'm not particularly fond of these lights, others may feel differently. Which brings us to this comparison.

In low lighting situations how does the Lumia 521 measure up against a comparable camera that is fitted with a light?

Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2

The most similar Windows Phone camera I have available to the Lumia 521 is the Samsung Focus 2. The Focus 2 sports a 5MP camera with a 30mm f2.5 lens. The Lumia 521 has a 5MP camera with a 28mm f2.4 lens. Both cameras were set to 4:3 ratio to maximize image resolution. Other than that, the settings were left on automatic. I took four test shots with somewhat mixed results. Images have been resized for publishing and each shot was taken without support.

The first shot, indoors using just a table lamp. The Lumia 521 (left image) was taken at ISO 160 at a shutter speed of 1/125th. The Focus 2 (right image) was shot at ISO 64 at a shutter speed of 1/60th. The flash seemed to create a slight blue or cooler color tone while the Lumia 521 image has a little warmer tone.

Indoor lighting test shot
Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2 low light test

Next up we set up a few toys on a light table, turned off the photo lamps and only used the two ceiling lights in the room. The Lumia 521 (left image) was shot at ISO 800 at 1/10th second and the Focus 2 (right image) was shot at ISO 80 at 1/125th. The Lumia 521 didn't do a bad job of things but with the flash the Focus 2 had noticeably deeper depth of field.

Indoor lighting test shot
Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2 light table test shots

The photo lamps were turned up to 25% and the close-up image quality was tested. The Lumia 521 (left image) was shot at ISO 500 1/60th while the Focus 2 (right image) was taken at ISO 40 at 1/250th. The light helped the Focuse 2 focus while I had to pull back a little to provide enough ambient light so the Lumia 521 could focus.

Indoor lighting test close-up
Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2 low-light close-up test shot

Lastly, we headed to the garage and snapped this shot with three 60 watt ceiling lights illuminating a two car garage. The RC Car (which has seen better days) is on a wall about six feet from the closest light. The Lumia 521 (left image) was shot at ISO 500 at 1/20th and the Focus 2 (right image) was shot at ISO 50 at 1/30th. Again, the light helped the Focus 2 focus and provided better depth to the image.

Indoor Low-Light Photo Sample
Nokia Lumia 521 and Samung Focus 2 low-light indoor sample

I did take both cameras outdoors at night to see how things measured up (and neither really shined).  These two shots were taken just after sunset with only house lighting through the windows available.  The Nokia Lumia 521 image (left) was shot at ISO 800 and a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second.  In contrast, the Samsung Focus 2 image was shot at ISO 100 at a shutter speed of 1/15th.

The Nokia Lumia 521 did take its time focusing and because of the slower shutter speed, motion blur is often present.  While the Samsung Focus 2 was able to shed a little light on things, the light just lacks the power to cover a lot of distance and often over powers subjects in the foreground.  Then you have the issue that the Focus 2 dialed down the ISO because of the flash so low that very little of the background detail is present.

Outdoor Night Sample
Nokia Lumia 521 and Samsung Focus 2 outdoor night sample

Personally, I'm more of a natural light photographer so the absence of a light on the Lumia 521 isn't that much of a loss to me. However, some like to use the camera light and it does help add some depth of field to images.  Most importantly it acts as a focus assist light for those low light conditions and I think that may be the biggest loss in not having a light on the Lumia 521.

Can you survive without the light on the Lumia 521? I think so, but keep in mind the Lumia 521 is what it is.  

The Lumia 521 is a budget oriented Windows Phone with a base-line camera.  If you're looking for a Windows Phone with a knock-out camera, the Lumia 521 might not be for you.   The Lumia 521's camera does perform surprisingly well in many conditions but does have limitations.  Limitations, in part, due to the lack of a light.  Outdoor images are still the Lumia 521's strength and while you may not be able to take good photos of friends while your enjoying a cold one in a dark, smoke filled bar, you should be able to capture decent photos where the indoor lighting is more ample.

So what say ye'?  Does the loss of a flash on the Lumia 521 matter or is it a feature you can live without?

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Reader comments

Nokia Lumia 521, does the lack of a flash really matter?

76 Comments

I recommend this phone to a friend and she loves it. The no flash isn't really a problem only needed in really dark conditions.

Gotta agree, but the most used app on my phone is probably flashlight lol have recommended this to quite a few people and they all are happy with it

In a pinch, you can use your screen as a flashlight... works fairly well if the screen is mostly white.

Nokia will tell you its because Finland is in the dark half the year but let's be honest, its really for taking ameteur bedroom pr0n shots.  and it does a great job too!  Nokia needs to make a private pr0n cam lens.

Don't need the flash from the camera at all, as the flash spooks folks.... Low light performance (from the camera to the girl in question to you) all around is the key here....

I guess it matter a little bit. If you go out to a club and you're sitting there with your girly friends doing a kissy shot it might not come out right. According to my lady friend here.

No flash is bad. On the other side compared with the Samsung galaxy fame, its nearest android equivalent, the 520 wins on other specs. Better screen, bigger, more ppi, more memory etc. Would i rather have 8gb memory instead of flash? Yep.

Err, why not? I bought a 520 recently and I happily touch up photos. I didn't exactly buy the 520 for its stunning camera though. What a fatuous comment.

lol.  I regularly touch up my photos.  I have a 521 (I am a 20yr IT geek, btw, no noob) and I prefer it because of it's smaller size that easily fits in my pocket while not giving up much in terms of features that matter to me.  I gave my 810 to my wife when she broke her Android.
People who prefer Smart Cars (over an Escalade) are not genetically inferrior despite what the Esclade owners think.  ;)
 
 

That isn't really true. If there isn't enough light, no editing software in the world will "compenstate" for it. This isn't the movies where you can just "enhance" your way from crap to something worthwhile.
That said, I've never used an LED flash on my camera, because it just turns one kind of crap into an entirely different kind of crap. Neither of the outdoor samples above can be turned into anything useful.

I agree that a flash almost always turns a picture to crap. I guess that's why I am so happy with my 920. No flash is actually preferred since it has the epic low-light smarts and OIS goodness. The 920 is flat-out amazing at how much it can pickup from a dark scene. The flash doescomes on for an instant, but that is BEFORE the picture is taken to do a focus-assist.

That being said, I think in many situations, you can move things around to get more light. Like asking your subject(s) to stand near a light source. I think the great thing about the 521 (at least according to reviews), is that the camera is surprisingly good. It's only weakness is the lack of flash.

They are not suppose in the same league, but since their phone8 series went down to drain oh well...

For me the only use of flash on my phone is for torchlight. If I really want to take picture in the dark I rather use a more capable camera instead the one on the budget phone.

I've disabled the flash on my HD7 almost permanently. It still takes decent dim-light shots as I've got a fairly steady hand. With the flash on, the subject is either too far away for it to be useful or the shot is mostly of whited out faces squinting into the blinding light of a thousand suns. Seriously, why is the flash so damn bright as to be unusable?

I turned the flash off on my HD7, too. I take maybe 1 photo out of 100 where I turn the flash on. Most pictures turn out better without the flash.

Been using the HTC Radar for over a year and went through Hundreds of pictures.  And I couldn't find any where I needed a flash.  So the only thing I can think of that I use a flash for is the app that turns it into a flashlight.

Yeah, I use the flashlight app quite often and while the flash may not help much with night photos from a distance, a closeup with flash & without is a huge difference.

I don't like flash in photos and rarely use it especially on mobile phones, but it is needed when kids are involved indoors.

How are extreme close-UPS in daylight? Like taking a picture of a leaf or bug or flower or something? My l920 seems to have issues with that.

The images of the toy car were taken from approximately 6 inches away.  The Lumia 521 was taken a tad further back to allow enough available light for focusing.

"In low lighting situations how does the Lumia 521 measure up against a comparable camera that is fitted with a light."
Please, when typing a question, first proofread your material, then add the correct punctuation.  It's just unprofessional and sloppy and quite frankly, on par for this website.

George, it's honestly nothing against you and however much I rely on this blog for great WP news, I hate to see a product half-baked on such a professional level. I know I sound lime a stickler and I'm just splitting hairs, but we, as readers, have to hold writers and ourselves to a higher standard as a society as a whole.

You think because you own a windows phone, you have to have higher standards than the rest of society? Its only a phone, mate.

No flash isn't a problem, considering it is a budget phone. I think the other features more than compensate for the lack of flash. For the price and what you get; the 521 is pretty darn good. :)

no flashlight app, no purchase from me. I don't care about the pics with flash so much as being able to see behind server racks and such.

I am using Lumia 520.. I even forgot to check the camera when I was buying it and I just checked it only after buying it and I was really happy with it even without the flash. I was more interested in other features of the phone rather than the camera. Its not good to expect everything in a phone and that too for this price. :D

My whole point is that things are what they are. They cannot not be! If things weren't, nothing could be. It is what it is. It is not what it is not.

The best comparison with and without flash should have been made with the 520/521 and the 620. They have the same camera modules.

It matters a lot! but no one buys this phone because of the camera, and if that was the case, it is still a great device compared with some other smartphones on the price range.

i cant live without it, i prefer natural light but there is the problem when there is no light at all and you simply cant get a picture, just a black square like the last comparison, you can use image editors to bright them up but the noise will make it unusable

Flash is good to have for sure. I opted for the 720 even though its not really in the same price or spec range as the 521.

I recommend it. I have one and the photos are fine for being so inexpensive. If you are looking for something for low light shots, then pick up a 920, 925, 928, hands down.

What's bad about this phone? Its awesome don't expect the speed of a f1 car when you pay from a Tata Nano car. What this phone do is it provides the best worth of your Money. Techradar made this phone best windows phone and Lumia 920 is at 2nd position, its even at 6th spot at world best smart phone. Gsm are said its the best in class and even titled its review ar best buy. You rock nokia.

this phone also does the job of gaing market share i know at least 25 friend who swith from android to this . By 100$ bet this phone alone will be responsible for Q2 rise in wp share. I mean it . Proud to be a owner of 520. I went to buy a s3 to make me happy but bought 3 Lumia 520 at that price. I made my self happy. My sister happy and my mom happy.
now i get its better than s3 and s4 all Samsung phone look the same. You even need to say that you have s3 or s4. I hate this

I've seen a lot of excuses for what's missing on this budget phone. Its good value for the price but let's not get carried away here.

I only use flash for flashlight app. I tried to present my girlfriend with a 520 and she refused because of the lack of flashlight functionality.

My family now has 3 of these phone and flash hasn't been an issue for any of the pictures they have taken so far.  We even did a indoor birthday party under bad lighting and the pictures came out really good.

The ability to take pictures with my phone isn't an absolute necessity for me in the first place. And really, do you expect a $130 phone to have everything you'd expect from a flagship device like a Lumia 920?
If flash is a must for you, don't get a 521. Simple.

I was totally going to buy this but the flash was a deal breaker. I wish they had added one even for 5 dollars more.

I love the camera on my 521 especially using the Nokia camera app. It can take photos damn near in the dark and still look good.