For the past week I’ve been using Microsoft’s new Lumia Camera software. It’s part of a Lumia Denim update that’s rolling out to Lumia Windows Phones over the next few weeks, and the most important changes are improvements to the camera. Lumia phones are known for their impressive camera hardware, but the software has sometimes been a step behind. Launching the camera on Lumia phones can be painfully slow, and even capturing and autofocus isn’t always particularly speedy compared to the iPhone 6 or some top Android devices. Microsoft is aiming to fix some of these problems with the new Lumia Camera app.
Rich capture has changed the way I take photos
The first thing I noticed when I launched the app was the improvement to how quickly I can take photos. It’s only slight, but it’s enough not to make the app feel like it’s loading in the background while you desperately wait to capture the moment. Autofocus feels largely the same, perhaps a little snappier, but the biggest and most significant improvement is a new rich capture mode. It has literally changed the way I use the camera on the Lumia 930, and it’s seriously impressive. Rich capture works by simply calculating the best mode to take your picture in, and it includes a slider at the end to change the HDR level if it’s daylight, the exposure levels if it’s in low-light conditions, and even the flash level if it’s dark and the camera has triggered the flash.
Dynamic flash is the most interesting rich capture mode and the one that I found works well enough to make me want to use flash more often. I usually disable flash and never think about it again, but the new Lumia Camera software offers up a handy slider that allows you to go from a non-flash image all the way through to the same image with full flash enabled. It does this by capturing multiple images at the same time, allowing you to slide gradually between the results. You can see in the GIF below that there’s a lot of flexibility to pick the sweet spot for the camera flash. Dynamic HDR and exposure modes work in the same way, with a slider to pick the best result.
Microsoft has also enabled a new video capture mode where you can press and hold on the shutter button to record 4K video quickly and then save still 8.3-megapixel images from a slider view afterwards. It’s a better way of surfacing an old "Lumia Moments" feature that lets you choose the best frame and action shots, but it’s clear Microsoft is thinking about better ways to integrate these separate and often confusing novelty apps into the main camera interface. The result is a much better approach with a camera app that feels a lot more complete and functional, with basic and quick settings for those who don’t want to dig into the powerful manual controls. I don’t say this often, but I’m genuinely impressed with what Microsoft is doing to improve its camera software. Apple and Google could certainly learn a few tricks from this new Lumia Camera app.