What happens when a National Geographic photographer takes a Lumia to one of the seven wonders of the natural world instead of a DSLR? Read on to fid out...

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Microsoft is making great claims about the camera in the new Lumia 930, but just how good are the Lumia cameras? To put the tech to the test, Microsoft is sending award-winning National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez around the globe, where he’s shooting some of nature’s biggest and most beautiful spectacles with nothing but his trusty Lumia.

 

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In April this year Stephen embarked on a trip to capture Mount Everest with the Lumia 930 and a Lumia 1520. How did he get on? And what were the results? We’ve been catching up with Stephen to find out. Read on for the exclusive full story, and check out his breathtaking pics scattered throughout.

Arduous conditions

stephen avalrez thumb“It was the most physically arduous trip of my life,” Stephen says, explaining his journey to the perfect spot. See, the difference between this trip and most Everest climbs is that he wasn’t climbing to take a shot from the summit; he was trying to find a place to shoot the mountain in all its glory. And that presented equally challenging conditions: “If you’re going from the Nepal side – the only place to go that lets you see Everest well enough to photograph – you have to walk for about two weeks.

“Everest is almost 29,000 feet, and the place you take your photograph from is 18,500 feet – so it’s way up there. In theory you could fly to that point, but it you took off in Kathmandu in a helicopter and landed in that spot, you’d get out and immediately die because there’s half the air up there as there is at sea level.”

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“You need to acclimatise yourself as you go. So for every 600 meters you go up, you rest for a day to let your body make red blood cells. But even then it’s hard and very, very cold. I cannot describe to you how cold it was,” he says, “I took a water bottle out of my pack, put it down on the ground, took some photos, and thirty minutes later the water bottle was frozen solid.”

Luckily, the Lumias are hardier than Stephen’s water bottle…

‘Staggering quality’

“I had doubts about how well the Lumias would perform,” he reveals, “but the hardware was just unstoppable. There were no issues whatsoever. We had people near us who were trying to use other cameras and theirs all died, but the Lumia kept going and going and going. We didn’t have any special cases on the phone either – I was just wiping snow off of it on my shirt! My Lumia 930 spent the entire time in my front pocket because I wanted to have it handy for taking pictures. So it walked 100 miles in my pocket with no issues.”

 

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And thanks to the Lumias dedicated camera buttons and Super Sensitive Touch displays, they were perfect for use with protective gear on: “In a lot of the video from the trip I’m wearing thick gloves and still using the phones, which is amazing.” You can see that video here:

 

 

As you can see, the shots Stephen took are fantastic. But as a seasoned pro, what does he think of the Lumia cameras?

“The quality of the camera is just staggering,” he answers. “The Lumia 930 has got a 20 megapixel sensor, which rivals my pro-level DSLRs in terms of file size, and you get an incredible amount of detail with all that information. In low light these phones really stand out, too. The Lumias are also the best low-light camera phones I’ve ever seen. The imaging team, formerly at Nokia and now at Microsoft, has pushed the ability of a small sensor to perform in that environment hugely. The engineering that goes into making that sensor is stunning.

“Microsoft’s camera designers are so good because they’re thinking about imaging all the time. I get the feeling that they are putting the camera first,” Stephen says, “and almost designing the phone around it. The visual experience is first and foremost; they’re thinking about how to use a camera not as a secondary part of the phone, but as one of its primary communication tools.”

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“There will be a time in my professional career where I don’t feel like I need to carry a DSLR – I see that it’s coming,” he says in closing, “and much sooner than I thought. Two years ago I would have thought that maybe my children will one day have a do-all device that lets them shoot magazine-quality images and broadcast-quality video. But that’s almost here now. The pace of innovation is just stunning, and Microsoft is the one really driving the innovation there. The Lumias are astounding phones.

“I can’t believe I’m taking the pictures I’m taking with them, they’re just so good.”

Smartphone photography: Top Tips

On seeing the quality of Stephen’s Lumia Everest pictures, we couldn’t let him go without divulging his top tips for taking better snaps. His secret? Three simple rules:

1. Shoot a lot
“My first top tip with any smartphone is to shoot a lot of images. It helps to have a fast smartphone like the Lumia 930, but don’t just shoot one picture and put the phone away; shoot several. That’s the biggest tip.

2. Share a little
“Shoot a lot, but don’t show a lot. If you shoot ten pictures of one thing, you don’t need to share all of them – just pick the best one. A good photographer always shows the good photos and pretends the bad ones never happened. I shot seven or eight thousand pictures on the Everest trip, and we’re only showing 35.”

3. Bend the rules
“The last tip is that because you have a big screen with great viewing angles instead of a viewfinder, you have a lot of options of how and where to hold it. You can go up high with it very easily to shoot down on things, for example. You can really get creative with that.”

More on the Nokia Lumia 930… The Lumia 930 is available now at Vodafone UK. Check out all the details and specs here, and find out what the web’s tech press thinks here.