During the last few years, smartphone cameras have steadily improved. But every now and then a product comes along that doesn't have the patience for steady evolution. Nokia's new Lumia 1020, for example, takes the current 13-megapixel benchmark of phones like the Galaxy S4, and blows that spec out of the water. This Windows Phone 8 handset isn't messing around, rocking an impressive 41-megapixel sensor.

Putting the "camera" back in camera-phone

With the Lumia 1020, Nokia took the impressive camera from last year's PureView 808, removed the defunct Symbian operating system, and replaced it with the much more relevant (but not without its own struggles) Windows Phone 8. The result just might be the most serious smartphone camera ever made, married with hardware and software that you might actually want to use.

Along with its 41 megapixels, the Lumia 1020's camera features 6-lens Carl Zeiss optics, Optical Image Stabilization, and high resolution lossless zoom. The digital zoom on nearly every other smartphone is essentially nothing more than a crop of a non-zoomed image, which is then upscaled. The Lumia 1020's full resolution image, however, is so dense that zoomed portions stay sharp.

The camera also implements a new feature called Dual Capture, which takes simultaneous 38 MP and 5 MP shots. The idea is that you send the 5 MP version to a friend or upload it to Facebook, and then really go to town on editing the high-resolution version when you get home.

Nokia also threw in a software goodie bag that claims to let regular folks tweak some advanced photography settings. Dubbed Pro Camera, the app lets you quickly adjust settings like white balance, ISO, and manual focus.

Other specs, release

The Lumia 1020 also has a well-rounded set of supporting hardware. It rocks a dual core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, a 4.5-inch 1280 x 768 (332 PPI) display, and 2 GB of RAM. It sports a 2,000 mAh battery and will run on LTE networks, at least where it's supported.

The 1020 sports a solid 32 GB of internal storage, along with SkyDrive syncing. But it would have been nice to see a 64 GB option or a microSD slot. All of those high-resolution shots could eat away at those 32 gigs pretty quickly. And if you're on a capped data plan, the last thing you'll want to do is upload them all to SkyDrive while on the go.

The Lumia 1020 will launch first in the US, exclusively on AT&T on July 26. It will ring up for a relatively steep price of US$300 with a 2-year contract. Nokia says the handset will launch in Europe and China later this quarter.

Sources: Nokia, Windows Phone, via Wired