If you're wondering about the future of the camera software in Windows Phone, look no further: Nokia today issued a beta version of its stellar Nokia Camera app, which like the non-beta version combines functionality from the previously separate Nokia Pro Camera and Smart Camera apps. But the beta version will be updated more frequently going forward.
Like the non-beta version of the app, Nokia Camera Beta for Windows Phone 8 requires a Nokia Lumia smart phone running Windows Phone 8 with Update 1 and the Lumia Black update. This limits the availability somewhat, I think to the Lumia 1520, 1020, 925 and 920, but as Update 1/Black are rolled out more broadly, that situation will improve.
Remember, you can learn more about Nokia Lumia "Black" and the associated Update 3 from Microsoft in The Complete Guide to Windows Phone 8 Update 3 and Lumia Black. To learn more about Windows Phone 8, be sure to check out my free 650-page e-book, Paul Thurrott's Windows Phone 8.
Nokia Camera Beta
So what is this thing?
Nokia Camera Beta is the beta version of the Nokia Camera app. It provides the Pro Camera functionality that debuted with the Lumia 1020 back in July—an auto mode that will be fine for most people in most situations—plus night and sports modes and granular control over flash, white balance, focus, sensitivity and shutter speed.
Also key to this software is the ability to reframe a picture, which makes the most sense on the Lumia 1020 and 1520, both of which offer very high resolution capabilities. Here's how it works: You take a shot and then review it. The picture appears normally.
Now, you can reframe it: Zoom in as much as you want, rotate it.
When you're happy with the results, tap the Reframe button. Now, the 5 mp version of the photo—the version that will be shared with others via Facebook, SkyDrive or whatever—will display the reframed version of the photo. But you can always go back to the original (34 mp on the 1020) and reframe it again or returning it to its original state. It's pretty amazing.
Nokia Camera Beta also includes the functionality that used to be provided separately in Smart Camera. So in addition to still photo and video modes, it supports a smart sequence mode that that shoots a number of stills of the same scene in sequence and then lets you create a finished shot that displays motion, removes moving objects, or makes a motion blur around the moving object.
New to the current version of Smart Camera Beta (and the non-beta version too) is support for the lossless, RAW format DNG (digital negative) format for those with the Lumia 1020 or 1520. It's not enabled by default, but you can now choose from between three capture modes on these devices: A single 5 megapixel shot, two JPEGs (one at 5 mp and one at 34 mp on the Lumia 1020) or JPEG (5 mp) + DNG (34 mp).
I expect a future version of Nokia Camera to be made the stock version of the Windows Phone camera app after Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's devices and services business is complete. In the meantime, grabbing this beta—or even the non-beta version—is a great way to get acclimated, especially if you're using a Lumia with a superior camera.
Tip: You can configure Nokia Camera Beta (or another camera app) to be your default camera app—i.e. the one that appears when you press the device's Camera button—in Settings, Applications, Photos + Camera.
And if you're not that adventurous, you can always download Nokia Smart Camera from the Windows Phone Store instead.