Why Nokia is doubling down on the camera

July 11, 2013, 4:23 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Nokia is doubling down on one of the oldest features of the smartphone: the camera.

At a press conference on Thursday, the struggling Finnish electronics giant unveiled its latest smart phone, the Nokia (NOK) Lumia 1020. Its marquee feature: a built-in camera that packs a 41-megapixel sensor. The device, which the company had been teasing ahead of the announcement, will come with Nokia’s Pureview image processing software and six Carl Zeiss lenses. It’ll be available in late-July for $299 with a contract.

Nokia is trying to find ways to get consumers to give its devices a second look. A super high-end camera could differentiate its phones in a crowded market. According to a Pew Internet poll, 82% of American cell phone owners take pictures on their devices, up from 76% in 2010. Nokia’s Pro Camera software will let shutterbugs tinker with their shots, including manual exposure settings and long exposure times. The camera app also includes a tutorial for novices. As far as photos are concerned, Nokia’s phone could trump Samsung’s wildly popular Galaxy S4, which packs a 16-megapixel shooter.

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One thing is for sure: Nokia needs a hit. The company has been losing ground in its bid to keep up with juggernauts Apple (APPL) and Samsung, which uses Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system. Nokia lost almost 5 percentage points of global market share in the first quarter, according to researcher Gartner. Globally, Samsung was No.1 with 23.6% market share, ahead of Nokia’s 14.8% and Apple’s 9%. A year earlier, Nokia had a 19.7% share.

Nokia’s biggest ally in its turnaround is Microsoft (MSFT), which is providing the company with its Windows Phone OS. Nokia’s exclusive relationship with Microsoft has allowed it to focus on making better devices. The tech giant, based in Redmond, Wash., is also paying Nokia quarterly “platform support” payments that started with $250 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. (Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop spent almost three years at Microsoft.)

Nokia has largely made good on its promise to keep pumping out new devices. Last fall, Fortune took an inside look at the development process of the original Lumia. “Becoming cool again means having great products,” Jo Harlow, the executive assigned with rebooting Nokia’s smartphone business, told Fortune.