The new Lumia 950 and 950 XL take better pictures than any other smartphone

By Stephen Pate – With the soon-to-be-released Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950 XL, it looks like the Lumia team have built a smartphone that can replace a DSLR. Other than zoom and depth of field, there don’t seem to be any compromises in the photographs taken by the Lumia 950 XL.

Update – I tried both the 950 and 950XL and neither of them could match the demo pictures that Nokia/Microsoft provided. Sad.

The photos posted by Juha Alakarhu, Director, cameras for phones at Microsoft are stunningly vivid and detailed. The photos look like pictures taken by a high quality DSLR not a phone. They were taken on at least two different Microsoft Lumia 950 XL prototype smartphones.

With the short focal length of smartphone camera lenses you are not going to get zoom like a DSLR. The same issue of lens physics limits the depth of field but that applies to all cameras.

Here are a few of his amazing Nokia 950 pictures. It is hard to compare these Lumia 950 photos with iPhone 6s or Samsung Galaxy 6S since most sites are not posting raw images. Ironically, the iPhone 6s is only #10 on the ranking of best smartphone cameras according to the detailed reviews at Digital Photography Review – DxOMark.

None of the photos have been re-touched or edited with software like Photoshop. I verified each photo was the original through examination of the meta data, analysed them on FotoForensics analysis and verified it with Mr. Alakarhu. More on that later.

For posting pictures on Instagram or Facebook, people may not care about picture quality but it does matter when the photos are meant to capture those special moments that come and go with time.

Outdoor Portrait

Let’s consider this beautiful portrait of a Scandinavian girl, which makes sense since the Lumia comes from Nokia in Finland.

Lumia 950 XL outdoor portait, Tampere Finland, Exposure Time 1/250, F Number1.9, ISO 64, Average metering (Source Microsoft)

Lumia 950 XL outdoor portrait, Tampere Finland, Exposure Time 1/250, F Number 1.9, ISO 64, Average metering (Source Microsoft)

This stunning, detailed and natural photo was taken with a Lumia 950 XL on September 24th, 2015, in Tampere, Finland. It looks like a DSLR photo but it’s not. The Lumia 950 XL settings were exposure 1/250, f  1.9, ISO 64, and 16 megapixel. No flash was used and the subject was lit with natural light and an outdoor reflector.

The original photo is 5344 by 3008 pixels which is 4 MB and  too large to load on this site. The original is found at this link and you can look at it in detail there. There is almost no pixelization or camera noise at 100% magnification.  I am amazed at the detail of her hair and skin texture. It’s very natural.

Lumia 950 XL portrait 100%

Lumia 950 XL portrait 100% crop

Outdoor close-up

My brother loves taking close up photos of plants with his DSLR and a wide-angle lens. I think he sprays them with water for effect. This next shot is one he would appreciate for getting up close and capturing the fine detail and color of wet leaves.

Lumia 950 XL photo Jämsä Finland, 3840 x 2160 pixels, shutter 1/155, aperture F 1.9, ISO64, average metering, no flash (Photo Microsoft)

Lumia 950 XL photo at Jämsä Finland, 3840 x 2160 pixels, shutter 1/155, aperture F 1.9, ISO 64, average metering, no flash (Photo Microsoft September 6, 2015)

The water droplets on leaves was taken in natural low light in a field in Finland. “The photo of the water drops has been taken in low-contrast daylight.”  The photo is stunning full-sized at 3840 x 2160 pixels which you can see by clicking here.

Again, here is the 100% crop that shows amazing detail, color and almost no noise. Smartphone cameras have limited depth of field which is obvious but then so would a DSLR close up lens.

WP_20150906_10_02_20_Rich_LI 1040

100% crop of Lumia 950 XL photo at Jämsä Finland, shutter 1/155, aperture F 1.9, ISO 64, average metering, no flash (Photo Microsoft)

Are these photos real?

Whenever I see the manufacturer post stunning pictures, I put on my Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot hat and ask: have the pictures been Photoshoped to amke them look great?  In this case, these photos seem to be the originals taken with a prototype Lumia 950 XL without retouching.

First, the metadata is all there for all the photographs in Mr. Alakarhu’s post. I used Adobe Photoshop CS5 and FotoForensics to check that. The metadata tells you what camera took the photographs, where they were taken by GPS location, the camera settings and tons of technical information.

Usually the metadata is stripped from sample pictures used to promote cameras so you can’t actually tell what has happened with the photo. Was it edited and what was the saved history. Flickr is a good site to check metadata of photographs.

The metadata told me interesting things. A Samsung Galaxy S6 took the natural low-light picture of the girl in the comparison with the 950XL. That was not revealed in the blog post.

Second, I ran all the blog photos through FotoForensics analysis to see if it could find any touch-ups. After carefully analyzing the test results, it appears the photographs were not modified.

My third and last check was to ask Mr. Alakarhu on Twitter.

Are @Lumia 950XL pics completely unedited on the blog post?

Are @Lumia 950XL pics completely unedited on the blog post?

His answer was an unequivocal no. They were not edited.

Alakarhu twitter reply - no edits

Alakarhu twitter reply – no edits

I have owned iPhones, Android phones and Windows phones but nothing compares with these photographs. I will be ordering a Lumia 950 XL – the phone looks too good to resist. If it doesn’t match the posted examples, I can always return it.

Microsoft expects to ship the new Lumia 950 and 950XL phones in November.

The Lumia 950 with 5.2″ WQHD display, 20MP camera with ZEISS optics, 32GB storage/microSD 200GB capable and Windows 10 costs $549.00 unlocked in the US and $749 in Canada.

The Lumia 950 XL has a larger 5.7″ display and costs $649 US and $849 in Canada.

The Microsoft Lumia 950 and 950XL can be ordered in several countries around the world including Canada and the United States. Delivery is expected by December 11, 2015.

In the United States, Microsoft is taking orders for the 950XL and AT&T for the Lumia 950. In Canada both phones are available from Microsoft.

In the US, AT&T will carry the phone on 2-year plans. It is less expensive over 2 years to buy the unlocked phone from Microsoft.