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Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL camera review

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL camera review: We test out the new 20-megapixel camera on Microsoft’s flagship Lumia phones, with full photo gallery analysis and video samples in HD and 4K.

Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL both pack the same ‘best-in-class’ 20-megapixel camera, capable of shooting high-res photos and 4K video, and even allowing you to manually edit the colour saturation and exposure levels post-capture. Here’s what we think of the Lumia cameras after several days of use.

Read next: Our full Lumia 950 review and Lumia 950 XL review

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL camera interface

Microsoft’s camera app is thankfully smart and streamlined, making it easy to use and quite attractive too.

The main camera settings are confined to a single expandable bar up top, which gives you the ability to quickly switch between the front and rear cameras, plus toggle the flash and Rich Capture modes. A tap at the edge of the bar expands into manual control mode, allowing you to quickly and easily tweak the white balance, ISO levels, focus mode and more. Most people won’t even touch those settings, so it’s good that they’re tucked away out of sight.

Over on the right edge you have the shutter button, as well as a button for switching to video. Above those in the top right corner is the menu button to delve into more detailed settings, and that’s your whack. Nice and simple.

The buried settings go into a lot more depth, allowing you to change your shooting settings (such as resolution and aspect ratio) and add different software effects (known since the days of Windows Phone as ‘lenses’). Basically, you have a lot of control over your camera, which will appeal to anyone not satisfied with auto modes. Meanwhile, anyone who simply wants to point and shoot is also well catered for.

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL camera samples and features

On auto mode, we were impressed with the quality of shots taken on the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL. In well-lit environments, the camera captures plenty of detail and the shutter is fast enough to counter motion blur. Each photo is cleaned up in ‘post production’, which takes a while but thankfully doesn’t stop you from snapping more shots in the meantime. That post production process usually helps to brighten things up when conditions are less than ideal.

Rivals such as the Sony Xperia Z5 boast better HDR, which means that scenes with both light and dark areas are more attractive on the Z5. For instance, street scenes shot against a bright sky on the Lumia 950 tend to lose detail in darker areas. However, the Lumia 950 is still better than many other snappers like the Moto X Style in these areas.

Dim the lighting and the Lumia 950 camera copes well. Your photos will still be bright even without the flash, although they also look a little soft when viewed on a large screen. Stick the triple LED flash on and you may well blind your subject, but at least they’ll be looking good in the end shot.

Macro photos (where you get up close to your subject) are simple to take and look nice and sharp, with pleasing boche in the background. Similarly, scenic shots come out well, with a wide focus range.

Microsoft has also added in some bonus features, including the Living Images feature which animates your photos for a second when viewing back on the Lumia (particularly effective when snapping pets and kids). These photos can still be shared, but the animation is lost in the process.

Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL video samples

You have impressive control over video recording too, with plenty of choice of shooting modes. By default you record in 1080p HD at 30 Frames-Per-Second, but you can bump that up to 60fps (for silky smooth footage or slow mo purposes) as well as jack up to 4K resolution.

Video samples met with mixed results. There’s a lot of detail packed into every frame, but the focus occasionally struggles to keep things sharp, especially if there’s a lot going on or you’re going from near-to-far focal points. The built-in image stabilisation also struggles compared to many rivals, with an odd trembling effect as you walk and shoot.

Here’s a video sample shot on the Lumia 950 at Full HD 1080p resolution at 30fps:

Here’s a video sample shot on the Lumia 950 at Full HD 1080p resolution at 60fps:

And here’s a video sample shot on the Lumia 950 at Ultra HD 4K resolution at 30fps:

Verdict

The Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL sport a very capable 20-megapixel camera that is easy and effective enough for point-n-shoot photography, but also offers plenty of control for more experienced photographers. Photo quality on the whole is solid, although some rivals such as the Xperia Z5 and LG G4 offer better end results in some cases, especially where there’s high contrast. Video recording produces mixed results, but is fine for simple home movies.

Check out our full Microsoft Lumia 950 review for our thoughts on the Lumia 950’s Quad HD display, battery life, performance and more.

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