Conclusion

 The Good The Bad
  • Good image detail in bright light and low noise levels across the ISO range
  • Good lens is sharp across the frame, with CA and other aberrations well under control
  • Powerful flash allows for low ISOs in flash mode 
  • Intuitive camera UI with comprehensive manual control in Pro mode
  • Some manual control in video mode
  • DNG Raw offers better detail and control over image processing
  • Efficient image stabilization system
  • Good detail in 4K video mode
  • Dedicated camera button
  • microSD slot
  • Replaceable battery
  • Decent editing options in Lumia Creative Studio app
  • Images show very strong saturation and contrast in some scenes
  • Color casts in mixed light situations
  • Unnatural skin tones in flash images
  • No panorama mode and weak imaging feature set in general
  • Rich Capture HDR rarely triggers and cannot be forced manually
  • No front flash function
  • Slightly sluggish AF, especially in low light
  • Very soft detail, occasional jittering and AF-instabilities in low light video
  • Slightly unstable white balance in video mode
  • Slow motion problems

Overall Conclusion

The Microsoft Lumia 950 comes with a bright and sharp QHD display which is great for viewing and composing images, but the body design won't win any design awards and the plastic back does feel a little cheap. In the image quality department we liked the good detail and well-balanced noise reduction but weren't always too happy with the Lumia's color response, especially in mixed light situations and when using the LED flash. Video quality is decent, but suffers from occasional focus instabilities and a slight 'jitter' artifact, especially when the light gets dimmer.

The Microsoft device is also let down by a lack of imaging features and especially a panorama mode. In comparison to other operating systems Windows 10 does not, at this point, offer too much in terms of third party imaging apps either but we'll have to wait and see where the OS is heading in this respect. On the plus side, DNG Raw recording, a two-stage camera button and extensive manual control in the camera app (even for video) will be appreciated by most mobile photographers and are, at least in this combination, still lacking on many of the Lumia 950's competitors.  

Features & Operation

The Lumia camera app has been slightly modified but is still one of our favorite camera apps around. It's intuitive to use and the manual control via a range of virtual dials is second to none. While you cannot start recording video directly from the main screen and have it immediately switch to video mode, you can assign that function to a long-press of the camera button, so it won't be too problematic for most users. The camera button is of course a great feature to have for mobile photographers in general. It allows for half-pressing and focus-locking, just as you are used to from a 'real' camera. 

The area in which the Lumia unfortunately falls behind the competition, by quite a margin, is imaging features. There is no panorama function which is arguably the most used special mode by many users and the Smart Camera features we've seen on previous Lumia models aren't on board either. In theory you can install additional modes from the Windows Store but not many are available for the Windows 10 Mobile platform. We've been told Microsoft is planning to add more functions with future updates but at the time of writing the Lumia 950 should not be your first choice if you like playing with innovative imaging functions. 

Image Quality

Depending on the scene the Lumia 950 can produce excellent image results but we've also had some sample images that we weren't totally happy with. Detail in bright light is very good and, although things get a little softer, still more than acceptable in lower light conditions. Thanks to a very well balanced noise reduction and image processing noise is at low levels and not too intrusive throughout the ISO range.

Exposure is usually spot-on as well, but we found the Lumia to occasionally struggle with white balance and color. Both saturation and contrast tend to be on 'consumer-friendly' high levels on most smartphones, but in some scenes the Lumia is taking things over the top, giving its image output a quite unnatural look. Some images also showed very warm color casts in mixed light situations and, despite the RGB-LED flash, we often found skin tones in flash portraits to be too red. The same color problems can be spotted when recording video where, in addition, some clips also showed quite abrupt white balance transitions.

Luckily, for still images at least, all color problems can be made to disappear when you are shooting in DNG Raw mode. Apart form the ability to adjust the white balance post-capture you can also squeeze some additional detail out of the DNG files. 

The Final Word

It's probably fair to say the Microsoft Lumia 950 is not for everyone. Its imaging feature set lacks a long way behind most competitors and the selection of Windows 10 photo apps is, compared to Android and iOS, sparse to say the least. In terms of image quality we weren't always too happy with the Lumia's saturation levels and white balancing.

That said, detail and noise levels are consistently good across the ISO range and if you are the kind of mobile photographer who can live without the latest apps or award-winning design but values more 'traditional' photography features, such as the ability to capture Raw images, comprehensive manual control and a real shutter button, the Lumia 950 might be just what you've been looking for. At a street price of currently almost $500 for an unlocked device, the Lumia 950 is not a bargain though and fighting against strong competition from the Android camp.

Microsoft Lumia 950
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Screen Quality
Ergonomics and Handling
Video Quality
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Microsoft Lumia 950 is capable of capturing very good image detail and maintains low noise levels across the ISO range. However, it is slightly let down by very saturated images and white balance instabilities. The imaging feature set lacks behind the competition but Raw mode, manual control in an intuitive user interface and a hardware shutter button will appeal to many users. Overall, the Lumia 950 is not for everyone but if you can live with its weaknesses, or are willing to work around them, it can be a very good tool for mobile photographers.
79%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

There are 33 images in our Microsoft Lumia 950 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. 

Microsoft Lumia 950 Review Samples

33 images • Posted on Mar 31, 2016 • View album
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