Camera head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs LG V50 ThinQ

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Last week, I pitched the new LG V50 ThinQ, with its Dual Screen system, against the Lumia 950 XL, showing that the LG flagship is a fast and capable Android device with interesting, if quirky, possibilities. But there was a question mark over its camera system, so let's rectify that now with a traditional imaging head-to-head against the 950 XL. Has LG messed up its image processing, or is this a return to form?

On paper, the shootout should be pretty equal, in that the 2x telephoto will pull ahead of the Lumia for zoomed shots, while the Lumia's image processing heritage plus its PureView oversampling will deliver purer results. But let's see, I'm always open for surprises (as the iPhone 11 Pro showed, a phone which I'll come back to shortly).

950 and V50

As before, I've deliberately thrown in some tricky shots and zoom 'asks' in the scene selection, to test the USPs here, all photos were taken on full auto and handheld, as a regular user would do. No tripods or RAW editing sessions needed!

Notes:

  • I've also shot at the default output resolutions on each, leaving headroom for lossless PureView zoom on the Lumia and also getting the advantages of oversampling and noise reduction, in an attempt to match the extra lenses on the Note 10+
     
  • The 8MP shot from the Lumia 950 (at 16:9) and the 12MP shot (at 4:3) from the LG V50, added to field of view differences, especially when I start throwing in zoom tests, do mean slightly different crops below, but you'll still be able to compare what each phone camera has achieved.

Let's pit the results against each other, using our Famed Interactive Comparator (FIC). All 1:1 crops are at 900x500 for comparison, though I've put up the originals on my own server, for you to download if you want to do your own analysis.

Note that the interactive comparator below uses javascript and does need to load each pair of images. Please be patient while this page loads, if you see a pair of images above each other than you've either not waited long enough or your browser isn't capable enough! You ideally need a powerful, large-screened tablet or a proper laptop or desktop. This comparator may not work in some browsers. Sorry about that.

On Windows 10 Mobile, use the 'AAWP Universal' UWP app, which handles the comparator very competently (see the tips in the app's help screens)

Test 1: Sunny detail

A nice sunlit church, with oodles of detail. Here is the scene, from the Lumia 950:


You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 and LG V50, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 (top) and then LG V50 (bottom), just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 XL 1:1 crop LG V50 1:1 crop

I'm afraid that one look at the brickwork or at the plants confirms that LG's gone all out on edge enhancement again. Why do companies DO this?? The short answer is that such edge-enhanced photos look 'sharper' on a phone screen. But they look a right royal pig's breakfast when shown larger or when cropped in for any reason. Sigh.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 10 pts; LG V50: 8 pts

Test 2: Sunny zoomed

The same scene, but this time using 2x zoom - telephoto on the V50 and part lossless, part digital zoom on the Lumia. You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 and LG V50, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 (top) and then LG V50 (bottom), just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 XL 1:1 crop LG V50 1:1 crop

The tables are turned here, with the 2x telephoto easily outpacing the part-lossy zoom on the Lumia - and, curiously, the zoomed shot on the V50 doesn't seem anywhere near as ruined by edge enhancement as the photo from the main lens! 

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 7 pts; LG V50: 9 pts

Test 3: Sunny macro

. Here is the scene, from the Lumia 950:


You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 and LG V50, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 (top) and then LG V50 (bottom), just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 XL 1:1 crop LG V50 1:1 crop

The Lumia's shot looks a bit more natural, but both phone cameras bring out all the detail and colour that you'd expect, so I'm not going to split them on score here.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; LG V50: 9 pts

Test 4: HDR test

A different church, shooting almost into the sun - to the eye almost a silhouette, but modern phone algorithms mean multiple exposures and a degree of HDR, to bring out detail in the shadow. Here is the scene, from the Lumia 950:


You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 and LG V50, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 (top) and then LG V50 (bottom), just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 XL 1:1 crop LG V50 1:1 crop

Taken as a whole, the V50 photo looks like a stunning piece of HDR - hyper real and dramatic, but look sclosely, as here, and you can see that the edge enhancement is again a problem, plus the colours in the stonework are way too red. In short, details look like a photocopy of reality, whereas the Lumia's crop looks very real.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 10 pts; LG V50: 8 pts

Test 5: Low light, dusk

Suburbia after sunset, a good test of low light performance. Here is the scene, from the Lumia 950:


You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 and LG V50, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 (top) and then LG V50 (bottom), just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 XL 1:1 crop LG V50 1:1 crop

The V50 doesn't do terribly here - five years ago this would have been good enough, but the Lumia 950 range raised the bar in 2015 and it's still ahead today. And yes, I tried the V50's 'Night mode' too - this didn't help. The V50's edge enhancement adversely affects the finer details, there are artefacts galore, and the colour of the brick houses is just wrong - too red/orange. In contrast, the Lumia 950 serves up its classic 'brighter than reality without going over the top' image and it wins this comparison easily.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; LG V50: 7 pts

Test 6: Low light close-up

A pretty little white moped, but shot under street lights at night. Here is the scene, from the Lumia 950:


You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 and LG V50, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 (top) and then LG V50 (bottom), just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 XL 1:1 crop LG V50 1:1 crop

Two very different approaches to this scene - the Lumia gets much closer to reality in terms of light levels and the white metal is shown reflecting the warm incandescent street lights, but there's something to be admired about the 'pedal to the floor' way that the V50 shows the moped brighter and whiter, plus it brings out numerous details in the handlebar set. At the expense of artefacts and ugly edge enhancement, as usual. But yes, looking at the two photos side by side, I'd pick the V50's as the winner here. Surprisingly so.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 8 pts; LG V50: 9 pts

Test 7: Night challenge

Floodlit church at night, big challenges in terms of plucking detail from darkness. Here is the scene, from the Lumia 950:


You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 and LG V50, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 (top) and then LG V50 (bottom), just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 XL 1:1 crop LG V50 1:1 crop

And so we come to the money shot. The point at which phone cameras' true abilities are revealed. Look at the crops above and you'll see some rather ghastly noise and artefacts from the V50's main camera (look at the car door panels in particular). This is what happens when you rely on post-processing to enhance edges - it sees 'edges' in low light noise and then all hell breaks loose. In contrast, the Lumia 950's PureView processing does its usual oversampling pass and it's done, with a tremendous shot that easily bears cropping in on.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; LG V50: 5 pts

Verdict

For the record, the scores add up as:

  1. Lumia 950 (2015): 62 pts (/70)
  2. LG V50 (2019): 55 pts 

Aside from the terrible night shot, the V50 camera software didn't do too badly. I've seen worse. But LG are just as guilty as Samsung as over-enhancing their JPG output to 'pop' on phone screens and never mind the actual image quality. I've said this before and it bears repeating, when the Lumia 950 arrived I was critical that its output included too much sharpening - compared to the likes of the Lumia 1020, which remains super-pure. Yet, by comparison, today's smartphone cameras are dramatically worse in in the over-sharpening, edge-enhancing stakes. They make the Lumia 950 look like an original 40MP PureView device. It's all relative!

It should be pointed out that I didn't show the wide angle camera on the V50, because there's nothing to compare it to on the Lumia side, and that this works pretty well. But although wide angle shots are fun and full of novelty (as in, how did you get this shot?!), I agree with Google (for one) that if you're going to add another lens to a camera system then I personally would rather have a telephoto. With the added benefit that such systems are easier to compare to classic Lumias, as here.

The quest goes on for Lumia owners who want to move to a smartphone on a future-proof OS that also has a camera that's not a downgrade from the 950. Right now, the only device I can recommend is the iPhone 11 Pro range. And that's mightily expensive. And which I'll come back to when its 'Deep Fusion' upgrade rolls out (in the next week or two?)

Watch this space for more features.... I'm not giving up in my quest to find a range of upgrade options for you all!!