Camera head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs Xiaomi Mi Note 10 (108MP)

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When the 108MP (Samsung) sensor was announced for the new Xiaomi flagship, it got everyone's attention. Was this a new high water mark in phone imaging? Or just another bullet point to pull in buyers without any real world benefit? A bit of both, as I discover below...

Let's start with a few specs, obviously favouring the far newer device, but worth noting anyway:

Lumia 950 XL Xiaomi Mi Note 10

Single camera:

20 MP, f/1.9, 1/2.4", PDAF, OIS

Five cameras(!):

108 MP, f/1.7, 1/1.33", PDAF, Laser AF, OIS

12 MP, f/2.0, telephoto, 1/2.55", Dual Pixel PDAF, Laser AF, 2x optical zoom

5 MP (upscaled to 8MP), f/2.0, telephoto, PDAF, Laser AF, OIS, 5x optical zoom

20 MP, f/2.2, ultrawide, 1/2.8", Laser AF

2 MP, f/2.4, 1/5", macro

I have to say upfront that, despite the impressive numbers for the Mi Note 10, the specs make little sense. The whole point in having a giant 108MP camera, I'd have thought, would be that you can do lossless zoom up to at least 3x - so what's the point in the dedicated 2x telephoto above? The 5x telephoto is more obvious, though even here there are compromises in terms of the upscaling and smaller aperture. And don't get me started on the 2MP macro lens.

Now, it's possible that Xiaomi is combining the output from multiple cameras above, applying the appropriate parallax corrections, and therefore getting higher quality and better zoom. And, I've no doubt, it'll zoom better than the 950 XL here, for which zoom beyond 1.5x is an Achilles heel. But I can't help but think that Xiaomi is just throwing different camera hardware at the wall in seemingly random fashion - and I just can't see the point in a 108MP camera outputting 27MP only (there are no lower options at 1x zoom). 27MP is way too high for normal usage - not for the first time, what I'd like to have seen would be a 16:1 Bayer pixel binning scheme, giving even better low light shots, with almost zero noise. Oh well.

Anyway, on with the tests. Can Microsoft's 2015 Lumia flagship/camera champion get close to the 'state of the art' in Android high end imaging as we head into 2020, almost half a decade later?

Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10

Notes:

  • I've shot at the default output resolutions on each, leaving headroom for some lossless 'PureView' zoom into the sensors and also getting the advantages of oversampling and noise reduction. Though the mismatch between the (sensible) 8MP of the Lumia and the (insane) 27MP of the Xiaomi make it hard to do direct comparisons, so I've had to cheat a little on non-zoomed shots for web viewing here and downsample them from the Mi Note 10 to 12-16MP (4:3) territory. I think that's a fair compromise, leaving some of the extra resolution* evident without causing such a mismatch that comparisons can't easily be seen. And don't worry about matching aspect ratios either - I'll handle all that for you in the comparators. If you think that my downsampling is arbitrary then you're right - except that the output resolution of the Mi Note 10 is all over the place, depending on zoom and light levels. It varies wildly and non-obviously between 27MP, 12MP and 8MP. So... I'm just doing my best here.
      * [What's that? You wanted me to shoot in the 108MP mode? Get out of here, that's just CRAZY! I'm struggling to think of ANY use case for such images, other than crowd scenes that you want to examine individual faces later on?]
  • As usual, I've deliberately thrown in mainly tricky shots 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!
  • The Mi Note 10 photos mostly have an applied watermark, bottom left. This is optional but on by default. I discovered it (ahem) after shooting my samples in the rain, when back at base!
  • The weather wasn't kind to me - gloomy in the day and raining at night. Regardless, I still have samples for your interest!

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: Gloomy greenery

A garden shot in winter gloom, with rain incoming. Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950 XL:

Example scene thumbnail

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

Exposure aside, there's not much difference here. But I have to give the 950 the win for the brighter result and the slightly purer details. It's a margin call, but the Mi Note 10's 1/1.3" certainly gets close to the 1/2.4" PureView sensor on the Lumia. 

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 10 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 9 pts

Test 2: Gloomy greenery, now zoomed

The same scene, but with 2x zoom applied. So 1.5x PureView and 0.5x lossy on the Lumia, but using the 2x telephoto on the Mi Note 10 etc.(as there's enough light.) You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

What a mess. From both phone cameras. The Lumia's is blocky and ugly, as we'd expect, but I did think the 2x telephoto on the Mi Note 10 would do batter. There's so much artificial sharpening that the photo is ruined, in my eyes. Clearly, this is something Xiaomi can fix in updates, if they have the will. But even with the sharpening, the image is several notches better than the lossy zoom on the Lumia, so the Mi Note 10 gets its first of many wins.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 6 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 8 pts

Test 3: Bonus points for more zoom

The same scene, but now with 5x zoom applied on the Mi Note 10, since it would be unfair of me not to show what it can do. For dramatic effect, I'll compare this to the unzoomed PureView Lumia shot. You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

Although 5x optical zoom in a phone is still an achievement, the Xiaomi image processing is still a mess, with way too much sharpening here, I contend. I'd have liked to have seen a much more natural look, rather than something that looks like it's been photocopied ten times!

Still, 5x is worth an extra point or two, I think. Fair's fair.

Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 2 bonus pts

Test 4: Indoor, clock detail

It's now raining outside, so here's an indoor close-up shot, about 30cm from an antique clock with lovely face detail. Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950 XL:

Example scene thumbnail

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

A clear win for the much more mature image processing on the Lumia - despite the cover glass you get the lovely colours of the decorative inside border, plus you also get the real gold of the hands. The Xiaomi image processing handles the detail (as you'd expect with 108MP to draw from), but the colours are pale and cold by comparison.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 10 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 8 pts

Test 5: Low light interior

Inside an unlit church, with feeble daylight from small windows - and loads of detail. Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950 XL, made to look lighter than it actually was:

Example scene thumbnail

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

This is an example of where a little sharpening helps, of course. Masses of detail (also helped by that 108MP sensor) and some image processing creates an image that's pretty stunning considering how gloomy it was inside. The 950's photo is very 'natural', butin this case I'm plumping for the Mi Note 10's enhancements.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 10 pts

Test 6: Stained glass

Always a testing subject, given the distance (raised up) and extremes of light, colour and contrast. Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950 XL:

Example scene thumbnail

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

Detail is similar - the quality here from both phone cameras is astonishing, but the Lumia has to take the win here by a nose, with richer, more vibrant colours. As befits stained glass!

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 10 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 9 pts

Test 7: It's that plaque again...

This plaque is high on the wall in the church, unlit and almost impossible to read with the naked eye. Which is why phone cameras are a way to go - and impressively so! Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950 XL, again making the scene far lighter than it was to the eye, thanks to the OIS and a long exposure:

Example scene thumbnail

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

Astonishing detail from the Mi Note 10 here, its image processing is, perhaps, optimised for artificial/textual detail? Even with the slight downsampling here for the web crop comparison, the detail in the text is very impressive. Larger sensor, higher native resolution, and so on. It's paying off for Xiaomi here.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 8 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 10 pts

Test 8: ...and zooming in...

Of course, with the plaque high up, it's a natural thing to want to zoom in a little in the phone's UI. Say by 2x again. You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

Even more so than the grass in the zoom test shot above, this shows that Xiaomi is in real trouble with its image processing from its telephoto lenses. Coming from a world of Lumias, which don't zoom elegantly, but at least you can recognise what you're looking at, and from the world of the iPhone 11 Pro, which shows incredible fidelity and balance when zooming, this effort from the Mi Note 10 is very disapoointing.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 7 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 4 pts

Test 9: Night time

A shop front in light rain at night - loads of detail, but a real challenge to shoot. Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950 XL:

Example scene thumbnail

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

Very impressive from the Mi Note 10's main camera - back in the day Nokia struggled to put OIS on a camera unit with a 1/1.5" sensor, saying the optics were just too big, and the Lumia 1020 shipped with a kludge of a ball bearing mechanism as a result. Xiaomi/Samsung have managed to put OIS into the optics of this 108MP unit with even larger 1/1.3" sensor, and you can see the results for yourself above. You can read ALL of the text on the A4 sheet inside the window. Even the mighty Lumia 950 is struggling here, so we have a new high water benchmark for single shot night photos, I think. Then, to blow your mind further, remember that this Mi Note 10 photo was downsampled by about 50% for this comparison. So it actually had twice the detail, potentially. See the original JPG linked above!

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 8 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 10 pts

Test 10: In the rain

Night time still, and in light rain, here's a street-lit corner building, a test shot I've used before because of the signs and other interesting detail. Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950 XL:

Example scene thumbnail

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

Interestingly, the Lumia 950 XL does as well here. And it shows what a lottery night time shots can be. I use them because they show what the raw hardware can pull out in terms of light gathering, but you can see why most flagships (including the Mi Note 10) also have a separate 'Night mode', in which many exposures are combined.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 9 pts

Test 11: Night zoom

One last night test, trying 2x zoom to an illuminated church tower. Here is the overall zoomed scene, from the Lumia 950 XL:

Example scene thumbnail

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and Xiaomi Mi Note 10, for your own analysis.

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL (top) and then Mi Note 10 (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 Mi Note 10 1:1 crop

Again, there's not much to choose between the two crops - the Mi Note 10 drops back to 'PureView' lossless zoom on its main 108MP sensor when light is very low, as here, meaning that the fairly ropey processing from the 2x telephoto (see above) isn't an issue. So the lossy 2x zoom on the 950 XL's camera is more or less matched by the lossless PureView zoom on top of the quad-Bayer system used on the Mi Note 10. Both phone cameras did better than I thought they would though, zooming at night, etc.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; Xiaomi Mi Note 10: 9 pts

Verdict

For the record, the scores add up as:

  1. Xiaomi Mi Note 10 (late 2019): 88 pts (/110)
  2. Lumia 950 XL (late 2015): 86 pts 

So a pretty close run thing overall, which is a compliment to the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, since I don't think a phone of their has ever even got close to the old Lumia champion, let alone beaten it. What's hidden in the totals though is that the star feature of the Xiaomi imaging system is - not surprisingly - that giant, stabilised, 1/1.3" 108MP sensor. This is treated fairly well in terms of image processing and shots taken with this come out with immense detail and possibilities. I even shot a test at the full 108MP, for your interest and analysis. 

In fact, I'd love to have seen just this sensor, combined with wide angle, perhaps, a much simpler imaging system overall. Because it's putting in the much smaller 2x and 5x telephoto lenses that devalue everything - the results from these currently have poor image processing and they're just not worth it. Of course, Xiaomi will put out updates, so let's hope for the best. The Mi Note 10 camera system has the potential to rival the best in the world (Pixel 4, arguably, or iPhone 11 pro), but it's going to need work by Xiaomi to make results consistent whichever camera is being used at any particular time.

In short - as with the Pixel 4 series, to be fair - wait and see. This phone camera will get better!