Camera head to head: Lumia 950 XL vs (Xiaomi) POCO F2 Pro

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A few days ago I pitched the new POCO F2 Pro against the Lumia 950 XL, spec for spec, with a view to it perhaps being a viable across-the-board upgrade. Its imaging system seemed a bit limited in terms of raw specs (no OIS, no telephoto lens), which is why I present my usual multi-scene pixel analysis below – can the POCO F2 Pro get close to the Lumia in terms of image quality? 

950 XL and POCO F2 Pro

Let’s start with a few basic specs:

Lumia 950 XL (2015) POCO F2 Pro (2020)

20 MP (oversampled to 8MP in 16:9 mode here), f/1.9, 1/2.4″, PDAF, OIS

Main camera: 64 MP (pixel binned to 12MP), f/1.9, 1/1.72″, PDAF
‘Telephoto macro’ (2x) camera (for ultra close-ups): 5 MP, f/2.2, AF
Wide angle: 13 MP, f/2.4

So the Lumia has a smaller sensor but arguably a better oversampling system, plus OIS, so I’m expecting the 2015 Windows phone to do well, but can the much newer and larger sensor, backed by immense computing power from the Xiaomi/POCO phone level the playing field? Notably the latter lacks OIS, lacks (as on other Android flagships) ‘Dual Pixel’ (or laser) autofocus, but as you’ll see below, these aren’t missed that much.

Notes:

  • I’ve shot at 16:9 at the default output resolutions on each (leaving headroom for some lossless ‘PureView’ zoom into the 950 XL’s sensor (and ‘pixel binning’ on the Xiaomi device) and also getting the advantages of oversampling and noise reduction).
  • All photos were taken on full auto and handheld, as a regular user would do. No tripods or RAW editing sessions needed!

Let’s pit the results against each other, using our Famed Interactive Comparator (FIC). All 1:1 crops are at 900×500 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 landscape

A green scene (beyond a chain fence, so I couldn’t get closer, presenting a real world challenge), with an interesting (moving) wind vane set as a focus point. Here is the overall scene, unzoomed, from the Lumia 950:

Full scene

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and POCO F2 Pro (2020), 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 and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

There’s clearly edge enhancement and sharpening in use here, but it’s much subtler than on some 2020 flagships. You could even argue that the POCO crop is better than the Lumia’s, in that the green is more natural and (with the latter in 8MP mode) there’s more natural pixel detail. But I think a score draw is fair here. No complaints, even at the pixel level, from either phone camera.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 10 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 10 pts

Test 2: Sunny landscape, zoomed

The same scene but zoomed to 2x or thereabouts – neither phone camera claims any degree of decent zoom, so this is just for interest sake. You can grab the original zoomed photos from the Lumia 950 XL and POCO F2 Pro (2020), 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 and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

The Lumia 950 XL gets to 2x zoom with 0.5x lossless ‘PureView’ cropping and then 0.5x digital zoom, and the results are a bit blocky, as you can see above. Not totally unusable, but I wouldn’t ever push a 950 beyond 2x…. The POCO F2 Pro’s 64MP sensor should be able to zoom to 2x ‘losslessly’, albeit by interpolating some of the pixel colour data, but I was disapointed by the shot here, you can see even more pixel level uncertainty than on the Lumia. I suspect that the POCO imaging software is simply taking the pixel-binned 12MP shot and then upsampling it – which is a shame.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 7 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 6 pts

Test 3: More nature, the hardest subject

An overcast nature scene, a tough test of the imaging algorithms, with a zillion small edges and fractals. Here is the overall scene, unzoomed, from the Lumia 950:

Full scene

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and POCO F2 Pro (2020), 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 and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

This is all really interesting – the POCO F2 Pro’s image processing, in terms of edges and sharpening, is very close to the Lumia’s, while delivering better HDR and colours which scream off the page without seeming too crazy. I’m impressed. Now, to my eyes, the scene wasn’t quite as vibrant as the POCO F2 Pro makes out, but I don’t really care at this point – I think Xiaomi’s software engineeers are doing a great job. The Lumia 950 XL really needed the sun to be out, I think – its image is too dull and there’s a slight (typical) colour cast.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 8 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 10 pts

Test 4: Arty signage

A slightly arty shot, shooting small detail on a sign (tapping to focus), leaving the nature scene to blur naturally in the background. Here is the overall scene, unzoomed, from the Lumia 950:

Full scene

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and POCO F2 Pro (2020), 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 and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

There’s quite a bit to unpack here – the different colour processing on the signs first – the Lumia’s rendition is a bit too green and the POCO’s a lot too blue! The actual colour is a turquoise, halfway between the two, so no winner here. The larger aperture on the POCO phone leads to more natural bokeh, which you’d probably want for a shot like this. The POCO F2 Pro’s shot is clearly heavily processed, evidenced by the paler, slightly artificial grain on the wood, but it doesn’t fall down the trap many other modern smartphone camera systems fail on – there’s little ugly edge enhancement, so the text retains the right font and weight.

The Lumia 950’s shot is closer to original colours overall, so gets a narrow win, but both photos are decent enough.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 10 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 9 pts

Test 5: Indoors, artificial light

In this case a rack of wine bottles in a shop, lit only by fluorescent lights several metres above. Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950:

Full scene

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and POCO F2 Pro (2020), 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 and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

The extra processing from the POCO F2 Pro’s software and powerful chipset works wonder on textual and line art detail here, plus the white labels are more accurate in colour, so this is an easy win for the new Android flagship. Tempting though it is to have shot the Lumia 950 XL in full on 16MP mode to gain extra detail, this does eliminate any of the oversampling purification, plus Xiaomi fans might then point out that the POCO F2 Pro can shoot at 64MP if needed, easily winning such a resolution war!

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 8 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 10 pts

Test 6: Low indoor light

A nice bunch of flowers at a metre, lit only by a single incandescent lamp in the corner of the room – so… gloomy. Here is the overall scene from the Lumia 950:

Full scene

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and POCO F2 Pro (2020), 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 and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Hmm…. so much for the Quad bayer pixel binning and lowering noise – the smaller sensor of the Lumia with ‘traditional’ oversampling of the RGB 20MP sensor produces dramatically better results here, as you can see. This is a software problem, mind you – I was running a GCam port in parallel to all these shots on the POCO F2 Pro, and this was the only one where GCam beat out the POCO F2 Pro’s native processing. So hopefully Xiaomi/POCO can improve things in a software update.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 6 pts

Test 7: Impossible light (just because Night modes exist)

While shooting flowers, we had another bunch in the hallway. No direct light and it was almost completely dark, FAR darker than the Lumia makes it look below. But against this we have the modern fad of multi-second, multi-frame aligned exposures, picking colour and detail out of what would normally be impossible lighting. Here is the overall scene from the Lumia 950:

Full scene

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and POCO F2 Pro (2020) (in its dedicated Night Mode), for your own analysis. Note that I did try long exposures on the Lumia, up to a second, but despite the OIS they turned out too blurry, i.e. my hand shake was un-correctable. 

To look at the images in more detail here, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, from the Lumia 950 XL and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

The multi-frame Night Mode did pretty well in terms of colour, picking out true flower colours even in almost total darkness. Having said that, the Lumia has just as much actual detail (albeit more noise) with just a single 0.28s exposure. Which is impressive in its own way. But still, kudos for the existence of a fancy Night Mode that can do this sort of thing, and a win for the POCO phone.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 8 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 9 pts

Test 8: Night time

My standard suburban ‘night’ scene, taken an hour after sunset and darker than the photos make it seem. A great test for phone cameras though! Here is the overall scene, from the Lumia 950:

Full scene

You can grab the original photos from the Lumia 950 XL and POCO F2 Pro (2020), 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 and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

I’ve seen worse. Referring to the sharpening and contrast-enhancement that makes a bit of a mess of details in this night shot from the POCO F2 Pro, I’ve seen a lot worse. But hopefully your own eyes can attest to the superiority of the Lumia’s PureView oversampling producing a softer but more natural image and one which could always be sharpened later if required.

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 7 pts

Test 9: Macro, macro

Something a little different, I thought I’d note that the POCO F2 Pro has a dedicated ‘telephoto macro’ camera – the idea is that it lets you get optically closer to already close items. In practice this means outrageously close. So detail on a snail’s shell or corrugations on a coin, that sort of thing. The problem is that most of the time you’ll never need to get that close. So here we have a lovely opened out lily, perfect for some flower detail.

To look at the images, here are scaled versions, from the Lumia 950 XL and then POCO F2 Pro, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

So the POCO phone’s macro lens absolutely works. Focussing is a bit hit and miss but accurate to two inches in practice, meaning half that in terms of where the optics end up. But as the example above shows, you have to think in terms of very niche use cases – for real world objects (flowers, typically?), the main camera lenses get perfectly close ‘enough’ and give a sense of detail with just the right depth of field.  I’m going to award equal points here because the two shots have equal merit. One might have wanted to snap the full flower, or one might have wanted extreme detail on one specific part of it, etc. 

Microsoft Lumia 950 XL: 9 pts; POCO F2 Pro (2020): 9 pts

Verdict

For the record, the scores add up as:

  • Lumia 950 (late 2015): 78 pts 
  • POCO F2 Pro (2020): 76 pts

So a narrow win for the five year old PureView Lumia, though though that doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, the POCO F2 Pro impressed me with its restrained processing – no Samsung-esque over-sharpening and ugly edge enhancement. Almost reminiscent of the Lumia Camera ‘slightly sharp’ algorithms, in fact. 

Where the 2019/20 phone cameras that beat the Lumia won was in zoom, with 5x and even 10x being quite practical in some cases, thanks to periscope optics. But here there’s no pretense at zoom of any kind, unusually. You do get an extra wide angle camera, but I rarely test these. What’s clear though is that if you don’t need zoom much (perhaps you’re not into snapping garden squirrels and the like?) then the POCO F2 Pro camera – despite its lack of OIS – will serve very nicely indeed. There’s extra contrast and colour punched into the processing, but it’s not excessive and it’s often not only appropriate but also very pleasing.

The POCO F2 Pro does fall down in a couple of ways for me personally, such as missing Qi wireless charging and stereo speakers, but if these aren’t deal-breakers for you then this is an awful lot of 5G 2020 flagship for not that much money – we’re expecting under £500 at UK launch later this month. (It’s available on Amazon UK as I write this, but stock comes with EU mains plugs, etc.)

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