Microsoft Lumia 950 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Camera Comparison

Microsoft Lumia 950 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Camera Comparison

One of the features that Windows Phone enthusiasts are most excited (and skeptical) about in the Microsoft Lumia 950 is the camera.

It’s fair. Windows Phone enthusiasts are used to being jerked around. Remember when the best bargain in smart phones was the Nokia Lumia 520? A quality phone for under $50. Then, low end Lumias ended up being a race to the bottom. Remember when Windows Phone had the best voice assistant? Now, it’s coming to Android and iOS. Photosynth? Lumia Camera? MSN apps?

I know I’m being extreme but I’m using extreme arguments to make an non-extreme point.

The camera is another example. Windows Phone used to have the best cameras around. The Nokia Lumia 920 was great for the average user and the Nokia Lumia 1020 was great for the pro. Unfortunately, they were slow to focus and take the picture. When Apple and Samsung started using phase detection autofocus and their cameras got better and better, it became unclear why Lumias still had the best cameras.

Lumia enthusiasts and smart phone camera enthusiasts are still burned by Microsoft’s decision not to follow up on the Nokia Lumia 1020 as well. It began to appear that Microsoft wasn’t prioritizing camera technology in the way that Nokia did.

Then we get the Microsoft Lumia 950 and Microsoft Lumia 950 XL. Both of them get a 20 MP sensor, the same resolution as the Lumia 930, Icon, and 1520. Naturally, enthusiasts assume that Microsoft hasn’t made any improvements.

It’s important to note at this point that smart phone OEMs have done a magnificent job of convincing the public that megapixels are what make a camera great. Sure, some people will tell you that “more megapixels doesn’t necessarily mean a better camera”, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter at all, especially when you’re looking at 20 MP.

Note that there is a benefit to a higher resolution photo. The only benefit is that the user has more room to crop the photo without losing quality.

The fact is that the Lumia 950 is a brand new sensor. It focuses super fast and takes great photos in automatic mode, making it great for the average user. It also has great manual controls.

I’ve already written up comparisons between the Lumia 950 and the Lumia 1020 and the Lumia 930. It was important to first see how the Lumia 950 sizes up with the former legends.

Now, I want to compare the Lumia 950 camera to the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. The Galaxy Note 5 is the first non-Windows Phone that I’ve compared the Lumia 950 to and there’s a reason for that.

Based on the feedback that I’ve received in various other comparisons I’ve done, the Galaxy Note 5 seems to always win. Sure, there are other great cameras out there and some of them might be objectively better, but the Galaxy Note 5 was the place to start.

The other reason that I’ve chosen a non-Windows Phone to compare it to is because the rest of the market has caught up. It’s no longer a given that a flagship Lumia has the best camera on the market. I’m anxious to see how this comparison turns out.


Microsoft Lumia 950 Samsung Galaxy Note 5
CPU Snapdragon 808, 1.82 GHz Dual Core ARM Cortex-A57, 1.44 GHz Quad Core ARM Cortex-A53 Exynos 7420, 2.1 GHz Quad Core ARM Cortex-A57, 1.5 GHz Quad Core ARM Cortex-A53
GPU Adreno 418 Mali-T760MP8
Display 5.2″, 1440p, 564 ppi, AMOLED 5.7″, 1440p, 518 ppi, AMOLED
Body 145×73.2×8.2 mm, 150 g 153.2×76.1×7.6 mm, 171 g
Camera 20 MP, 4992х3744, 5 MP Front 16 MP, 5312×2988, 5 MP Front
Video 4K – 30 fps, 1080p – 60 fps, Front 1242p – 30 fps 4K – 30 fps, 1080p – 60 fps, Front 1440p – 30 fps
Aperture f/1.9 f/1.9
Sensor Size 1/2.4″ 1/2.6″
Storage 32 GB, Expandable to 2 TB 32/64 GB
Battery 3000 mAh 3000 mAh

By the way, that is absolutely not a typographical error. The Microsoft Lumia 950 actually does record video at 1242p with the front camera, for whatever reason.

Obviously, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is a much more powerful phone. The Samsung Exynos 7420 is just a beast. The Snapdragon 808, well, it isn’t, especially when it’s powering a 1440p display.

Speaking of 1440p displays, both of these devices are both 1440p and AMOLED. The Lumia 950 is 5.2″, making it tied with the Samsung Galaxy S6 for the second highest pixel density of any phone in the world, right behind Sony’s ridiculously high resolution Xperia Z5 Premium.

Rear Camera

As I mentioned earlier, the resolution of the camera doesn’t matter until you crop the images. This is because the resolution of the image is larger than the resolution of the display that you’re viewing them on. 720p is 1 MP, 1080p is 2.1 MP, 1440p is 3.7 MP, and 4K is 8.3 MP, but that’s all at 16:9, so if you take your photos at 4:3, as you should, that 4K resolution is down to about 6.2 MP.

The hardware on each camera is also pretty similar. They both have large sensors, 1/2.4″ and 1/2.6″, and they both have f/1.9 apertures. This is great news for pros that know how to use manual controls, but what about the average consumer?

When I say that average consumer, I mean the guy that wants to use his smart phone to catch his kid’s first steps and not miss it because his Lumia 1020’s camera takes five seconds to load. Even the intermediate to advanced consumers might want to make use of those pro features while still wanting to capture those important moments.

Good news! Both the Galaxy Note 5 and the Lumia 950 are super fast. Samsung uses phase detection autofocus (PDAF) in their cameras, which allows them to focus super fast and allows the user to take a perfect photo quickly.

The Lumia 950 has what Microsoft calls “fast focus”, which I believe is PDAF, although I really can’t find a solid source to confirm that. A friend over at Windows Central said that he saw a spec sheet that said PDAF is, in fact, a feature but it’s not really confirmed.

Also, both phones have optical image stabilization (OIS). Nokia was one of the first to implement OIS in smart phone cameras, making the Lumia 950 fifth generation OIS. In fact, Pureview has two definitions. The main thing a camera has to have to be considered Pureview is OIS. The other thing that it might have is oversampling, a 20 or 41 MP image that gets oversampled down to 5 MP (now 8 MP).

Both cameras have a pro mode with manual controls and an automatic mode with tap to focus. In fact, they’re both among few phones that excel at both.

Samsung has a bunch of downloadable plug-ins that can be useful. For example, there’s a plug-in to record an animated GIF. There’s another for a rear camera selfie, which detects the users face and takes the picture.

Microsoft is getting their software game together. Back in the days of the Nokia Camera app, it was great for those that want to use manual controls, but not much else. It took multiple steps to switch between rear and front cameras. Nokia also took to the strategy of having separate apps that do separate things. For example, you couldn’t do panoramas in the Lumia Camera app. You needed the Lumia Panorama app.

Microsoft is gradually killing off the individual apps and integrating them into the new Windows Camera app in Windows 10. Unfortunately, they seem to be killing off those apps before they implement the features in Windows Camera.

One more thing I want to point out is the physical camera button on the Microsoft Lumia 950. It’s a button that allows the user to launch the camera while the phone is locked, take a picture, or hold to take video. I like it because pressing the camera button feels like pressing a shutter button on a real camera. Of course, most phones without a physical camera button give the user to access the camera from the lock screen.

Microsoft Lumia 950 Samsung Galaxy Note 5

After arranging the photos in the gallery here, I flipped through them. Ultimately, I think the Lumia 950 does a better job, although that’s a matter of opinion. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 oversaturates the images. That may be good for some people and bad for others. The Lumia 950 is more true to life.

One thing that is clear is that the Lumia 950 is much better in low light. I tried to do low light in different kinds of conditions for this purpose and the Lumia trumped the Galaxy in all low light cases.

The triple LED flash shows a difference as well. The dual LED flash on the Galaxy Note 5 makes everything look white.

Front Camera

Both the Microsoft Lumia 950 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 use 5 MP front cameras. One thing to note is that the front camera on the Galaxy Note 5 has the same aperture as its rear camera, f/1.9, which is pretty damn impressive. Very few phones have an aperture larger than f/2 on the main camera, let alone the front camera. The Lumia 950 is f/2.4.

Also, I want to note that neither Samsung nor Microsoft have followed the trend set by LG (and now Motorola and Apple) to light up the screen to serve as a flash for the front camera.

I think it’s fair to say that the Lumia 950 looks better during daylight and the Galaxy Note 5 looks better at night.

I always have a beef with Android front cameras. They all seem to want to smooth over my face, taking away from the sharpness of the photo. Most of them have a beautification slider, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 does not.

About the author
Rich Woods

Being a computer programmer wasn't enough to fulfill his love of technology. In 2013, Rich founded For the Love of Tech and has been writing about his love of tech ever since.

  • Windows10 Fan

    If only the 950 had pen support…

  • Cargo warrior

    Nope, Samsungs front facing camera is better at both night and day but agree that the lumias main does kinda looks better. And you’re fanboyism towards the lumia shines through rather well. Overall the lumia is just shit, continuum is on beta and useless aand it will remain being that for this first generation device, a dead app store, poor multitasking capabilities and more. That is what lumia’s has in it’s arsenal to offer when you compare it to its competition. You have to be mental to pay Microsoft for this beta testing.

    • Bradjm

      You sound upset

      • Cargo warrior

        Yeah i know ?

    • Thanks. I had a good laugh over this.

  • fulvio cas

    I don’t think it’so….. Photos in low light are brighter in lumia but the quality is very poor and unusable, while note 5 gets darker but more “honest”.

    • I’m not sure what you mean there.

      • fulvio cas

        May be my english is not good…. But I mean that, in my opinion, note5 performs better with overall better focus. And in low light with no flash lumia’s photos are unusable even if brighter

        • OK, I see what you mean. The Samsung makes them sharper, but they’re not better focused. You can see other examples like this if you look at other comparisons with the Note 5. Note 5 is always sharper.

    • Orion4tech

      Isn’t that what you want in low light? for you phone to capture more light? It’s only common sense.
      What he presented were quite some extreme cases but in better low light situations it just means that the 950 would perform better than the Note.

      • fulvio cas

        That’s your opinion but I don’t think it is so….. what does it means better light situation. … I only see that low light photos taken with 950 have more light but poor quality. But it is clear that remains a very good camera phone

        • Orion4tech

          I mean if it’s not completely dark like in the photos above, only partial dark. In that situation the 950 would clearly perform better.

          Are you a photo exert or something?(rhetorical question you clearly aren’t)

          The pictures taken whit the Note 5 have less light and are poor quality. So it’s a lose – lose situation no matter how you tackle it.

  • Evildemon

    Well the lumia rear camera is indeed better than galaxy note 5.
    They both have sharp images but lumia looks a lot more color accurate and had better exposure.
    Nontheless, i think its correct to assume that, even having the best camera, Microsoft is not giving a lotnof attention for the canetas, as Nokia used to be 2/3 steps ahead of the competition.
    Great review by the way!

    • I think they’re still focusing on cameras. The camera in the 950 and 950 XL are all new. The problem is that smart phone cameras have become so good, how can you stay two or three steps ahead of the competition? How much further is there to go?

  • Sérgio Oliveira

    Great review but I have two comments
    First : Why do you always take photos from flowers ????? Take indoors house , pub etc. please !
    Second : You forgot the Prol mode on Samsung adjusting WB/ISO etc. you can take better pictures . more natural colors, ok ?