Lumia 950 XL vs Xperia Z5 Camera Comparison

October 8, 2015

Lumia 950 and Xperia Z5 phones side by side

In this article we’ll take a closer look at the difference in specs between the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL and Sony Xperia Z5 primary cameras. As of the time of writing, the Xperia Z5 is positioned at the first place on DxOMark mobile rating table. Many reviews mentioned its impressive autofocus, image stabilization and accurate white balance. It’s interesting to see how the new Lumia 950XL and Lumia 950 (both have the same camera) stand against the currently top performing mobile phone camera.

Let’s first look at the specs.

Lumia 950 XL /
Lumia 950
Xperia Z5
Sensor20MP
1/2.4-in.
BSI CMOS
True 16:9 aspect ratio
23MP
1/2.3-in
Stacked BSI (Exmor RS)
Sensor
Pixel Size
1.12 µm 1.12 µm
Max image
resolution
4992 x 3744 pixels5520 х 4140 pixels
OversamplingYesYes (8MP)
LensZeiss optics
26mm (equivalent)
f/1.9
6-lens optics

- 10 cm minimum focus range
Sony G
24mm f/2.0
AutofocusHybrid AF (contrast-detection and phase-detection)

- two-stage dedicated camera capture key
Hybrid AF (phase-detection and contrast-detection AF system, measured at 30ms)
Max. Video
Recording resolution
4K (3840 x 2160)
30 fps

+ Video light
+ Video zoom
+ optical stabilization works with video recording
+ Lumia rich recording with four microphones
+ MP4/H.264
4K (3840 x 2160)
30 fps
Optical Image
Stabilization
Yes

5th generation
Digital stabilization
(source)
Flashtriple RGB LED flashLED flash

Regarding the Sony Xperia Z5 sensor size. I’ve seen some website mentioning that the Z5 uses a 1/2.4″ sensor, not a 1/2.3″ one. According to sonymobile.com Xperia Z5 official product page, the Z5 main camera uses a newly developed 1/2.3″ 23MP Sony Exmor RS sensor.

As you can see from the above 950XL vs Z5 comparison table, both cameras have very high resolution sensors, 20MP and above.  The pixel size is the same 1.12 microns, and that’s because that although the Z5 has more pixels, it features a larger sensor.

Oversampling, a Gimmick?

In order to get the best low light performance, I always search for a camera that has a sensor with larger pixels. Even for mobile phone, 1.12 micron pixels is pretty low; at least if you compare it to the Nexus 6P 1.55 micron pixels. The good news is that both the Lumia 950 XL and the Xperia Z5 support pixel oversampling technology.

In oversampling technology, you give up resolution in favor of a an image with less noise and more accurate color. It’s mostly useful when shooting in low-light, and when you want to shoot lower resolution images to save up space. The camera utilizes the color data from neighbor pixels to produce a ‘superpixel’. This average process helps done using data collected from several pixels help to reduce digital noise and to produce more accurate color.   This is a better method than just resizing the original image when shooting under restricted lighting conditions.

The Nokia 808 PureView was the first to use this technology (Feb. 2012). There is still a debate whether the oversampling technology is better than just resizing the image on your computer. Many photo editing software also use a basic algorithm that uses the average color data from surrounding pixels to produce a cleaner and sharper image when resizing the image to be smaller than the original. I’ve seen some sample image comparison online, and although the oversampling does help, the difference is not huge as you might think. This is why many people think that oversampling is just a marketing gimmick. I haven’t dug deep into it and see if the technology has been improved since the 808 PureView, but you can found more information about it on my Lumia 1020 post and on this in-depth post on allaboutsymbian.com website.

BTW, the difference between 20MP and 23MP is not that big, 528 extra horizontal pixels and 396 extra vertical pixels.

20MP vs 23MP

20MP vs 23MP

Stacked Sensor Technology Advantages

The Sony Xperia Z5 utilizes a bard new Exmor RS Stacked sensor, compared to the conventional BSI sensor found on the Lumia 950 XL. The Exmor Rs is Sony’s latest innovation in sensor development. The Stacked CMOS image sensor helps to solve many of the problems of the conventional CMOS sensors, including eliminating crosstalk, bringing faster data transfer speeds, providing higher sensitivity, lower power consumption and more; all due to the complete seperation of pixel section and circuit section. For the end user the end results is significantly improve camera performance, and obviously better image quality. You can find out more about this new technology on sony.net.

This is one of the main reasons that Sony Xperia Z5 is performing so well and it was able to achieve such a high score on DxOMark.

Lens and Image Stabilization

Both the 950 XL and Z5 have different lenses. The Lumia 950 XL uses a 26mm equivalent f/1.9 Zeiss lens, and the Xperia Z5 uses a premium Sony G optics 24mm f/2.0 lens. The Microsoft Lumia 950 lens is 0.15 stops faster, allowing approximately 1.11 times more light to pass through the lens.

The Xperia Z5 lens is 2mm wider than the Lumia 950 lens. This means that with the Xperia Z5 you’ll be able to have more part of the scene appear in the photo. Again, it’s not a big difference, but it’s noticeable.

The Xperia Z5 uses a digital stabilizatino, not an optical one. Whether the Microsoft Lumis 950 and 950 XL use a fifth-generation optical image stabilization. I was first confused about whether the Xperia Z5 does have an optical stabilization or not, and what is that ‘Hybrid’ image stabilization that everyone is talking about. I didn’t find any official source of information about that Hybrid IS. I did find some posts written by people who actually talked with Sony officials and they explained to them that it’s a digital stabilization, not an optical one. You can find a link in the comparison table above.

So in that aspect, the Lumia 950 XL does have an advantage, at least when shooting stills.  According to DxOMark, the Z5 has an ‘impressive image stabilization’ for video recording, and according to their review, it’s ahead of the competition. So if you love shooting videos, you can rest assured that the Xperia Z5 will perform admirably when recording videos, especially with the SteadyShot Intelligent Active mode.

Check out this Xperia Z5 stabilization test by SuperSafTV.

Works beautifully, smooth and stable footage!

Another advantage that the Lumia 950 XL has over the Xperia Z5 is that it uses a triple RGB LED flash, that can produce more natural rendering compared to the pulsed single LED flash of the Xperia Z5.

Autofocus

I think that more and more people are giving attention for the autofocus performance.  According to this video (watch at the end), the Lumia 950 does have focus pixels, aka phase-detection AF pixels. So both the Xperia Z5 and Lumia 950 should provide excellent subject tracking performance for both stills and videos.

Conclusion

Both phone cameras have their advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, the Sony Xperia Z5 is favorable due to its Stacked sensor technology,  wider lens  and it’s also waterproof (IP65 and IP68). As we still wait for a sample image comparison, I can assume that the Sony Xperia Z5 will outperform the Lumia 950 / 950 XL in low-light, but the Lumia can surprise due to its slightly faster aperture and optical image stabilization (you can shoot at slower shutter speeds and still maintain a sharp image).

You can now understand why the Sony Xperia Z5 camera was able to score so high. The Microsoft Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL seems to be a very good alternative, and even might produce better looking photos in artificial light due to the triple-LED flash.

Which one you prefer? – share your opinion in the comment section below.



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