Microsoft Lumia 950 Review

June 27, 2016 | Amy Davies | Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


The Microsoft Lumia 950 was announced towards the end of 2015 and is a flagship phone for the company, introducing the Windows 10 operating system to mobile phones.

It has a 20 million pixel sensor camera, which is 1/2.4 inch in size. That is coupled with a Zeiss 6-lens optic with a maximum aperture of f/1.9 on the rear camera, and a 5 million pixel front-facing camera with a maximum f/2.4 aperture.

Other specifications include 4K video recording, the ability to expand the phone’s memory via a MicroSD card, a 5.2 inch WQHD AMOLED screen and of course the ability to make phone calls. There’s also a 5.7 inch “XL” version of the phone available.

The main purpose of this review will be to look at the performance of the two on-board cameras, and how the phone works in other photographic related ways.

Ease of Use

With a 5.2 inch screen, the Microsoft Lumia 950 is on the large side of phone sizes, but it doesn’t venture into “phablet” category.

In order to insert the SIM card, and the optional Micro SD memory card, you’ll first need to remove the back of the phone. There’s a small indent on the bottom of your phone which you need to slide a nail into and push the back of the phone off. Once you’ve done that you’ll be able to remove the battery and insert the SIM card. You don’t need to take the battery out to insert and remove the memory card. Further good news is if your battery life starts to diminish as the phone gets older - unlike some phones (for example the iPhone), the battery can be replaced by a new one if necessary.

To charge the battery, you’ll need to use the supplied cable or charger as Microsoft uses a proprietary connection, rather than the microUSB used by many Android phones - bad news if you run out of juice while out and about and can’t find a replacement.

The only physical buttons that can be found on the Microsoft Lumia 950 are all located on the right hand side of the phone. There’s a power on button, a rocking switch can be used to adjust volume and a third button which you can use as the camera shutter release.

Microsoft Lumia 950
Front of the Microsoft Lumia 950

As is common with most phones, you’ll undertake the rest of the operation via the onscreen icons, three of which will always appear at the bottom of the screen.

There’s a back button, a search button and a Windows / Home button which allows you to get back to the home screen whenever you need to. You’ll probably find that most of the time you’ll need to use the phone with two hands, however, if you hold down the windows icon on the touchscreen, you’ll enter into “one-handed operation” mode, which pushes down everything on screen into the bottom half of the screen so you can use just one hand (or thumb) to reach whatever you need. Once you’re done, you can either hold down the windows button again, or tap in the top half of the screen to re-enter full screen mode.

The Lumia 950 was the first phone to be equipped with the Windows 10 operating system, and if you use a Windows computer it’s likely you’ll feel relatively at home with the operating system here. It’s pretty different to iOS or Android though, so if you’re moving over from a different type of smartphone, you might take a bit of time to get used to where everything is.

There are two ways to access the onboard camera app on the Microsoft Lumia 950. If you hold down the button on the bottom right hand corner from the lock screen the camera will start - you can then use the same button to take a shot.

Microsoft Lumia 950
Front of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Alternatively you can tap the camera icon from the main menu screen. Once you’re in the camera app, it’s a reasonably straightforward process - you can choose to shoot in completely automatic if you wish.

If you want to change some settings, you can expand the quick menu on the top of the screen, where you’ll find options for altering white balance, ISO (sensitivity), shutter speed, exposure and focusing. If you tap any of these icons a virtual dial will appear on the screen and you can use your finger to make adjustments. You can drag the dial all the way down to the bottom to take it back to “automatic”.

It’s a shame you can’t set aperture with the camera, as it would have made it fully manual. However on the plus side, you can shoot in the universal DNG raw format. To do this you need to tape on the three dots icon in the top right hand corner of the screen where you can find an extra settings menu. If you scroll down you’ll find “Image size for main camera”, where you can choose to shoot just in JPEG at 16MP or 8MP, or JPEG 8MP + DNG 16MP together. Alternatively you can shoot JPEGs or RAW at 19MP if you shoot in the 4:3 ratio. There doesn’t seem to be a way to shoot both JPEG and DNG at 16MP/19MP at the same time though.

There are a few other settings changes you can make from this menu, including aspect ratio, whether to display a framing grid, whether to use the focus light, whether to capture “living images”, video quality and how the camera button acts if you hold it down (you can either have it activate video recording, take a burst of photos, or do nothing at all).

Microsoft Lumia 950
Rear of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Another menu you’ll find after pressing the three dots icon is named “Lenses” - this is basically where you can add extra camera apps from the Windows app store. Although Windows mobile doesn’t have quite so many apps as Android or iOS, there’s still quite a few to choose from in the app store which give you extra functionality - many of which are free.

It’s also perhaps worth noting, giving its popularity, that while Instagram is available for Windows mobile, it’s currently still in beta and won’t appear as part of the “lenses” area of the camera app. Presumably, the development of the Instagram app will depend on its popularity.

As with most smartphones, the Lumia 950 doesn’t have an optical zoom. You can utilise the digital zoom by swiping upwards on the screen, and downwards again to zoom back out. When you zoom in, the image will become very pixellated - but this won’t be reflected in the final image as shot by the camera.

Microsoft Lumia 950
Camera Settings

The Microsoft Lumia 950 also gives you the option to create what it calls “living photos”. This essentially means that it will record a couple of seconds of video to accompany every photo. Cleverly, the 950 will only do this if it detects motion - so if you’re photographing a person waving (for example), then a living image will be created. If you’re just photographing a still life, such as a flower, then just a standard still image will be recorded. You can’t create living images when shooting in raw format though, which is a bit of a shame (even if you have dual raw and JPEG switched on). To play back the “living image” on the phone, you press down on the image you’re looking at and the short video clip will start to play. You can also export the video so that other people can see it, too. While you can’t switch living images on or off for individual photos, you can choose to either always record them (when motion is present), or never record them.

Focusing speeds for the Lumia 950 are pretty swift when shooting in good light, however it can occasionally struggle with focusing on close foreground objects, jumping to focus on the background subject even if you have tapped on the foreground object. It’s worth double checking such photos when you take them to make sure what you wanted to be in focus, actually is.

Operating the Microsoft Lumia 950's camera is also very quick, as is using the phone during day-to-day operation. It’s worth noting however that during testing the phone I was only really using the camera and associated apps, not a myriad of other apps at the same time as you may do during normal operation.

Image Quality

On the screen of the Microsoft Lumia 950, images look fantastic, especially those taken in good light. If you think it’s reasonably likely you’re only ever going to be sharing your images on on social media etc with other people using small devices, then you should be very impressed with the image quality.

However, if you want to print or use your images larger, you may not be blown away quite so much by the quality on offer here. While images taken at low ISOs display a good level of overall detail, as soon as you start to step up to ISO 200 detail at 100% starts to become smudgy and painterly.

At ISO 400, image smoothing is apparent at A4, but again, if you’re unlikely to print or view at that size, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. At the top rating of ISO 3200, smoothing makes images almost unusable at A4, but again, not so bad at smaller sizes.

In terms of metering, the Microsoft Lumia 950 copes well to produce accurate exposures in the majority of conditions. If there’s a huge amount of contrast in a scene then it may struggle, but it’s comparable with how well a compact camera might do, and certainly a match and more for other mobile phones on the market.

Automatic white balance does very well, too. You might see a yellow tinge when you first point the camera at the subject, but it doesn’t take long for it to correct out in the majority of cases. If the camera does struggle, you can always set a specific white balance setting from the pop out menu.

Using the digital zoom isn’t really recommended if you can help it - the resulting image suffers from a loss of detail, but once again, if you’re sharing at small sizes you might find it acceptable.

The Microsoft Lumia 950's front facing camera is reasonable, but suffers even more from image smoothing than the rear camera. If you’re using it in good light, the images provided are good though.


There are 4 ISO settings available on the Microsoft Lumia 950. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.



ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

iso100.jpg iso100raw.jpg

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

iso200.jpg iso200raw.jpg

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

iso400.jpg iso400raw.jpg

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

iso800.jpg iso800raw.jpg

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

iso1600.jpg iso1600raw.jpg

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

iso3200.jpg iso3200raw.jpg

Focal Length

The Microsoft Lumia 950's lens offers a wide-angle focal length of 26mm in 35mm camera terms, as illustrated by this example:


Digital Zoom


This image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card).




The flash settings on the Microsoft Lumia 950 are Auto, Fill Flash, Red-eye Reduction and Off. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off

ISO 64

Flash On

ISO 64
Flash Off
ISO 64
Flash On
ISO 64


The Microsoft Lumia 950's maximum shutter speed is 1/2th second in the Night scene mode.



Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Microsoft Lumia 950 camera, which were all taken using the 20 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample RAW Images

The Microsoft Lumia 950 enables users to capture RAW and JPEG format files. We've provided some Microsoft RAW (DNG) samples for you to download (thumbnail images shown below are not 100% representative).

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample video from the Microsoft Lumia 950 at the highest quality setting of 3840x2160 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 15 second movie is 97Mb in size.

Product Images

Microsoft Lumia 950

Front of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Microsoft Lumia 950

Rear of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Microsoft Lumia 950

Rear of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Microsoft Lumia 950

Rear of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Microsoft Lumia 950

Image Displayed

Microsoft Lumia 950

Camera Mode

Microsoft Lumia 950

Cameras Mode

Microsoft Lumia 950

Cameras Settings

Microsoft Lumia 950

Bottom of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Microsoft Lumia 950

Top of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Microsoft Lumia 950

Front of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Microsoft Lumia 950

Front of the Microsoft Lumia 950

Microsoft Lumia 950

Battery Pack

Microsoft Lumia 950

Battery Pack

Microsoft Lumia 950

Memory Card Slot


Most people when looking at smartphones tend to fall into one of two camps; Android and iOS (Apple). The Microsoft Lumia 950 is neither of those, so it may feel like an odd choice for many to make. That said, if you’re a big fan of the Windows 10 operating system, it’ll be less of a jump for you.

The Microsoft Lumia 950's camera itself produces some decent results, especially if you can restrict your shooting to good lighting, and don’t want to zoom in. While it’s good, it’s not mind-blowing, and doesn’t particularly beat anything else on the market out there - in case you were wondering if there’s something to draw you away from the familiarity of iOS or Android.

There’s also a problem with some apps either not being available or lagging behind in development terms from iOS and Android. The most obvious example of this being Instagram, but there’s bound to be others, too. There are quite a few free or cheap photography apps which you can download, but again the number pales in comparison with those available for the more popular mobile operating systems.

On the plus side though, there’s a good amount of control available in the form of changing settings, and although some things are missing (aperture), it’s nice to have any control at all - you won’t get that from the likes of an iPhone. Also being able to shoot in raw format is appealing to those who want to alter their shots in post production.

Another plus point comes in the form of 4K video recording, the latest buzzword for video recording, and offering a step above the full HD video you find on many phones. Being able to expand the phone’s memory with a Micro SD card puts it above the iPhone, but on a par with many Android phones.

As the Microsoft Lumia 950 is the first mobile phone to be fitted with Windows 10, it has appeal for those who are fans of Windows, and while the camera is decent, it’s nothing spectacular - which is a shame for a Lumia phone as they’ve often focused their marketing campaigns on the strength of the on-board camera.

In short, if you’re already enmeshed into iOS or Android, switching to the Microsoft Lumia 950 may feel a bit like going backwards, so be prepared to wait while the operating system plays a little game of catch up.

3.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 3.5
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 3.5
Value for money 0

Main Rivals

Listed below are some of the rivals of the Microsoft Lumia 950.

Apple iPhone 6s

The Apple iPhone 6s is the latest version of the most popular smartphone of all time. The iPhone 6s offers photographers a 12 megapixel sensor and 4K video recording. Read our Apple iPhone 6s review, complete with full-size sample photos, test shots, videos and more...

Google Nexus 5

The new Google Nexus 5 is one of the cheapest flagship smartphones on the market, but also one of the most powerful and full-featured too, running the latest KitKat version of Android. But what kind of experience does it offer photographers? Read our Google Nexus 5 review to find out...

HTC One (M9)

The HTC One (M9) is a new flagship Android smartphone with a conventional 20 megapixel sensor, 5-inch screen, RAW file support and a MicroSD card slot. Read our HTC One (M9) review to find out if it can satisfy the photographer in you...

Huawei Mate S

The Mate S is Huawei's flagship smartphone, offering photographers a 13 megapixel sensor, a 29mm f/2 lens with optical image stabilisation, full manual shooting mode, and 1080p movie recording. Can the Huawei Mate S really replace a compact camera? Find out by reading our in-depth Huawei Mate S review...

Huawei P9

The new Huawei P9 smartphone has been co-developed with none other than Leica, and promises to "reinvent smartphone photography" - a bold claim indeed. The P9 offers photographers a 12 megapixel sensor, not one, but two lenses (one colour, one monochrome), a fully manual shooting mode, 1080p movie recording, and a powerful 3000mAh battery. Is the Huawei P9 a dream ticket for keen photographers? Find out by reading our in-depth Huawei P9 review...


The LG4 is a smartphone that focuses on image quality, with a 16 megapixel sensor and f/1.8 lens onboard, along with Raw format support and even a manual shooting mode. Is this the smartphone that every photographer has been waiting for? Read our LG4 review to find out...

Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1

Is it a camera? Is it a smartphone? No, it's the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1, which is bravely offering both in one device. Can the Panasonic CM1 replace a high-end camera and a premium smartphone? Read our Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 review now to find out...

Samsung Galaxy S6

The Galaxy S6 is Samsung's flagship smartphone, offering photographers a 16 megapixel sensor, a 28mm f/1.9 lens with optical image stabilisation, and UHD movie recording. Can the Samsung Galaxy S6 replace a compact camera? Find out by reading our in-depth Samsung Galaxy S6 review...

Sony Xperia Z5

The Sony Xperia Z5 is a new flagship waterproof smartphone that features a lot of cutting-edge camera technologies. The Xperia Z5 has a 23 megapixel sensor, 24mm fixed lens with fast f/2 aperture, 4K and 1080p video, sweep panoramas, a range of picture effects and Hybrid AF system featuring phase detection points. Read our in-depth Sony Xperia Z5 review now...

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Microsoft Lumia 950 from around the web. »

The Lumia 950 proves that there's a lot going for Windows 10 Mobile, though also a lot of work to be done. Its best trick is that it blows up to desktop-like proportions with Continuum, but it sorely needs apps. Dedicated Microsoft fans and willing beta testers need apply.
Read the full review » »

With Nokia a distant memory, we're looking at a new breed of Microsoft device. The Lumia 950 is the smaller of the new pair, but it's also the more conventional in terms of size, with a 5.2-inch display, sitting in a body that measures 145 x 73.2 x 8.2mm, at 150g. The XL expands to 5.7-inches for a bigger screen experience, and we've written about that device separately.
Read the full review » »

When we last reviewed a flagship Lumia device (the 1520), it was still sold under the Nokia name. In the meantime Nokia has sold its device business to Microsoft, but it took a long time for the new owners to come up with a replacement for the 1520. Eventually the first duo of Lumia flagship phones under the Microsoft banner was announced in October 2015. The Lumia 950 and 950 XL differ in size and processor specification but use the same PureView-branded camera.
Read the full review »


Operating system

Windows 10


Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
Hexa-core 1.8GHz
Clock rate: 1800 MHz


5.2" WQHD (2560 x 1440)
TrueColour (24-bit/16M)
AMOLED, ClearBlack
Orientation sensor, sunlight readability enhancements, easy to clean, high brightness mode, Lumia colour profile, wide viewing angle, Corning Gorilla Glass 3, automatic brightness control
Super sensitive touch


Mass memory: 32GB
Maximum memory card size: 200GB
Expandable memory card type: microSD
Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage


Replaceable battery
Built-in wireless charging, fast charging
Wireless charging standard: Qi
Max standby time: Up to 275 hr
Max talk time: Up to 18 hr
Max music playback time: 63 hr
Max Wi-Fi network browsing time: 11 hr
Max video playback time: 10 hr


GSM network: 850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 1900MHz
GSM max data speed DL: EGPRS 296.0kbps
GSM max data speed UL: EGPRS 236.8kbps
WCDMA network: Band 1 (2100MHz), Band 2 (1900MHz), Band 4 (1700/2100 MHz), Band 5 (850MHz), Band 8 (900MHz)
WCDMA max data speed DL: 42.2Mbps (Cat 24)
WCDMA max data speed UL: 5.76Mbps (Cat 6)
LTE FDD network: Band 1 (2100MHz), Band 17 (700MHz), Band 2 (1900MHz), Band 20 (800MHz), Band 3 (1800MHz), Band 4 (1700/2100 MHz), Band 5 (850MHz), Band 7 (2600MHz), Band 8 (900MHz), Band 28 (700MHz), Band 12 (700MHz)
TD-LTE network: Band 38 (2570-2620MHz), Band 40 (2300-2400MHz), Band 41 partially (2555-2575MHz)
LTE max data speed DL: 300 Mbps (Cat 6)
LTE max data speed UL: 50 Mbps (Cat 6)

Maps and navigation7

Location technologies: A-GLONASS, A-GPS, barometer, cellular and Wi-Fi network positioning, sensor enhanced positioning, gyroscope, A-BeiDou
Maps: Free maps, online and offline favourites, pin places to Start screen, real-time traffic information, reveal the surrounding places, turn-by-turn walk directions, public transport and drive directions, free global voice guided turn-by-turn drive navigation, offline maps and navigation, speed limit information, map views: satellite, street maps, public transport

Main camera

20MP auto focus with two-stage capture key
Digital zoom: 2x
6-lens optics
Optical image stabilization
Sensor size: 1/2.4"
F-number/aperture: f/1.9
Focal length: 26mm
Flash type: Natural flash
Features: Backside-illuminated image sensor, High-resolution zoom 2x, PureView, True 16:9 sensor, Fast Focus
Minimum focus range: 10cm

Front-facing camera

Full HD 5MP wide angle
F-number/aperture: f/2.4
Features: Still image capture, Video call, Video recording
Front camera video resolution: 1080p (Full HD, 1920 x 1080)

Video recording

Main camera video resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160)
Video frame rate: 30fps
Video zoom: 3x
Video recording features: Video zoom, optical image stabilization, Continuous autofocus, Video light, Lumia Rich Recording with four microphones, Lumia Video Trimmer app
Video recording formats: MP4/H.264


Recording codecs: AAC LC, AMR-NB, GSM FR
Recording: Lumia Rich Recording with four microphones
Playback: Graphical equalizer, virtualized loudspeaker listening

Video playback

Codecs: H.263, H.264/AVC, MPEG-4, VC-1, Windows video, H.265/HEVC
Video streaming: YouTube browsing and video streaming, streaming from video services and Internet, progressive video download, Video Upload app


Design details: Exchangeable back cover
Other user interface features: Glance screen, tactile feedback, voice commands, voice dictation in edit fields

Keys and input methods

Touch, volume keys, camera key, power/lock key


Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, Barometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, SensorCore

Tools and productivity8

Productivity features: Calendar, interactive notifications, pin information to Start screen, reminders, voice dictation in edit fields, wired and wireless Continuum for phone, Word Flow keyboard
Personal information management features: Calculator, alarm clock, reminders, phonebook, to-do list, Kid’s Corner, OneNote, social networks in Phonebook, Wallet, file manager
Business apps: Adobe Reader free download, Company Hub for enterprise applications, Microsoft Outlook, OneDrive storage for documents and notes, Skype for Business, Integrated OneDrive for Business, Office apps
Back-up and restore data: Yes
Sync type: Exchange Active Sync, Via Windows Phone apps, OneDrive documents
Device management: AirWatch, MobileIron, Symantec, Microsoft System Center, OMA Client Provisioning v1.1, OMA Device Management 1.1.2, OMA Device Management v1.2, Windows Intune

Messaging features

Text messaging, automatic resizing of images for MMS, distribution lists for messaging, multimedia messaging, conversational chat style SMS, unified inbox for SMS and MMS, concatenated SMS for long messages, integrated text messaging and chat, number screening for messaging, text-to-speech message reader, built-in RCS chat

Call management

Call types: Conference call, HD voice call, Skype video call, Skype voice call
Call management features: Call waiting, call history, call forwarding, integrated hands-free speakers, speed dial, voice mail, call recording, seamless upgrade to video call
Noise cancellation: Multi-microphone uplink noise cancellation
Phonebooks: Supports one integrated phonebook

Other applications

Game features: Touch UI, Xbox Live Hub, DirectX 11


Viewing and editing of email attachments, multiple email accounts, HTML emails, inbox filtering, text-to-speech message reader, conversational view on email, linked inboxes


Microsoft Edge

Social apps

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WhatsApp, OneDrive

Device security

General Security features: Device lock, PIN code, Device lock passcode, Regular signed firmware updates, Track and Protect via Internet, application certification, application sandboxing, backup and restore via Internet, browser integrated anti-phishing, remote device lock via Internet, remote device wipe via Internet, secure boot, signed OS, consumer VPN, Windows Hello ready
Enterprise security features: Mobile VPN, remote lock and wipe, hardware accelerated device encryption, mobile device management, remote security policy enforcement, data protection under PIN lock, secure identities
Supported security standards: TLS v1.0, TLS v1.1, TLS v1.2, SSL v3.0, Suite B ciphers
Wi-Fi security modes: EEAP-TTLS/MSCHAPv2, WPA, WEP, EAP-AKA, PEAP-MSCHAPv2, WPA2 (AES/TKIP), WPA2-Enterprise, WPA2-Personal, EAP-TLS, WPA-Enterprise, EAP-SIM, WPA-Personal


Nano SIM
3.5mm audio connector, DisplayPort over USB-C
Charging connectors: USB-C
System connectors: USB-C
USB, USB 3.1
Bluetooth 4.1
Bluetooth profiles: Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) 1.2, Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) 1.4, Generic Attribute Profile (GATT), Hands-free profile (HFP) 1.6, Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Object Push profile (OPP) 1.1, Personal Area Network Profile (PAN) 1.0, Phone Book Access Profile (PBAP) 1.1, HID over GATT profile (HOGP) 1.0, Message Access Profile (MAP)
NFC: Pairing, secure NFC for payment, sharing, tagging
Wi-Fi: WLAN IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, MIMO, Wi-Fi call
Wi-Fi hotspot: Up to 8 Wi-Fi-enabled devices
Other wireless connectivity: Screen projection

Local sharing

Peer-to-peer sharing: Lumia Beamer, Lumia Storyteller, Play to DLNA app, Nearby Discovery


5.71 x 2.88 x .32 inches (145 x 73.2 x 8.2 mm) (L x W x H9)


5.29 ounces (150 grams)

Your Comments

Loading comments…