Samsung Galaxy S7 edge vs Lumia 950 XL (1)

In this review of the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge you'll see quite a few random shots I captured with the Samsung and the Lumia 950 XL. Keep in mind these are two devices that come in smaller versions as well: the Lumia 950 and Galaxy S7 - both have the exact same optics so whatever I write about picture quality goes for the other two as well.

I already wrote about the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge in February, concluding Samsung is leaving the MegaPixel race to compete with Apple. You will find most of the important specs in that post, as well as everything you want to know about Samsung choosing a smaller resolution (12MP) but larger pixels: 1.4µm. So if you haven't done so already, I really advise you to read that post first.

Moreover, I've been writing a lot about the Lumia 950 XL, like that Microsoft really is pushing the boundaries and I recently posted my views on why Windows 10 Mobile still can't compete - so please don't forget to read that too.

Working with the Galaxy S7 edge
I've been working with the Galaxy S-series up from the very first up to the Galaxy S6 edge and I'm seriously impressed to see how the South-Koreans manage to improve the Galaxy range with every new edition. The Galaxy S7 edge is blazing fast for one thing, while its standby time has noticably improved over the previous version. Let me just write a bit about size and weight. 

As far as size is concerned, I worked with both the S6 edge and the "+" version, the latter being remarkably larger - a bit too large in my opinion. The new S7 edge (5.5 inch) is a bit smaller then the S6 edge + (5.7 inch), but much larger as the "normal" new S7, which is more like the S6/S6 edge (5.1 inch). 

My personal preferance for "large displays" seems to have changed a bit and I think I would now prefer the smaller version Galaxy S7 myself, although Samsung appears to have found somewhat of a sweet spot between large and "too large".

The S7 edge is a bit thicker (0.8mm) and heavier (4 grams) than its predecessor the S6 edge +. The smaller Galaxy S7 is even 0.2mm thicker as the S7 edge but a lot smaller in all other dimensions - and 5 grams lighter.

I shouldn't forget to mention though the Lumia 950 XL is larger in all dimensions and no less then 8 grams heavier than the S7 edge. Moreover, its corners are less rounded, making it not just heavier but more edgy as well. No doubt I prefer the Galaxy design, but it does lack an exchangeable battery.

What's in the box
I was pleasantly surprised to not just find the phone and (adaptive fast charging) charger in the box of the Galaxy S7 edge. It also offers a great looking and sounding white headset, something less and less producers think worthwile to include, which I personally think is a shame. It has the "in ear" earbuds which are my favorite by far.

Even more of a surprise though, was to find a small USB connector which I haven't found with any smartphone since the Nokia N8 (2010) - the return of USB on-the-go, enabling you to copy data from your device to a USB stick as a backup, when your memory is full or to share your shots with someone else fast.

User interface
Guess you love it or hate it - the Samsung UI generally inspires people to have strong opinions about it. I'm used to it and I do actually like to work with it, especially now that I find less and less software I really don't need or like on it - like the infamous Flipboard application I still see on the S6 edge. But every producer has its own "view" on Android and Samsung's never gave me a reason to desire another brand. 

Also, I'm not much of a "widget" user, but I'll gladly make an acception for Samsung's Smart Manager, enabling you to clean your storage and RAM (often freeing a large amount of RAM you weren't even aware you were using). Very nice is it allows you  to choose the amount of apps in your homescreens - either 4x4, 4x5 or 5x5.

I'm not thrilled by the themes Samsung started to offer to personalze your device - that's a habit that came from China I think and I never cared for it. But you're not obliged to even have a look at them, and if you don't ilke the interface at all you can easily find an alternative in Play Store (I know people who never work with the standard interface of any device).

The camera
I'll admit it: Samsung choosing a smaller 12MP resolution with 25% larger pixels has totally surprised me. I expected a 20MP sensor to be honest, but I can see the logic behind it all:
- choosing a bigger sensor would make it protrude, something many consumers appear not to find attractive. The S7 only has a "bump' (although you can hardly call it that) of 0.46mm (60% less than the S6 edge).
- choosing larger pixels combined with a larger aperture of f/1.7 of course leads to shorter exposure time and thus much better lowlight shots. I've been seriously impressed with this capturing an indoor party, but I can't share the pictures here.
- with its new "dual pixel" technology all pixels are focusing on the subject, making for much faster autofocus - which is extremely fast indeed, even in lowlight. 

In all, this appears to be one fantastic camera and I think the pictures will show you. However, I always compare the shots and crops when I work on the post, so I might be in for a few surprises myself as well.

What I like about in particular - in comparison to the Lumia 950 XL - is that it will immediately adapt the exposure of the part of the shot you are focusing on. In other words: if I tap the brightest part of the scene, the darker parts will become even darker. I don't necessarily have to, but it gives me the opportunity to change the lighting of my shot with just the press of a fingertip. Mind you: this only works in its standard setting, not in Pro Mode (where you can choose to capture in RAW).

See below. The first shot in a dark Catholic German church was with "general" focus, in the second shot from the same scene I focused on the bright windows.  

The first shot is in fact too bright, but it does show how capable the S7 is to handle lowlight situations. You may think the second example is too dark, but it does reflect the atmosphere in the old Catholic church better. 

And yes, you can get a similar difference with the Lumia 950 XL, but you'll need to work with shorter exposure time or underexposure, which is just as effective but simply takes more time. Of course you'll want to know what the same scene looks like as captured with the Lumia 950 XL, realized with -0.7 exposure correction. 

As you can see, it's three different views on the exact same scene - it's all up to you as photographer which one you prefer. 

Of course, with a 12MP resolution you will get less detail than 19MP will, as you can see below: Galaxy S7 first, Lumia 950 second.

So if you're into this kind of "pixel peeping", the Lumia 950 wins, no doubt - although it doesn't look like it's actually 50% better does it? Let's face it: the average user doesn't shoot to capture as much detail as possible, I don't know much people cropping their way into shots anyway. It's the ease of use and of course lowlight capacity, enabling one to avoid using the flash and still get great indoor or evening results, that most people will find more useful and attractive than stunning detail in itself.

Let me show you a few other snapshots I captured around the house. Galaxy S7 first, Lumia 950 second. Of course, you are looking at resized results again - might be interesting to realize you are looking at the same size of the good old VGA resolution: 640 x 480 pixels. 

First of all, detail from both seems to be fantastic. I think it's safe to say the Galaxy S7 edge color rendition clearly shows more saturation, noticable especially in yellow and green. When you realize that oversaturation (the "yellow effect") is something I used to write about Lumia's color rendition, one might conclude Samsung is overdoing it a bit. Yet, it doesn't really bother me anymore - it doesn't look all that unnatural to me in fact. 

Quite sure you'll want to have a look at the crops. Although it's tempting, I'm not going to resize anything from 19MP to 12MP, let alone the other way around. This is more like a WYSIWYG approach, although you could choose for 8MP with the Lumia 950. I still wonder why the Lumia imaging team decided to leave out the 19MP/8MP option (or the DNG/19MP for that matter). 

Ah, DNG - I didn't capture any DNG results with either yet, not in these comparisons at least. I'm quite sure almost everyone will use the .JPG output and working on RAW results is too time consuming for many. Moreover, to be quite honest I still have to learn to work with Photoshop. I did find someone willing to work on future RAW comparisons though, I hope to be able to send him some files soon. 

Here you go. Crops from the shots above, Samsung Galaxy S7 first, Lumia 950 second.

So what do you think, based on these crops? You can crop closer when you can shoot in a larger resolution, of course - but is the detail necessarily much better? I wonder... I'm really impressed with the picture quality of the Galaxy S7 and given the fact it is fast and sharp in less favorable light conditions I'm quite sure Samsung has found a way to please its customers.

Let's add two more scenes to this comparison however - I'll share two crops from both as well. First, some female nudity - in the morning sun of our garden. Galaxy S7 first, Lumia 950 second. 

Again, you'll notice the oversaturation in the result coming from the Galaxy S7. For the crops, I chose the same 4:3 aspect ratio this time.  Again, Galaxy S7 vs Lumia 950 - I'll share two crops like promised. First, the most noticable part of the scene.

Sunlit, great detail in both shots. I do have to admit i do like the color of the (fake) bronze in the first shot more though. What about the dark part on the far left side?

What you see on top is the side of large glass bowl. The Lumia 950 is better, but still - I'm surprised to see how good the Galaxy S7 is doing!

Last scene is more devout, again from the Catholic church I visited in the German place Nordhorn. First, the resized results. Galaxy S7 followed by the Lumia 950 second. With both I played with the setting to achieve a "darker" result (avoiding the windows to burn out).

You see it's not easy to realize the exact same result and you might prefer or the second shot - up to you. Here are both crops in the same order. 

Obviously cleaner detail from the Lumia 950 XL this time. What about one of the darker scenes in the shot? 

Rembrandtesque, isn't it? Let's see how the Lumia 950 XL captured it...

Well, the way I captured it with the Lumia 950 was a bit brighter, so no wonder this crop is a bit brighter as well. But it does show that the devil is in the detail as always: thanks to the larger resolution one can actually recognize some more of the small flowers in the vase. In this last scene it's not even a close call: the Lumia 950 does perform better and I'm quite sure many of you will prefer its color rendition in general. 

Nevertheless, I think Samsung has done a fantastic job, based on what I have shown in the results above. It really looks like their choice of a smaller resolution with a larger pixel size is paying off. The result might not be a stunningly detailed as you may get from the Lumia 950 optics, it'll be good enough for millions and it's certainly fast and fun to work with.

I should probably think of a way to capture people in darker circumstances - people who won't mind their shots being shared here that is - to really show its low light capacity.

And I'll have to find some more time to get a few RAW files from both, so it will be possible to write something meaningful about the quality of those as well - yes, I'll need to write a seperate post about the Pro Mode on the Galaxy S7 to fully show its potential. 

This post is long enough as it is and will have to do for now though. Please remember this has all been limited to the .JPG results so far, even though that's the format most owners will use by far.

I'm looking forward to your reactions below, as always. And please, if you think this club is worth more than just your time, consider making a donation. I will add your name to the list of sponsors. The button is on the right side of the page. Thank you very much in advance!