Comparing three large sensor shooters: Huawei P10 Plus vs Kodak Ektra vs Lumia 950 XL (Part 1: .JPG)

This comparison is somewhat of a double bill: I'll compare two new smartphone cameras - the Huawei P10 Plus and the Kodak Ektra - while reviewing them shortly at the same time. Moreover, this might be the only recent comparison you'll find including the Lumia 950 XL - I'm including it since it has a large, around 20MP sensor as well as the other two devices.

Finally: a new comparison and review in one. Hope you've been looking forward to it as much as I've been. I've been walking around with all three devices for quite a while, but I was never completely satisfied with the results I got - as you probably know, I'm pretty ambitious when it comes to photography and I don't like reading a comparison consisting of dull shots myself either.

One extremely sunny afternoon in the beautiful, ancient city of Utrecht here in the Netherlands gave me more than enough material to work with - too much in fact, so I'm going to compare the results while writing this post, see what I can use best to prove a point and most likely even surprise myself while I'm at it.

Most striking differences
I'll start with the most striking differences between the three right away. The Huawei P10 Plus offers the raw .DNG format (next to .JPG output of course) and has a monochrome option. The Lumia 950 XL only offers JPG and raw .DNG, but no monochrome. The Kodak Ektra only offered .JPG format when I tested it - no raw, no monochrome, which was a pretty disappointing discovery to start with for such a camera-centric device.

I've been asking the Kodak Ektra representatives (it's a UK Bullitt product under Kodak license) if i should wait for an update to get the raw .DNG format and I've been waiting several weeks for no answer at all. My guess was Bullitt thought of it more as a consumer product and felt there was no need to add raw .DNG maybe.

In comes the biggest surprise
But - talk about surprising myself while writing this post - the very final time I'm checking if there might be an update for the Kodak Ektra, just before resetting the device since the PR agency needed it for other reviewers, much to my astonishment there actually appears to be an update after all. Offering raw .DNG format in Manual settings.... Wow.

So having captured so many shots I can actually use, I just decided this will be the first part of my review, focusing on the review of both the Kodak Ektra and Huawei P10 Plus and their respective .JPG output, including a comparison with the by now "classic" Lumia 950 XL. In part two I'll be comparing the raw .DNG output of all three devices.

First, let me show a few technical differences.

Different resolutions
All three have large resolutions, but there are slight differences. I've been shooting in 4:3 aspect ratio with all three devices and these are the resolutions at maximum size:
Huawei P10 Plus - 5120 x 3840 = 19.66MP (20MP)
Kodak Ektra - 5312 x 3984 = 21.16MP (21MP)
Lumia 950 XL - 4922 x 3744 = 18.69MP (19MP)
Again, I'd like to urge all smartphone manufactors to add the 3:2 aspect ratio to the standard menu of their camera software. It would make them so much more professional to use.

Sensor details:
Huawei P10 Plus - f/1.8, 1/2.3" large, pixel size, 1.55μm
Kodak Ektraf/2.0, 1/2.4" large, pixel size 1.12μm (Sony IMX 230)
Lumia 950 XL - f/1.9, 1/2.4" large, 1.2μm
The Huawei P10 Plus has largest aperture, largest sensor and pixel size. Kodak Ektra and Lumia 950 XL have similar sensor size but the Lumia has larger pixels (which explains the lower count). Differences between the last two are somewhat marginal though.

On a sidenote, the mighty Nokia 808 Pureview has a sensor twice as large (1/1.2") with 41.3MP pixels at 1.4µm. The Huawei P10 Plus now offers an even larger pixel size. The 41.3MP sensor of the Lumia 1020 is slightly smaller (1/1.5") and pixel size is 1.12µm, same as on the Lumia 950 XL and Kodak Ektra.

Some other specifications:
Huawei P10 Plus - 64GB/4GB or 128GB/6GB, HiSilicon Kirin 960, 5.5 inch QHD (IPS-NEO LCD)
Kodak Ektra - 32GB/3GB, MediaTek Helio X2, 5 inch Full HD (LCD)
Lumia 950 XL - 32GB/3GB, Qualcomm MSM8994 Snapdragon 810, 5.7 inch QHD (AMOLED)

Now, let me get into my experience using the Kodak Ektra and Huawei P10 Plus.

Using the Kodak Ektra

Let me start with the Kodak Ektra. Simply put, it has been a bag of mixed feelings, at first lacking two features I think are essential to a modern day camera-centric device. Until all of a sudden the raw .DNG format was added to the camera options (in Manual settings). Can't wait to try it out, but it will take a lot more shooting before I'm able to write anything meaningful about it.

I'll add one thing I noticed right away though: the Kodak Ektra produces ridicilously large .DNG files, no less than 40.9MB each! Raw files on the Huawei and Lumia are around 22MB and even my Fujifilm X70 (16MP APS-C sensor) doesn't need more than 32.2MB. Why the .DNG files from Kodak much smaller sensor are this huge is beyond me.

But there were sweet memories as well: the Kodak Ektra is like a remake of the amazing, exclusive, insanely expensive and hence very rare Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1. Look and feel are very similar, with the faux-leather casing, alluminium sides and buttons - including a shutter button.

The display is a bit larger on the Kodak Ektra and visibility on a very sunny day outside is similar on the LCD screen, too: pretty bad, you'll have to set brightness to 100% in bright circumstances. Then again, the same goes for the Lumia 950 XL (not so much the Huawei P10 Plus).

The UI of the Ektra is identical to that of the DMC-CM1, the exact same kind of stock Android, be it a newer version this time (I don't think the DMC-CM1 will ever get past Android 5).

But where the Panasonic boasted a no less than 1 inch sensor (unique for a smartphone!) and its fantastic own Venus Engine UI, all the Kodak Ektra really has to offer extra is optical image stabilization (six axis, so in all directions) - which is impressive in itself and the main reason for the large protruding lens on the back.

The sensor behind it though, is the exact same Sony lens used on the Sony Xperia Z3+ and Xperia M5, or the Lenovo Moto X Play. I was seriously surprised by the quality I got testing the Xperia M5 a year ago, but now it's somewhat of an outdated sensor - of course it would have been a serious blast had they chosen a 1 inch sensor for the Kodak Ektra.

The menu is not as elaborate as on the Lumix DMC-CM1 either (powered by Panasonic's own Venus engine) - or on other quite a few other smartphones. In fact, it's pretty straightforward, not to say simple. It had (!) a very small onscreen scroll-wheel to choose the different settings. It reacts quite fast, but due to its size and the fact the top of your finger was covering it, it was hard to easily choose the desired menu.

The update I just received fixed that issue as well: touch the scroll wheel and a much larger version will appear center screen. Also, there's an extra button now that you will have to use to close the camera application - you can't close it by accident by touching one of the software buttons on the sceen. Clever!

Also, it actually appears to remember the setting you used last - so if you used it on manual (including raw .DNG) and start the camera application again, you don't have to look for the setting you previously prefered. Even when powering up the phone again, you don't need to change the setting from automatic - it actually remembers your last setting after restarting. Impressive.

The Kodak Ektra is not as expensive as the DMC-CM1 or its recent competitor in this post. Where I live it will cost you around €460 without contract. For about the same prize, you could buy other devices like the Huawei P9 for instance, or - for a bit more - the Samsung Galaxy S7. These don't look as camera-centric as the Kodak Ektra, but also offer a fine imaging quality for more aspiring mobile photographers.

So although I've had a bag of mixed feelings at first, I now feel the Kodak Ektra is not just fun to work with in itself, more importantly I have to conclude it's been coming to the market too early, maybe pushed by the need to attract attention during this year's Mobile World Congress (which it did in fact). It has received tons of criticism in the beginning, where it now appears the product simply wasn't ready yet. The very recent improvements are too important to ignore.

Generally speaking one might say the Kodak Ektra may be mediocre both as a smartphone (limited speed) and as a camera (small sensor), but it doesn't cost as much as high-end smartphones either. What I don't know of course, is if the latest software update has actually improved the .JPG out as well - I'll write about that in my second part of this review and comparison. Let's have a look at the results I got before the update, after I write some more about the Huawei P10 Plus.

Using the Huawei P10 Plus

As far as using the Huawei P10 Plus I haven't been in for any surprise to be honest. Testing dozens of smartphones by now, I've been familiar with the Huawei P-series for a long time and I know I can only expect things to get better. Just like I witnessed Samsung from a cheap Korean brand fighting its way to the very top over the past seventeen years or more, I recognize a lot of the same determination in the way Huawei has been developing.

I was actually looking forward to test the Huawei Mate 9 - after reading great stuff about its camera - but I was advised to give the P10 Plus a try instead, due to some more camera improvements. I haven't been disappointed so far, although a few things have surprised me.

As far as design goes, the Huawei P10 Plus is not a "camera-centric" device. At first it looks like what you may expect from a modern day high-end smartphone, although it has two sensors on the back and it proudly shows the LEICA brand. Having two sensors is becoming less of a surprise - nowadays you'll see them on LG and Apple devices, and they used to be present on the early 3D smartphones (HTC). 

No big surprise in the camera menu after using the P9 Plus either, although a "portrait" button has been added in the camera display, which works fine: focusing on the subject (not just fit for faces) and blurring the background is an artificial bokeh effect and pretty much always effective, like in this case (straight from the camera):

And of course there's the Pro mode which will let you adjust many settings on screen (like in manual mode on the Kodak Ektra). Here is where you can choose raw .DNG in the menu, but mind you: the Pro mode will stop as soon as you choose portrait (so you'll just get .JPG output).

Also noteworthy - and it took me a while to realize it - is that the Pro mode is in fact available when you set the camera to monochrome (to capture those timeless and artistic black and white shots), but you won't be able the save the monochrome result in raw .DNG - which I think is a shame.

So what is it like to use these two recent Android smartphones against the now two year old Lumia 950 XL? 

Using the Lumia 950 XL
For some reason I'm still fond of Lumia 950 XL, especially of its camera - heck, even of Windows 10 Mobile in a way. It still is a fresh looking UI (nice to see something different after the very similar way Android and iOS look).

The app gap seems even worse than ever, with many builders leaving the (burning) platform. All I really care about is the camera in this case, and although I do like the integration with Microsoft Office, Windows 10 Mobile wouldn't be my choice if I would just use one device. 

For a while it appeared the Lumia 950 was one of the last high-end smartphones using a large 19MP sensor. Choosing a 12MP resolution has been the trend lately and it's not until recent that I notice the higher count of MegaPixel returning, like in the Kodak Ektra.

I've been using the camera in 4:3 aspect ratio for all shots with all devices. Using the Lumia 950 XL in 16:9, you still need to swipe the software buttons out of the way to be able to actually see what you're capturing in the display.

Other than Kodak, Microsoft doesn't seem to care at all about feedback like that, or maybe I'm just the only one complaining - who is using Windows Camera at all these days, right? Well, I am. Here's an example from inside Hilversum City Hall (straight from the camera)

I've complained about this earlier: with Windows Camera, you can choose either
19MP JPG OR 8MP JPG, or
19MP DNG AND 8MP JPG
But you can't choose
19MP DNG AND 19MP JPG
I'd like to have the last combination, since for comparisons like this I need to keep switching to the 19MP setting to capture the same scene in maximum .JPG format. Both the Huawei P10 Plus AND the Kodak Ektra save .JPG in maximum size next to raw .DNG. More importantly, one simply doesn't always have the time (nor the software) to edit the raw file immediately - but I'm sure everyone likes to work with maximum .JPG quality.

I'm writing all this being completely convinced that not a living soul at Microsoft cares about it anymore. It's been a while since we've seen any update on Windows Camera anyway. Guess everybody is convinced it's perfect as it is. And it's good, it's fun to work with, still giving great results. But it's not perfect and the lack of further improvements is a bit frustrating.

Pictures and crops
So now, finally, I'll be sharing some pictures and crops. I came home from one great afternoon in Utrecht with over 400 results from three cameras and after killing a lot of darlings I selected 15 scenes I captured with each camera. I won't be sharing all these shots here however - although you will see all of them in a video on YouTube. 

Also, since the update on the Kodak Ektra came just in time, I'll have to be working on yet another comparison, which will have to include the .JPG results again, to see if that has improved as well.

For thist post, I just picked a few critical scenes: lots of detail in bright sunlight, skin tones, stuff like that. Here we go. Remember the order I'm sharing the shots, it's alphabetical: Huawei, Kodak, Lumia. 

First, I'd like to share what in fact the difference size of the output of these three devices is. I can easily show you by resizing three shots with 12% (I noticed later this doesn't work very well when you read this on a smartphone, sorry about that). Huawei, Kodak, Lumia.



Clear to see the Kodak Ektra gives the largest result and the Lumia 950 the smallest. Is it extremely important? Not really, if you decide to make large prints of your shots it'll be more interesting to see the details in the crops than just the size. Nevertheless, for once I'll think I stick to the 12% resized versions when comparing the full shots (not the crops, of course).

All shots are straight from the cameras so unedited. All devices were on manual settings, but I never changed anything in the standard lay-out of those settings, so my guess is they were more or less on auto still. Just needed the Pro setting to capture raw .DNG on the Huawei P10 Plus.

And like I wrote earlier, I constantly needed to change the settings on the Lumia 950 XL to capture both a 19MP .JPG as the 19MP raw .DNG result. In this post I will only be comparing the JPG output of all three however, since the Kodak Ektra didn't shoot raw yet at the time I was capturing this series.

Relaxing in the sun (Huawei, Kodak, Lumia)


 
Interesting to see the different amount of saturation in these three JPG outputs directly. The Lumia definitely gives the most saturated result, followed by Huawei and Kodak. It's a matter of taste what you like best (I prefer the Huawei JPG output in this case), but remember that both with JPG and especially raw DNG you still can change just about everything the way you prefer.

For the crops I chose 640x480 size (keeping the 4:3 aspect ratio) from all original shots. Another way to notice the actual difference in size, but of course the only way to really compare the details. Again: Huawei, Kodak, Lumia.



A clear win for the Lumia 950 XL this time I'd say. Looking at the three JPG crops, it's interesting to see how the Kodak Ektra does a pretty good job compared to the Lumia, whereas the Huawei produces sloppy details.

But of course: this is the output of the JPG engines, leading to the results most owners will use - but it's definitely not the same as what the sensor captures. For this you need the RAW output. 

To show what I mean I can't resist comparing the raw .DNG files from the Huawei and Lumia. Exported them in Lightroom, didn't change a thing in sharpness or colors etc. You'll see the result coming straight from the sensors is in fact very similar. Huawei first, Lumia second.


Now all of a sudden, the Huawei appears to have captured a sharp result! To make the comparison even more "equal" I could resize one shot to make the sizes identical (which would mean blowing up one or shrinking the other a bit).

But I think you can see I already proved my point: both sensors capture similar detail. Proving the JPG output of the Huawei simply isn't as good (see the first three crops above), whereas the Lumia produces a near perfect JPG result as far as details are concerned - the amount of saturation has been a reason for debate since the Nokia Lumia 1020.

Be that as it may, in this post I just have to keep going on comparing the JPG output of the three devices, since that's all I got from the Kodak Ektra that day. Like I wrote in a second part of this post I'll be comparing the raw .DNG results from all three devices.

Again: JPG is what most users will use and share right away anyway (even accepting the horrible compression on Facebook and Instagram). I wonder how many users are actually aware of the huge difference between what comes from the sensor directly and how the .JPG is "cooked". It's already interesting to note that the Kodak Ektra appears to be doing a fine job here, let's see if we can keep concluding that in the next examples.

Two girls, four shots
This is the scene I've been using to tease this post at my Facebook accounts ( PureViewClub and SmartCamClub, please like if you're on Facebook). In fact there were three, another girl was capturing these two in the very same park you saw in the first scene. The third girl didn't want to be in the picture so much, and two is enough anyway.

I'll share four JPG results this time: Huawei, Kodak and Lumia, followed by the monochrome result I got from the Huawei. Again, these are the 12% resized versions.




The girl on the left has a very similar expression on her face in all shots, so I'll focus on her in the crops. Huawei, Kodak, Lumia.



Oh my. I really didn't see this one coming: the JPG output of the Huawei P10 Plus turns out to be so much worse than I ever expected. Quite simply put, details are ruined by artefacts, where the Kodak Ektra appears to hold up very good against the Lumia, that still shows the most detail.

What about the monochrome result from Huawei?

In fact, it appears to be much better! Softer maybe, but not at all as grainy as the fullcolor version (repeated below). Black and white gives a much cleaner result.
 
Again, I can't resist letting you have a look at the 640x480 crop I got from the Huawei raw .DNG file. Just exported in Lightroom, no edit whatsoever. You'll see it's much, much better (difference in crop result is due to the different size I get after exporting the raw file).
 
My goodness, it's very clear now that Huawei has work to do on its JPG engine! I'll have more fullcolor and monochrome results from the P10 Plus to compare as well, to see if the difference in .JPG output there is as strong as it seems to be here already.

Utrecht old canal
No (or hardly any) movement in the next scene this time - an old canal in the beautiful city of Utrecht. Four shots again, firs the three full color JPG versions from Huawei, Kodak an Lumia.



Again, most saturation in the Lumia, least in the Kodak Ektra, which tends to be a little "cool". Some prefer these colors as more realistic and in this case I tend to agree. To be absolutely honest, the color rendition of the Kodak Ektra reminds me more of that of the Nokia 808 PureView than anything I've seen since... I'm sure that will be quite a big deal for many.

Time to see how the crops compare in this case. Again: Huawei, Kodak. Lumia.



It's the same story over and over again. The JPG output from Huawei is messy, whereas Kodak appears to be doing a remarkably fine, even better job than the Lumia 950 XL in this case. Coming from me, that's a compliment.

Let's just compare the fullcolor with the monochrome result from the Huawei 10 Plus.


And two different crops this time


And again, the monochrome version appears to be softer, but details are in fact better... Monochrome will give you a much better result in fact.

Conclusion so far
Like I wrote, I have fifteen scenes in JPG, some of them in raw .DNG, some of them in monochrome. Going on with this review now would not reveal any more than already written above, so this is my conclusion so far.

The much criticized Kodak Ektra produces quite an amazing .JPG and I can't wait to see what the raw .DNG files will look like. Their enormous size (40.9MB) looks already promising, but I haven't worked with them enough - nor edited any good shot in Lightroom already - so it's too early to tell. 

The Lumia 950 XL .JPG output is stellar although I still feel it's too saturated. Something you can easily fix in most simple picture editors like Windows Photo or Picasa (if you're still able to use it since for some odd reason Google stopped the project). In my next post I'll be checking if in fact Lumia's .JPG output is as good as I get from the sensor directly.

JPG output from the Huawei P10 Plus is a different story I'm afraid. It wasn't a pleasant surprise to suddenly notice the artefacts in the crops. If you just need it for snapshots and share on Facebook or other social media, I'm sure it's fine (I've impressed many with its picture quality by now).

If however you need the very best detail from the P10 camera, be sure to use PRO mode (don't forget to activate raw .DNG in the options!) and work with what you get from the sensor directly. The difference with what you get from the .JPG engine is simply too large to ignore. Guess we'll have to wait on a serious software update improving the JPG output - if Huawei takes this as seriously as I do that is.

Raw .DNG unfortunately doesn't work when you shoot in Monochrome (why not is a mystery to me), which is something else I'd advise if you want better picture quality from your Huawei P10 Plus.

I hope it won't take me as long to write the second part of this review/comparison. I'll be walking with these three smartphones soon again and capture everything in raw .DNG (not worrying about the JPG output anymore). To be continued.

To conclude this comparison, I'd like to share all 15 scenes I selected from my afternoon in Utrecht. Some captured in bright sunlight, some in a dark basement. It will take you more than 5 minutes to watch which I'm sure is an eternity for some, especially without any music. You'll see each shot for about 7 seconds. Please make sure you choose maximum quality available where you live to get the best from these scenes from Utrecht, one of the most beautiful cities in The Netherlands. 

If you think what I'm doing here is worth more than just your time and would like to support the Club, please consider making a donation. There's a button on the right side of this page. I'll add you to the list of  sponsors after any donation. Thank you very much in advance!

UPDATE 26-05-2017
I just received some more information about improvements in the latest software update I recently installed:
·         Optimisations to the Auto White Balance and colour saturation
·         Improvements to shutter speed performance 
·         New option to disable Auto Scene Detection in smart auto mode
·         Enhanced low light performance 
·         Optimisations to the noise reduction algorithm from ISO 100-6400

Moreover, I learned the raw .DNG files have a color depth of 16 bit, like suggested in one of the comments below. That seems exaggerating it quite a bit if you ask me - I'd say 10 bit or 12 bit should be enough, saving a lot of data on your phone or cd-card. You'll find more information on color depth in the raw .DNG format here.