The TCL 950 is a new smartphone from Chinese manufacturer TCL (commonly known as Alcatel in the West). Its camera features a 21Mp (5248×3936 pixel) Sony IMX230 sensor, dual-tone LED flash, and 1080p video capture. Achieving an overall DxOMark Mobile score of 82 points, the TCL 950 put in a consistent performance across our still and video image quality tests, achieving sub-scores of 82 for photo and 83 for video.
For stills, the TCL 950’s high-resolution 21Mp sensor ensures excellent detail preservation on outdoor pictures, with relatively low levels of noise, making it a good choice for shooting complex and detailed outdoor scenes. Target exposures are generally accurate and repeatable, but when shooting tricky high-contrast scenes, some details in highlights and shadows are lost.
The TCL 950 does feature a HDR mode to help combat this, but HDR isn’t activated automatically. Nice color rendering ensures vivid and pleasant hues, particularly in outdoor shots, and the TCL 950’s fast and accurate autofocus system works well in all lighting conditions.
Images using the TCL 950’s dual-tone LED flash also offer good detail preservation, as well as accurate exposure and white balance in flash-only shots.
Shooting video, the TCL 950 offers excellent exposure in bright-light conditions, with quick and smooth white balance and exposure adaptation when lighting conditions change. As with stills, color rendering in videos ensures strong and bold color. Both noise reduction and autofocus are also very good when shooting movies in bright- and low-light conditions.
Outdoors: High level of detail
Although many target exposures are good, the TCL 950 tends to slightly under-expose outdoor images. While the advantage of this strategy is that some highlight details are retained in the brightest parts of the scene, there’s often a loss of detail in the darker and low-contrast areas as a result. In line with our test protocols, we tested the device in its default camera mode, which doesn’t automatically activate HDR.
The TCL 950’s excellent detail preservation ensures good definition in complex areas of outdoor scenes, and noise is well-controlled, too, with only a very fine luminance noise visible in areas of uniform color such as the sky. Good color rendering ensures that saturated hues are strong and bold in outdoor shots, and the TCL 950’s fast and accurate autofocus system delivers a high percentage of sharp shots in bright light.
In cloudy conditions, white balance tends to display a very slight green colorcast, and white balance isn’t always repeatable, with sometimes, some inconsistencies over consecutive exposures of the same scene.
Indoor: Very good indoor autofocus
Shooting in low light, autofocus remains very good, with excellent scores for sharpness, speed, smoothness, and stability, and only occasional oscillations visible in preview mode. In extreme low light at 5 and 10 Lux, the TCL 950 provide slightly underexposed images and a loss of detail in low-contrast areas is visible (particularly noticeable at 5 Lux). Exposures at 20 Lux are much brighter (both luminance and chromatic noise are slightly visible at this setting).
Details: Explaining the score
Exposure and Contrast (85)
The TCL 950 achieved a good score for Exposure and Contrast thanks to many accurate and repeatable target exposures when shooting in bright-light conditions. However, it lost marks because of underexposure in extreme low-light conditions (5 and 10 Lux), as well because of a tendency to slightly under-expose landscape scenes, having no automatic HDR mode to help retain more highlight and shadow details when shooting high-contrast scenes.
The TCL 950 achieved a respectable score for color, rendering bold and well-saturated hues, particularly in bright light. Under-exposure in extreme low light results in less saturated color in some indoor shots, but at 20 Lux or brighter, color is strong. Some color shading is evident in outdoor exposures, shifting from green at the edges to pink towards the center. We observed some white balance inconsistencies, with a slight green colorcast in some outdoor shots.
The TCL 950’s best score was for autofocus, which offers fast and accurate performance in all lighting conditions. Over a sequence of 30 test shots, autofocus in trigger (touch-to-focus) mode was slightly more consistent than auto mode, achieving a higher percentage of shots with the best sharpness, but both modes delivered a very acceptable number of in-focus shots.
Despite the high levels of detail preservation in outdoor conditions, the TCL 950 lost points for texture due to the loss of low-contrast details in underexposed outdoor images as well as in images shot in extreme low light. It achieved a higher score for noise thanks to good results in bright light, with only a fine luminance noise visible in blocks of uniform color; however, some noticeable chromatic noise on indoor pictures affected its overall score for noise.
Achieving a good score for artifacts, or optical deficiencies, the TCL 950 offers good edge sharpness and little evidence of flare or ghosting. A slight ringing, or halo affect, is visible along contrast edges when viewing images at 100%.
The TCL 950’s dual-LED flash is reasonably well-centered, but the left-hand side of the image is a little brighter than the right, with slightly greater light attenuation as a result. Using flash as the only light source, images are well exposed in the center of the frame, with accurate white balance and good detail preservation. A buildup of both luminance and chromatic noise is visible, however, and particularly noticeable in the corners, where the flash fall-off is more pronounced. Mixing flash with tungsten light sources, white balance turns slightly yellow/green, with noticeable strong color shading across the frame.
The TCL 950 shoots many succesful movies in both bright- and low-light conditions, with generally good exposure, fast exposure convergence, and accurate autofocus in bright light. Autofocus can be a little unstable when changing between bright to low light, however, with some visible steps during tracking evident. In very low light, slight underexposure results in a loss of low-contrast details, just like with stills, and even in bright light, video texture preservation isn’t as strong as we’ve seen on other devices. Noise reduction is very good in low light though, and excellent in bright light, rendering clean movie files. Where video exposure is good, color is strong and vivid, and although white balance adaptation is quick when changing lighting conditions, movies shot under tungsten light sources display a slight green colorcast. Color shading is also visible on video shots under all lighting conditions. Video image stabilization is good, particularly with still movements, stabilize very well in bright light, with only a slight “jello” effect noticeable in some movies, along with the occasional judder when panning.
Summary: Best stills outdoors in balanced light
With consistent good performance for both stills and video, the TCL 950 is a solid all-rounder for the smartphone photography enthusiast. For stills, it delivers the most successful exposures in good (but not too high-contrast) outdoor conditions, where accurate target exposures deliver strong color. The high-resolution 21Mp sensor ensures good detail preservation when capturing complex outdoor scenes, with only fine luminance noise present in uniform areas such as the sky.
In extreme low light, underexposed images result in a loss of detail in low contrast areas, and although exposures are better under brighter 20 lux tungsten light sources, a buildup of luminance and chromatic noise continues to affect detail preservation. Artifacts are pretty limited to some slight ringing, and although we observed some white balance inconsistencies over a sequence of outdoor shots, the color casts aren’t too strong.
For video capture, exposures are good in all lighting conditions, with fast convergence when changing scenes. Video autofocus is better in bright light, but respectable in low light. Video noise reduction also ensures cleaner video files than with many devices we’ve tested, but detail preservation is lower on both bright- and low-light videos as a result. For the best results, we recommend using the TCL 950 outdoors, shooting under lower-contrast and more balanced lighting conditions.
- Good detail preservation shooting stills outdoors.
- Fast and repeatable autofocus.
- Vivid and pleasant color.
- Very good noise reduction.
- Good stabilization.
- Good exposure with fast convergence.
- Generally good white balance and fast convergence.
- Fast and accurate autofocus.
- Loss of highlight and shadow detail when shooting high-contrast scenes.
- Target exposure not always accurate.
- Low-contrast details lost in low light.
- Chromatic noise slightly visible in low light.
- Loss of low-contrast details and exposure inaccuracies using trigger mode.
- Loss of detail preservation in low light.
- Overshoot sometimes visible during focus convergence.
- Slight color shading noticeable in low light.
- Visible aliasing, flickering, and judder effect.