Is monogamy a good thing in mobile photography? I have never used anything but an iPhone for mobile photography, and thus far it has been a great relationship. But when Sony sent me their latest Xperia Z5 phone I was excited to see how mobile photography was on Android and to see the results.
I have had the phone for the past three weeks and once I got over the teething period of dealing with an new OS and getting comfortable with the phone, I can say I have come to enjoy the experience. The images I am posting with this review are straight out of the camera to give you an indication of how it performs before any editing is done.
Straight off the thing you notice is how different the phone feels in the hand. The Z5 has sharp edges. I like to shoot in landscape mode and I usually nest the phone between my index and baby finger, allowing easy access to the shutter with my thumb. This is still possible with the Sony Xperia. It has a button on the bottom right-hand side which allows you snap. I guess it is placed here as most people tend to use their two hands when shooting. I struggled a little with this. I guess being used to shooting on the street, and wanting to be discreet, I prefer shooting with one hand. To make this easier, I would like to see the button placed on left-hand side which would allow for easier one-handed shooting if you are holding the phone vertically.
Like the iPhone a swipe up on the camera icon from the lock screen allows quick access to the camera. I made the mistake of not checking the settings and discovered many images in that I was not shooting at the optimum settings. Clicking on the settings icon on the bottom left when in camera will open them up. The Xperia Z5 has a 23mb camera, but it somehow defaults to 8mb unless you change it. For the record, all the images in this post are 8mb and 16:9. I found these shots to do the job effectively and I did like the wide angle perspective. As is well known, more pixels does not equal better image quality; evident in some smart phone cameras having dropped their pixel count in their latest releases.
While you are in settings, you will notice many other options: ISO, HDR, Focus Mode, and Metering. In fact, the Xperia gives you a lot of control over the camera settings. For my liking, too much. Like most things in life, too many choices can complicate things. If you look at the top of the screen, you will find the small icons, which you can swipe through, for manual mode (M) superior auto, video and camera apps. When on manual mode, you can find to the left of the shutter that you can control white balance; to the right you have a scene selection option (Soft skin, Landscape, High ISO, Fireworks, Anti-motion blur, etc.,). For the purpose of this review, I left the camera on superior auto (superior to what exactly?), as seen in the image below.
The Xperia performs well in low-light conditions, and with an user taking manual control over the camera settings you can really push performance even further. The shot here, taken on the Killarney ship in Dublin, gives an indication of how the camera deals with ambient light at night. I find too often people overlook the fact that nowadays the built-in technology in cameras can really function excellently on automatic mode and this is true of the Xperia. While many photo hobbyists might like to use manual mode on the phone, I imagine most users are happy to let the camera do the work.
This is one are I feel where Sony could target improvements. What do we use a camera for but to capture moments. Moments that can pass so quickly. For me, these moments are on the street or at home with my kids. I found the Z5 to lag a little in response on the street, from the swipe up to open the camera in lock mode to locking that focus and getting that shot. Now while the shot below does not bother me (blur being such a part of my own photography), I can imagine some people being disappointed to see a family moment being lost, or the capture not being sharply in focus.
However, when you have the camera open, I found the phase detection Sony boasts about (predicting where to focus) does get some good results.
I like shooting in harsh light. Interesting results with the Xperia here.
Like many smartphone cameras, the Sony Xperia Z5 comes into its own in on a bright sunny day. Last week, I headed to the Old Head of Kinsale with a friend of mine who was visiting for a few days. Again, I kept the settings to superior auto and the images below are straight out of the camera. I like the range of colours and the amount of sharp detail in the images. However, at times the colours do appear over-saturated somewhat. If I were to do some editing I would like to reduce the overly-sharp feel to the images. That and work on the highlights and shadows of the clouds.
If you like bold, bright colours the Xperia won’t let you down.
One of the first things you notice about the Xperia is the design of the back of the phone. It is a mirror. And why? Well, it must be for selfies. Camera manufacturers have been unprepared for the phenomenon of the selfie and you see a lot of investment into satisfying this demand. Not being someone who takes a lot of selfies, and definitely not being someone to share a lot of them, I can report that it does a good job. How do I know this? Because my little 8-year old girl loves selfies and with ease found how to shoot them with the Xperia and her results were beautiful. I might be biased, though. The Xperia has a 5mp front camera.
I am not using the Xperia Z5 as a phone and as such when I am out shooting with it the battery is only being drained by camera use. In saying that, the battery has performed well and all reports indicate that you can go longer without charges than other camera phones.
All in all, it is a good camera. The colours are striking, if not a little too vivid at times, but nothing that a little post-processing could correct. For me, as a street camera – which camera phones are best for – it is a little cumbersome in the hand. I don’t like the sharp edges and nesting the camera in one hand does not make it easy to shoot with.
Moving forward with the camera I intend to push things on a little and push the boundaries of mobile photography monogamy. I will step from fully automatic mode on the Xperia to take a little control over the settings. Also, I will do a little work with Snapseed on images. It is interesting to work with Snapseed on Android, particularly as it is a Google product, to discover that the IOS version is better.
More on that to come in future posts.