Sony is behind some of the best imaging sensors around, powering some of the top smartphone shooters on the market, from the Galaxy S6 to the LG G4. When we looked at the Xperia Z3, it had one of the better cameras we’d seen at the time … but since then, other phones (like the aforementioned from Samsung and LG) have seriously stepped up their game, finally even surpassing Apple’s long-time imaging lead with the iPhone. The Xperia Z5 has been tested and rated by some as one of the best camera phones around, but can its smaller sibling hold up the family name?
Our Xperia Z5 Compact review unit was sent to us courtesy of our friends at Clove Technology, from whom you can order your own Z5 Compact or any of hundreds of other devices. Pay them a visit at clove.co.uk!
The specs on the Xperia Z5 Compact’s camera are quite impressive. It’s a 23 MP Sony IMX 230 sensor with a max output of 5520 х 4140, and 4K video capabilities. I took the Z5 Compact out to the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, and spent the day shooting as many photos as I could. The physical camera button was extremely refreshing to use, and aided heavily in my shooting throughout the day.
It’s pretty apparent in the above photos that the Z5 Compact heavily favors warmer tones when you’re shooting outdoors. More often than not, the photos you take end up with a pretty serious yellow hue cast over everything, almost as if you were passing them through an Instagram filter. Other times, images look a bit washed out and undersaturated — some of that can be explained away by remembering that most smartphones these days tend to oversaturate photos, and the duller-looking images are actually more true-to-life … except when they’re not.
It’s especially noticeable in the sample photo with a tree in the front; the whole shot is blown out, colors are washy, and nothing seems particularly in focus. You could just call it a poorly taken photo — after all, I’m no professional photographer — but sadly, shots like this are more common than I had hoped for. Then again, some of the photos in the above collection have terrific colors and tack-sharp detail (I’m quite partial to the “Kanye Time” shot I took on the way to a late breakfast with a friend). The Z5 Compact seems to be capable of some really terrific shots at times, but the wild inconsistency in quality can definitely be frustrating.
JJ Abrams mode
If you manage to look past the warm tones of the camera (or if you don’t mind correcting them in post, since you can shoot in RAW), you can take some terrific-looking photos with the Z5 Compact, but one thing that I just couldn’t look past was the utterly relentless lens flare when shooting outdoors. Most of the above samples look pretty good, but I had to sort out nearly half of the shots I had taken before I uploaded, because every other photo was completely distracted by flaring.
In some photos it’s worse than others, but more often than not the entire image ends up unusable, unless you’re really going for that JJ Abrams-style dramatic lens flare effect. After voicing my concerns on Twitter, a few people have suggested I check the lens for smudging, but sure enough, the glass is pristine — in fact, in the two photos below, all it took was hovering my hand slightly beside the lens in the way of the sun to turn a shot from a disaster into a pretty good photo.
Indoor photos are actually pretty good. There’s a sufficient amount of detail proportionate to the surrounding lighting situation, and while images are predictably a bit blurrier than if taken in direct sunlight, the built-in OIS helps keep things together. Colors get a bit washed out, but no more than with indoor photos from any other phone we’ve seen. Selfies taken with the 5.1 MP front-facing camera look adequate, but nothing particularly special.
Something that impressed me the most with the Z5 Compact’s camera software was the outstanding stitching when taking a panoramic photo. It’s sort of annoying that the software doesn’t let you stop halfway through if you run out of room; once you’ve started a panorama, you’ve gotta stay its course. But once you do, the result is worth it — the stitching is so impressive that the entire collage looks like a single, seamless ultra-wide shot.
What do you make of these samples? Is the Z5 Compact’s camera all it’s talked up to be, or are you disappointed by some of its shortcomings? Let’s have a friendly discussion in the comments below! And remember: the camera may be one of the Xperia Z5 Compact’s headline features, but it’s not nearly the whole story — to catch that, tune in to our full review, coming later this week!