Xperia Z2 camera specifications
1/2,3"m 20.7MP Sony Exmor RS BSI sensor
5248x3936 pixel resolution at full size, 3840x2160 in Superior Auto Mode
F2.0 G-lens, 27mm wide angle
BiONZ image signal processor
HDR photo and video
4k video recording, 1080p@60FPS
My quick camera review
All my shots are available on my flickr page, full size with EXIF info here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/111873126@N06/sets/
Sony mobile sensors are a hit nowadays, from iPhones to LG, Oppo, OnePlus or last year's Samsung flagships, Sony's backside-illuminated (BSI) camera tech is wildly popular for it's excellent per pixel sharpness, good dynamic range and small physical size. Sony struggled however in the past to make it's Exmors work for their own Xperia smartphones, the Z had quite soft images and the Z1, while upped sensor size to 1/2.3" and megapixel count to 20, suffered from over-processing and minor lens inconsistencies. Have Sony got rid of these issues to give it's excellent sensor justice? The answer is a definitive yes, the Xperia Z2 offers fine amount of details with toned back software sharpening and snappier performance, I also didn't experience lens soft spots or distortions.
There's one interesting thing Sony introduced last year: while the large 1/2.3" sensor offers 20MPs, it's new automatic mode, Superior Auto only shoots in 8MP at 16:9 aspect ratio, and even in manual mode HDR or scenes can only be activated at 8MP (either at 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio). Why have a 20MP sensor then if 8 is where you get the most options, good question, but at least the 20 comes handy when zooming, otherwise 8 is good enough for print quality images and processing is faster at that resolution. Speaking of speed, Sony also uses two image signal processors (ISP), so camera speed definitely improved over it's predecessors.
This is the viewfinder you see when opening an app, and by default the 3840x2160 resolution Superior Auto runs which will choose the preferred camera mode (incl. HDR or night mode), adding some saturation and sharpening after downsampling. Tap to focus, flash settings, timer, burst, and smile shutter are available here. The camera records 1080p videos in this mode.
Moving on to Manual mode, you may choose the maximum 20MPs here (5248x3936) and set up flash, ISO, WB, focus metering, timer and stabilizer, or shoot at 8MP and able to choose HDR, Soft skin, Soft snap, Landscape, Night portrait, High sensitivity, Anti-motion blur, Blacklight HDR, Hand-held twilight, Gourmet, Pet, Beach, Snow, Party, Sports, Document or Fireworks scene modes. You may choose 1080p at 60FPS or 720p at 120FPS in Manual Mode.
The other modes are 4k video recording at 3840x2160, play around slow motion in Timeshift video, blur defocused areas in Background defocus, add 3D objects to the picture like dinosaurs in AR effect, add artistic filters in Creative effect, shoot a 6-second stylish video for Vine, choose best photo out of a burst in Timeshift mode or shoot a 2D Panorama by sweeping the camera. A couple of mode examples:
Image quality in good lights is stellar, details are fine even at 20MPs but especially at 8 which I recommend to use in Manual mode to be able to use HDR and scenes. Focus, white balance and exposure are quite consistent, although under certain conditions like facing directly into lights these can be a little troubled. Overall, images are natural on the slightly cooler side, and Manual mode is less saturated than Superior Auto. Dynamic range is good, and HDR helps in high contrast situations. There are no HDR inconsistencies, though the effect could be stronger. Tap to focus is fast as well as tap-to-snap speeds, and if you need to capture really fast movement you can go for high ISO or choose Sports mode. Overall, you'll shoot many quality images in daylight.
Normal vs. HDR:
Macro and closeups are very good too, there's no need for special modes just move close to the target and either let the camera shoot or tap to focus - the latter does not always hold for the shot, sometimes the camera refocuses before shooting even though you set it up perfectly. Depth of field is good in these situations, and if you prefer softer backgrounds, you can always choose Background defocus.
Low light and night shooting, as always, is where things get tough for small mobile sensors, the Z2 is no exception. The strengths of the new Xperia is dealing with higher ISO with tolerable loss of details and having a strong LED flash to light up small dark areas, so you'll be able to shoot at least usable, but with some tweaks some pretty decent low light shots. What's lacking is of course optical image stabilization, which makes avoiding handshake blur harder, especially at 1/7s exposure, which is the slowest shutter speed I saw. White balance suffers more inconsistencies during the night, there's a slight yellowish tinting, but nothing too bad. High ISO (manually available to choose up to ISO3200, the phone can go up to ISO6400 automatically) can brighten up some really dark places, Night scene and Night portrait scene modes - which requires a longer hold to operate - can also bring out dark details at a heavy loss of details, but you really need to be really steady here. HDR works in low light too. Overall, the Z2 does a decent job in low light.
ISO100 vs. ISO 3200
ISO100 vs. ISO800 + HDR
Video quality is top notch with clean, artifact-free and highly detailed, especially at 4k, and audio is nice and crisp. Steady shot can compensate some of the handshake with surprisingly good results, though OIS would be even better. Tap-to-focus and shooting a photo while recording are both available, as well as using the LED flash as torch light. While moving or with movement in the background sometimes causes refocusing, more visibly during the night - night videos are cool BTW just not as fully detailed as day ones, with some yellowish tinting. 4k is so good that you can choose to print single frames, I uploaded some at full 8MP res., while 60FPS at 1080p gives smoother motion, also uploaded 2 samples. Just note that a single minute of 4k video will take up about 400MB at 56MBit/s + 158kb/s audio, and camera shuts down after a few minutes due to overheating. No such issues at any 1080p mode, and you can shoot in HDR at that resolution.
(any artifact you see on these videos are due to YouTube recompressing)
60FPS video sample #1 (download)
60FPS video sample #2 (download)
4k frame captures via VLC Media Player:
About that overheating issue... one of the negative surprises I had with the Z2 was the phone overheating and shutting down when I really stressed the camera under the sunlight. Many face the 4k overheating problem which is understandable, it needs exceptional resources and other rivals limit this capture to 5 minutes, but under the warm Spring sun I had camera crashes when taking photos too. We're not yet know how wide-spread this issue is, but I suspect that with ISP and SoC working hard and the sun's heat and 100% screen brightness giving extra heat, things get a bit too hot and the phone chooses safety shutdown. Since the Z2 never got too hot while shutdown, I suspect that Sony set the camera app heat policy a little too conservative, so SW update could get rid of this, or maybe you'll never face this at all.
Overall the Z2's camera is an important step forward for Sony. Faster operation with more details and less post-processing results in higher rate of quality images, and short 4k clips give stellar videos as well let is be 4k, 60FPS or HDR. Low light performance could be improved with white balance and OIS, and some autofocus inconsistencies is video need to be addressed too, but I didn't find any of this too distracting. I would prefer to use all 20MPs for all manual settings and scenes, and video zooming should use the megapixels too and not just zoom into the 1080p or 4k image. But let's be clear: the Z2 produces some of the finest images and videos on mobile and the modes and settings give a lot of options to play with. And if Sony isolates and gets rid of the heat problems, which only come out in special situations, the Z2 and it's camera definitely comes recommended for some serious mobile snapping.
I'd like to thank XXLGSM for the test device, hope you enjoyed my short bit, please look up all my photos here: