A few notes about the camera (it isn't bad)

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caitsith01

Member
Mar 21, 2013
12
101
Lots of people are unhappy with the camera on the Z. I'm into photography and I thought I'd have a play with it to see what I could find out. I thought I'd post this as it may help people get more out of the camera and understand why they are getting bad results. I was initially very unhappy with low light shots, especially compared with my old Xperia Arc. I am now getting vastly better results.

1. "Superior Auto Mode" SUCKS. Really, really sucks.

Why?

First, it applies some sort of hyper-aggressive noise reduction/sharpening to most images. This means that even if you get a good capture, this mode then does its best to ruin it for you by artificially stuffing up details and actually adding noise (via over-aggressive processing).

Second, it does really stupid things with ISO. You may notice that on manual settings, ISO only goes up to 1600 (which is still way too high for this sensor). However, in auto, the camera will go up to at least ISO 2500 (confirmed by checking exif data). This is extremely bad for image quality and introduces huge amounts of colour noise which simply cannot be overcome by post processing. In addition, in auto mode the camera is very "high ISO happy", so it will bump up the ISO very quickly even in moderately good conditions.

What's more, while you can't use the (dubious) image stabilisation at manual ISO settings, you can you HDR. So you can get good night or dusk shots by using HDR and (say) ISO 400 in normal mode, which I deal with below.

Overall, I would avoid this mode unless you are in bright conditions or just need to get a basic shot without caring about quality.

2. HDR mode is real, but the images it takes are not taken simultaneously.

I'm sure I read Sony claiming that the sensor was in some way three layered and therefore that it could take HDR shots instantly. The reality is that while HDR mode works (weakly), it actually takes three separate shots over the space of maybe half a second.

The problem with this is that if things are moving in your image, they will either blur or have ghosts of themselves in the photo.

I verified this by taking an HDR shot of traffic at an intersection. I was able to see very dark and very light 'ghost' images of moving cars, even though the rest of the image was sharp and clear.

From this I am guessing that Sony has implemented an edge-matching algorithm to process the three exposures into one. This can cope with some camera shake, but cannot cope with actual fast moving objects. This theory is supported by the fact that the image size drops by one megapixel for HDR, i.e., the camera is giving itself a "border" to allow for shake.

It is also apparent that the level of HDR processing is very weak compared to what is possible with a proper camera and proper software. The exposure range and the amount of weight given to the high and low range exposures is very weak (confirmed by the level of saturation of the "ghost" cars in my test image, which were fairly faint).

Others have reported that the video quality suffers with HDR on. This is consistent with the HDR having to take triple the exposures then process them on the fly.

3. Image stabilisation is a gimmick

In manual mode, you can turn on image stabilisation. However, when you do this, you can't set a manual ISO level and can't use HDR. This strongly suggests that all that "image stabilisation" is really doing is messing with your ISO settings (as per "superior auto mode") to increase shutter speed in difficult conditions by ramping up ISO. This, of course, destroys quality.

4. You can use normal mode to control the ISO and get much better results, including at night

If you choose "normal" shooting mode, and then go to settings and scroll down, you will find an option to set the ISO of the camera manually.

Playing with this, I have been able to get much, much better results from the camera than are achievable either in "superior auto" mode or in any mode where ISO is set to "auto".

Specifically, I would say that the camera produces fair to excellent results (for a phone camera) at any ISO below 400, and acceptable results at 800 in some conditions. However, 1600 produces very noisy images and should be avoided if you are after image quality (as should 800, to be safe). That is consistent with the size of the camera and sensor. Even fairly good consumer DSLRs struggle at or above 1600, so it is not surprising that a tiny phone camera struggles at or above 800.

Using the camera at ISO 400 I have been able to take shots in very dark conditions which look great and show relatively little noise.

The lens is f/2.4 at its fastest, which is not ultra fast, but fast enough to capture a decent amount of light at ISO 400 or 800. You are better off sticking to these ISO levels and trying to physically stabilise your camera (i.e., balance it on something solid) than killing you image quality with higher ISO settings.

A comparison suggests that "normal" mode doesn't apply the stupid levels of sharpening and noise reduction (so called) that superior auto mode does. Shots seem to retain most of the natural sharpness and detail that the camera is clearly capable of producing.

5. The flash is bad but better than most

Direct flash generally sucks, and mobile phone flashes generally suck. Combine them for a lot of suckiness.

However, Sony has done a solid job with this flash, given the baseline difficulties with any direct flash. It doesn't seem to blast its subject and it seems to be at a low enough level to let ambient light fill in the background. I was able to get acceptable results in normal mode at ISO 400.

6. Metering

The metering on the camera is quite aggressive in its centre-weighted variation. If you are finding that photos of a light or dark object are causing the rest of the scene to blow out or go too dark, try the full averaged metering mode (which is slightly dark, but does a decent job).

7. My suggested settings

A. Daytime: Normal mode; ISO 100; HDR off (to avoid ghosts on moving objects); flash off.

B. Nightime: Normal mode; ISO 400; HDR off unless taking pics of buildings and holding camera v steady; metering full scene; flash off.

C. I want to produce horrible photos then complain: Superior Auto Mode.

I hope this helps someone! Using setting A above this camera produces some stunning pictures in good light. Using setting B it produces very good night pictures for a camera phone, particularly if you shoot at the highest resolution then resize later.
 
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caitsith01

Member
Mar 21, 2013
12
101
One other thing - what I would like to see Sony do to improve the camera so that users get the most out of it...

1. Dramatically reduce the default image processing in auto mode

2. Add a smart ISO setting, where the user can control the maximum ISO that the camera will select on "auto ISO". E.g. allow the user to set ISO800 as a cap, but have the camera use a lower setting if suitable for the conditions.

3. Add advanced options to allow the user to contol noise reduction and sharpening.

4. (In fantasy land) add a full manual mode.
 

caitsith01

Member
Mar 21, 2013
12
101
What do you mean by "metering full scene"? Do you recomendo "multi-point automatic focus"?

No, that's focus mode (which I don't have strong views about - I prefer single point for more control, personally). I.e., the way in which the camera picks the subject which will be in focus.

I'm talking about exposure, i.e., how the camera works out how bright or dark the scene is. In "normal" mode, if you go to settings, then scroll down, you will see a metering option. The choices are centre, average or spot.

I'm suggesting that at night "average" will be most useful as "centre" or "spot" take a limited part of the image and base exposure on that. At night a limited part of the image is likely to be extremely dark or light, which will make the exposure go nuts.

During the day "centre" works ok for specific subjects, and average is good for evenly lit scenes.
 

juanmaasecas

Senior Member
Feb 5, 2011
591
304
Thank you very very very much for your review.

I'll own a Xperia Z in a few days and, since i'm into photography too, I was worried about the quality pics I've seen.
Did you try the burst mode? Have you seen the post about burst mode avoiding (almost) all postprocessing and daylight pics look awesome?
What do you think? Does normal mode avoid this kind of overprocessing in good light conditions?
 

danw_oz

Senior Member
Jul 12, 2011
1,273
269
Brisbane

Agreed on pretty much most of what you say, in addition other camera apps that allow you to save 100% jpg quality or save as png also help.

f2.4 not ultra fast hmmm, I am sure you do not have very many lenses in your arsenal that are faster for your camera. I know I only have one, my F1.2 50mm lens, the rest are f2.8 or F4, they have to do for me because they don't make any faster sir, and if one day they even did, I am telling you I could not afford them ;).

Apart from that some good information shared.

---------- Post added at 01:50 PM ---------- Previous post was at 01:38 PM ----------

Thank you very very very much for your review.

I'll own a Xperia Z in a few days and, since i'm into photography too, I was worried about the quality pics I've seen.
Did you try the burst mode? Have you seen the post about burst mode avoiding (almost) all postprocessing and daylight pics look awesome?
What do you think? Does normal mode avoid this kind of overprocessing in good light conditions?

Yes and no, because Sony are still processing the image to create the jpg files, and not saving at 100%. Think of RAW, I always shoot in RAW because then I am in control of the processing on the image WB,Sharpness,Brightness... not my camera.

Burst mode is great, because the Sony algorithms don't have time to apply all the settings to all the photos before they are written, so just pretty much write the file (like jpg in raw jpg). So a combo of all these things will significantly help further. To better this even further there are other camera apps that allow you to save at 100% jpg or even png for RAW like capture to a lesser extent
 
Last edited:

caitsith01

Member
Mar 21, 2013
12
101
f2.4 not ultra fast hmmm, I am sure you do not have very many lenses in your arsenal that are faster for your camera. I know I only have one, my F1.2 50mm lens, the rest are f2.8 or F4, they have to do for me because they don't make any faster sir, and if one day they even did, I am telling you I could not afford them ;).
Actually I have a couple which are faster. For DSLR stuff f/1.4 and f/1.8 are only a couple of hundred bucks, and there are compacts available in that territory too.

For really solid low light performance at an acceptable ISO you really need something around f/2.0 or lower. Either that, or a better sensor which can produce minimal noise at ISO 1600.
 

caitsith01

Member
Mar 21, 2013
12
101
Thank you very very very much for your review.

I'll own a Xperia Z in a few days and, since i'm into photography too, I was worried about the quality pics I've seen.
Did you try the burst mode? Have you seen the post about burst mode avoiding (almost) all postprocessing and daylight pics look awesome?
What do you think? Does normal mode avoid this kind of overprocessing in good light conditions?

I have seen that thread - in my opinion the burst pics look similar to those I have been able to achieve in normal mode, i.e., nice clean edges, not a lot of detail loss, not a lot of noise added by over-sharpening.

I imagine the reason is that the camera isn't fast enough to ruin... er... process pictures when shooting in burst mode. Burst mode has some resolution limitations, though, plus who wants 10 copies of every photo?

To be honest many of the daytime shots I've taken look pretty close to what you would expect from an enthusiast compact, like one of the Leica-Panasonic or Canon G-series cameras. Not quite there, but close (and obviously lacking optical zoom).
 

Higgins12

Senior Member
Nov 20, 2007
705
136
Well i don't know but i took some samples for a quick compare. Though even the BURST Mode pics are a bit smaller in size, they give you still the most detail and Pictures overall look much better. That's at least my impression.

1- Burst Mode
2- Snap Camera (PlayStore)
3- Supperior Auto
4- Normal Mode ISO 100
5- HDR Kamera (PlayStore)











Decide for yourself.
 
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danw_oz

Senior Member
Jul 12, 2011
1,273
269
Brisbane
Actually I have a couple which are faster. For DSLR stuff f/1.4 and f/1.8 are only a couple of hundred bucks, and there are compacts available in that territory too.

For really solid low light performance at an acceptable ISO you really need something around f/2.0 or lower. Either that, or a better sensor which can produce minimal noise at ISO 1600.

I am talk serious gear, not cheap 50mm lenses. And I didn't ask you if you could find cheap lenses, I asked you how many lenses you have faster than f2.4.

For solid low light performance, I would not be using a smart phone, nor would most others I am sure. Most people are using phones for snap shots nothing serious, or to capture that once off shot because you didn't have a better camera on hand.

Not any phones that I am aware of below f2.0 :)
 
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fartlec

Senior Member
Sep 23, 2011
118
29
Actually I have a couple which are faster. For DSLR stuff f/1.4 and f/1.8 are only a couple of hundred bucks, and there are compacts available in that territory too.

For really solid low light performance at an acceptable ISO you really need something around f/2.0 or lower. Either that, or a better sensor which can produce minimal noise at ISO 1600.

hi, thanks for your detailed explanation. i have one concern, though (just food for thoughts). you said that in superior auto applies more processing on the pictures. for what i've seen (and the examples provided by higgings are clear enough), the processing applies as well, but we have (dramatically) less colour shifting and probably less noise. the problem, to me, is still aliasing and lack of detail (if you compare in higgings pictures, burst mode, the door phone, you can clearly see the name plates, which isn't the case in the other pictures
anyway, good job, and thanks again
 
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sacredsoul

Senior Member
Feb 17, 2007
1,894
564
Singapore
Thanks for this really informative thread.

One question though. In normal mode, the viewfinder, ie the screen, is really dark. I could barely make out any details in a well lit room but when I take a picture, the image comes out well lit. Increasing the exposure to 2.0 helps but not a great deal. The screen looks fine and bright in superier auto though. My settings are the settings you recommended. ISO at 100 and flash, HDR off. Any idea what's the issue? I've included a couple of photos to better illustrate this. Note, the dark picture which is in normal mode is attempting to focus on the same object as the superior auto mode in the same lighting situation.

Hv8JdRkl.jpg


bayyRfjl.png
 
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CaFFeiNe666

Senior Member
Nov 4, 2007
127
14
totally agree, most of all on superior auto...
normal mode, same photo,auto is 400 iso...manual iso 200 (just a little darker) superior auto 800/1600 iso

superior auto can be good only on daylight (difference between 40 and 100 is really small)
 

caitsith01

Member
Mar 21, 2013
12
101
Thanks for this really informative thread.

One question though. In normal mode, the viewfinder, ie the screen, is really dark. I could barely make out any details in a well lit room but when I take a picture, the image comes out well lit. Increasing the exposure to 2.0 helps but not a great deal. The screen looks fine and bright in superier auto though. My settings are the settings you recommended. ISO at 100 and flash, HDR off. Any idea what's the issue? I've included a couple of photos to better illustrate this. Note, the dark picture which is in normal mode is attempting to focus on the same object as the superior auto mode in the same lighting situation.

Hv8JdRkl.jpg


bayyRfjl.png

Hi

I think this is a flaw with the camera software. It happens on mine too. It is trying to guess what the image will look like at that ISO. So the slower you set the ISO, the darker the preview. However when you take the picture it does its best to get a good exposure and generally succeeds.

So basically not much you can do about this, but it does make it hard taking shots in very low light. Another thing Sony should fix!
 

caitsith01

Member
Mar 21, 2013
12
101
hi, thanks for your detailed explanation. i have one concern, though (just food for thoughts). you said that in superior auto applies more processing on the pictures. for what i've seen (and the examples provided by higgings are clear enough), the processing applies as well, but we have (dramatically) less colour shifting and probably less noise. the problem, to me, is still aliasing and lack of detail (if you compare in higgings pictures, burst mode, the door phone, you can clearly see the name plates, which isn't the case in the other pictures
anyway, good job, and thanks again

I agree that you can resolve those nameplates better in the burst mode picture, even though I think it might be slightly lower resolution (?). The "normal" mode shot looks softer, but looks to me like it still has less aggressive noise reduction/sharpening than the "superior auto" shot. I would like to know what ISO these were at - unfortunately the EXIF data has been stripped out.

Another area where the three pictures are noticeably different is the curtains in the lowest row of windows. The burst mode output is noticeably sharper. Normal mode is a bit more smudged and has the characteristic "painted" look of over-aggressive noise reduction, and superior auto mode is even worse in this regard (as well as the colour being completely different).

I obviously don't know exactly what's happening inside the camera, my original post is just what I've tried to work out from playing around with different settings.

I can say for sure that there was a drastic difference in noise for me taking the same dark night scene using superior auto and then manually dialling down the ISO. Using superior auto the noise in darker areas was so bad that the image was unusable, even for social media etc, whereas at ISO 400 it was acceptable and could have come from a reasonable quality compact camera. It may be that the ISO level is the primary problem, and that the aggressive denoise/sharpen algorithms make the problem worse (because running these on a super-noisy picture will produce messy results). So it might be running the same level of denoise etc in both modes, but because superior auto produces such messy base images the filters then make the pictures look shocking.

It really needs a "raw" mode, either producing real RAW images or producing "straight out of camera" JPEGS with minimal filtering.
 
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sacredsoul

Senior Member
Feb 17, 2007
1,894
564
Singapore
Hi

I think this is a flaw with the camera software. It happens on mine too. It is trying to guess what the image will look like at that ISO. So the slower you set the ISO, the darker the preview. However when you take the picture it does its best to get a good exposure and generally succeeds.

So basically not much you can do about this, but it does make it hard taking shots in very low light. Another thing Sony should fix!

Ah thank you. So for indoor pictures, if I wanted to see the preview, I don't have a choice but to increase ISO? That sucks really :(
 

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    Lots of people are unhappy with the camera on the Z. I'm into photography and I thought I'd have a play with it to see what I could find out. I thought I'd post this as it may help people get more out of the camera and understand why they are getting bad results. I was initially very unhappy with low light shots, especially compared with my old Xperia Arc. I am now getting vastly better results.

    1. "Superior Auto Mode" SUCKS. Really, really sucks.

    Why?

    First, it applies some sort of hyper-aggressive noise reduction/sharpening to most images. This means that even if you get a good capture, this mode then does its best to ruin it for you by artificially stuffing up details and actually adding noise (via over-aggressive processing).

    Second, it does really stupid things with ISO. You may notice that on manual settings, ISO only goes up to 1600 (which is still way too high for this sensor). However, in auto, the camera will go up to at least ISO 2500 (confirmed by checking exif data). This is extremely bad for image quality and introduces huge amounts of colour noise which simply cannot be overcome by post processing. In addition, in auto mode the camera is very "high ISO happy", so it will bump up the ISO very quickly even in moderately good conditions.

    What's more, while you can't use the (dubious) image stabilisation at manual ISO settings, you can you HDR. So you can get good night or dusk shots by using HDR and (say) ISO 400 in normal mode, which I deal with below.

    Overall, I would avoid this mode unless you are in bright conditions or just need to get a basic shot without caring about quality.

    2. HDR mode is real, but the images it takes are not taken simultaneously.

    I'm sure I read Sony claiming that the sensor was in some way three layered and therefore that it could take HDR shots instantly. The reality is that while HDR mode works (weakly), it actually takes three separate shots over the space of maybe half a second.

    The problem with this is that if things are moving in your image, they will either blur or have ghosts of themselves in the photo.

    I verified this by taking an HDR shot of traffic at an intersection. I was able to see very dark and very light 'ghost' images of moving cars, even though the rest of the image was sharp and clear.

    From this I am guessing that Sony has implemented an edge-matching algorithm to process the three exposures into one. This can cope with some camera shake, but cannot cope with actual fast moving objects. This theory is supported by the fact that the image size drops by one megapixel for HDR, i.e., the camera is giving itself a "border" to allow for shake.

    It is also apparent that the level of HDR processing is very weak compared to what is possible with a proper camera and proper software. The exposure range and the amount of weight given to the high and low range exposures is very weak (confirmed by the level of saturation of the "ghost" cars in my test image, which were fairly faint).

    Others have reported that the video quality suffers with HDR on. This is consistent with the HDR having to take triple the exposures then process them on the fly.

    3. Image stabilisation is a gimmick

    In manual mode, you can turn on image stabilisation. However, when you do this, you can't set a manual ISO level and can't use HDR. This strongly suggests that all that "image stabilisation" is really doing is messing with your ISO settings (as per "superior auto mode") to increase shutter speed in difficult conditions by ramping up ISO. This, of course, destroys quality.

    4. You can use normal mode to control the ISO and get much better results, including at night

    If you choose "normal" shooting mode, and then go to settings and scroll down, you will find an option to set the ISO of the camera manually.

    Playing with this, I have been able to get much, much better results from the camera than are achievable either in "superior auto" mode or in any mode where ISO is set to "auto".

    Specifically, I would say that the camera produces fair to excellent results (for a phone camera) at any ISO below 400, and acceptable results at 800 in some conditions. However, 1600 produces very noisy images and should be avoided if you are after image quality (as should 800, to be safe). That is consistent with the size of the camera and sensor. Even fairly good consumer DSLRs struggle at or above 1600, so it is not surprising that a tiny phone camera struggles at or above 800.

    Using the camera at ISO 400 I have been able to take shots in very dark conditions which look great and show relatively little noise.

    The lens is f/2.4 at its fastest, which is not ultra fast, but fast enough to capture a decent amount of light at ISO 400 or 800. You are better off sticking to these ISO levels and trying to physically stabilise your camera (i.e., balance it on something solid) than killing you image quality with higher ISO settings.

    A comparison suggests that "normal" mode doesn't apply the stupid levels of sharpening and noise reduction (so called) that superior auto mode does. Shots seem to retain most of the natural sharpness and detail that the camera is clearly capable of producing.

    5. The flash is bad but better than most

    Direct flash generally sucks, and mobile phone flashes generally suck. Combine them for a lot of suckiness.

    However, Sony has done a solid job with this flash, given the baseline difficulties with any direct flash. It doesn't seem to blast its subject and it seems to be at a low enough level to let ambient light fill in the background. I was able to get acceptable results in normal mode at ISO 400.

    6. Metering

    The metering on the camera is quite aggressive in its centre-weighted variation. If you are finding that photos of a light or dark object are causing the rest of the scene to blow out or go too dark, try the full averaged metering mode (which is slightly dark, but does a decent job).

    7. My suggested settings

    A. Daytime: Normal mode; ISO 100; HDR off (to avoid ghosts on moving objects); flash off.

    B. Nightime: Normal mode; ISO 400; HDR off unless taking pics of buildings and holding camera v steady; metering full scene; flash off.

    C. I want to produce horrible photos then complain: Superior Auto Mode.

    I hope this helps someone! Using setting A above this camera produces some stunning pictures in good light. Using setting B it produces very good night pictures for a camera phone, particularly if you shoot at the highest resolution then resize later.
    5
    One other thing - what I would like to see Sony do to improve the camera so that users get the most out of it...

    1. Dramatically reduce the default image processing in auto mode

    2. Add a smart ISO setting, where the user can control the maximum ISO that the camera will select on "auto ISO". E.g. allow the user to set ISO800 as a cap, but have the camera use a lower setting if suitable for the conditions.

    3. Add advanced options to allow the user to contol noise reduction and sharpening.

    4. (In fantasy land) add a full manual mode.
    5
    What do you mean by "metering full scene"? Do you recomendo "multi-point automatic focus"?

    No, that's focus mode (which I don't have strong views about - I prefer single point for more control, personally). I.e., the way in which the camera picks the subject which will be in focus.

    I'm talking about exposure, i.e., how the camera works out how bright or dark the scene is. In "normal" mode, if you go to settings, then scroll down, you will see a metering option. The choices are centre, average or spot.

    I'm suggesting that at night "average" will be most useful as "centre" or "spot" take a limited part of the image and base exposure on that. At night a limited part of the image is likely to be extremely dark or light, which will make the exposure go nuts.

    During the day "centre" works ok for specific subjects, and average is good for evenly lit scenes.
    4
    I also use the 4.2 camera. For me it's faster and the photos it makes are on par with the ones made using burst.

    I've patched the 4.2 camera to support all of the resolutions Z/ZL support (9, 13, etc).
    I'm uploading it now.

    Update: here's the link
    2
    Well i don't know but i took some samples for a quick compare. Though even the BURST Mode pics are a bit smaller in size, they give you still the most detail and Pictures overall look much better. That's at least my impression.

    1- Burst Mode
    2- Snap Camera (PlayStore)
    3- Supperior Auto
    4- Normal Mode ISO 100
    5- HDR Kamera (PlayStore)











    Decide for yourself.