Sony Xperia Z3 Review

November 18, 2014 | Amy Davies | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Sony Xperia Z3 was announced in September 2014 as the follow-up to the Z2. It features a 20.7 million pixel 1/2.3 inch EXMOR RS sensor - which is the same size (both in terms of physical size and pixel count) as many compact cameras. While the Z2 had a 27mm (equivalent) lens, the G lens on board the Sony Xperia Z3 is a 25mm (equivalent) device making it slightly better for capturing a wider angle of view. The phone is equipped with Android 4.4.4, which Sony has created its own interface over the top for. There’s also an 8x digital zoom, and for the first time, ISO sensitivity can reach up to 12800. A number of new camera modes have been added, including AR fun which allows you to add animations and so on to pictures (and complements AR effect mode from the previous version of the camera), Movie Creator, which gives you the option of filming from multiple angles if you have more than one Xperia device, and Sound Photo, which records a sound clip along with your photo. 4K and full HD video can be recorded by the rear camera, while the 2.2 million pixel front facing camera can also record full HD video.

Ease of Use

The Sony Xperia Z3 is very similar in appearance to its predecessor, albeit with slightly more rounded edges to give it an overall slightly slicker and more stylish look. Although it’s a large phone, with so many other large devices on the market, it no longer seems out of the ordinary. The 5.2 inch touchscreen takes up the majority of the front of the phone. While the device is quite large, it’s also fairly slim so it’s not as weighty as it might seem to look at it.

As with the other phones in this series, the Z3 is waterproof, making it something you can use in all weathers, as well as in the swimming pool, sea or bath for a good amount of creativity. It’s also dustproof.

There are only three physical buttons on the Sony Xperia Z3, all of which are found on the side on the right of the phone. There’s the power on/off button, a volume rocker switch can also be used to zoom the digital zoom in and out and a camera button which can be used to both activate the camera from the lock screen (or any other screen) by holding it down for a couple of seconds, or as a shutter release button if you push it when in the camera  app.

Sony Xperia Z3
Front of the Sony Xperia Z3

As the Sony Xperia Z3 is fairly large, it’s reasonably unwieldy to use when shooting one handed, or when photographing one-handed. The lens is very close to the edge of the camera, so it’s pretty easy to accidentally obscure the lens with your finger - holding the phone in the best way to avoid such a problem is something you get used to relatively quickly though.

From the lock screen, the best way to get to the camera app is to hold down the camera button on the side of the camera. Alternatively, you can slide up from the bottom of the touchscreen, but this seems slightly less responsive.

Unlike several other smartphone cameras, there are lots of different shooting options available on the Sony Xperia Z3. By default, the phone will shoot in Intelligent Auto, but you can also change to Manual Mode, 4K video, AR effect and so on - to switch between the different modes available, tap the icon on the bottom right hand side of the screen and choose the mode you want to use.

Sony Xperia Z3
Rear of the Sony Xperia Z3 / Image Displayed

Once in Manual Mode, you’ll find you’ll be able to make changes to certain settings, but not all, making it perhaps closer to something like a Program Auto mode than a true manual mode - for instance you can’t change aperture or shutter speed. You’ll also find different scene modes, such as Landscape or Low Light when shooting in Manual Modes.

It’s worth noting that some of the modes can only be used when shooting in the camera’s default setting of 8 megapixels, rather than the 20.7 it is actually capable of recording. Some settings, such as the highest ISOs, can also only be activated when shooting at lower resolutions, too.

Sony Xperia Z3
Front of the Sony Xperia Z3 / Camera App

As with the Sony Xperia Z3, there’s a Background Defocus mode, which aims to recreate the look of DSLR or large sensor cameras by producing images with a shallow depth of field. You can control the amount of background blur by moving a slider with your finger up and down the screen. If you’re photographing something with fine detail around the edges, it’s a good idea to minimise the amount of blur to give it a more realistic look.

Sony has included sweep panorama mode, which is also found on several of its compact cameras. To use it, all you need to do is hold down the shutter release button and move the camera across the scene that you want to photograph. The phone will automatically capture the scene and stitch together the required images. Another useful feature is Timeshift Burst, which enables you to choose the best photo from a sequence taken in quick succession, which is particularly useful for shooting action - such as sports.

Sony Xperia Z3
Rear of the Sony Xperia Z3

As with previous models, face recognition and shutter smile are included.  For face recognition, the phone will give settings bias to any faces the camera detects in the scene, setting the exposure and white balance based on the face for instance. Smile shutter will trigger off the shutter release when it detects a smile - you can set this to recognise weak, average or big smiles - and while it’s not foolproof, it’s reasonably useful for composing selfies and group shots.

In order to set the focus point, you simply tap the area on the screen that you want to focus. Generally speaking, the autofocus is a little snappy, but if you’re trying to take a close-up picture you may find you need force the camera to focus and refocus several times before it will actually focus - sometimes it will even display a false positive, so it’s worth double checking to see that a focus has definitely been achieved. There’s no way to activate macro focusing, but if you are using Intelligent Auto then if you get close to a subject it should activate automatically.

Sony Xperia Z3
Memory Card Slot

After you’ve pressed either the physical shutter button, or the button on the screen, the processing speeds seem to have improved since the Sony Xperia Z3 - as it almost instantly is ready for the next shot. The image you’ve just taken will appear in a small preview window at the top right of the screen - tap this to see the image larger, and to flick through all the previous shots you’ve taken.

To add different filter style effects to your images, you can find these under the mode menu. There’s quite a few to choose from, and you can also use them in video recording mode. Don’t forget, you can also download hundreds of apps from Google Play store - such as Instagram - to edit your photos in lots of different ways too.

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 20 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 6Mb.

Sony is responsible for producing some of the best standalone cameras currently on the market, so it’s no surprise to see the company utilising this technology to great effect on its smartphones.

We were impressed by the image output of the Sony Xperia Z3, and here also we’re also pretty impressed by the general overall performance of the camera. Colours are beautifully saturated directly from the camera, being punchy without being unrealistically vibrant.

In good light, detail is resolved well, and if you shoot at the highest resolution setting there’s also decent scope for cropping into an image at a later stage to improve composition if you need to. However, if you shoot at higher ISO sensitivity settings, the amount of image smoothing which appears gives images  a watercolour type appearance - it’s not so bad if you’re viewing at small sizes on your phone though.

There’s an inbuilt LED flash, which has mixed results - for instance if you’re photographing people you might find that you’re left with red eye. On the other hand, the fast lens, capable of stopping down to f/2.0, means that you shouldn’t need to use the flash in all but the very darkest of situations.

Speaking of dark situations, the Sony Xperia Z3 now has the capability of shooting at up to ISO 12800, but you can’t select that speed - it will be reached automatically if you’re shooting in the high sensitivity setting, and only if you’re in extremely dark shooting conditions.

Automatic white balance fares pretty well, producing accurate colours in the majority of conditions - erring ever so slightly towards orange or yellowish tones under artificial lighting conditions. You can change to a more appropriate white balance setting when shooting in manual mode if it’s proving to be particularly problematic though. Overall, the all-purpose metering copes well, producing well balanced exposures in the majority of conditions - if you’re shooting something with high contrast it may under or over expose slightly - again if this is proving to be problematic, you can adjust exposure compensation when shooting in manual mode.


There are 7 ISO settings available on the Sony Xperia Z3. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 50 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

iso50.jpg iso100.jpg

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

iso200.jpg iso400.jpg

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

iso800.jpg iso1600.jpg

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)


Focal Length

The Sony Xperia Z3's fixed lens offers a wide-angle focal length of 27mm in 35mm camera terms, as illustrated by this example.




Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are sharp enough and don't really benefit from further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)

sharpen1.jpg sharpen1a.jpg
sharpen2.jpg sharpen2a.jpg

Chromatic Aberrations

The Sony Xperia Z3 handled chromatic aberrations well during the review, with a little purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)

chromatic1.jpg chromatic2.jpg


The Sony Xperia Z3 has a close-focus distance of 8cms. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.


Macro (100% Crop)

macro1.jpg macro1a.jpg


The flash settings on the Sony Xperia Z3 are Auto, Fill Flash, Red-eye Reduction and Off.

Flash Off

Flash On

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are come portrait shots.

Flash Off

Flash On

ISO 64 ISO 64

Sweep Panorama

The Sony Xperia Z3 allows you to take panoramic images very easily, by 'sweeping' with the camera while keeping the shutter release depressed. The camera does all the processing and stitching and even successfully compensates for moving subjects.


Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Sony Xperia Z3 camera, which were all taken using the 20 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movies & Video

This is a sample video from the Sony Xperia Z3 camera at the highest quality setting of 3840×2160 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 20 second movie is 132Mb in size.

This is a sample video from the Sony Xperia Z3 camera at the quality setting of 1920x1080 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 26 second movie is 56.9Mb in size.

Product Images

Sony Xperia Z3

Front of the Sony Xperia Z3

Sony Xperia Z3

Front of the Sony Xperia Z3 / Image Displayed

Sony Xperia Z3

Front of the Sony Xperia Z3 / Image Displayed

Sony Xperia Z3

Front of the Sony Xperia Z3 / Turned On

Sony Xperia Z3

Front of the Sony Xperia Z3 / Shooting Modes

Sony Xperia Z3

Front of the Sony Xperia Z3 / White Balance

Sony Xperia Z3

Front of the Sony Xperia Z3

Sony Xperia Z3

Rear of the Sony Xperia Z3

Sony Xperia Z3

Side of the Sony Xperia Z3


Sony Xperia Z3

Side of the Sony Xperia Z3

Sony Xperia Z3

Side of the Sony Xperia Z3

Sony Xperia Z3

Front of the Sony Xperia Z3

Sony Xperia Z3

Memory Card Slot


Sony has produced a decent camera in the new Z3, with some notable limitations. It’s not the best camera on the smartphone market, but its overall performance is pretty good.

If you don’t want to invest in a second standalone camera, the Sony Xperia Z3 is a good choice to replace lower budget compact cameras - and the battery life is also decent too, something which is isn’t always true of smartphones.

Again, as with a lot of smart phones, if you’re mainly going to be photographing in decent light, then pictures are bright and punchy with a nice amount of detail. If the light drops, you can shoot at higher sensitivities, but just be wary of images looking a little soft, especially when examined closely - if you’re just sharing online or via your phone, then it probably won’t be too noticeable.

Video features include 4K video shooting, which is still exciting to see on a smartphone, but is no longer a new feature as it was also available on the Z2 too.

It still remains true that one of the best features of this phone is its waterproof credentials, This makes it well suited to family life, and things like beach holidays where you might normally be paranoid about keeping your smartphone perfectly dry.

Android makes the Sony Xperia Z3 a fantastically customisable camera, with hundreds of different photography apps available on the store to change the look of photos via editing, or to create various effects direct from the camera itself.

The native camera app has lots of fun features, with plenty of different modes which other smartphones on the market just don’t offer. This means you don’t have to necessarily equip it with lots of extra apps and spend time researching the best ones to download and use if you don’t want to.

Downsides of the Sony Xperia Z3 include not being able to use all the features with the highest resolution setting of 20 million pixels, and the macro focusing not being able to be set manually. There’s also only a digital zoom and an LED flash - which doesn’t compete too well with standalone cameras. It can also be a little unwieldy to use one-handed and not everybody will appreciate the phone’s large size.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 3.5
Features 5
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 4
Value for money 3.5

Main Rivals

Listed below are some of the rivals of the Sony Xperia Z3.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus

The Apple iPhone 6 Plus is the largest ever version of the most popular flagship smartphones of all time. Find out what it has to offer photographers by reading our Apple iPhone 6 Plus review, complete with full-size sample photos, test shots, videos and more...

Google Nexus 5

The new Google Nexus 5 is one of the cheapest flagship smartphones on the market, but also one of the most powerful and full-featured too, running the latest KitKat version of Android. But what kind of experience does it offer photographers? Read our Google Nexus 5 review to find out...

HTC One (M8)

The HTC One (M8) is a new flagship smartphone with not one, but two cameras, using the second one as a depth sensor that allows you to change the point of focus after taking a photo and achieve DSLR-like shallow depth-of field effects. Does this make the HTC One (M8) the best smartphone for avid photographers? Read our HTC One (M8) review to find out..

Nokia Lumia 1020

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a new 41-megapixel smartphone - yes, you read that right, 41 megapixels. The Lumia 1020 also offers built-in optical image stabilisation, a 3x loss-less zoom for stills and 6x for movies, a 26mm fixed lens with fast f/2.2 aperture, and 1080p video at 30fps with stereo sound. Read our Nokia Lumia 1020 review to find out if it can replace a compact camera.

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom

The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom is Samsung's latest attempt to fuse together a 10x compact camera with a smartphone. Can the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom really replace a standalone camera and smartphone? Read our Samsung Galaxy K Zoom review now to find out...

Samsung Galaxy S5

The Samsung Galaxy S5 is the latest edition of one of the most popular flagship smartphones of all time. Find out what it has to offer photographers by reading our Samsung Galaxy S5 review, complete with full-size sample photos, test shots, videos and more...

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Sony Xperia Z3 from around the web. »

An improvement over the Z2, but not a huge one, especially without the headlining Remote Play feature. It does pack a great, bright screen but needs to be better packaged to fight the best on the market
Read the full review » »

The Sony Xperia Z3 is the Android phone follow-up to the Xperia Z2, a phone that only launched six months ago. So, how much can you improve things in such a small space of time? Well, not by a great deal it seems. There’s a minor bump up in power, some improvements in the camera department and now it's all wrapped up in a slimmer, lighter body. The good news is that all of the things that made the Z2 so great, like the great screen, mammoth battery life and blistering fast performance are still intact.
Read the full review » »

Sony has revised and updated its flagship smartphone more times than any rival in recent years, with the Xperia Z3 model arriving just six months after the previous Z2 hit the shelves
Read the full review » »

Sony's newest Z-series flagship phone didn't take long to arrive -- the Xperia Z2 was only announced earlier this year -- but in a flash it took its place as Sony's ultimate smartphone. It brings a new, refined design and is one of the first smartphones along with the smaller Z3 Compact and the Z3 Tablet Compact, to promise a deep integration with Sony's PlayStation 4 games console.
Read the full review »



  • 152 grams


  • 146 x 72 x 7.3 mm


  • 3100 mAh
  • Talk time: up to 16 hours***
  • Standby time: up to 920 hours***
  • Music listening time: up to 130 hours***
  • Video playback time: up to 10 hours***


  • 5.2" Full HD (1920x1080 pixels)

On the inside

  • Google Android 4.4 (Kitkat)
  • Snapdragon 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Quad-core


  • 20.7 MP camera with auto focus
  • 2.2 MP front-facing camera
  • ISO 12800


  • Waterproof and dust tight (IP65 and IP68)****

Your Comments

Loading comments…