Sony Xperia Z3 Review

November 18, 2014 | Amy Davies |


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.