Sony Xperia Z Review

March 12, 2013 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Sony Xperia Z is a feature-packed smartphone with lots of features aimed at the more discerning mobile photographer. Offering a 28mm equivalent fixed lens with a fast aperture of F2.2, the water-resistant and dust-proof Xperia Z also boasts a 13 megapixel Exmor RS image sensor, full 1080p high-definition video recording, a high resolution 5 inch LCD screen, 10fps continuous shooting, a built-in flash, Geotagging, High Dynamic Range mode, Sweep Panoramas and nine creative Picture Effects. The Sony Xperia Z is available now for around £530 / $775.

Ease of Use

The Sony Xperia Z smartphone features many of the technologies that have been featured in recent CyberShot cameras. In this review we're going to focus on what the Xperia Z offers photographers and find out if it can replace a conventional compact camera.

The Xperia Z is a large but slim and light smartphone that just about fits into a trouser or jacket pocket. It has an all-glass design that's both water-resistant (up to 1 meter) and dust proof, useful if you routinely expose your camera to the elements. The lens is a 28mm equivalent optic with a fast maximum aperture of f/2.2, alongside which is a small built-in flash that's not very powerful.

The Xperia Z uses the Micro SD memory card format, with a slot so annoyingly deep that we resorted to using a key to insert and release it. There's no physical shutter release button, instead replaced by a large soft version on the Xperia Z's impressive 5 inch LCD screen, with a smaller one-touch movie record button underneath. There are buttons for operating the digital zoom, but we wouldn't recommend using them as the image quality quickly deterioates the more you zoom in.

The combination of the wide-angle lens, f/2.2 aperture, effective built-in image stabilizer and maximum ISO speed of 1600 makes this smartphone better suited to hand-held low-light photography than most other comparable devices. There's no means of gripping the Xperia Z the front or rear, making it a little difficult to get to grips with, especially since its glass body is very smooth. Also, because the lens is very close to the edge of the body, you have to be careful not to let your left forefinger stray into the frame.

Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z
Front Apps Menu

Press the small On/Off button on the side and the Sony Xperia Z quickly readies itself for action in under a second. You then have to select the camera icon to access the Xperia Z's camera app, which takes another second or so. We'd describe the general performance of the Xperia Z as snappy, with little waiting around for the camera to take a picture - its certainly just as responsive as the majority of compacts that we've reviewed.

By default the Xperia Z uses the Superior Intelligent Auto shooting mode. This works in virtually identical fashion to the intelligent auto modes of Panasonic's and Canon's compact ranges. Simply point the Xperia Z at a scene or subject and the camera analyses it and automatically chooses one of the pre-optimised settings to best suit. It also places emphasis on reducing blur and noise and increasing the dynamic range. It does such a good job that we used this mode for a lot of our shooting.

Face recognition and smile shutter functionality are also on board, the former mode biasing human faces in the frame and the latter mode firing the shutter when it detects a smiling subject. The Face Detection system automatically adjusts the focus, exposure and white balance for people in the frame, and can even be set to distinguish between children and adults. Smile Detection offers three self-explanatory options, Big, Average and Small. Used in conjunction, the Face and Smile Detection systems do result in more hits than misses, especially in contrasty lighting conditions, although all those smiling faces could ultimately freak you out a little!

Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z
Image Displayed Turned On

The Normal shooting mode provides the full range of camera options and additionally allows you to change settings like the ISO speed and metering. The proven Sweep Panorama mode lets you capture a panoramic image very easily without the use of a tripod. All you need to decide is whether you would like to start from left or right, top or bottom. Then press and hold down the shutter release while doing a "sweep" with the camera in hand. Exposure compensation is available before you start the sweep, but the exposure is fixed once you depress the shutter button. After you are done with the sweeping, the camera does all the processing required, and presents you with a finished panoramic image. Note that if you do the sweeping too slowly, or you let go of the shutter release button too early, the panorama will not be completed.

Sony's long-standing HDR function is present to help even out tricky exposures, for example where a bright background would normally throw the foreground into deep shadow. You can see from the examples on the Image Quality page that this feature produces a photo with noticeably more dynamic range than one taken using one of the standard shooting modes, but at the same time without replicating the often "false" look of many HDR programs. It also usefully works when shooting video too.

Go on to take the shot and JPEG images are quickly committed to memory in a single second, the screen momentarily blanking out and then displaying the captured image before the user can go on to take a second shot. The Sony Xperia Z can shoot 9 megapixel 16:9 ratio pictures at up to 10fps, a very fast rate for a smartphone.

Sony Xperia Z Sony Xperia Z
ISO Menu Settings Menu

The Xperia Z can also shoot High Definition video clips at full 1080p HD with stereo sound plus the ability to change the Scene mode, self-timer, focus mode, exposure level, white balance, metering, image stabilizer and HDR options. The various options are 1920x1280, 1280x720 or 640x480 pixels in the MP4 format, all at 30fps. During video recording you can take a 1 megapixel still image by pressing the on-screen shutter button.

There's a small icon for playing back your images in the top-right of the screen. Users have the ability to dip in and out of created folders of images or the calendar view, view thumbnails, select slideshows and choose transitional effects and accompanying music, share or delete shots. There are also a multitude of in-camera eidting tools and retouching effects, including the ability to crop and sharpen an image and apply red-eye correction.

We're impressed by the Xperia Z's handling and repsonsiveness - it feels just like using a modern compact camera with a well-implemented touch-screen interface. Now let's take a closer look at its image quality...

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 13 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 3Mb.

The Sony Xperia Z produced images of good quality during the review period. This camera handled noise well, not becoming too obvious until ISO 800, with the fastest setting of ISO 1600 not really worth using, a great performance for a tiny image sensor with such a high pixel count.

Chromatic aberrations were in evidence but were well-controlled, with some limited purple fringing effects appearing in high contrast situations. The images were a little soft straight out of the camera at the default setting and require some further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop.

Macro performance is good, although the camera often failed to focus properly, while the built-in flash is a little underpowered. The Steadyshot anti-shake system works well when hand-holding the camera at slower shutter speeds. The camera can capture enough light for some after-dark situations.

The High Dynamic Range mode combines two shots taken at different exposures to produce one image with greater dynamic range than a single image would produce. Sony's now tried-and-trusted Sweep Panorama is a joy to use. The Picture Effects quickly produce special looks that would otherwise require you to spend a lot of time in the digital darkroom.


There are 5 ISO settings available on the Sony Xperia Z. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)


ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)


ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


Focal Length

The Sony Xperia Z's 3.6x zoom lens offers a wide-angle focal length of 28mm 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 just a little soft and ideally benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the sharpening level after the picture has been taken.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Sony Xperia Z handled chromatic aberrations well during the review, with some 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)


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)


The flash settings on the Sony Xperia Z are Auto, Fill Flash, Red-eye Reduction and Off. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off

Fill Flash

ISO 64 ISO 64


The Sony Xperia Z has a Handheld Twilight scene mode that promises to take good night shots - in reality, the results are disappointing to say the least.


Night (100% Crop)


The Sony Xperia Z has an antishake mechanism which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, we took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with Shake Reduction turned off, the second with it turned on. Here is a 100% crop of the image to show the results. As you can see, with Shake Reduction turned on, the images are sharper than when it's turned off.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Shake Reduction Off (100% Crop)

Shake Reduction On (100% Crop)

1/50th / 28mm

High Dynamic Range

High Dynamic Range Optimiser (HDR) is Sony's solution for capturing more contrast than a single exposure can handle by combining two exposures into one image.



Picture Effects

The Sony Xperia Z offers an extensive range of 9 creative Picture Effects.











Partial Colour


Harris Shutter


Sweep Panorama

The Sony Xperia Z 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 Z camera, which were all taken using the 13 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample video from the Sony Xperia Z camera at the highest quality setting of 1920x1080 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 26 second movie is 55.8Mb in size.

Product Images

Sony Xperia Z

Front of the Camera

Sony Xperia Z

Front of the Camera / Turned On

Sony Xperia Z

Front of the Camera / Apps Menu

Sony Xperia Z

Image Displayed

Sony Xperia Z

Turned On

Sony Xperia Z

Front-facing Camera

Sony Xperia Z

Shooting Modes

Sony Xperia Z

Picture Effects

Sony Xperia Z

Sweep Panorama Mode


Sony Xperia Z

ISO Menu

Sony Xperia Z

HDR Menu

Sony Xperia Z

Settings Menu


The Xperia Z brings together a lot of Sony's latest camera technologies in a premium smartphone. The intutuive touchscreen interface ensures that all those features are easy to access and deploy, aided by the device's quick responsiveness. Sure, the image quality still can't quite match even a cheap compact camera, but the gap has definitely narrowed further, especially if you mainly use the Xperia Z in good light.

There's very little to complain about the Xperia Z for general point-and-shoot users. The Intelligent Auto mode does a great job of selecting the right scene mode for you, the interface is generally slick and well-designed, while the HDR function for both stills and video quietly improves your images.

We have few real gripes with the Xperia Z - only its poor low-light performance would prevent us from using it more often for general snapshots. If you only have room in your pocket or bag for a smartphone that takes decent pictures and video, we can certainly recommend the new Sony Xperia Z.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4.5
Features 4.5
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 3.5
Value for money 3

Review Roundup

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

The Sony Xperia Z combines looks, power and connectivity to supply one of the most impressive Android experiences we've seen in quite some time. The lack of Android 4.2 at launch is unfortunate and that 5-inch screen isn't going to suit everyone, but there's little room for complaint elsewhere. This is easily Sony's best phone yet, and one of the best Android phones ever released.
Read the full review » »

The Xperia Z is one of the main pillars of Sony's new plan to focus on mobile, gaming and imaging. In fact, it's a device that addresses all three of those areas, while also pressing reset on Sony's smartphone past. The handset ushers in a new design language, one Sony's decided to bring to its new tablet too. It's called omnibalance design, but it's best described as a combination of 90-degree angles, even weight distribution and flat glossy sides.
Read the full review » »

On paper a true rival to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3, Google Nexus 4 and iPhone 5, the Sony Xperia Z runs Google’s Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean OS from the box – although a 4.2 update is already on the cards. Pairing a selection of premium innards with a raft of new, consumer appeasing features, the handset plays host to the likes of an IP57 waterproof coating.
Read the full review »



  • 146 grams
  • 5.15 oz


  • 139 x 71 x 7.9 mm
  • 5.47 x 2.79 x 0.31 inches


  • Talk time (up to): Up to 11 hours [1]
  • Standby time (up to): Up to 550 hours [1]


  • 5.0 inches TFT
  • 16 million colours, 1920 x 1080 pixels

On the inside

  • Google Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
  • 1.5 GHz Qualcomm APQ8064+MDM9215M Quad Core


  • 13 megapixel Exmor RS camera with Auto focus and flash
  • 2 MP, Exmor R, front facing camera (1080p)


  • IPX5/7 (Water-resistant) & IP5X (Dust-proof) [2]

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