Sony Xperia 1 smartphone camera comparison: Sony simply can't find a way to the top
Despite Sony being the leading sensor manufacturer in the smartphone segment, photo quality in the company's own Xperia series often leaves a lot to be desired. Other Android manufacturers, who also opt for Sony sensors, have often been able to squeeze out considerably good-looking photos from the built-in camera sensor technology through better optimized software in the past – the best example of this is the Pixel series from Google.
With the Xperia 1, however, Sony's typical camera weakness is said to have been abandoned. The reason for this is the Japanese manufacturer's new head of smartphone development. Kimio Maki, the former chief of Sony's camera division, is expected to convey the know-how between the Xperia and Alpha series. Both business units will work more closely together in the future so that the Xperia division can benefit from the camera developments of the Alpha series.
Whether the Sony Xperia 1 can finally pose a threat to the camera elite comprised by the Huawei P30 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and the OnePlus 7 Pro, and how big the differences in photo quality are, we'll evaluate in more detail through different photo subjects and lighting situations. But first, let's briefly summarize the technical specifications of the built-in camera modules.
Comparison of the camera setups
The triple-camera setup in the Sony Xperia 1 is made of a super wide-angle lens (12 MP, 16 mm, 135°, f/2.4), a wide-angle lens (12 MP, 26 mm, 78°, f/1.6) and a telephoto lens (12 MP, 52 mm, 45°, f/2.4). Both the wide-angle and telephoto lenses are equipped with optical image stabilization (OIS). The Sony IMX445 image sensor in the wide-angle main camera of the Sony flagship has big pixels with a size of 1.4 μm.
The OnePlus 7 Pro uses a 48 MP Sony sensor in its main camera, which has a widest aperture of f/1.6. The Quad-Bayer color filter found in the built-in IMX586 image sensor can combine 2 x 2 neighboring pixels into one big pixel so that the OnePlus phone produces photos with a resolution of 12 megapixels. The so-called 4-in-1 pixel binning increases the sensitivity to light in photos taken under poor lighting conditions.
The Leica camera modules on the back of the Huawei P30 Pro are composed of four lenses, whereby the ToF camera (Time of Flight) doesn't take any photos but measures the time needed for the light to travel to the object and back for every point in the image in order to produce a 3D profile. Furthermore, an ultra wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens are also built in. The main camera consists of a 40 MP sensor with wide-angle optics and an f/1.6 aperture.
With the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, the Korean manufacturer opted, as in the previous year, for a 12 MP lens with large pixels, dual-pixel autofocus and a variable aperture (f/1.5 and f/2.4). Like the competition, Samsung complements the rear camera module of the Galaxy S10 Plus with a super wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens.
|Sony Xperia 1||OnePlus 7 Pro||Samsung Galaxy S10+||Huawei P30 Pro|
|Rear-facing camera setups||12 MP (main camera, f/1.6, 26 mm, 1/2.6", 1.4 µm, 5 axis) + 12 MP (telephoto, f/2.4, 52 mm, 1/3.4", 1.0 µm, 2x lossless zoom, 5 axis) + 12 MP (ultra wide f/2.4, 16 mm, 1/3.4", 1.0 µm)||48 MP Sony IMX586, 1.6 μm, f/1.6, OIS (camera 1), 8 MP telephoto, 1 μm, OIS, f/2.4 (camera 2), 16 MP ultra wide-angle, f/2.2 (camera 3), triple autofocus: PDAF, laser, contrast||12 MP (dual-pixel autofocus, 77°, f/1.5/f/2.4, 1.4 µm, OIS) + 12 MP (telephoto, 2x magnification, PDAF, 45°, f/2.4, OIS) + 16 MP (ultra wide-angle, fixed focus, 123°, f/2.2)||40 MP main camera (f/1.6, OIS, 27 mm) + 20 MP ultra wide-angle camera (f/2.2, 16 mm) + 8 MP narrow-angle camera (f/3.4, OIS, 125 mm) + TOF camera, 10x hybrid zoom, 50x digital zoom|
|Front-facing camera setups||8 MP f/2.0, 24 mm, 1/4", 1.0 µm||16 MP Sony IMX471, 1 μm, f/2.0, fixed focus, EIS, pop-up||10 MP (dual-pixel autofocus, 80°, f/1.9) + 8 MP (RGB depth, fixed focus, 90°, f/2.2)||32 MP, f/1.7, HDR, fixed focus|
Photos taken with the rear-facing camera setups
We'll limit ourselves to the photo and portrait camera modes in the Android flagships for this comparison; these are integrated into all the camera apps of the different manufacturers under varying names. In order to ensure that the photos are comparable, all photos in this comparison will be taken without the aid of artificial intelligence. The camera settings are left in their respective factory states. A 2x zoom was manually selected in all smartphones for the zoom photos. At this point it should be mentioned that alongside the Sony Xperia 1 only the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus features a native, lossless 2x zoom.
So as to better identify the differences in image details between the individual comparison devices, all photo files are available with their respective photos.
The portrait of the little horse is surely no easy subject due to the sunlight in the background, but the quality of the Sony Xperia 1 doesn't do justice to a 950-Euro (~$1,065) high-end smartphone from 2019. The photo with the Xperia smartphone is strongly overexposed. It also looks too cold and lacks sharpness, wherein the area of the grass is well captured.
The best color accuracy is found with the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus. The color tones of the little horse come the closest to reality with the Samsung smartphone. The Xperia 1 and the Huawei P30 Pro show the worst color management. The red shades in the toy are brightened up too strongly and look pale. On the other hand, they look too dark and dull with the P30 Pro. The blur transitions in portrait mode are more or less on the same level with all the smartphones.
A similar direction is carried forward with the photos in terms of color accuracy, exposure and dynamic range through our other subjects. While the OnePlus and the Samsung smartphones show a warmer color tone, the photos taken with the Huawei P30 Pro and the Xperia 1 look too cool. The latter reproduces the subjects with slightly poor contrast, and bright image areas are often overexposed.
Using the wide-angle lens to take photos results in visible differences in comparison to the main camera. The Sony Xperia 1 still has to deal with overexposed areas and somewhat too little dynamic range, but we liked the color management and especially the image sharpness and detail reproduction significantly more with the wide-angle photos. Contrary to the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, the Xperia 1 captures our subjects quite naturally in terms of color reproduction without the photos looking too dull. The strong curvatures outside of the center of the image are processed to a satisfactory degree in the wide-angle photos taken with the Sony flagship. Overall, the wide-angle photos from Sony and Huawei convinced us the most. The latter shows more sharpness, but the photos are also a bit over-sharpened though.
The Xperia 1 scores points with the 2x zoom through a sharp and detail-rich photo. The color reproduction of the plants and footpath in the third subject looks accurate too. On the other hand, the area of the sky is captured with less success. The Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus produces the best photo, in our opinion. The subject is reproduced sharply, and the dynamic range is comparably high. In contrast, colors seem too strongly saturated again and unnatural. The OnePlus 7 Pro convinces too with natural colors. However, it showed weaknesses in regard to focus.
The Xperia 1 was also convincing with the houses subject. The amount of contrast is high and the color reproduction natural. Even distant letters are sufficiently readable due to the good dynamic range. Trade-offs must be accepted in terms of image sharpness when doing a direct comparison to the Galaxy S10 Plus.
Twilight and night photography
In the ultimate discipline, low-light photography, the Sony Xperia 1 showed weaknesses particularly in terms of focus – the levels of brightness and noise in the photos are alright.
The hybrid autofocus works at a good level on the screen of the Xperia smartphone, but enlarging the photo reveals significant deficits. The Xperia 1 loses details even at twilight; these can still be captured by the competition. Especially the Huawei P30 Pro is able to preserve more image information. Photos taken in the dark are clearer and richer in contrast with the Huawei smartphone. In addition, the photos with the P30 Pro show significantly less noise than the comparison devices. Particularly with the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and, to a lesser extent, with the Sony IMX586 in the OnePlus 7 Pro, much more image noise is visible.
Using the lenses to produce wide-angle and zoom photos in the dark results in little differences, in which the Sony flagship finishes last in terms of photo quality when it comes to subjects with a wide angle of view.
Compared to the competition, photos taken with the ultra wide-angle lens found in the Sony Xperia 1 lack sharpness and quickly become dark so that many details disappear in the darkness. Despite the Galaxy S10 Plus only having a slightly faster widest aperture of f/2.2, the Samsung flagship manages to bring substantially more light to the image sensor. We found the image sharpness to be the best with the wide-angle lens of the OnePlus 7 Pro. Several components of the image, such as the joints of the paving stones in the footpath, are still recognizable, while this part of the subject gets lost in blur with the Xperia 1.
In regard to the 2x zoom, and as we already did with daylight photography, we'll be focusing on the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus as comparison object to the Xperia 1 since both feature native lossless 2x zoom. The Sony smartphone is indeed only a bit smoky, but significant compromises have to be accepted once again in terms of image sharpness. Objects can barely be told apart from one another, and both structures and details are little preserved. The Galaxy phone is slightly ahead here. Qualitatively, both smartphone representatives still have room for improvement though and can't really compete against the main camera.
Photos taken with the front-facing cameras
The weaknesses of Sony's rear-facing camera module also continue in the front. The 8 MP front-facing camera in the Sony Xperia 1 portrays the subjects quite softly and tends to overexpose as well. Compared to the selfie elite, the Sony flagship is lacking in image details and dynamic range, as the background of the daylight photo reveals. In addition, the blur transitions in the area of the hair show the worst implementation. Contrary to the Samsung smartphone, which is the only one to offer a dual-camera with dual-pixel autofocus in the front, the bokeh effects are relatively inaccurate with the Xperia 1.
As was the case with the last high-end smartphone camera comparison, we liked the selfies taken with the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus in strong light the most. In terms of sharpness, dynamic range and color accuracy, the Samsung smartphone and the OnePlus 7 Pro are pretty much on par. The Huawei P30 Pro reproduces our portrait subjects with a bit too much darkness and with less sharpness. However, these selfies are clearly ahead of the Sony Xperia 1 when it comes to color management and exposure.
In low light and during twilight, massive image noise is introduced with all four flagship smartphones. This is especially noticeable with the Sony Xperia 1. Furthermore, the photos taken with the Sony phone and the Galaxy S10 Plus are strongly blurred. Image details such as structures in the beard are barely recognizable with both smartphones. The pop-up camera in the OnePlus 7 Pro is the most convincing in our low-light selfie comparison.
Verdict - Sony has once again failed to realize its potential
In response to the question we raised at the beginning, "Can Sony finally fulfill its camera potential?", we clearly have to deny this after viewing our photos taken under different lighting conditions – at least at the top level. Even with the new Sony staff in the smartphone development department, the Xperia division has been unable to benefit from the know-how of the Japanese manufacturer's Alpha series.
Essentially, the Sony Xperia 1 is unable to convince as a high-end smartphone in any camera discipline.
With its 12 MP main camera, the Sony Xperia 1 lacks in image sharpness both in day shots and in low light. Under diffuse light influences, such as the partial incidence of sunlight in the photo subject, the Sony camera leans towards overexposure and a reduced dynamic range so that areas darken relatively strongly. The same goes for the wide-angle lens. The Sony Xperia 1 has to deal again with overexposed sections and lower dynamic range – especially in the dark. We liked the color management and detail reproduction in the wide-angle photos a lot more – at least in daylight. Only the lens used for the lossless 2x zoom is able to keep up qualitatively when compared to the Android competition. This is not necessarily due to the high photo quality of the Xperia phone. To be fair, it should be mentioned at this point that the zoom capabilities of the Huawei P30 Pro weren't taken into account due to the lack of comparability. At high zoom ranges, the Xperia 1 doesn't have a chance either.
The 8 MP front-facing camera is almost disappointing. Compared to the selfie elite, the photos of the Sony flagship lack in image details and dynamic range. Besides, we don't really like the exposure and color reproduction of the Xperia's front camera.
Users who focus on photography on a smartphone shouldn't use the Sony Xperia 1. The market provides better alternatives for this.