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Image Quality & Performance

With the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon system under the hood and 3GB of RAM powering Android 4.4 the Sony Xperia Z2 is very quick and responsive in general use and the camera app is no different. The camera takes just over a second to open after long-pressing the shutter button and is ready for action straightaway. 

At around 0.5 seconds shot-to-shot times are a little slower than on the fastest devices but more than fast enough for general use. As we found with the Z1, focus slows down noticeably in low light to more than 1.0 sec when things get really dim. The focus is generally reliable though, we only had a handful of out-of-focus images in our several hundred samples. We are also quite impressed by the Z2's battery life. The 3200 mAh is quite beefy and provides more than enough juice for an entire day, even under heavy use.   

Daylight, Low ISO

The Sony Xperia Z2's exposure and white balance usually work very reliably in bright light, even in challenging contre-jour situations. Dynamic range is in line with most other high-end smartphone cameras with small sensors. Saturation and contrast are quite strong, giving images a punchy look. It's well within acceptable limits though and overall the Sony's images have a pleasant look and tonality. 

Things get a little less pretty when you zoom in to a 100% view. At close examination the Xperia Z2's  20.7MP output shows a lot of noise in areas of plain color and the shadows, even at base ISO, and processing artifacts. Blurring of fine low-contrast detail is also evident from very low sensitivities and in combination with a couple of soft spots in the lens of our review sample, can make for pretty unsightly soft areas in the frame.

Overall the Xperia Z2 images are pleasant to view at screen size but zooming in to a 100% reveals a few unpleasant imperfections. The latter of course will only be relevant to you if you ever want to use the Z2's 20.7MP output at full size which is unlikely if you edit and share your images on the phone only. 

ISO 50, 1/2500 sec
Visible noise in areas of plain color and stepping artifacts on the edges of the palm leaves. 
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/500 sec
Decent detail at base ISO and natural skin tones
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/1250 sec
Strong blurring of fine low-contrast detail and lens softness can lead to unpleasant results.
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/5000 sec
Some shadow noise, no chromatic aberrations
100% crop
ISO 64, 1/2000 sec
Soft spots in lens
100% crop

Low light, high ISO

The Xperia Z2's fast F2.0 lens allows ISO sensitivity to be kept relatively low even in poor light but if things get too dark in its 20.7MP mode the Sony can increase ISO up to 1250 and get decent exposures, even in very low light. Like its predecessor the Z2 does not have an optical image stabilization system, so there is an increased risk of image blur through camera shake in low light conditions but using the physical shutter button makes it easier to keep the phone stable than tapping on a virtual shutter button on the screen. 

Exposure and color fidelity are good in low light but as soon as you look closely you'll see the same imperfections as are visible in good light and, as you would expect, noise levels increase significantly as you go up the ISO scale. Fortunately though most noise is of the grainy kind which is more pleasant to look at than the noise that has been converted into "blobs" by noise reduction or more intrusive color noise. Fine detail is blurred though and not much of it is left from ISO 640 upwards.

Despite the problems at pixel level edge definition and saturation are decent up to the highest ISOs which means the Xperia Z2's image output is more than adequate for online sharing and screen size viewing, even at the highest ISO settings.

ISO 160, 1/50 sec
The F2.0 lens keeps ISOs relatively low even at night.
100% crop
ISO 250, 1/32 sec
Some noise is visible but overall the image is still clean at ISO 250.
100% crop
ISO 640, 1/32 sec
Noise becomes more intrusive above ISO 500 but remains finely grained.
100% crop
ISO 800, 1/20 sec
Subject motion becomes an issue in low light at shutter speeds around 1/20 sec.
100% crop
ISO 1000, 1/16 sec
White balance is struggling with artificial street lighting in this low light scene.
100% crop
ISO 1250, 1/32 sec
There is a lot of grain in this image but chroma noise is still well under control.
100% crop

Flash

Like all smartphones with LED-flash the Sony Xperia Z2 has to crank up the ISO quite a bit for capturing flash images and as a result, on close examination flash images show the same noise levels and loss of fine detail as the high-ISO samples that you'll see in the section above. 

Exposure and white balance in flash mode are usually good though, making for pleasant viewing at smaller images sizes. Like on its predecessor, on the Xperia Z2 you have a little more control over the flash function than on most smartphones. Apart from the usual flash auto/on/off settings there are separate settings for the anti-red-eye mode, fill-flash and for use of the LED as a torch. Nevertheless, like on most camera phones, the Xperia Z2's LED flash should not be viewed as much more than an emergency solution in very low light. 

ISO 800, 1/16 sec
At ISO 800 this flash image shows a lot of noise and blurred fine detail.
100% crop

8MP images

In its manual mode the Xperia Z2 is capable of capturing 20.7MP images and Sony likes to use that number in its marketing material but the default image size in Superior Auto mode is 8MP and looking at the 100% crops of the full-size images above 8MP might be the better option for many users. The smaller size means that less storage space is needed and loss of detail, noise and other artifacts are much less visible.  As a bonus, when in manual mode and shooting at 8MP, you can use scene modes, HDR and ISO up to 3200, all of which are not available at 20.7MP. Have a look at the samples below and see what you think.

ISO 50, 1/2500 sec
Less noise and fewer artifacts in the smaller images
100% crop
ISO 64, 1/2000 sec
Blurring of fine detail is still evident at 8MP image size.
100% crop
ISO 200, 1/32 sec
Noise is well under control.
100% crop
ISO 800, 1/25 sec
Not much fine detail is left in this ISO 800 image. 
100% crop
ISO 1000, 1/16 sec
Despite the loss of detail edges are still well-defined in this image.
100% crop
ISO 2500, 1/16 sec
Things are getting softer at extreme ISO settings. 
100% crop
ISO 3200, 1/16 sec
Maximum ISO should be reserved for emergency use.
100% crop

Comments

Total comments: 37
oznikonian
By oznikonian (1 month ago)

Lars just letting you know the camera app on my Z2 remembers the mode you were in last.(selecting the camera icon on the home screen) its only when you use the button to launch the app that it reverts to the Superior Auto mode.

1 upvote
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (1 month ago)

Poor showing for the level of hardware this phone is carrying.

0 upvotes
ageha
By ageha (1 month ago)

The phone will be obsolete in a few days.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (1 month ago)

for the past couple of years or so Sony has been replacing its top-of-the-line model every 6 months. However, that does not mean the previous model is not available for purchase anymore. You'll be able to buy a Z2 for quite some time. Equally, whatever gets announced at IFA most likely won't be available in the shops straightaway.

0 upvotes
ET2
By ET2 (1 month ago)

where are studio shots?

1 upvote
Yudi Hilmawan
By Yudi Hilmawan (1 month ago)

Next time it would be much better if you just can show us image comparison tools like comparometer from the imaging resource other than this kind of review.
I'm really disappointed with your review because even some other non photography related site can provide us with more better and detailed review.

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (1 month ago)

can you specify where we find those great reviews from non-camera people? Just so I can have a look.

2 upvotes
BarnET
By BarnET (1 month ago)

Lars you gave an Sony phone an good review.
For some that is enough reason to call you all sorts of things.

0 upvotes
Toshik
By Toshik (1 month ago)

Why would cameras need to crank up iso while using flash? Flash helps to illuminate the subject and therefore lower iso as there is more light.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (1 month ago)

part of the problem is that most smartphones don't have real flash units but tiny LEDs which do not nearly produce the illumination of a Xenon flash.

1 upvote
vlad0
By vlad0 (1 month ago)

No studio shots ?

1 upvote
seliscan
By seliscan (1 month ago)

Sony cameras have the most unpleasant jpg engine from all companies that I know of, this phone make no exception. The heavy NR + heavy sharpening applied in the photos make the unusable. It is very sad.

3 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (1 month ago)

I wish they had RAW output. (Not that I would purchase these phones... Sony is one of the worst companies WRT phasing out their "old" models - about every half a year. In this regard, all major manufacturers are better - Apple, LG, Samsung, Nokia/MS etc.)

3 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (1 month ago)

Yes, but the Z2 does seem to improve the JPG engine to a degree, as there seems to be less heavy handed noise reduction. That being said, images at higher ISOs still lack detail, and are indeed noisy.

0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (1 month ago)

Menneisyys , I think the android phone that has RAW output currently is the OPPO find 7.

0 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (1 month ago)

"Menneisyys , I think the android phone that has RAW output currently is the OPPO find 7."

Nevertheless, Sony has always put a LOT of emphasis on the cameras of their phones. I would really like them to give their customers RAW. After all, it can't be THAT hard to implement (unless they use some kind of a chipset where there's absolutely no access to the sensor data w/o preprocessing / JPEG compressing first.)

0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (1 month ago)

@Menneisyys

Absolutely agree. It could well be the output from their sensor is not all that it is made out to be, and the need for clever image processing may have been required give a semi descent output.

1 upvote
new boyz
By new boyz (1 month ago)

You haven't seen Lenovo's yet. Its IQ(or lack thereof) makes you wanna give up on taking picture.

Comment edited 16 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Markol
By Markol (1 month ago)

Looking at the samples my first thought is: if your camera can't handle 20 MP, don't even bother to make them available. Just offer the downsized versions, who will benefit from so lousy 20 MP photos?
Maybe it's my eyes or personal taste but the Sony 20 MP smart phones really disappoint big time. And I'm so waiting for a decent Android camera phone. Other than the S5. Nokia 808 decent. Look at the full size images from the 808 and then look at the 20 MP images here- this is my gold standard and not even the 1020 came close IMHO:
http://img230.imagevenue.com/img.php?image=436190887_2013_07_14_2952_122_424lo.jpg

Just to be clear_ I don't doubt that downsampliong these photos will give good results but I wonder why they use such a bad 20 MP sensor, just look at the ISO 50 photo of the roofs with antennae.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (1 month ago)

Absolutely agreed. The 808 is and still remains the stills IQ king. You need to carry around significantly larger & more expensive cameras to produce photos with equal or better pixel-level sharpness.

For example, my 16 Mpixel Fuji X-E1 with its 18-55 lens operating at one of its sweet spots, f/5.6 at 18mm, delivers appr. the same pixel-level detail level. (Its DR, noise, OIS, contrast etc. are significantly better, of course.) Even DSLR cameras with worse lens / lens not operating at their sweet spot / with an AA filter may produce worse results than the 808 WRT detail.

Comment edited 27 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
vlad0
By vlad0 (1 month ago)

808 is in a different league when it comes to IQ.. Sony are still struggling to get to N8 IQ levels.

0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (1 month ago)

vlad0 , agree completely, the n8 has abnormally large micron pixels which help contribute to good dyanmic range and lower noise. The only gripe I had with the n8 was the whole camera interface experience. It was good when it was released, but once I got the taste of the 808 camera UI, the n8 controls paled in comparison and actually got annoying to use.

0 upvotes
vlad0
By vlad0 (1 month ago)

@bigley, yes.. I think they messed up the UX with the "anna" update. I still have mine...its a pretty good smartphone.

The pixels on it are at 1.75 microns I believe.... so I am not 100% sure but I think it still has the largest physical pixels of any smartphone camera out there.

If the rumors are true, and my math is right, the iPhone 6 will finally surpass it with 1.9µm pixels... can't wait to see Apple's marketing frenzy behind "big pixels" vs. megapixel count :)

Comment edited 38 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
bigley Ling
By bigley Ling (1 month ago)

exciting stuff, this IPhone 6. Will wait in great anticipation for it's release and camera offerings. Ignoring the camera quality, I still will be upgrading to an IP6 as I enjoy the way iOS as an operating system works in general

1 upvote
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (1 month ago)

The iPhone6 will be a major release. For example, the sweep pano implementation has always one of the best in iPhones - and is orders of magnitude better than that of Sony (or, for that matter, Google in their stock Camera app). The only problem with iOS8 is that it still lacks any kind of RAW output.

1 upvote
thx1138
By thx1138 (1 month ago)

Crazy generous score. The photo IQ is simply second rate at any thing other than viewing it on the phone itself. I'm sure it's a relative score and only compared to other phones but the score is crazy. I reckon DxO would rate this better than a 5D III sensor.

3 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (1 month ago)

pixel-level image quality is one component of the score but there a other things the X2 is pretty good at, that's how we get to this score.

0 upvotes
ukkisavosta
By ukkisavosta (1 month ago)

Thanks for the interesting review. Might I suggest one additional but very crucial item to your testing scenarios: camera lens scratch resistance.

A good camera is useless on a phone, if the lens scratches easily, and my experience with Sony isn't exactly rewarding in this sense.

I recently upgraded my trusty old Nokia N8 to a Sony Xperia SP, and after a couple months of light use (with the phone protected by a fleece-lined case) the camera lens is full of microscopic scratches that have rendered the camera basically useless -- all shots are soft with an ugly glow and the camera struggles to AF.

I've handled the phone very carefully and it is still in like-new condition, except for the lens, which is obviously made of some sub-par glass (or plastic even!). My N8's lens was scratch-free after 3 years of hard use.

I like Sony's products, and I've been happy with my A7 and NEX-C3 cameras, but the Xperia SP has definitely been a disappointment in this respect.

2 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (1 month ago)

Personally I have not had any problems of this kind with the phones I have tested and I have a feeling that the manufacturers would not be too happy about me deliberately scratching their test units. However, if it happened during normal use in the testing process I would certainly mention that in the review.

1 upvote
ukkisavosta
By ukkisavosta (1 month ago)

Ah, too bad, but I perfectly understand.

I'm amazed that these units passed the manufacturers' (or Sony's in this case) scratch resistance tests during the design stage. Surely such basic tests are part of the basic testing process.

Anyway, just wanted to raise this issue to others looking at buying a Sony phone. I'm quite peeved about this and still debating whether to send my Xperia in for a warranty fix (problem would likely turn up again later, or more likely I'd be accused of 'incorrect handling' and charged for the job).

Caveat emptor!

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (1 month ago)

well, it's worth a try I would say!

0 upvotes
ipecaca
By ipecaca (1 month ago)

I have an xperia ION lte and the camera became useless because of the scrached lens in about 3 months as well.

1 upvote
Menneisyys
By Menneisyys (1 month ago)

Yuck. Sounds awful. I won't be recommending Sony smartphones to friends, then. (So far, I've told them to go for them if they like flashy and, most importantly, water resistant stuff.)

1 upvote
dbo
By dbo (1 month ago)

"...only 1080p.."
ONLY????
Cmon, it's a cell phone. Who does really want and/or need 4k in a cell phone?

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (1 month ago)

are you talking about the special mode output at 1080p? Yes, that is indeed a small image size for a smartphone in 2014, especially a high-end unit.

0 upvotes
Johannes Zander
By Johannes Zander (1 month ago)

What! No PSAM dial... No articulated screen... No hot shoe to mount standart flashes...
I think I keep my D800, also the pohone part is very badly implemented.

0 upvotes
noirdesir
By noirdesir (1 month ago)

Not that the D800 would have a PSAM dial or articulated screen.

1 upvote
Total comments: 37
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