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Conclusion

Conclusion - The Good

  • Good exposure and color up to the highest ISO settings
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200 (6400 in Hi-ISO mode) and fast aperture allow for usable results in very low light
  • Physical two-position shutter button
  • Good build quality, dust- and waterproof
  • Efficient HDR-mode
  • 4K video
  • Efficient digital video stabilization (but not as good as optical systems)
  • MicroSD-slot
  • Good battery life

Conclusion - The Bad

  • Noise and pixel-level artifacts across the ISO range
  • Strong blurring of fine low-contrast detail from base ISO
  • Soft spots in the lens of our sample unit
  • No control over exposure in Superior Auto mode
  • Camera app lacks structure and does not remember last shooting mode
  • Small and low-quality panorama images
  • Several special modes only produce 1080p output
  • Severe focus pumping in video mode, even in bright light
  • Lens location means it's very easy to shade with your finger

Overall Conclusion

From a mobile photography perspective the Sony Xperia Z2 is in many ways very similar to its predecessor, the Xperia Z1, and that's good and bad thing at the same time. The Z2 has the same environmental protection and premium-level build quality as the Z1 and the two-position shutter button give it a real camera-feel when taking pictures.  

However, the camera app is not too well structured and some of the special modes produce lower-quality results than the competition in the high-end bracket. Image quality itself has not noticeably improved from the Xperia Z1 and, when viewed at 100%, the 20.7MP output shows a lot of of noise, artifacts and blurring of fine detail which means that shooting at the default 8MP resolution is arguably the better option for most users. 

On the upside the Z2 images maintain good exposure and color even in very low light and even pictures taken at extreme ISO settings are still usable for social sharing and web use. Overall, the Z2 is still a good option for Android users but if pixel-level image quality or powerful camera features are a priority there are better alternatives around.

Features & Operation

The Z2 takes over most of the imaging features from its predecessor and the ability to install further shooting modes and apps from the Sony Store means that just trying the camera functions alone can keep you busy for days. However, when having a closer look at some of the special modes it becomes obvious that not all of them are as powerful as those we've seen on some competitors. 

Some modes, such as Timeshift Burst and Creative Effects, only capture output at 1080p full-HD video size. Panorama mode, arguably one of the most used special modes (and originally introduced to the camera market by Sony), produces much smaller images than on the Samsung Galaxy S5 or iPhone 5S. The stitching quality is not great either.

In terms of ergonomics the Xperia Z2's big plus is its two-position shutter button that, in combination with the phone's angular shapes, almost makes you feel like using a real camera. However, like on the Z1, the camera app needs to be easier to use. Superior Auto mode works well for point-and-shoot operation but overall the user interface design is not intuitive. For example 4K-video has its own mode instead of being implemented as just another video resolution and HDR mode and the full ISO range are not available at the full 20.7MP resolution which can take a while to get your head around. 

Image Quality

In terms of image quality the Xperia Z2 gets a lot of things right. Exposure and white balance are generally reliable and thanks to the combination of an ISO 3200 maximum sensitivity (in 8MP mode) and fast F2.0 aperture the Sony is capable of maintaining good exposure and color in lower light levels than some of the competition.  

However, when you start zooming into your images things turn ugly. In its 20.7 MP mode the Sony's images show a lot of noise, blurring of fine detail and artifacts right from base ISO upwards. The lens of our test sample also had several soft spots. Overall, the Xperia Z2 is definitely not recommended for pixel-peepers. That said, chroma noise, chromatic aberrations and moire patterns are all well under control across the ISO range. The pixel-level imperfections become less intrusive in the camera's 8MP mode and given the reduced storage requirements and better choice of shooting modes the latter is arguably the better resolution option for most users of the Xperia Z2.  

In both its dedicated 4K and standard video mode the Sony captures smooth footage but constant focus hunting, even in bright light, rendered many of our sample videos pretty much unusable. Hopefully Sony can improve things here with a firmware update, otherwise the Z2 can hardly be recommended to frequent video shooters.

The Final Word

The Xperia Z2 offers high-end specs all around and a nicely made body that offers premium materials and environmental sealing. However, on the imaging front Sony has not made any significant progress from last year's Xperia Z1 and in terms of both image quality and camera features there are currently better alternatives around.

Among the Android competitors the Samsung Galaxy S5 only comes in a plastic shell but offers better pixel-level image quality and more powerful features including panorama images that are multiple times larger than the Sony's. If the Windows Phone operating system is an option for you Nokia's Lumia 1520 and 930 models offer excellent image quality, Raw capture and arguably the best camera app in the business. App availability is still an issue though. The iPhone 5S is getting close to being superceded but is still the obvious choice if you're invested into Apple's mobile OS.  

That said, with its physical shutter button, environmental sealing and attractive exterior the Sony Xperia Z2 is still a great option for mobile photographers who are mainly operating in full-auto mode and not too concerned about pixel-level image quality.

DXOMark Mobile Score
79

DXOMark Image Quality Assessment

The Sony Xperia Z2 currently takes the number two spot in the DxOMark smartphone ranking, slotting in between the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the Nokia 808.

The Xperia Z2's images show good detail and comparatively low noise levels in all light conditions. The autofocus is reliable, fast and responsive. The the DxO team found the Z2 to deliver "good overall exposure," "nice colors in all conditions," and a "good overall flash performance."

On the downside the white balance can occasionally struggle outdoors and in mixed-light, flash scenarios. Close-up, the images also show "noticeable fringing, ringing and maze artifacts."

In video mode the Xperia Z2 displayed good overall performance with "decent stabilization, nice textures and low noise levels." However, the AF tends to be a little unstable. Like in stills mode, the video white balance can produce color casts when shooting in daylight. For a more detailed analysis, visit www.dxomark.com.

Photo Mobile Score 81   Video Mobile Score 73
Exposure and Contrast 88   Exposure and Contrast 95
Color 74   Color 79
Autofocus 84   Autofocus 52
Texture 83   Texture 81
Noise 84   Noise 81
Photo Artifacts 68   Video Artifacts 68
Flash 85   Stabilization 66
7.6

Summary

The Sony Xperia Z2 is made from premium-level materials and offers environmental sealing but the default camera app lacks a coherent structure and some imaging features are not as powerful as on competing models. Good exposure and color are maintained even in very low light but at a pixel-level the Sony cannot quite keep up with the best in class. That said, with its physical shutter button and solid build quality the Xperia Z2 is still a good option for mobile photographers who don't need large image sizes and predominantly operate in point-and-shoot mode.  

Sample Gallery

There are 25 images in our Sony Xperia Z2 samples gallery, a mixture of 20.7 and 8MP files. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. 

Sony Xperia Z2 Sample Gallery
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Comments

Total comments: 39
jamaljan

i'm googling but can't find out any review which shows which cellfone's front camera has the biggest sensor. Can someone please help... Am looking to buy a camera specifically for its cameras (both back and specially front). Already have Nokia 808 but its front camera sucks.

2 upvotes
jamaljan

can anyone please help me...

0 upvotes
oznikonian

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

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

0 upvotes
ageha

The phone will be obsolete in a few days.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm

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

where are studio shots?

1 upvote
Yudi Hilmawan

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

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

2 upvotes
BarnET

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

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

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

No studio shots ?

1 upvote
eno2

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

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

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

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

0 upvotes
Menneisyys

"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

@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

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

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

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

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

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

@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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0 upvotes
ipecaca

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

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

"...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

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

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

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

1 upvote
Total comments: 39
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