Conclusion — The Good 

  • Good exposure in most situations
  • Decent flash performance
  • Attractive design and good build quality
  • Water- and dust-proof
  • Extensive manual control in camera app
  • Good responsiveness
  • Integrated HDR and panorama functions
  • Fast burst mode
  • HDR video mode
  • Very sharp screen
  • Micro-SD slot offers storage expansion

Conclusion — The Bad

  • Image quality lags the best in all conditions
  • Processing artifacts and strong noise reduction smear fine detail
  • Slightly soft video output
  • No hardware shutter button
  • Mediocre ergonomics
  • Camera app can be a little fiddly
  • Exposure can’t be linked to focus point
  • Mediocre screen visibility in bright light
  • Editor only saves low-resolution images

Overall Conclusion

Sony’s Xperia Z looks and feels like a flagship phone, and with its powerful hardware, its general performance is unimpeachable. The remarkably sharp full HD screen is joy to look at. Running Android 4.1 (which Sony has promised to upgrade to the latest version, 4.2), the Z benefits from an enormous app ecosystem.

However, from a mobile photography perspective, the Z isn’t a slam dunk. The biggest issue is image quality: while the phone delivers perfectly pleasing output at screen and web resolutions, zooming in shows that Sony’s processing mangles the 13MP sensor’s output into a watercolored-looking blur. The upshot is little visible noise at lower ISOs, but that comes at the cost of a lot of detail that would be useful if you wanted to crop an image or (gasp) print it. 

This isn’t just a matter of Sony overreaching on pixel-count: Samsung’s S4, for example, has proven that it’s possible to wring a lot of detail out of a tiny 13MP sensor, at least in good light. What’s more, the Z’s burst mode suggests that its own sensor is capable of greater things when the phone’s heavy-handed processing gets out of the way. 

The Z’s photographic ergonomics leave something to be desired, with its hard-edged thinness making for a poor grip and the lack of a dedicated camera button not helping things. A case could improve the grip issue (at the expense of the Z’s dignified lines), but the volume buttons’ short, stiff travel doesn’t make for a satisfying shutter release even if you use a third-party camera app that supports it.

The native camera app is powerful and flexible, offering a lot of control. There’s room for improvement in its user interface design, but thoughtful touches like customizable shortcuts to settings and a video record button in still mode are good for usability.

The camera’s responsiveness, with good shot-to-shot times and nimble autofocus, helps make shooting with the Z generally satisfying.

The Z is photographically feature-rich (though not unusually so for an Android phone). There are integrated HDR, panoramic and burst functions, a variety of filters (with live preview), and an unusual (though not unique) HDR video mode. There are some useful scene modes, but they could be more intuitive (or at least better documented). The gallery app is well designed, but its integrated editor feels like an afterthought. The included slideshow app is a little frivolous, but to each their own.

The average user will be satisfied with the Xperia Z’s photographic experience, and anyone who falls in love with the Z shouldn’t be put off by its camera. But mobile photographers who want the best imaging performance should look elsewhere. Samsung’s Galaxy S4, for example, offers a feature-rich camera paired with better image quality.

The Final Word

The Sony Xperia Z is a good phone with a beautiful screen. However, its image quality is a distinct step behind the best on the market. That, combined with poor photographic ergonomics, will be a discouragement for buyers who prioritize mobile photography.

DXOMark Mobile Score
61

DXOMark Image Quality Assessment

The Sony Xperia Z achieves a DxO Mark score of 61 which means it can only place itself in front of older phones such as the Samsung Galaxy SII or Apple iPhone 4. However, it is far below the best in class such as the Nokia 808, Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3. In particular, it exhibited a poor performance in low light conditions.

The Sony Xperia Z offers "good overall exposure," "nice colors in every lighting conditions" and "low noise level in low light." On the downside: DxOMark reports that many pictures were out of focus. Images show chroma noise in shadow areas and in low light the camera preserved textures poorly, with poor autofocus repeatability and excessive exposure time, even with the image stabilizer switched off. Color shading occurs under tungsten light sources.

In video mode, the Xperia Z captured footage with "excellent contrast and dynamic range" and "good noise reduction" but also showed a "loss of texture, even in bright light" and "artifacts such as aliasing (staircase effect on straight lines) and flickering." Image stabilization in video mode was found to be inefficient and the AF was not very reactive to scene changes without moving the device. For a more detailed analysis, visit www.dxomark.com.

Photo Mobile Score 62   Video Mobile Score 61
Exposure and Contrast 79   Exposure and Contrast 93
Color 72   Color 80
Autofocus 47   Autofocus 48
Texture 39   Texture 60
Noise 56   Noise 70
Photo Artifacts 90   Video Artifacts 63
Flash 64   Stabilization 17
Sony Xperia Z
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Screen Quality
Ergonomics and Handling
Video Quality
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Sony Xperia Z is a powerful Android phone with a razor-sharp full HD screen. Its full-featured native camera app offers a lot of flexibility but could stand some refinement. The 13MP photos it captures are generally satisfying at web and screen resolutions, but closer examination reveals image quality that lags the best, with a lack of fine detail even in good light. A thin, hard-edged design and lack of a dedicated camera button make for unsatisfying photographic ergonomics. The Xperia Z is a very capable phone, but ardent mobile photographers may be better served by other options.
66%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

There are 25 images in our Sony Xperia Z samples gallery. 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.