Camera App

The Xperia Z’s camera app is feature-rich but busy.

The Z has a convenient lock screen shortcut that jumps into the camera app with a slide to the left. It would be great if it didn’t always open into the app’s “Superior Auto” mode. If you’re happy in full auto mode this won’t bother you, but there’s no reason why the shortcut couldn’t launch the app in “Normal” mode (the equivalent of the P mode on dedicated cameras) if that’s how it was last used. But no. The shortcut’s other quirk is that if you don’t take a picture within 30 seconds, you’re unceremoniously dumped from the camera app to the home screen. There may be a valid reason for this behavior, but we can’t think of it.

Of course, one of the nice things about Android is that if you don’t like something you can usually change it. There are plenty of other lock screens in the Google Play store.

A tap on icon in the top left corner opens up a range of shooting mode options.

The icon in the top left indicates the app’s current camera mode. Tapping it brings up a list of possibilities to scroll through (for no good reason - it could just as easily be arrayed in more than one row with all the options immediately visible). You can select Sony’s Superior Auto and Normal modes, Video, Burst, Picture Effect effect modes, Panorama, scene modes, and front camera still and video modes.   

In Normal mode, as seen above, the Z serves up a functional interface with easy access to commonly used settings. By default, you’ll see controls on the left to set exposure compensation, toggle HDR mode, configure the flash, or jump to more advanced settings. On the right is a shortcut to the gallery and an icon to turn on the front camera. The shutter button is also prominent on the right side, and a red circle lets you start recording video without explicitly switching to video mode, a worthy design point familiar from dedicated cameras.

Tapping the camera button takes a picture, and holding it down locks focus and exposure until you lift your finger, which triggers the shutter. By default, you can tap anywhere on the screen to set the focus point (the “Touch focus” mode), though it resets to center after each shot, which is inconvenient if you want to immediately take another picture.

Activating the “Touch capture” setting lets you take a picture by touching anywhere on the screen, and when used with Touch focus links focus point selection and shutter release into one tap (or one tap, hold, and release to shoot). If you don’t mind obscuring the scene with your finger, this can be more convenient than using the shutter button.

The Z doesn’t bias exposure towards the focus point, which means you can’t use manual focus point selection to work around tricky exposure situations. This makes it unlike most dedicated cameras, but for whatever reason, quite a few phones exhibit this behavior. 

The wrench-and-screwdriver icon brings up an extensive list of configurable parameters, any of which can be added to the left side of the interface for quick access.

Tapping the wrench-and-screwdriver icon reveals the full menu of changeable settings, which (in Normal mode) includes ISO, white balance, resolution (with both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios), digital stabilization, smile shutter, metering and focus modes and face detection. This menu, which requires some scrolling to see all the options, isn’t particularly well designed, but the good news is that you can drop any of these items into the three control spots on the left side of the camera interface. Once you’ve got things set up to your taste, you shouldn’t need to visit the menu too often. You can even set up the shortcuts in Normal and Superior Auto mode separately, but for some reason when you open the camera with the lock screen shortcut the Superior Auto customization isn’t displayed. 

Sony’s decision to provide both a point-and-shoot (Superior Auto) and a more flexible mode (Normal) is a good way to address the contradictory needs of casual and more technical mobile photographers, but unfortunately the app ends up being flexible but a little clunky. The full auto mode isn’t as clean and simple as iOS’s standard camera, while the more advanced mode can feel cluttered and fiddly: there should be no need to scroll with the Z’s expansive screen real estate. On a similar “why?” note, functions that can only be turned on or off (HDR, stabilization, touch capture) don’t simply toggle when tapped: selecting the setting opens a two item menu, requiring an extra tap. 

Watch our video walkthrough to get a sense of how the Z’s camera app works.