Camera Features cont.

Continuous Shooting

The Z has a speedy burst capability with three speed and resolution settings. The most generally useful setting shoots 9MP images at about 6.5 frames per second for as long as you care to hold the button down, which is better than a lot of dedicated cameras. If speed is a priority, a much lower-resolution 1MP mode will rattle off 15 frames per second. Finally, a more leisurely 4-frames-per-second mode captures 2MP images. 

The Z seems to aim for slightly higher shutter speeds in burst mode, but the behavior is inconsistent and the boost typically isn’t sufficient to avoid motion blur with fast action in lower light conditions. Unfortunately, there’s no way to combine the Sports scene mode (or any other) with burst operation.

The Z doesn’t aggressively push up shutter speeds in burst mode, so in lower light levels you’ll get blur with moving subjects. This is no different from most other phones though.

A quirk of the Z is that shooting in burst mode appears to bypass a lot of the processing the phone normally applies to images, presumably in the interest of speed. The results suggest that in decent light, Sony’s sensor is capable of better detail than what you see after the heavy-handed processing that’s normally applied.

In this Normal mode shot (with 9MP 16:9 output selected to make the results directly comparable to burst mode) we see the Z’s usual impressionistic approach to foliage.
100% crop
In burst mode, the results are clearly more detailed and natural, though there is a bit more noise visible.
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 As ISO climbs, though, the Z’s processing approach seems more justified.

At ISO 320 this Normal mode shot looks pretty good, despite the loss of fine detail.
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In Burst mode we get a clearer look at what the Z’s sensor really delivers, and it’s not pretty. There’s chroma noise blotchiness here that’s visible even at web resolutions.
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The Z’s still camera “stabilization” feature is really just an ISO boost to raise the shutter speed, reducing the chances of taking a blurry picture. For the sample shot below sensitivity was increased to ISO 2000 which results in an image that shows extreme amounts of noise and detail smearing through noise reduction, rendering it pretty much unusable. Like similar offerings on other phones that lack true optical image stabilization, this feature isn’t something to get excited about.

The Z’s stabilization feature simply raises ISO higher than normal, allowing a faster shutter speed that reduces the chance of blur. If you activate it in the low light conditions where stabilization is most needed, the extra high ISO noise may be worse than a little blur.
 100% crop 

Picture Effect

Sony includes a “Picture effect” mode that offers a range of special effects filters. Our favorite thing about it is the grid of live-view thumbnails you get, each with an effect being applied in real time. These quad-core processors are good for something.

When choosing a “Picture effect” filter, you get a live view of each filter.

The nine options include standbys like “Nostalgic” and the sepia or black-and-white “Filter” (great name) along with more original fare like nicely implemented “Partial Colour” and “Miniature” effects and the trippy “Harris shutter” and “Kaleidoscope.” 

Unfortunately, photos taken with a filter engaged are restricted to 16:9 2MP files, like it or not. 

Digital Zoom

The Z features the requisite digital zoom, with an unusually high 16X maximum magnification that results in an essentially useless image. More judicious use of the volume-button-controlled zoom gives you the usual in-camera crop-and-upsample results.

No zoom
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As you can see in the 100% crop to the right the Z’s high-magnification digital zoom produces a hopelessly detail-less image at the extreme of its range. Using lower zoom ratios gives a more typically degraded but potentially useable result.
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Gallery and Editor

Even tiny thumbnails in Sony’s Album (Gallery) app remain legible thanks to the Z’s high resolution screen.

Sony’s Album app provides an effective way to browse images. You can pinch-zoom in and out to see more small thumbnails or fewer larger ones, and the Z’s high resolution screen means remarkably tiny thumbnails remain recognizable (as long as your vision is good), making it easy to find what you’re looking for. 

The app links up with just about any social media or photo sharing service (including Sony’s own PlayMemories), making it easy to get your pictures out to the world.

The included editor features basic adjustments and some filters, but with a 1MP cap on saved images, isn’t terribly useful.

The Album app has a barebones editor with a distinctly cobbled-together feel. It handles basic exposure corrections including fill light, but you can’t zoom in to really see what your edits are doing to the photo. It offers a range of fairly standard filters (cross-process, posterise, Lomo, vignette, film grain, fisheye, and documentary) and basic artistic effects (Warmth, Saturation, B&W, Sepia, Negative, Tint, Duo-tone, and the freehand-drawing Doodle). It can crop, rotate and sharpen images and offers competent red-eye removal and less advisable “Face Glow” and “Face Tan” adjustments. The kicker is that the editor only saves images at 1,280 x 960 resolution (1,280 x 720 for 16:9 photos). This is lower than the resolution of the phone’s own screen, not to mention any other display your photos might find themselves on. This limitation pretty much nullifies the editor’s usefulness. 

SensMe Slideshow

The album app can create slideshows with music, though there’s no way to save the output to a video file.

The Z can whip up a quick slideshow from images selected in the album app and any music on your phone. The default “3D frames” theme is mercilessly cheesy, and “Spin and Flip” isn’t a lot better, but the more restrained “Zoom & Grid” and “Fade” themes aren’t totally embarrassing. The app recognizes faces and tries for meaningful crops, but has a bad habit of cropping all images so much that your original composition doesn’t make sense. 

There’s no way to write the slideshow out as a video file: you’re meant to watch it on the Z itself, or with the phone connected to another display (the Z can wireless mirror its display on Sony’s latest TVs, or you can use an HDMI-out adapter to do things the old-fashioned way).

App Ecosystem 

Android has a tremendous app ecosystem, so if anything about the Z’s native apps rubs you the wrong way, you can probably find something you like better out there. “Camera FV-5” is a favorite third-party camera app of ours, though its manual ISO functionality seemed a bit buggy on the Z.