Camera Operation

The Xperia Z1's camera app comes with a fairly standard layout: shutter and video button on the right and settings on the left. The virtual mode dial in the bottom right gives you access to the various special modes. In the default Superior Auto Mode there are very few parameters to play with.

The Sony-skinned version of Android 4.2 that runs on the Xperia Z1 will be familiar to anyone who has used a recent Android device before and you won't take too long to get your head around the camera interface either. The layout is pretty much what we know from previous Sony models and many other Android smartphones. The virtual shutter button and video/stills switch are located on the right, with the mode dial just underneath.

However, the Z1's physical shutter button means you probably won't use the virtual variant a lot. The button allows you to half-press to lock the focus, just like on any camera shutter, and, in combination with the devices's angular shape, gives the Z1 a real camera feel. It also helps keeping things more steady when shooting than tapping on the screen to capture an image. 

In M-mode the video button is replaced by a stills/video toggle ....
...and you'll find a few more options in the menu including HDR.

Another advantage of the shutter button is that a press of it opens the camera app straight from sleep mode. You can already press the button while the phone is still in your pocket and by the time you hold it in your hand to frame the picture the camera is ready to shoot. Other phones allow you to place a shortcut to the camera app onto the home screen but the Sony solution gives you quicker access to your camera. 

The default Superior Auto Mode is a little too limited for our case. It analyzes the scene and automatically selects the most appropriate scene mode but does not allow for any manual interference. We would like to make use of the automatic scene mode selection and still have the flexibility to set the image size and aspect ratio we want and apply some exposure compensation when necessary. 

Things can get a little confusing once you venture away from Superior Auto. You have to switch into M-mode to set the resolution to the maximum 20.7MP but only at the lower 8MP setting can you use some features such as scene modes, HDR or the highest ISO settings of 1600 and 3200. It can take a while to get your head around these limitations and things are not helped by the fact that the camera app always opens in Superior Auto mode, even if you were in another mode before you closed it. At least your previous settings are saved when you switch back to M-mode, but it's still annoying behavior. 

In M-mode you can also apply exposure compensation and select manual white balance.
A tap on the mode button in the bottom right opens up the shooting mode screen.

Once in M-mode you'll find a row of icons on the left side of the screen that open up a super-imposed exposure compensation slider and let you access the menu. In any mode a tap on the virtual mode dial opens a mode selection screen.

In Superior Auto you can focus by tapping on the screen, in M-mode you can choose from Single, Multi, Face Detection, Object Tracking and Touch focus modes. The exposure is never linked to the focus point though. You can also configure the Z1 to shoot a burst if you long-press the shutter button. 

The other modes, such as Picture Effects, Timeshift Burst, AR effects and Info Eye, are explained in more detail on the features page of this review.