Camera Features

The Sony Xperia Z1 offers a range of imaging features that we've seen on other Android devices before. However, some of those modes, such as Timeshift Burst or the Picture Effects, only produce output at a 1080p video resolution. The panorama mode also stitches much smaller pictures than those we've seen on the Samsung Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5s.

Most of the Z1's camera modes are grouped on a menu page that can be accessed from the camera app's main screen. Here you'll find the default Superior Auto mode next to the Manual mode and the more specialized variants such as Picture Effect, Sweep Panorama or AR Effects.

Hit the mode button in the camera app and you get to the mode screen.
If you tap on the +Apps icon at the top you get the option to install further imaging-related apps.

If you hit the "+Apps" button at the top of the screen you get the option to install further apps which then also appear in the Sony's camera mode menu. However, those are simply shortcuts to stand-alone apps that could be installed on any Android phone and do not work inside the Z1's camera app. Therefore we have't had a closer look at all of them but we tried the Sphere App and found it to be a viable alternative to Google's Photosphere in the Android 4.3 camera app.

HDR stills and video

You have to be in M-mode and have the resolution set to 8MP or lower to select the HDR function which is why I almost could not find it. However, once activated it does pretty much the same as all other HDR settings we've seen before and combines various exposures into one to increase the dynamic range of the final image.

As you can see in the samples below that works quite well and there is some more detail in both highlight and shadow areas of the image. Unfortunately you also get the typical ghosting effects with moving subjects in the frame. It's very noticeable on the right cyclist in the image on the right. The app does not offer any control over the HDR function, you can only switch it on or off.

Smartphone sensors struggle with high contrast scenes such as the one above. 
The HDR image has more highlight and shadow detail but also shows a typical ghosting effect on moving subjects.

The Xperia Z1 does not only offer HDR photos but also video. As you can see in the samples below the system does a decent job at capturing highlight detail in this contre-jour situation, but on the downside the contrast has been visibly reduced and the video looks "flat." In HDR mode the frame is also slightly cropped. Whether you like the results is pretty much a question of personal preference, so have a look and judge yourself. 

Video - HDR off

Video - HDR on

Digital Zoom

Most smartphones offer a 3X digital zoom which usually delivers dreadful results and should only be used as a last resort. The Z1's high-resolution sensor in combination with Sony's Clear Zoom system allows for a more efficient digital zoom than conventional smartphone cameras.

The maximum zoom factor is 8 times, but as you can see in the samples below the use of this maximum zoom setting is still not recommended. More moderate zooming up to 3x yields more acceptable results and images that can at least be used for sharing on social networks or viewing on the device's screen. 

No zoom
100% crop
Approximately 3x zoom
100% crop
8x zoom
100% crop

Timeshift Burst & Burst Mode

We've seen similar features to Timeshift Burst on competing devices before. In this mode the camera takes 61 images in two seconds, one second before and one after you press the shutter button. Once the burst has been captured you can scroll through all frames and pick your favorite one.

Only the latter is displayed in the Album app but the entire burst is saved in the internal memory, so you can change your mind later and pick a different image. On the internal memory all images in a burst are saved in time-stamped folders which makes them easy to find and transfer to another device or computer.

In this interface you can scroll through the 61 frames that Timeshift Burst captures in approximately two seconds. 
Unfortunately images are only recorded at a HD-video resolution of 1920x1080 pixels.

While the app is easy and intuitive to use, the downside is that all images are captured at a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, so don't expect to produce large prints or even create a background image for a high-resolution screen from them. Exposure is also totally automatic so indoors and in lower light shutter speeds are mostly too slow to avoid motion blur.

Picture Effect

Like most of the competition the Xperia Z1 offers a range of photo filters. With only nine filters you don't get too much choice on the Z1 but the thumbnail live preview of all filters is pretty sleek.  

You get a thumbnail live preview of all filters ...
... but unfortunately images are only saved at a resolution of 1920x1080 pictures.

However, not only is the choice of filters a little limited but also the images are only saved at a 1080p resolution, just like in the Timeshift Burst mode above. For those users who need more filter options or bigger images there's an abundance of third-party filter apps available on the Google Play store but nevertheless, the 2013 top-of-the-line models from Samsung and HTC offer more in the filters department out of the box.