Image Quality & Performance

With the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon system under the hood and 3GB of RAM powering Android 4.4 the Sony Xperia Z2 is very quick and responsive in general use and the camera app is no different. The camera takes just over a second to open after long-pressing the shutter button and is ready for action straightaway. 

At around 0.5 seconds shot-to-shot times are a little slower than on the fastest devices but more than fast enough for general use. As we found with the Z1, focus slows down noticeably in low light to more than 1.0 sec when things get really dim. The focus is generally reliable though, we only had a handful of out-of-focus images in our several hundred samples. We are also quite impressed by the Z2's battery life. The 3200 mAh is quite beefy and provides more than enough juice for an entire day, even under heavy use.   

Daylight, Low ISO

The Sony Xperia Z2's exposure and white balance usually work very reliably in bright light, even in challenging contre-jour situations. Dynamic range is in line with most other high-end smartphone cameras with small sensors. Saturation and contrast are quite strong, giving images a punchy look. It's well within acceptable limits though and overall the Sony's images have a pleasant look and tonality. 

Things get a little less pretty when you zoom in to a 100% view. At close examination the Xperia Z2's  20.7MP output shows a lot of noise in areas of plain color and the shadows, even at base ISO, and processing artifacts. Blurring of fine low-contrast detail is also evident from very low sensitivities and in combination with a couple of soft spots in the lens of our review sample, can make for pretty unsightly soft areas in the frame.

Overall the Xperia Z2 images are pleasant to view at screen size but zooming in to a 100% reveals a few unpleasant imperfections. The latter of course will only be relevant to you if you ever want to use the Z2's 20.7MP output at full size which is unlikely if you edit and share your images on the phone only. 

ISO 50, 1/2500 sec
Visible noise in areas of plain color and stepping artifacts on the edges of the palm leaves. 
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/500 sec
Decent detail at base ISO and natural skin tones
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ISO 50, 1/1250 sec
Strong blurring of fine low-contrast detail and lens softness can lead to unpleasant results.
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ISO 50, 1/5000 sec
Some shadow noise, no chromatic aberrations
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ISO 64, 1/2000 sec
Soft spots in lens
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Low light, high ISO

The Xperia Z2's fast F2.0 lens allows ISO sensitivity to be kept relatively low even in poor light but if things get too dark in its 20.7MP mode the Sony can increase ISO up to 1250 and get decent exposures, even in very low light. Like its predecessor the Z2 does not have an optical image stabilization system, so there is an increased risk of image blur through camera shake in low light conditions but using the physical shutter button makes it easier to keep the phone stable than tapping on a virtual shutter button on the screen. 

Exposure and color fidelity are good in low light but as soon as you look closely you'll see the same imperfections as are visible in good light and, as you would expect, noise levels increase significantly as you go up the ISO scale. Fortunately though most noise is of the grainy kind which is more pleasant to look at than the noise that has been converted into "blobs" by noise reduction or more intrusive color noise. Fine detail is blurred though and not much of it is left from ISO 640 upwards.

Despite the problems at pixel level edge definition and saturation are decent up to the highest ISOs which means the Xperia Z2's image output is more than adequate for online sharing and screen size viewing, even at the highest ISO settings.

ISO 160, 1/50 sec
The F2.0 lens keeps ISOs relatively low even at night.
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ISO 250, 1/32 sec
Some noise is visible but overall the image is still clean at ISO 250.
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ISO 640, 1/32 sec
Noise becomes more intrusive above ISO 500 but remains finely grained.
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ISO 800, 1/20 sec
Subject motion becomes an issue in low light at shutter speeds around 1/20 sec.
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ISO 1000, 1/16 sec
White balance is struggling with artificial street lighting in this low light scene.
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ISO 1250, 1/32 sec
There is a lot of grain in this image but chroma noise is still well under control.
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Flash

Like all smartphones with LED-flash the Sony Xperia Z2 has to crank up the ISO quite a bit for capturing flash images and as a result, on close examination flash images show the same noise levels and loss of fine detail as the high-ISO samples that you'll see in the section above. 

Exposure and white balance in flash mode are usually good though, making for pleasant viewing at smaller images sizes. Like on its predecessor, on the Xperia Z2 you have a little more control over the flash function than on most smartphones. Apart from the usual flash auto/on/off settings there are separate settings for the anti-red-eye mode, fill-flash and for use of the LED as a torch. Nevertheless, like on most camera phones, the Xperia Z2's LED flash should not be viewed as much more than an emergency solution in very low light. 

ISO 800, 1/16 sec
At ISO 800 this flash image shows a lot of noise and blurred fine detail.
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8MP images

In its manual mode the Xperia Z2 is capable of capturing 20.7MP images and Sony likes to use that number in its marketing material but the default image size in Superior Auto mode is 8MP and looking at the 100% crops of the full-size images above 8MP might be the better option for many users. The smaller size means that less storage space is needed and loss of detail, noise and other artifacts are much less visible.  As a bonus, when in manual mode and shooting at 8MP, you can use scene modes, HDR and ISO up to 3200, all of which are not available at 20.7MP. Have a look at the samples below and see what you think.

ISO 50, 1/2500 sec
Less noise and fewer artifacts in the smaller images
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ISO 64, 1/2000 sec
Blurring of fine detail is still evident at 8MP image size.
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ISO 200, 1/32 sec
Noise is well under control.
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ISO 800, 1/25 sec
Not much fine detail is left in this ISO 800 image. 
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ISO 1000, 1/16 sec
Despite the loss of detail edges are still well-defined in this image.
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ISO 2500, 1/16 sec
Things are getting softer at extreme ISO settings. 
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ISO 3200, 1/16 sec
Maximum ISO should be reserved for emergency use.
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