Image Quality and Performance

With the Qualcomm Snapdragon S801 system chip powering Android 4.4 the Xperia Z3 always feels snappy and responsive in general use. The camera app opens very quickly after a long-press of the shutter button, allowing for the capture of unexpected but decisive moments. 

Focus tends to be reliable, even in low light, and we only found a very small number of out-of-focus samples in our hundreds of test images.Focus can slow down to more than 1 second in very low light though, so make sure the scene is fully in focus before hitting the shutter. The Z3's 3100mAh battery is one of its strong points and usually easily takes you through the day, even with heavy use. In addition the Sony offers several energy saving features to make sure you don't run out of juice at a crucial moment.

Daylight, low ISO

The Xperia Z3's camera specification is very similar to its predecessors the Z2 and Z1 and so it is not a surprise that the image quality is pretty close as well. Image sharpness is good at the center of the frame but overall the Sony's high pixel count does not translate into improved detail capture over the competition. At a 100% view images look processed, with a lot of fine detail being smeared by noise reduction. There are also high levels of luminance noise visible in areas of plain color, such as the sky, even in very bright light.

The lens on our test unit is much better than the one one on the Xperia Z2 we tested some months ago but there is still some very noticeable softness toward the right-hand edge of the frame. Exposure and color tend to be good although some daylight scenes are rendered a touch too cool for our taste. The Z3 is also a little prone to highlight clipping. This is common for smartphone cameras but the effect is a little more pronounced on the Sony than on its closest rivals in the high-end bracket. We also found the camera to be quite prone to lens flare with the sun inside or close to the edge of the frame. 

Overall the Xperia Z3 images look pleasant on the phone screen but reveal a few imperfections when scrutinized at 100% view on a computer screen. Luckily the large 20MP image files offer a lot of flexibility when cropping and mean that some of the noise and artifacts are being averaged out when the image size is reduced. That it exactly what's happening in the Z3's 8MP mode that we look at more closely further down this page.

ISO 50, 1/800 s
Good exposure but at 100% the image has a 'processed' look.
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/250 s
Decent detail but very cool skin tones.
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/1000 s
The Z3 is a little more than usual prone to highlight clipping.
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/2000 s
Decent sharpness at the center of the frame
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/250 s
Smearing of fine detail, especially in shadow areas of the frame
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/1600 s
Noticeable softness toward the right edge of our test unit.
100% crop

Low light, high ISO

The Xperia Z3 retains its predecessors' fast F2.0 aperture which means it can keep ISO sensitivity relatively low even in poor light. However, if necessary in very dark conditions it can increase the sensitivity up to ISO 1600 which is 2/3 of a stop more than the camera in the Z2. Unfortunately the Xperia Z3 still has to make do without an optical image stabilization system. At shutter speeds as low as 1/8 sec this means that there is an increased risk of blur through camera shake and/or subject motion in dark conditions. 

Good exposure and color fidelity are maintained up to the highest sensitivities but under close viewing its obvious that luminance noise and the effects of noise reduction take their toll on fine detail pretty quickly as you go up the ISO scale. Detail suffers as soon as you you go over base ISO and from ISO 640 upwards very little fine image detail is left. At the highest sensitivities images are only usable at significantly reduced sizes, for example for sharing in social media. On the plus side, chroma noise is very well controlled across the ISO range. 

We have found that the lens tends to produce higher than normal levels of lens flare and reflections with strong light sources inside the frame. It seems the new wider lens in the Xperia Z3 is more prone to this kind of artifact than the lens on previous Z-series models. 

ISO 100, 1/32 s
Still decent detail at ISO 100 but a loss of detail is already noticeable
100% crop
ISO 200, 1/32 s
Luminance noise is noticeably increasing.
100% crop
ISO 500, 1/8 s
Strong light sources cause lens flare and reflections.
100% crop
ISO 640, 1/32 s
Soft detail and strong highlight clipping on the ceiling of the building.
100% crop
ISO 1250, 1/32 s
Edge definition is noticeably suffering at the highest ISO settings
100% crop
ISO 1600, 1/25 s
ISO 1600 output is not pretty to view at a 100% magnification. 
100% crop

Flash

We weren't too impressed by the Xperia Z2's flash performance in our review and unfortunately the unit on the Z3 is not much of an improvement. Flash exposure can be unreliable which frequently results in overexposed subjects as you can see in the samples below. Skin tones can be rendered far too cool and there is also the occasional occurrence of red-eye.

The Sony tends to use higher ISOs for its flash exposures than many of its rivals, resulting in high levels of luminance noise and loss of detail through noise reduction. Like on previous Z-series models, on the Xperia Z3 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. Still, it is recommendable to use the Z3 LED flash as a last resort in very low light only. 

ISO 400, 1/20 s
The subject is overexposed in this flash image.
100% crop
ISO 640, 1/40 s
At ISO 640 this image shows a lot of noise. It's also slightly overexposed with unnatural skin tones.
100% crop

8MP mode

As before the Xperia Z3's 20.7MP headline mode is available in manual mode M only. The default image size in Superior Auto mode is 8MP and looking at the samples below shooting at 8MP might make a lot of sense for most users. You don't loose much in terms of image detail and noise and artifacts are less noticeable. It also require less storage space for image and also gives you the option to set scene modes, HDR and ISO up to 3200 in manual modes. None of these options are available at 20.7MP.

8MP, ISO 50, 1/800 s
100% crop
8MP, ISO 50, 1/3200 s
100% crop
8MP, ISO 50, 1/1000 s
100% crop
8MP, ISO 125, 1/32 s
100% crop
8MP, ISO 400, 1/64 s
100% crop
8MP, ISO 1600, 1/16 s
100% crop