Conclusion

Conclusion - The Good

  • Reliable focus and exposure across the ISO range
  • Well-controlled chroma noise at high ISOs
  • Premium look and feel, dust- and waterproof
  • Snappy operation in general use and camera mode
  • Efficient digital IS in video mode
  • Physical two-position shutter button
  • Efficient HDR-mode
  • MicroSD-slot
  • 4K video
  • Good battery life

Conclusion - The Bad

  • Noticeable luminance noise from low sensitivities 
  • Strong blurring of detail through noise reduction across the ISO range
  • Strong lens softness toward the right edge of our test unit
  • Lack of OIS increases risk of blur through camera shake in low light
  • Slightly stronger than usual tendency to clip highlight
  • Lens prone to flare
  • Occasional very cool white balance in outdoor scenes
  • Unreliable flash exposure and white balance
  • Panorama images are comparatively small, with noticeable stitching artifacts
  • Some shooting modes and features only available in 8MP mode
  • Many special modes only produce output at 1080p resolution
  • Focus hunting and flickering in video mode
  • Camera app feels convoluted and lacks structure

Overall Conclusion

The Xperia Z3 is a nice looking and powerful device that feels solid in the hand and comes with a dedicated camera button and MicroSD slot but in terms of imaging technology the Xperia Z line has not made any noticeable progress since the Z1. The Z3 still has to make do without optical image stabilization and shows the same pixel-level image quality issues as its predecessors. In addition the new wideangle lens seems to be more prone to produce flare. Focus hunting and a flickering effect limit the usefulness of the video output.

The camera app shows the same lack of structure as before and many of the shooting modes produce only 1080p output. Panorama images are comparatively small with stitching errors and cannot keep up with those captured on some of the Sony's closest competitors, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 or Apple iPhone 6 Plus

Of course you can download third-party camera apps from the Google Play store to mitigate some of the issues described above but overall the Sony Xperia Z3 should not be your first smartphone choice if photography, videography and image quality are at the top of your list of buying criteria. If you think you can live with the Sony's imaging limitations but would prefer a smaller device it's also worth having a look at the Xperia Z3 Compact which offers an identical imaging specification in a smaller body.

Features & Operation

With its boxy shape the Xperia Z3 works ergonomically well when used as a camera and the physical shutter button and MicroSD slot are great features for mobile photographers. The device is responsive in both general use and when using the camera functions. However, the default camera app, which has essentially remained unchanged  since the Xperia Z1, is in dire need of an overhaul. Things are easy as long as you stay in Superior Auto mode but as soon as you want some control over your shooting process the app is very unintuitive and lacks any obvious structure to the UI. For example, you have to lower the resolution to 8MP in order to get access to some features and settings and 4K video is a separate shooting mode instead of just another video resolution. Of course alternatives are available in the Google Play Store but there is no guarantee of 100% compatibility.

Like on its predecessor the Xperia Z3's imaging feature set is kind of a two-bladed sword. There is an abundance of pre-installed features and you can install even more from the mode screen in the camera app. That said, many of these features are nice to play with for a short while but in most photographers' hands won't get much use in the long run. Most special modes also produce low resolution image output that would only be of very limited use for printing or viewing on a high-resolution screen. Panoroma mode, arguably one one of the most popular special modes, produces much smaller images than the Z3's closest competitors and under close view shows a lot of stitching artifacts and ghosting. HDR mode is limited to 8MP but produces pleasantly natural results.

Image Quality

In our review of the Xperia Z2 we weren't too impressed with the Sony's pixel-level image quality and unfortunately on the Z3 we have encountered many of the same problems. Luminance noise and the detail-blurring effects of noise reduction are clearly noticeable right from base ISO and get pretty bad as you climb up the ISO scale. From ISO 640 upwards hardly any fine detail is left and images are only really usable at smaller viewing sizes. In addition the new lens with its wider viewing angle showed quite severe softness on the right side of the frame and has also introduced a pronounced tendency to produce lens flare with bright light sources inside or just outside the frame. We also found the Z3 to be a little more prone to highlight clipping than some of its peers, especially at higher sensitivities.

On the plus side exposure is reliable and chroma noise well controlled across the ISO range. The 20.7MP sensor also offers a lot of pixels for cropping but for many users shooting at 8MP might actually better a better option. Not only do you have more shooting functions at your disposal but some of the image imperfections become less intrusive as well. In video mode the Z3 is capturing smooth footage but we are also seeing the same lens flare and softness as in stills mode. In addition a flickering under lower artificial light and focus hunting make it difficult to use the Sony's video output for more serious projects. 

The Final Word

Like its predecessors the Sony Xperia Z3 wraps powerful components into an environmentally protected body with premium look and feel which makes it a pleasure to use as a general device. However, on the imaging front Sony has not made any significant progress with this latest generation Xperia Z model and some competitors in the high-end smartphone bracket, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 or Apple iPhone 6 Plus, offer better image quality and more intuitive camera operation.

DXOMark Mobile Score
79

DXOMark Image Quality Assessment

The Sony Xperia Z3 has not significantly improved on its predecessor, the Z2, but with a DxOMark Mobile score of 79 it's enough to share the spoils with its predecessor and the Samsung Galaxy S5 at the top of the DxOMark mobile ratings table.

In testing the Xperia Z3 images show "good detail preservation outdoors and in low light conditions, low noise levels in all lighting conditions, good overall exposure and pleasant colors in most situations." The autofocus is reliable as well but "color shading is visible in some outdoor situations and flare can be observed in backlit scenes. Flash exposure is a little shaky and white balance a little unreliable when flash is mixed with other light sources.

In video mode the Xperia Z3's "stabilization is very good" and videos shows "low noise levels and good texture preservation". On the downside the AF can be a little unstable and color casts can be seen under tungsten light. For a more detailed analysis, visit www.dxomark.com.

Photo Mobile Score 81   Video Mobile Score 76
Exposure and Contrast 89   Exposure and Contrast 93
Color 75   Color 76
Autofocus 86   Autofocus 55
Texture 75   Texture 82
Noise 84   Noise 85
Photo Artifacts 72   Video Artifacts 74
Flash 83   Stabilization 72
Sony Xperia Z3
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Screen Quality
Ergonomics and Handling
Video Quality
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Sony Xperia Z3 offers powerful specifications in an environmentally sealed body with premium look and feel. The microSD slot and physical shutter button are great for mobile photography but high noise levels, strong noise reduction, occasional unnaturally cool white balance and a convoluted camera app UI mean that in terms of image quality and camera operation the Sony cannot quite keep up with the best in class. The Xperia Z3 works great as a general Android device but if imaging is your top priority there are currently better alternatives around.
73%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

There are 29 images in our Sony Xperia Z3 samples gallery, a mixture of 20.7 and 8MP files. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.