Image Quality & Performance

With Qualcomm's latest high-end chipset and 3GB of RAM, the Sony Xperia Z5 is certainly no slouch in general operation and even challenging tasks are undertaken swiftly and responsively. The camera app launches very quickly, in approximately one second, either by tapping the app icon or long-pressing the camera button. The latter you can do while the phone is still in your pocket, so the Z5 can be ready for capture really quickly.

In bright light the AF operates quickly as well, locking on in well under one second. It slows down in lower light but almost always finds a lock, even in very dark scenes. Occasionally we found it to be just a little inconsistent though, with some images showing a touch of softness that is caused by the AF not being 100% precise. The sample on the left below is perfectly in focus while the one on the right, which was captured a couple of seconds later, is noticeably softer. We found quite a number of pictures showing this very slight softness among our samples.

ISO 40, 1/1000 sec
ISO 40, 1/1000 sec
100% crop
100% crop

Daylight, Low ISO

When the focus is spot on, the Xperia Z5's bright light images show excellent detail. Edges are well defined and low contrast areas show texture and fine detail that is as good as it gets in current smartphone cameras. Some luminance noise is visible at 100% magnification but it is well within acceptable limits and not intrusive at all. Images also show good exposure and natural colors that sometimes tend to be just a touch cooler than on some competitors. Skin tones are pleasantly natural. Some softness is noticeable in the edges but otherwise the lens is sharp across the frame.

ISO 40, 1/1600 sec
ISO 40, 1/125 sec
100% crop
100% crop

The Z5 captures heaps of both low and high contrast detail, allowing for extensive cropping without sacrificing image quality which will be good news to the users of Instagram and similar image sharing apps. As you can see in the image below on the right, thanks to its relatively large (by smartphone standards) 1/2.3-inch sensor, the Z5 is capable of slightly blurring the background when the image's main subject is close to the lens.

ISO 40, 1/640 sec
ISO 40, 1/1250
100% crop
100% crop

Like most smartphones, the Xperia Z5 is more prone to highlight clipping than DSLRs and other cameras with large sensors. That said, for a smartphone camera the Sony offers a decent dynamic range and deals very well with the high-contrast scene below on the left. There are a lot of blown highlight areas but overall the camera maintains a very good balance between highlight and shadow detail in this difficult scene. Lens flare and similar artifacts are very well under control on the Z5. You are only likely to see flare in your images when pointing the camera directly at the sun.

ISO 40, 1/320 sec
ISO 40, 1/640 sec
100% crop
100% crop

Low light, high ISO

In low light the Xperia Z5 maintains good color across the ISO range and the camera tends to calculate decent exposures, even in very dark scenes. Even in very low light shutter speeds don't usually fall below 1/16 sec which means, despite the lack of optical image stabilization, the risk of image blur through camera shake is relatively low. Most moving subjects will still show at least some blur but that's the case for pretty much all smartphone cameras when shooting in low light.

For the sample below on the left the camera increased ISO only moderately and detail is still very good, with noise well under control. The night scene on the right was captured at ISO 320 and at 100% view the image is getting noticeably softer but noise levels are low.

ISO 125, 1/32 sec
ISO 320, 1/32 sec
100% crop
100% crop

At ISO 400 and 500 respectively some luminance noise becomes visible but edges are still very well defined. Fine detail is being smeared away by noise reduction but overall the Sony Z5 still captures good detail in these pretty dark conditions. Color and exposure are very nice, too.

ISO 400, 1/32 sec
ISO 500, 1/32 sec
100% crop
100% crop

The pictures below were taken at ISO 640 and 800 respectively in pretty dim conditions. Detail clearly starts suffering at those settings, but thanks to the shutter speeds at least slow moving subjects are still well defined. Again, exposure and color are excellent.

ISO 640, 1/32 sec
ISO 800, 1/25 sec
100% crop
100% crop

At ISO 1000 and above shutter speeds can go as slow as 1/16 sec but blur is usually only detectable at large magnifications. Luminance noise is now more intrusive and most fine detail gone, but higher contrast edges are still looking good.

ISO 1000, 1/16 sec
ISO 1250, 1/50 sec
100% crop
100% crop

ISO 1600 is as high as the Xperia Z5 would go in its full resolution mode. The image below was taken in very low light at night but the Sony's exposure system has done a decent job and white balance deals well with the mix of light sources. As you would expect detail suffers a lot in these conditions, but overall the camera performs very well in low light and even the image below is perfectly usable at screen resolution.

ISO 1600, 1/16 sec
100% crop

Flash

The Xperia Z5's LED flash offers, for smartphone standards, plenty of power and the white balance system usually delivers good results, even when the flash is mixed with ambient light sources. However, in our testing we found exposure to be slightly inconsistent. When shooting with flash the exposure system appears to be using similar ISOs and shutter speeds as it would use without flash, which can sometimes result in overexposed subjects, mainly when the background is quite dark.

Despite a pre-flash red-eye effect is visible on many pictures, as you can see in the samples below, but it's usually not very intrusive. As usual on smartphones, flash is best used sparingly but can be a useful emergency tool in very dark situations or be used as a fill-light in backlit scenes. 

ISO 400, 1/40 sec
ISO 500, 1/32 sec
100% crop
100% crop