Conclusion

Conclusion - The Good

  • Excellent detail in bright light
  • Good balance between noise reduction and detail retention in low light
  • Good exposure and color across ISO range
  • Decent dynamic range
  • Very good video quality with very efficient digital stabilization
  • Excellent detail in 4K video mode
  • Good image quality on front camera in bright light
  • Physical dual-stage shutter button
  • MicroSD-slot up to 200GB
  • Water and dust resistant (IP68 certified)
  • Angular shapes allow for comfortable camera handling
  • Good editing options but sometimes sluggish performance with 23MP images

Conclusion - The Bad

  • Slight AF-inconsistencies
  • Low-quality panorama output
  • HDR mode not too efficient at highlight preservation
  • 4K video is separate mode
  • Unintuitive camera app structure (but slight improvement from previous versions)
  • Opening app via button defaults to Superior Auto mode
  • No support for shutter speed control and Raw capture
  • No front flash or 'display flash' function

Overall Conclusion

There are many good reasons to take the Sony Xperia Z5 into close consideration when upgrading to a new smartphone. It is well made, feels good in the hand when used as a camera and the environmental protection is an added bonus for those mobile photographers who like to shoot in wet or dusty conditions. The dedicated camera shutter button allows for camera-like operation and image quality is very good across all light levels in both stills and video mode. Our only more serious point of criticism in terms of image output is the occasionally slightly inaccurate AF.

Where the Z5 loses points is on the software side of things. The camera app is, despite an updated version, still not very intuitive and comes with a number of quirks. Panorama mode is a long way behind the implementations on Samsung and Apple devices and HDR mode isn't terribly efficient at avoiding clipped highlights. That said, many of the software shortcomings can be improved by installing third party apps from the Google Play Store, making the Sony Xperia Z5 a real option.  

Features & Operation

In terms of operation the Z5's big plus is its dedicated two-stage camera button that, just like on a real camera, lets you lock focus and exposure with a half-press and then recompose the image. A long-press provides a very quick way of launching the camera app.

Unfortunately, the Z5 is still slightly let down by its camera app. The update which was released shortly after the Z5's launch is better described as a minor facelift than a full overhaul. It still comes with a slightly confusing structure and many of the quirks we have criticized on previous versions. For example, 4K video is a separate mode rather than just another resolution setting, manual ISO is not available at full resolution and engaging HDR mode is a slightly longwinded process. Using the camera button to open the camera app will also make the latter default to Superior Auto mode, making the function less useful for those who prefer manual mode or frequently shoot video. Unfortunately the Z5 doesn't offer support for Raw capture or manual control of shutter speed either.

From a features point of view the Xperia Z5 offers more than most smartphones, but sometimes it's the quality of the features that is lacking. Sweep Panorama captures fairly small panoramas with lots of stitching errors and ghosting artifacts, and HDR mode is not terribly effective at preserving highlights. Other features are available or can be installed through the camera app but many are of a slightly gimmicky nautre. You're better off downloading your favorite imaging apps from Google Play.

Image Quality

In terms of image quality the Xperia Z5 is, presumably mainly due to the new sensor, an improvement over the previous Xperia Z models we have tested and among the very best smartphone cameras. Images show good exposure and pleasant color across the ISO range. In bright light the camera captures excellent detail and lens flare, moiré and other artifacts are well under control. As usual, some luminance noise is visible in areas of plain color but it's very finely grained and overall well controlled. Some corner softness and shading is noticeable. The latter also slightly increases noise in those image areas but given the overall image size this is not too problematic.

In lower light conditions the Z5 maintains a very good balance between the retention of image detail and noise reduction. Of course, fine detail is still being lost as sensitivity increases, but the images show well defined edges up to the highest ISO levels and at least some texture. It's also nice to see that in low light the Xperia Z5 sticks to shutter speeds that are usually fast enough to keep the risk of image blur through camera shake pretty low.

A problem in all light conditions is an occasionally slightly inaccurate AF that can lead to a touch of softness. Thanks to the X5's high pixel count you would only notice when viewing at 100% though. The 23MP also offers plenty of leeway when cropping which is good news for all users of Instagram and similar apps or in those situations when using the "sneaker zoom" is not an option. We were also impressed with the Sony's video output which shows good detail and color. The AF is stable and a very efficient digital stabilization system allows for easy hand-holding and smooth panning.

The Final Word

The Sony Xperia Z5 is an easy recommendation for all mobile photographers who want excellent image detail and a smartphone that handles well as a camera. Just be aware that you might want to replace some of the stock imaging applications with alternatives from the Google Play Store. Those who prefer a smaller or larger device can opt for the Z5 Compact or Premium, which both come with the same camera module as the standard Z5. The Samsung Galaxy S6 offers a better imaging software package in a similarly-sized device, and Motorola's Droid Turbo 2 / Moto X Force comes close to the Sony in terms of image detail with a shatterproof screen in addition to environmental protection.

DXOMark Mobile Score
87

DXOMark Image Quality Assessment

With a DxOMark Mobile score of 87 the Sony Xperia Z5 is the joint number one in the DxOMark smartphone rankings, next to the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+. The DxOMark team was particularly impressed by the Sony's fast and accurate AF system, good detail retention and finely grained noise. The only points of criticism were a tendency towards channel clipping in blue skies and noticeable vignetting when shooting with flash.

In video mode the testers liked the very efficient digital stabilization and good AF behavior but color shading can become visible when shooting indoors or in low light. For a more detailed analysis, visit www.dxomark.com.

Photo Mobile Score 87   Video Mobile Score 86
Exposure and Contrast 87   Exposure and Contrast 85
Color 87   Color 87
Autofocus 95   Autofocus 91
Texture 89   Texture 84
Noise 85   Noise 87
Photo Artifacts 76   Video Artifacts 75
Flash 91   Stabilization 93
Sony Xperia Z5
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 Z5 produces very good still image and video quality across the board and with its angular shapes and dedicated camera button offers ergonomics that, on a smartphone, come as close as it gets to a real camera. The device is let down by an unintuitive camera app and mediocre panorama mode but better alternatives can be found on the Google Play Store. Overall the Z5 is an easy recommendation for mobile photographers who prioritize image detail, video quality and good camera handling.
84%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

There are 32 images in our Sony Xperia Z5 samples gallery. 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. 

Sony Xperia Z5 Review Samples

32 images • Posted on Jan 14, 2016 • View album
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