Sony Xperia 1 II review: For phone filmmakers, these cameras will be hard to beat

The tall slim squared-off exterior of the Sony Xperia 1 II hides a slew of filmmaking and images options for creatives.


Patrick Holland/CNET

When I informed somebody concerning the Sony Xperia 1 II, their first response was, “Sony nonetheless makes phones?!” Granted, this phone is not aimed on the lots like an iPhone 11 Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S20. Sony is after artistic varieties who need extra management over their photographs and videos. That’s why the corporate packed the $1,200 (£1,099) Xperia with controls and instruments from its common Alpha line of full-frame mirrorless cameras, and that is what I’ll be solely on this piece.

On paper, the Xperia 1 II looks as if most different Android flagship telephones powered by a Snapdragon 865 processor. It has a 6.5-inch 4K OLED display screen, 5G (outdoors of the US) and on the again is a wide-angle important digital camera, an ultrawide-angle digital camera and a telephoto digital camera — all of which have a 12-megapixel sensor. 

But there are issues that set this phone aside. For occasion, the telephoto lens has the full-frame equivalency of a 70mm lens — that means it is really a telephoto lens! (Normally, when corporations say their telephones have telephoto lenses, they’re actually someplace between 52 and 56mm.) There’s a bodily shutter button on the phone, which is kind of helpful. There are additionally three preloaded apps that take full benefit of the digital camera. One is the essential Xperia Android digital camera app. The different two are Photo Pro and Cinema Pro, which offer you detailed controls over each facet of your phone’s picture and video seize.

To my delight these apps enable the Xperia 1 II to function extra like a digital camera than a phone. This made me marvel how good these cameras really had been, particularly at video seize. To discover out, I made a brief movie with the phone and I used to be very impressed.

I made a movie with the Cinema Pro app

The finest method to discuss and check the Xperia 1 II’s video high quality and the Cinema Pro app was to undergo the method of constructing a movie. So I wrote, shot and starred in a 4-minute movie known as I, Robber, which you’ll be able to watch under. Every shot was captured utilizing the Xperia’s Cinema Pro app and I had a blast utilizing it.

While capturing my movie, the bodily shutter button on the Xperia 1 II made it straightforward to document myself even after I could not see the display screen. The Xperia 1 can also be small when in comparison with mirrorless cameras, and it permits me to place it in several places for distinctive pictures and views. For instance, for one scene I taped the phone to the within of a cupboard door.

The left facet of the phone has no buttons and is comparatively flat that means that the phone can stand by itself… largely.

Unlike different apps that supply video-centric controls, Cinema Pro has an in depth but approachable structure. Its minimal menus are very easy and all main settings can be found at a look. Things like shutter angle, ISO and guide focusing are easy to regulate, and you’ll automate a spotlight pull between two topics — which is such a pleasure to observe.

Videos are recorded in an H.265 codec with 10-bit coloration. 4K video out of the Cinema Pro app is sharp, particularly off the primary 24mm digital camera. Resolution and body charges high out at 4K at 60 frames per second or HD at 120 fps. I ought to word that since Cinema Pro movies have a 2.39:1 facet ratio, it does not really document at full 4K. Instead, you must use the native Xperia digital camera app to seize true 4K in a 16:9 facet ratio.

But Sony can add enhancements to the Xperia 1 II that might make it extra useful. For one factor, I want there was extra “pro” within the Cinema Pro app. It can be nice to zoom in on the viewfinder to guide focus or have focus peaking. A real flat video profile can be good, too.

If you are filming outdoor, you want a impartial density filter with a view to maintain from getting overexposed movies. Since the aperture is fastened, the one method to regulate publicity is by altering the ISO and shutter angle. On a very shiny day, I usually bottomed out each the ISO and shutter angle and nonetheless had an overexposed picture. One hack I realized was to shoot at 4K 60 fps (or HD 120 fps), which exposes every body shorter than filming at 24 fps. It’s not splendid, however typically it could carry the publicity to a manageable place.

The bodily shutter button made filming myself for a brief movie straightforward. After urgent the button I used to be assured my efficiency was being recorded.


Patrick Holland/CNET

There are instances I went to reshoot a scene and needed to guess what my settings had been for the unique take. Access to ISO and shutter-speed metadata for clips I already shot, even when it is solely obtainable within the undertaking file, can be one other useful gizmo. Adding a histogram to the Cinema Pro app (as a substitute of simply the Photo Pro app), and extra instruments like a waveform and zebras would all be useful, too. 

I understand my wishlist really sounds just like the characteristic checklist of the third-party video app Filmic Pro. While added instruments to Cinema Pro can be nice, I do perceive that Cinema Pro and Filmic Pro are two basically totally different apps and a part of what I like concerning the former is that it is fairly easy. If I used Filmic Pro after I was a younger scrappy filmmaker I’d be overwhelmed. Whereas Cinema Pro gives a strong place to get my toes moist and get what’s in my head captured as video.

Photo Pro app and Eye AF rework the Xperia 1 II right into a mirrorless digital camera 

When we take into consideration telephones that take nice photographs, such because the iPhone 11 Pro or Google Pixel 4, they stand out as a result of they’ll seize a second, course of it and optimize it to create a single image that appears as excellent as attainable. After you faucet the shutter button, the phone’s computational images does the remainder. For many individuals, that is all they ever need out of a phone digital camera.

But for folks like me who need extra artistic management, the Xperia 1 II is an actual rattling deal with. I get entry to superior controls and may work together with them like an everyday digital camera.

If you are already into the Sony Alpha digital camera ecosystem, the Photo Pro app will instantly look acquainted, as a result of it basically mimics a Sony Alpha digital camera. There are controls for metering, focus, publicity compensation and extra. I can dial in shutter pace and ISO and there is even an onscreen histogram and horizon degree.

The Photo Pro app copies the onscreen controls and dials discovered on Sony’s Alpha line of mirrorless cameras.


James Phelan/CNET

The finest characteristic is Eye AF which is an autofocus instrument borrowed from the $3,500 Sony A9 digital camera. Eye AF can determine a face in your body after which lock in in your topic’s eye. It is jaw-dropping how effectively this works on the Xperia. 

This characteristic can also be presupposed to work on animals, which sounds enjoyable and it was one thing I used to be trying ahead to. Unfortunately, regardless of quite a few tries, I by no means bought the attention focus field to pop up for my roommate’s cat Cheddar. My video producer tried it on his canine Max and the inexperienced field did not pop up on his eyes both. I’m working with Sony to determine precisely what is going on on.

Xperia 1 II photographs are nice

Whether I used to be utilizing the default Xperia digital camera app or Photo Pro, I used to be capable of seize constantly good photographs with the Sony Xperia 1 II. Pictures had plenty of element, fantastic colours and correct focus.

This picture of Sutro Tower has a whole lot of element and does effectively balancing highlights within the clouds and shadows.


James Phelan/CNET

The Xperia 1 II was capable of seize this difficult picture with fog in it. I actually love the colours.


James Phelan/CNET

The ultrawide-angle digital camera is a blast to make use of. There’s even a setting to maintain or take away distortion.


Patrick Holland/CNET

Even indoors and in medium and low-light conditions, the Xperia 1 II produces photographs with low picture noise that look pure. Take a glance under on the picture of Cheddar. The kitchen has a mixture of heat and funky lighting, in addition to shiny areas and closely shadowed ones. Cheddar’s fur has fantastic element and his white fur highlights aren’t blown out.

This indoor combined lighting picture of Cheddar reveals off how effectively the Xperia 1 II can deal with medium-light environments.


Patrick Holland/CNET

This tree actually pushes the Sony Xperia 1 II’s dynamic vary to its limits.


Patrick Holland/CNET

There isn’t a devoted night time mode. Rather, the phone can take low-light pictures like this with the primary digital camera app.


Patrick Holland/CNET

The solely place I’m dissatisfied is with the selfie digital camera, which takes solely average-quality photographs. Image high quality is an enormous step down in comparison with the rear digital camera and there’s a magnificence mode that smooths the pores and skin and enlarges eyes to a degree that’s too excessive. Some folks would possibly choose this, however I’m not one.

Beauty mode made me feel and appear like one other particular person.


Patrick Holland/CNET

The Xperia 1 II prices $1,200

Ultimately the Xperia 1 II’s triple-rear digital camera and preloaded digital camera apps are instruments that made my pursuit of filmmaking and images really feel extra official on a phone than the LG V60 and even the iPhone 11 Pro.

But the phone’s $1,200 price ticket is definitely not for everyone. If you are deep within the Sony Alpha digital camera ecosystem then the Xperia 1 II is certainly price contemplating, particularly when you have the finances. Sony has a preorder deal the place in case you purchase the phone it comes bundled with a pair of Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless headphones that cost normally $230. If you are within the Xperia, I’d positively reap the benefits of that.

As a journalist and scrappy short filmmaker, the phone prices an excessive amount of for me and I think about for lots of different folks too. Still, utilizing this phone was a fantastic expertise and maybe Sony can port over these nice digital camera tips into cheaper phone fashions within the close to future.


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Professional Web Designer & Developer,Expert in SEO & Digital Market, Founder of Tech Hunt.

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