Xperia 1 II review: Sony packed this $1,200 phone with camera features

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

Patrick Holland/CNET

When I advised somebody in regards to 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 inventive 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 widespread Alpha line of full-frame mirrorless cameras, and that is what I’ll be taking a look at completely 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 most important digicam, an ultrawide-angle digicam and a telephoto digicam — 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 — which means it is truly 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 sort of useful. There are additionally three preloaded apps that take full benefit of the digicam. One is the essential Xperia Android digicam app. The different two are Photo Pro and Cinema Pro, which provide you with detailed controls over each side of your phone’s photograph and video seize.

To my delight these apps enable the Xperia 1 II to function extra like a digicam than a phone. This made me surprise how good these cameras truly 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 technique to discuss and take a look at 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 referred to as I, Robber, which you’ll watch beneath. 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 report myself even after I could not see the display screen. The Xperia 1 can be small when in comparison with mirrorless cameras, and it permits me to place it in numerous places for distinctive photographs 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 which 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 handbook focusing are easy to regulate, and you may automate a spotlight pull between two topics — which is such a pleasure to look at.

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 principle 24mm digicam. Resolution and body charges prime out at 4K at 60 frames per second or HD at 120 fps. I ought to observe that since Cinema Pro movies have a 2.39:1 side ratio, it does not truly report at full 4K. Instead, it’s important to use the native Xperia digicam app to seize true 4K in a 16:9 side ratio.

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

If you are filming open air, you want a impartial density filter as a way to maintain from getting overexposed movies. Since the aperture is mounted, the one technique to modify publicity is by altering the ISO and shutter angle. On a extremely vivid 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 excellent, however generally it will convey 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 occasions 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 mission file, could be one other useful gizmo. Adding a histogram to the Cinema Pro app (as an alternative of simply the Photo Pro app), and extra instruments like a waveform and zebras would all be useful, too. 

I understand my wishlist truly sounds just like the characteristic listing of the third-party video app Filmic Pro. While added instruments to Cinema Pro could be nice, I do perceive that Cinema Pro and Filmic Pro are two essentially completely different apps and a part of what I like in regards to 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 affords a stable place to get my toes moist and get what’s in my head captured as video.

Photo Pro app and Eye AF remodel the Xperia 1 II right into a mirrorless digicam 

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 will 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 pictures does the remainder. For many individuals, that is all they ever need out of a phone digicam.

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

If you are already into the Sony Alpha digicam ecosystem, the Photo Pro app will instantly look acquainted, as a result of it primarily mimics a Sony Alpha digicam. 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 digicam. 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 be imagined 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 digicam app or Photo Pro, I used to be capable of seize persistently good photographs with the Sony Xperia 1 II. Pictures had plenty of element, great colours and correct focus.

This photograph of Sutro Tower has lots 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 photograph with fog in it. I actually love the colours.

James Phelan/CNET

The ultrawide-angle digicam 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 beneath on the photograph of Cheddar. The kitchen has a mixture of heat and funky lighting, in addition to vivid areas and closely shadowed ones. Cheddar’s fur has great element and his white fur highlights aren’t blown out.

This indoor combined lighting photograph 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 evening mode. Rather, the phone can take low-light photographs like this with the principle digicam app.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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

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

Patrick Holland/CNET

The Xperia 1 II prices $1,200

Ultimately the Xperia 1 II’s triple-rear digicam and preloaded digicam apps are instruments that made my pursuit of filmmaking and pictures 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 actually not for everyone. If you are deep within the Sony Alpha digicam ecosystem then the Xperia 1 II is unquestionably value contemplating, particularly when you have the finances. Sony has a preorder deal the place when 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 undoubtedly 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 an ideal expertise and maybe Sony can port over these nice digicam tips into cheaper phone fashions within the close to future.

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