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Sony Xperia XA1 Camera Review: Brilliant budget mobile snapper

One of the Sony Xperia XA1’s best features is its 23-megapixel camera, one of the greatest mobile snappers to be found at this price point. Our full Xperia XA1 camera review takes an in-depth look at the tech and Sony’s camera features, along with photo and video samples.

The Xperia XA1 features several upgrades over last year’s Xperia XA, including a performance boost and refined design. However, my favourite update is undoubtedly that camera tech. Sony has crammed a seriously impressive 23-meg shooter onto the back of this phone, which captures better-looking photos than most of its similarly-priced rivals. You also get a wide-angle 8-megapixel front-facing camera, which proves handy for those group selfies (I refuse to use ‘groufies’ because it makes me bring up sick into my mouth).

After over a week of using the Xperia XA1’s camera as my full-time snapper, here’s my thoughts and a selection of photo samples to show off the handset’s photography chops. For alternatives, check out our guide to the best budget camera phones – including the brilliant Moto G5 Plus and the dual lens Honor 6X snapper.

For more on the Xperia XA1, check out our in-depth review.

Sony Xperia XA1 camera specs

Rear Camera

23-megapixel

f/2.0 aperture lens

1 / 2.3 Exmor RS sensor

Hybrid autofocus and SteadyShot image stabilisation

Front camera

8-megapixel

f/2.0 aperture lens

1 / 4 Exmor R sensor

SteadyShot image stabilisation

Sony Xperia XA1 camera app

Sony’s camera app hasn’t been tweaked for the Xperia XA1, so Sony fans will know exactly what to expect.

Boot up the camera app and you’re straight into Superior Auto mode, ready to take a shot in next to no time at all. If you need to snap an impromptu photo, you can simply double-tap the power button to load straight into the app. This can be accomplished even when the XA1 is hibernating. Best of all, you can fiddle with the settings to make the phone instantly take a shot or start recording a video in the main camera menu.

Sony’s app is pretty straightforward stuff. Most users can simply tap the shutter button to take a photo and ignore the rest of the interface. However, you do get quick toggles for the flash and switching between the front and rear cameras, when required.

To shoot video, you’ll need to flick your finger down the Xperia XA1’s display to swap to video mode. From here you just need to tap that shutter button again to start filming. It’s not the quickest of methods, of course, but it’s fine once you get the hang of it.

Manual controls are also on hand, for more confident photographers. You can access these by swiping your finger up from the main camera screen and then fiddle with the likes of white balance and shutter speed to get precise results. Sony has also included a couple of bonus modes, including panorama shots and AR effects (good for keeping kids amused).

Sony Xperia XA1 photo quality and samples

One of the first aspects of the Xperia XA1’s rear camera which really impresses is Sony’s focus. This locks onto your subject in no time at all, ready to take a sharp snap. You do get a brief pause between taking photos as the previous shot is processed, however.

Photo quality is fantastic in almost any conditions, rivalling the results produced by a lot of more expensive handsets. For a start, you get a serious amount of detail crammed into every shot. Even when blown up onto a big-screen TV, my test snaps looked sublime.

Colours really shine, without appearing over-processed or artificial; you get a natural and accurate reproduction, even when lighting conditions aren’t ideal. High contrast situations are dealt with admirably, while snaps taken in low light also impress. You still get strong detail levels, with minimal grain to mar the shot. Artificial lighting doesn’t upset the results either.

That fast shutter speed means the Xperia XA1 is also ideal for action shots. Hyperactive children and pets are captured cleanly, with no blur or distortion if the light is good. Even in softer light, the photos came out well.

Check out some of my sample photos in the gallery below and click on the larger photos to load up a full-sized version.


 

Sony Xperia XA1 video quality and samples

You can also shoot up to Full HD resolution video with the Xperia XA1, at 30 frames-per-second. Sadly there’s no option for 60 frames-per-second or 4K resolution footage, due to the phone’s specs. If you want these options, you’ll need to look to rivals such as the Moto G5 Plus instead.

Our test video shot on the Xperia XA1 was fine, if not remarkable. Detail levels noticeably drop when lighting conditions aren’t perfect, although the camera is still capable of shooting in quite low light. Audio is picked up without issue and Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilisation is undeniably solid. Even when walking and shooting at the same time, our test footage looked smooth and judder-free.

Take a look at our Sony Xperia XA1 video sample below.

Sony Xperia XA1 selfie camera

If you want to snap yourself and your buddies having fun, the Xperia XA1’s front-facing 8-megapixel camera will satisfy. You can fit plenty into frame and Sony has even included a palm gesture feature, for taking a hands-free shot. Just raise your hand to the lens and the phone will take a snap as soon as you drop your arm again.

Quality depends on the lighting conditions, but outdoor shots almost always come out well. You can also shoot up to Full HD video, again with SteadyShot in play.

To see the Sony Xperia XA1’s camera in action and for more samples, check out our full XA1 camera review in video form:

Read next: We round up the best Sony phones for 2017

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