We review the Sony Xperia XZ’s 23-megapixel rear camera, comparing to the smartphone snappers on the new iPhone 7 and Samsung’s excellent Galaxy S7. Which is the best mobile camera of 2016?
The Xperia XZ is Sony’s all-new flagship phone for 2016, and one of the most exciting features is the improved 23-megapixel camera that’s slapped on the rear.
Sony’s Xperia X (which hit the UK earlier this year) already had a rather good 23-megapixel snapper, of course. But the Xperia XZ aims to bump up its low light photography game by adding features such as a laser-guided autofocus and five-axis image stabilisation.
To test out the Xperia XZ’s camera, we put it up against two of the best smartphone shooters of this year: the iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7. Both of these rivals sport 12-megapixel rear cameras, which again boast capable low-light photo capture. Check out our iPhone 7 camera review and Galaxy S7 camera review for more info.
Sony Xperia XZ camera review vs iPhone 7 vs Galaxy S7: Camera app and features
The most basic, straightforward camera experience here is the iPhone 7, which offers up a stripped-down camera app with only the most essential of settings packed inside. Flick up and down the screen to switch between photo and video recording, as well as the Slo-mo, Time-lapse and Panorama modes. You also have access to a timer tool and can quickly toggle HDR and the flash on or off.
The only pain in the arse comes when you want to change the resolution and speed for video recording. To do this you’ll need to leave the camera app and jump into the full iPhone 7 settings, which seems rather unnecessary.
Sony’s Xperia XZ offers a lot more control by comparison. The camera app operates in much the same way as the iPhone 7’s, with a flick up and down to zip between the different modes. However, you also have a settings menu inside the app which allows you to fiddle with colour balance, photo and video resolution, object tracking, storage options and much more.
You also get a full manual mode with the XZ. So while Apple’s iPhone allows you to tweak brightness levels and manually focus, the XZ goes a step further with control over tracking speed, white balance and so on.
Sony also gives you a bunch of expandable bonus features which you can play around with. For instance, the AR feature will amuse your kids by adding dinosaurs to your shots and plastering masks over their faces, while you get the usual panorama mode, timeshift video, etc.
Meanwhile Samsung’s Galaxy S7 slaps all of the main camera features and settings onto a single screen. That makes for more clutter, but on the flipside also means you can shoot video and capture photos instantly – no flicking up or down to switch modes. You can also change the photo resolution with a quick tap.
Like Sony, Samsung has added a bunch of bonus camera features too. There’s a ‘Pro’ mode which gives you manual controls, Panorama, Slo-mo, Hyperlapse and even a Food mode for shooting sexy snaps of your delicious organic fruit salad.
Sony Xperia XZ camera review vs iPhone 7 vs Galaxy S7: Everyday photo quality
The Xperia XZ is a clear winner when it comes to detail levels for everyday shots. You can zoom right into a photo and clearly read distant signs, while XZ snaps look impressive crisp when blown right up. That said, the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 aren’t far behind despite the lower megapixel count. Photos are still pleasingly sharp, even viewed back on a TV.
The Galaxy S7 wins for overall contrast. When shooting monuments and people against bright skies, the S7 picks out more detail and keeps the shot brighter than the Xperia XZ and iPhone 7. The Xperia XZ is a close second though, producing very few oversaturated snaps. Sony’s camera is also on par with the Galaxy S7 for vibrant, attractive colour reproduction. By contrast, the iPhone captures more realistic hues, which can look rather dull in comparison when shooting plants and punchy scenes.
Sony’s camera is as impressive as ever at capturing motion shots too. You’ll rarely get blurry, unusable photos when snapping pets and manic children, something we also found with the iPhone 7 and S7 cameras. The only time they struggle is when you’re shooting in dimly lit environments.
Sony Xperia XZ photo sample gallery:
Sony Xperia XZ camera review vs iPhone 7 vs Galaxy S7: Low light photo quality
When you shoot photos in dark environments, the Galaxy S7 is still the ultimate champion. That high-aperture lens soaks up plenty of light and produces the sharpest, least grainy snaps out of these three phones.
The Xperia XZ does an admirable job still, as does the iPhone 7. Photos are grainy, but you can make out quite a lot of detail and colour tones are respectable. All three phones are quite fast to take their photos too, although the focus does need a little bit of time to latch onto your subject.
You get a powerful flash with all three phones, which will happily light up a group of faces in a dimly-lit room. Here are some flash samples so you can see how they compare.
Sony Xperia XZ camera review vs iPhone 7 vs Galaxy S7: Video quality
All three phones here can shoot Full HD video in 30 Frames-Per-Second (FPS) or 60FPS, as well as Ultra HD 4K resolution. You get built-in optical image stabilisation in all three cases too, to cut down on shaky footage from hand judders and general motion.
In our video tests, each of these phones impresses across the range of resolutions. The camera lens of the Xperia XZ, iPhone 7 and Galaxy S7 all cope well with changes in focal distance and brightness, adapting on the fly with no input. Image stabilisation on Full HD is strong in all cases too, although the iPhone 7 footage is slightly smoother when you boost up to 4K.
Here are our video samples so you can directly compare.
Full HD video samples
4K UHD video samples