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Sony Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact Camera Hands-on Review

Sony’s new Xperia XZ1 flagship phone and the mini XZ1 Compact both boast superior smartphone camera tech, including the brilliant Super Slow Motion mode and some new features like the Autofocus Burst mode. We’ve gone hands-on with these Xperia handsets and here’s what we think of those cameras so far.

The Xperia XZ1 is Sony’s most enticing flagship mobile to date, helped in large part by that 19-megapixel rear camera. This super snapper offers the same brilliant Motion Eye optics as the Xperia XZ Premium which launched earlier in 2017, with all of its best features and some impressive software to help you get the best possible shot, no matter what. However, you also get some worthy new features which will be especially helpful for parents and anyone who wants to capture the perfect action photo.

We’ve had a play with the Xperia XZ1 and its baby brother, the Xperia XZ1 Compact, to sample the cameras for ourselves. Already we can’t wait to give them a thorough testing.

Xperia XZ1 vs XZ1 Compact camera: Specs and what’s the difference?

Impressively, the Xperia XZ1 Compact packs similar camera hardware as the full-sized flagship phone, despite its mini stature.

In both cases you get a 19-megapixel Motion Eye rear camera, complete with the same feature set. You can shoot up to 4K resolution video, as well as Super Slow Motion footage, no matter your chosen phone. Sony’s predictive capture tech and new Burst Mode tool is also found on both handsets – more on the software side later.

The main difference between the XZ1 and the Compact model is the front-facing selfie camera. On the standard phone you get a 13-megapixel lens, while the smaller handset offers an 8-megapixel shooter. However, even though your shots will be less detailed with the XZ1 Compact, you also get a new wide-angle feature which isn’t present on the bigger phone. This allows you to instantly switch between 80 and 120-degree photo capture, with a tap of an on-screen button.

That wide-angle mode certainly helps when you’re trying to shoot a group selfie, or fit yourself into a gorgeous landscape. In fact, we’d gladly take the hit on resolution for this feature, as 8-megapixels is plenty anyway.

Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact camera: Hands-on review

We were fortunate enough to test out the Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact ahead of the official IFA 2017 launch, so we made sure to spend a lot of time with the cameras. Here’s all of the new (and old) features, as well as our first impressions.

Familiar camera interface

If you’ve used a Sony Mobile handset recently, you’ll know pretty much exactly what to expect from the camera app. Load it up and you’ll be thrown straight into Superior Auto Mode, which judges the environmental conditions and automatically adjusts the settings to match. The result is, as ever, a good-looking photo even in dark interiors.

Flick your finger up and you’re into the Xperia XZ1’s manual settings, where you can take full control of the camera. By tweaking the likes of white balance and ISO levels, you’ll get just the shot you need.

Flick down from the main camera screen instead and you’re into the video mode, for capturing home movies. More on this in the next section. Meanwhile a final flick down from the video screen takes you to the bonus camera modes, which are quite stripped back on the Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact. You’ll get the usual AR shenanigans for the kids as well as filters and other creative effects, and that’s about your lot.

Feature-packed video mode

From the Xperia XZ1’s video mode you can shoot Full HD footage at 30 or 60 frames-per-second, as well as 4K resolution video. Sony’s Steady Shot Intelligent Active feature is enabled by default on standard Full HD capture, to cut any kind of judder or shake as you move and shoot. And while this drops to ‘standard’ digital image stabilization on Ultra HD resolution, we’re still very impressed by the results. You can even choose which file type to shoot in: H.264 or H.265.

One of the most impressive camera features of the Xperia XZ Premium was of course the Super Slow Motion mode. This allows you to capture brief snippets of slow-mo footage while filming a normal video, at the frankly insane rate of 960 frames-per-second. The results are truly stunning, and the good news is that Super Slow Motion has come to these new flagship phones.

Both the Xperia XZ1 and the Compact model sport Sony’s world-first camera tech, which is activated in the same way as before. Just poke the Super Slow Motion icon before you begin to record and then tap it again every time you wish to activate the feature. The 960FPS capture lasts for roughly a second and then normal service resumes. You’ll need to leave it a few seconds to ‘cool down’ before you can shoot another slow motion snippet.

Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact camera: New features

However, Sony has packed some really good new photo capture modes into these fresh flagships, which will be especially helpful to anyone with a manic child or pet, or indeed any intrepid adventurers who want to capture fast-moving subjects.

Predictive smile capture

For one, the Predictive Capture feature has been boosted for these new models. The Xperia XZ Premium’s Motion Eye camera already sports Sony’s smart motion prediction, which automatically begins to buffer images when it detects some kind of action. Now the lens can also capture a portrait of someone smiling before you even click the shutter button. In a similar fashion to the motion capture, this feature detects the ‘peak smile’ moment and saves an image, offering this as well as your own manually taken shot. You can then decide which is best.

In our tests, this worked remarkably well. A child who only offered brief glimpses of a smile was automatically captured when she looked the most cheery, while we manually snapped a lot of blank stares and pretty much every moment she turned away.

Autofocus Burst Mode

Owners of older Xperia phones may remember that Sony always offered a ‘Burst Mode’, which could capture loads of shots in quick succession simply by holding down the shutter button. Sadly this was removed for recent handsets, even the flagship phones.

The good news is, Sony had added a fresh Autofocus Burst Mode into the new Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact. This works in a similar way to the old burst mode, but with added smarts. Just hold down the shutter button to get started and you’ll shoot photos at roughly ten frames-per-second for up to ten seconds, giving you 100 photos in total if your don’t let go. These are all taken at the maximum 19-megapixel resolution as well.

Even better, each photo should be nice and sharp even if your subject is moving fast, as the Xperia’s autofocus continues to lock onto them and adjust throughout. All you need to do is tap on them before holding the shutter button down.

Once you’ve finished, you can choose to keep all or some of the captured photos. You also have the option of stitching them all together into a video clip, if so desired.

3D face, head and object scanning

Sony has also introduced a new separate app with the Xperia XZ1 and XZ1 Compact, which uses the Motion Eye camera to capture a 3D image of pretty much anything you like. All you need to do is wander around your subject with the camera lens aimed at them and the Xperia will map out every contour and reproduce a colour-realistic model.

This works surprisingly well for faces, producing a very accurate representation after just 30 seconds of scanning (as long as the lighting conditions are okay, of course). There’s also a set mode for entire heads, random objects and even food, if you want to capture a model of your bacon sarnie before you shove it in your face.

Once captured you can edit your scan, tidying up the brightness levels and adjusting the dimensions. Finally, if you shot a person, you can then take that 3D scan and merge it into a GIF using the Shadow app, to get them dancing, exercising and all sorts. This is a standard GIF format so you can share it online.

The scan can also be imported into the Xperia XZ1 camera’s AR Effects mode, saved as your phone’s wallpaper, or even 3D printed if you have a compatible printer at home. Orders can also be made online, if you don’t own your own posh printer.

We’re seriously impressed at how well the 3D scanning works, in such a short space of time using just a mobile phone. The facial renders we saw and produced wouldn’t look out of place in a PS3 game, which is certainly stunning.

Of course, right now the feature is little more than a cool gimmick. We imagine that the GIF creation, while quite quirky to begin with, will get pretty old pretty fast. And beyond filling your Facebook feed with lots of scans (or your lounge with lots of 3D portraits of your family), we’re struggling to see any real uses for the tech.

Will the Sony Xperia XZ Premium get any of these new XZ1 camera features in a software update?

Good news, Premium owners. The Android Oreo upgrade will bring the 3D capture and predictive smile capture features to Sony’s 4K handset, which means you won’t miss out. However, it appears that burst mode will stay XZ1 only for now.

Check out our Sony comparisons to see how these new Xperias stack up with each other:

Xperia XZ1 vs XZ Premium vs XZ

Xperia XZ1 vs XZ1 Compact

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