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Sony Xperia XZ1 Camera Review: Motion Eye Mark II is the best yet

Sony’s Xperia XZ1 flagship phone boasts an upgraded Motion Eye camera, packed with new features including an autofocus burst mode, smart smile capture and 3D facial scanning. We’ve fully tested the XZ1’s front and rear snappers and here’s our in-depth review.

Sony’s fresh new Xperia XZ1 and Xperia XZ1 Compact smartphones boast plenty of fantastic features, as you’ll see from our hands-on reviews at IFA 2017. However, one of Sony’s strengths has always been the camera tech, and the spruced-up Motion Eye snapper that sits in both of these flagships is definitely a highlight.

As well as packing the usual (and brilliant) Superior Auto mode, for snapping your everyday life with minimal effort, the XZ1 is perfect for action shots thanks to the smart autofocus burst mode. Even better, the video mode has been boosted by the Xperia XZ Premium’s Super Slow Motion feature. That means you can capture a home movie with stunning 960 frames-per-second segments, for impressive results.

We’ve spent three days so far with the Sony Xperia XZ1 and shot loads of photos and video, so here’s our full impressions of that new Motion Eye camera.

Check out our guides to the best camera phones of 2017 and best Sony phones right now.

Sony Xperia XZ1 camera interface

Double-push the fingerprint sensor/power button on the edge of the Xperia XZ1 and you’re immediately thrust into the camera app, ready to shoot. That’s a feature that can be disabled if desired, although we’re big fans. After all, you never know when a priceless moment will arise, such as your great mate Dave spilling half his pint down his front.

Boot up the camera and you’re straight into Superior Auto Mode, so you can get busy snapping without a second thought. This picks the camera settings for you, so all you need to do is point at your subject and hit the on-screen shutter button, or the handy physical button on the right edge of the XZ1. Your shot will take almost instantly in good light, with a slight delay in more dim conditions.

Flick your finger up the screen and you’re taken to the Xperia XZ1’s manual camera settings. By tweaking the likes of white balance and ISO levels, you’ll get just the shot you need. Of course, you’ll need to know what you’re doing to really master this mode; there’s no Graphy-style help feature, like you’ll find on the LG V30.

To start shooting a home movie, flick your finger down the screen from Superior Auto mode to enter the video mode. From here you can also shoot Super Slow Motion footage, as well as 4K resolution video - no need any longer to flick down once more to get into the special bonus camera features for Ultra HD settings. In fact, those bonus modes have been stripped right back to include just a couple of creative bits, including the ability to add filters to your photos.

Sony Xperia XZ1 camera review: Photo quality and features

Sony flagship phones can always be relied upon to produce sharp, good-looking shots in almost any kinds of conditions and the XZ1 is no different. Click on the large samples below to blow them up to full-sized photos.

With Superior Auto mode selected, we rarely had to dispense with a photo. Whether you’re shooting against strong natural light or working with a meagre amount of artificial illumination, the lens adapts and produces a good-looking snap. High contrast is well handled, so you can happily shoot away outside and expect good results, even when bright skies are involved.

Colours are generally boosted a little in processing, as is typical with Sony, so don’t expect natural hues. However, we personally like the vibrant effects.

Moving subjects appear perfectly sharp, as long as lighting conditions aren’t too low. Even sugar-fuelled children can be snapped cleanly, with no kind of ghosting. In fact, this is one of the best camera phones we’ve tested for action shots, thanks in large part to the solid autofocus burst mode.

While recent Xperias lacked any kind of burst mode, the XZ1 has more than made up for this strange omission. Hold down your finger on the shutter button and you’ll shoot snaps at ten frames-per-second for up to ten seconds (giving you 100 photos maximum). These are all taken at the maximum 19-megapixel resolution as well, so there’s no compromise when it comes to quality.

Tap on someone before you long-press that shutter button and the Xperia XZ1’s lens will keep focus on them throughout the burst mode shooting. This worked pretty well in our testing, and proved essential when trying to capture the perfect action shot of your kid or pet. Once you’re done, you can choose which frames to save and instantly get rid of the rest.

You’ll have to knock off this object tracking feature if you want to activate Sony’s new smile capture mode instead, which automatically attempts to detect your subject’s ‘peak smile’ and then buffers images for you to choose between. Smile capture seems to be a bit hit and miss when used in real life, however. Our temperamental young test subjects were quite often automatically captured when frowning or otherwise gurning, although at least you usually get a choice of four photos to select from.

The Xperia XZ Premium certainly impressed us when it came to low light performance and the Xperia XZ1 offers similar levels of nighttime photography. As long as it doesn’t get too dark, you can capture a reasonable amount of detail without too much grain to ruin proceedings.

Check out our gallery containing some of our Xperia XZ1 test photos below.

Sony Xperia XZ1 camera review: 3D Creator

One of the more intriguing features packed onto the Xperia XZ1 is Sony's new 3D Creator tool, which can capture a three-dimensional virtual representation of your face or entire head. You can also scan in your dinner, randomly, or try free-forming with any object out there.

This 3D Creator app works better than we'd expected, with some quite stunning results at times. However, its uses are kinda limited and more than a little silly right now.

Check out our Sony 3D Creator review for all you need to know.

Sony Xperia XZ1 camera review: Video recording

Swap to the video mode and you can immediately start to shoot Full HD footage at 30 or 60 frames-per-second, or bump up to 4K resolution video. Sony’s SteadyShot Intelligent Active feature is enabled by default on standard 30-frames Full HD capture, and it’s very impressive indeed, cutting almost all judder when moving and filming at the same time. Jump up to 60-frames or 4K resolution and the image stabilisation jumps down to ‘standard’ levels, although we’re still more than happy with the results. Even at Ultra HD resolution, you can expect a pleasingly smooth watch.

It’s great to see Sony’s Super Slow Motion mode ported over from the Xperia XZ Premium. This allows you to capture tiny fragments of slow-mo footage in the middle of standard video clips, at a simply stunning 960 frames-per-second. You only get a second or so of Super Slow Mo action when you tap the on-screen button however, so you’ll need to time it just right. Get the hang of it and you can’t help but be wowed by the results.

Check out our Sony Xperia XZ1 video test samples below.

Sony Xperia XZ1 camera review: Selfie snapper

You can switch between the rear Motion Eye camera and the front-facing 13-megapixel selfie camera at any point, with a tap of an on-screen icon.

The Xperia XZ1’s front-facing lens can again capture detailed snaps in a range of conditions, with a screen flash mode available for low light occasions. This does a decent job of illuminating your face while keeping your skin tones quite natural, although as with all of these modes, you won’t capture much (if any) detail behind you.

That physical camera button makes selfie capture a little easier, although Sony has also added two software features for snapping your mug without fumbling the phone. The first is a smile capture, while the second is palm gesture recognition: just raise a hand and the countdown begins.

Sony Xperia XZ1 camera review: Video

Check out our in-depth Sony Xperia XZ1 review for all you need to know about this new flagship device, and take a look at this XZ1 camera review in video format below.

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