It's shaped like a mobile phone but the Photo Pro and Cinema Pro apps make the Xperia 1 II feel more like a 'real camera' with a well-arranged array of advanced controls. Its AF system is also very adept and the Real-time Eye AF is very good and extremely useful. Importantly, it produces high quality stills and videos.
Eye AF is fantastic
Excellent video quality
Very slippery finish - a case is recommended
No shutter button icon in Photo Pro mode
What is the Sony Xperia 1 II?
The Sony Xperia 1 II is Sony’s flagship smartphone, which means it has all the features that the company can pack into a mobile phone. It’s built around a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 5G Mobile Platform and the Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF system to deliver multi-gigabit 5G speeds and 25% faster CPU and GPU than the previous model.
More significantly as far as we’re concerned, it has a triple camera system that draws on Sony Alpha technology along with Zeiss optics calibrated for use in an Xperia mobile.
We’re sure it makes nice phone calls and is good for social media, surfing the net and gaming, but our Sony Xperia 1 II review focuses on the camera.
Product type: Smartphone
Rear camera system: Triple-camera
Rear cameras and lenses: 12Mp 24mm f/1.7 with 1/1.75-inch type Exmor RS sensor, 12Mp 16mm f/2.2 with 1/2.55-inch type Exmor RS sensor and 12Mp 70mm f/2.4 with 1/3.4-inch type Exmor RS sensor
Front (selfie) camera: 8Mp f/2
Screen: 6.5-inch 21:9 4K (3840 x 1644) HDR OLED CinemaWide
Video : 4K HDR video at 24, 25 or 60fps
Storage: 256GB internal memory, microSDXC support (up to 1TB)
USB type: USB-C
Dimensions: 166 x 72 x 7.9mm
Sony has given the Xperia 1 II three 12Mp Exmor RS sensors with effective focal lengths of 16mm (f/2.2 with a 1/2.55-inch type sensor), 24mm (f/1.7 with 1/1.75-inch type sensor ) and 70mm (f/2.4 with 1/3.4-inch type sensor). The primary (24mm) camera and the 70mm camera are both stabilised.
Although there are automated shooting modes, experienced photographers are likely to prefer to use the Photography Pro system that gives manual control over the ISO, shutter speed and white balance. Similarly, although you can shoot Jpegs, it’s also possible to shoot raw files.
Similarly, there’s also the Cinema Pro app that gives an unusual level of control (for a smartphone) over video settings.
Enticingly, Sony claims that the Xperia 1 II has an industry-leading autofocus system that can keep up with shooting at up to 20fps (frames per second) and calculations made 60 times per second. There’s also Real-time Eye AF for humans and animals.
The Xperia 1 II is also water-resistant to IP65/68, has a Corning Gorilla Glass 6 screen and a 4000mAh capacity battery. Helpfully, the battery is compatible with both fast and wireless charging.
Build and Handling
Although it’s tall, the Sony Xperia 1 II is quite narrow and slim, which gives it a very elegant appearance. That narrow form also means it fits well in your hand, but its attractively glossy surface doesn’t offer much resistance and it slipped out of my grasp a couple of times when I reached for it. A case would give it some grip and a bit of protection.
The standard camera app is very straightforward to use. You can swap quickly between stills and video shooting and tap between the three cameras settings to zoom in or out. There’s not a huge array of control and everything is simply laid out. However, you can change the aspect ratio and adjust the white balance and exposure quickly and easily.
If you want something a bit more serious, you need to open the Photo Pro or Cinema Pro apps. It would be nice to be able to access these directly from within the camera app, but you have to go back to the home screen to reach them.
Photo Pro lets you set the shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus mode, focus area, metering mode, white balance, sensitivity (ISO) and focal length. It’s also possible to shoot raw files as well as or instead of Jpegs. There are even virtual buttons marked AF-ON and AEL, so you can activate the focusing and lock the exposure if you want.
The basic camera app interface
Unlike the basic camera app, Photo Pro doesn’t have an icon for the shutter button. Instead, a button on the side of the phone takes sole responsibility. That’s not always ideal when you’re holding the phone at an awkward angle.
If you’re interested in video, the Cinema Pro app has plenty to keep you interested. There are controls over resolution, frame rate, sensitivity (ISO) and the grading or look that is applied to your movie. Interestingly, the shutter speed can be set as fractions of a second or in degrees (eg 180 degrees) to reflect its relationship to the frame rate.
With an aspect ratio of 21:9, the Xperia 1 II’s 6.5-inch 21:9 4K (3840 x 1644) HDR OLED screen seems quite long and thin, but it gives a very crisp and clear view of the world.
As soon as you open any of the camera apps it becomes apparent that the Xperia 1 II is a responsive device and it gets subjects sharp quickly. Its Real-time Eye AF does a great job of recognising and focusing on the subject even if it’s moving.
It can also spot and focus on eyes when the subject isn’t looking directly at the camera. If it should lose the eyes because they’re turned too far to one side, the face detection system comes to the rescue, keeping your subject sharp.
If you’re using the Photo Pro app, the Xperia 1 II can shoot at up to 20 frames per second. That’s useful for capturing action when it can be hard to time a single shot precisely.
Generally, the shots from the Xperia 1 II are excellent with a good level of detail visible – especially when the 24mm camera is in use. Also, as you swap between the cameras, the exposure and colour is consistent.
Some shots look a little flat, but that’s preferable to excessive contrast and oversharpening.
Exposure is handled well but it’s nice to have the ease of control afforded by the Photo Pro app to let you adjust it or the white balance to get the results that you want. There are also nice Creative Effects that you can apply as you shoot to create more interesting results.
Sony has packed the video controls into the Xperia 1 II and they enable some excellent results. On the phone screen, they looks superb. Transfer 4K video to a larger computer screen and the results aren’t quite as impressive as the stills, the edges sometime look a little too strong, but on the whole they are pleasing.
The stabilisation also works extremely well in video mode.
While it would be nice to have a more direct route to the advanced features offered within the Photo Pro and Cinema Pro apps from the basic camera app, the Sony Xperia 1 II feels more like a camera in a mobile phone form than some other smartphones. The Pro apps give you extensive control quickly and easily without needing to visit a menu.
The autofocus system also delivers the kind of performance we now see from the AF systems in Sony’s recent mirrorless cameras. In addition, the images and videos it produces are excellent.