Sony Alpha engineers explain why the Xperia 1 III camera is so good

Sony Alpha engineers explain why the Xperia 1 III camera is so good
Sony officially unveiled its new Xperia lineup last week and it quickly became clear that the Japanese company has been focusing on camera development extensively in the Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III.

Both models feature a unique telephoto system with two distinct focal lengths, achieved by physically moving the lenses inside the camera module. In a new video, posted on Xperia’s official YouTube channel, engineers from the Alpha camera department explain how they developed the camera modules in Sony’s new flagship phones.

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Hiroyuki Chiba, the optical engineer responsible for developing the lenses for the RX and G Master series Sony cameras, explains that the team focused on the “cameraness” of the system in the Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III. Under this vague term, the Japanese engineers put several key camera features - high image quality, high precision, small size, and great speed.

The variable telephoto system uses a very precise actuator

Chiba san says that everything has been developed in-house, from the sensors to the lenses, despite the ZEISS branding on the optics. The world’s first variable telephoto camera in a smartphone is arguably the most interesting piece of technology in Sony’s new phones.

Unsurprisingly, Sony engineers are reluctant to go into much detail about how this system works. Apparently, the variable telephoto camera uses an actuator that can move the lenses inside by submicrons. Unfortunately, there’s no information about the type of the actuator - whether it’s piezoelectric or purely mechanical.

One interesting detail about the system is that Sony could theoretically have offered optical zoom for all focal lengths in between 70mm and 105mm equivalent, but it's chosen this time not to. According to DPReview, Sony had to work really hard to achieve the needed accuracy of the actuator and maybe that’s the reason why the Japanese company decided to play it safe.

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Sony's impressive AF Real-time tracking relies on the ToF sensor

Another really impressive tech, borrowed from the Alpha division, is the Real-time tracking autofocus feature. Software engineer Yu Kishimura reveals that Sony had to include a ToF sensor in order to achieve the accuracy and speed needed for the AF Real-time tracking system to work as it should.

Sony had in mind sports photography in particular when designing and fine-tuning the AF system on the Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III and combining the software algorithms with the hardware depth-of-field sensor. This feature is available when using the telephoto camera as well, both in 70 and 105mm mode, giving photography enthusiasts additional freedom when taking stills and videos from a distance.

Color reproduction unaffected by trends

Many smartphone manufacturers can't resist the temptation to go for oversaturated colors in their camera systems, in order to wow the users. Sony decided to stray away from this approach and went for maximum color accuracy. 

Sony also decided to go for 12MP sensors in all three cameras, aiming for uniformity in image quality between the different systems. According to Takaaki Ariyama - Image Quality engineer at Sony - the company wanted the users to feel as if they're using interchangeable lenses on a single sensor.

Price and availability

Sony Xperia 1 III and Xperia 5 III should arrive in early Summer and although there’s no information on pricing at the moment, a Russian pre-order listing revealed that Sony Xperia 1 III price matches Galaxy S21 Ultra. The smaller Xperia 5 III model is expected to cost somewhere between $999 and $1,100, making it one of the most expensive compact phones on the market.

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