iPhone 7 Plus vs Sony Xperia XZ camera comparison: which does 2X zoom better?


A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine treated herself to an iPhone 7 Plus. Long story short, she loved it, and it wasn't only for the gorgeous shade of Rose Gold it was sporting. The screen, the battery life, and the performance all blew her away, but the feature she was enjoying the most was the dual camera. Her pictures were coming out clear and detailed, even when she was zooming – something that couldn't be said about her old phone. Or for most other phones, actually.

There's a reason why the iPhone 7 Plus's camera performs that well. Next to its main camera there's a secondary Telephoto cam with proper optical magnification, and its 2X zoom brings the subject twice as close without sacrificing detail. In contrast, most other phones have to digitally stretch the image to achieve the zoom effect, and doing so results in loss of image quality.

Yet I think there's an Android phone that could match the iPhone at the zooming game – the Sony Xperia XZ. It doesn't have a secondary camera. It has no optical zoom either. But it has a bigger camera sensor, a wider aperture, and a ton more megapixels – 23, to be exact – to capture even the most minute details in every image. In comparison, the Telephoto camera on the iPhone 7 Plus has only 12 megapixels to work with. Will the XZ's technically superior camera be able to produce better shots at 2X zoom? There's one way to find out!

Scene 1: Old-timer



On the left we have an image out of the iPhone 7 Plus, and on the right – a photo from the Sony Xperia XZ. Both shots were taken at 2x zoom. Can you name a winner? Looking at details alone, I can't. Both images look mighty fine even if I take a closer look, so I'm calling this round a tie. Looks like the 2x digital zoom on the XZ could prove just as useful as the iPhone's.

Scene 2: Santa Claus



Or maybe I spoke too soon. This pair of images was taken at the office, where light conditions aren't exactly perfect for a photo shoot-out. Both photos look fine, of course, but the iPhone's is noticeably more detailed. Why is that? Well, the Xperia XZ's camera tends to be more susceptible to digital noise, and digital noise is always more prevalent in low-light shots, hence the smudgy details seen in its photo.

Scene 3: The bookshelf



In this third set of images, the iPhone still has the upper hand over the XZ. This does not become obvious at first, but if you take a closer look, you'll notice how the detail in the texture of the wallpaper is mostly missing. Also, the titles of the books are clearer to read in the iPhone's photo. But then again, I'd say that both photos are usable as they look good enough.

Scene 4: In the woods



And the Xperia XZ is back in the game. For this next scene, the light from the setting sun provided it with enough light to capture a nice, sharp photo – one that matches the iPhone 7 Plus in terms of detail. Okay, maybe the iPhone does have a tiny bit more detail in certain areas of its image, but overall, I'd call this round a tie.

Scene 5: Happy



Alas, the Telephoto camera on the iPhone 7 Plus has its downsides. One of them: it is less sensitive to light compared to the phone's main camera. That's why in some low-light situations – in scenes such as this one – the iPhone's camera software chooses not to use its 2x zoom lens and shoots with its regular cam instead. Yes, the zoom in the iPhone's photo above is purely the product of digital image stretching. There's no optical zooming going on. Yet I can't say that the Xperia XZ's photo looks any better. When examined from up close, both photos have more or less the same level of detail, and I'd even say that in some areas, the iPhone's image does look clearer.

Conclusion


After doing what I do for a living for so long, I have developed the habit of observing how people use their phones. And one of the things I've noticed is that pretty much everyone uses the zoom feature of its camera – regardless of whether they're a pro photographer or if they got their first smartphone yesterday. That's why it makes perfect sense for smartphone makers to give their phones better zooming capabilities. Apple did exactly that. The Telephoto camera on the iPhone 7 Plus does a really, really great job at bringing the subject closer to the photographer. It isn't the first phone to do so using optical means, but it is the first to implement optical zoom in a sensible, practical way. All the iPhone 7 Plus needs is enough light to do its magic. 

So, can the Xperia XZ match the zooming capabilities of the iPhone 7 Plus? Yes, I'd say that it can, but only to a certain extent. As long as light is plentiful, the Sony Xperia XZ takes sharp, detailed shots at 2X zoom – shots that look about as good as those from the iPhone 7 Plus. For the most part, that is likely thanks to the technical advantages of the camera Sony is using, such as the higher megapixel count and wider aperture. In low-light environments, however, the XZ's camera is held back by its susceptibility to digital noise, while the image processing that's supposed to clear that noise isn't making things any better. 

But then again, even though the iPhone 7 Plus and the Xperia XZ use completely different zooming techniques, all of the images I showed you above turned out perfectly usable. I guess whoever said that the best camera is the one you have was onto something.

If you liked this post, perhaps you'll like some of our other articles related to the iPhone 7 Plus and its awesome dual camera. Check them out below:


Full resolution samples of all the photos used in this comparison are available in the gallery below:

Related phones

iPhone 7 Plus
  • Display 5.5 inches
    1920 x 1080 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Dual camera)
    7 MP front
  • Hardware Apple A10 Fusion, 3GB RAM
  • Storage 256GB, not expandable
  • Battery 2900 mAh
  • OS iOS 13.x
Xperia XZ
  • Display 5.2 inches
    1920 x 1080 pixels
  • Camera 23 MP (Single camera)
    13 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, 3GB RAM
  • Storage 32GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 2900 mAh
  • OS Android 8.0 Oreo

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