Sony Xperia Z2 vs Sony Xperia Z1
With the same sensor/lens combo, the Z1 and Z2 produce very similar photos, but the Z2 takes the reign in video recording and extra camera options.
Sony uses the same 20.7 MP camera sensor in both handsets, but enables 4K video recording from the get-go in the Z2, making it what Sony claims as "the world’s best camcorder in a waterproof smartphone". Both phones offer 2 MP front-facing cams, capable of 1080p video recording. Despite that both rear cameras use the same 1/2.3” Exmor RS image sensor with 1.1 micron pixels, and Sony G Lens, Sony has leveraged the faster processor and more RAM in the Z2 for extra camera functions, added as new options in the otherwise almost identical camera interfaces. The still shots are getting a new trick, called Background defocus – it captures two photos at different focus settings, and blends together the different depths, leading to a blurred-out background for more artsy photos, similar to what the Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) do, but with less depth levels. Both phones sport the so-called Creative effects, where you can add coloring, image trails, mirror and motion effects, as well as augmented reality scenes to the stills and the video.
Photos from the Z1 and Z2 share largely similar characteristics, which is quite explicable, given the same sensor/lens combo. There are subtle differences, though, such as the fact that the Xperia Z2 slightly oversaturates the colors, compared to the real image in front of the lens, and its photos have slightly softer look.
The two phones nab the correct exposure settings most of the time, striking a good balance between shadowy areas highlight, and “burn” avoidance of brighter objects. The Superior Auto mode chooses whether to shoot in HDR regime automatically, and uses fill flash where needed with very good results. . Both handsets capture a very good amount of detail, though the Z1 sharpenes the finer detail better. We guess software update of the still new Z2 may tweak the post-processing to deliver sharper images. If you want the full 20 MP resolution, you'd have to use the Manual mode, as in the default Superior auto mode, the phone captures 8MP 16:9 photos, but these come with less noise and visual artifacts. We believe this is the better mode for Z2 and Z1 and we used it for most of our shots.
The indoor shots are about on par in terms of quality, sporting natural color representation both in terms of saturation levels, and true-to-life white balance that doesn't lean on the cold or warm side in most scenarios. Detail is plenty, and the noise levels are kept under wraps even when the light dims down significantly. Still, we like the Z2 test shots better, as they sport a bit more uniform color representation in different lighting scenarios, and a tad less noise. Also, the LED flash of the Z2 did a better job when shining light on our test scene from about five feet (1.5m) distance, producing a more evenly distributed illumination than the center splash that occurs with the Z1.
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We already mentioned the ability of the Z2 to shoot 4K footage with 30fps, compared to 1080p for the Z1. Sony also adds its Timeshift option for videos in the Z2, not only for stills. Moreover, you can shoot 120fps 720p footage, and select where it should turn into slow-motion one, for some extra drama. Add to these the real-time effects you can apply during shooting, like coloring, image trails, mirror and motion effects, as well as the augmented reality options you can choose before you press the camera key, and the video aspect all of a sudden becomes dramatically upgraded from the Z1. You are now able to create short and sweet Vine video clips directly from the camera interface, too, and underwater at that, if the situation calls for it.
The 1080p footage from the handsets is clean, fluid, and without skipped frames, or annoying artifacts. We like the Z2 videos a bit better, though, as they look a tad smoother, and more vivid. Continuous autofocus works very well with both handsets, but again the Z2 refocuses back and forth slightly faster. The 4K footage possible with the Z2 offers a breathtaking amount of detail, too, something that the stock Z1 isn't able to produce.
As the Z2 enters the elite club of phones with a stereo speaker set, it offers audio experience superior to the Z1.
Sony uses its Album app in place of a stock gallery on the Z2 and Z1, offering plenty of picture editing modes that can be used from within the app's interface. Your video collection goes in the Movies app, which also boasts a pretty interface with footage previews. There is an interesting Track ID TV mode, which serves as Shazam for video, pulling out information about the movie currently on TV based on the sound recorded from it.
The Xperia interface has one of the nicest music players from all manufacturer overlays out there. It is Walkman-branded, and offers a very appealing and easy to use interface, with plenty of categorization options and sound modes to choose from. The Xperia Z2 ups the Z1 game significantly in the audio department. Sony put stereo speakers and amplifier set in the Z2, dubbed S-Force Front Surround Sound. The waterproof speakers do sound better compared to the single speaker of the Z1, but the comparable BoomSound set on the HTC One (M8), for instance, has better clarity, and a more rounded sound. Also, the strength leaves something to be desired on both handsets – we measured 71dB on the Z2 vs 68dB on the Z1, which is nothing to write home about.
The Z2 also comes with a digital noise-cancellation technology in headset mode. The special in-ear headphones have microphone built-in, but unlike traditional active noise-canceling headphones, the DSP processing is done in the phone itself, instead of in the headphones. Thus the set doesn't have to have batteries, and Sony claims that the results are better. You can easily hear the active noise-canceling effect, and it works pretty good, but in most markets they don't ship with the phone, and you'd have to buy the special headphones separately.
The default video player on the Z1 and Z2 runs every popular format you throw at it, including DivX/Xvid/MKV files, up to 1080p in resolution. It also sports plenty of settings, like a loop mode, or subtitles support. The footage looks prettier on the larger display with wide viewing angles of the Z2, though.