The camera a 4K smartphone deserves is not the one it has right now

The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium has a 23 MP sensor in its main camera and uses a combination of contrast- and phase-detection to achieve super-fast focusing speeds — as fast as 0.03 seconds to lock in. The camera doesn't have optical image stabilization, but employs software algorithms to smooth out videos. Sounds like a great shooter on paper, but is it really?

On the software side, we enjoyed taking snaps with the phone's Superior Auto mode. It's capable of reading a lot of different scenes and adjusting its settings appropriately. You will know when the phone has recognized a specific scenario by an icon in the lower-right corner of the viewfinder — we've seen it cycle through “Backlight”, “Movement”, “Night”, and even “Food”. Unfortunately, we couldn't enjoy the experience fully, as there was an ever-present shutter lag every time we took a photo. While not deal-breaking, this certainly detracted from the “flagship feel” we look for in high-end smartphone cameras.

As always with Sony's flagships, there is a large number of shooting modes. Some are nice to have and well executed — Timeshift (slow motion), for example — while others are questionable at best — AR effect, which litters your picture with a selection of absurdly-looking 3D images, comes to mind. We are also a bit baffled by the existence of a Manual mode that doesn't seem to offer much freedom – it has a selection of scenes, an HDR switch (uncomfortably tucked away in a sub-menu), and gives us the ability to choose between a few different, locked-in white balance settings. Curiously, when in Superior Auto, note the word “auto”, we have access to a slider that lets us fine-tune the color temperature of the shot.

On to image quality – we can say we expected better. The images are definitely above average and can most certainly be enjoyed when viewed without zooming. However, when compared to the high-class snappers of the competition, the Z5 Premium is just not on par. Details tend to get digitized and blurred out pretty easily, and the pictures often end up slightly colder-looking than in reality. Aligning a shot that has both bright and dark areas is a hit-and-miss ordeal, as sometimes the highlights will get burned, or the shadows will end up being too dark (photos 11 and 12 are good examples). Turning HDR mode on will help, but just a little (as seen in photos 9 and 10 HDR).

During the night, the camera starts to struggle. Even minor twitches while taking a picture will result in a blurry image – probably something that could've been remedied with the inclusion of optical image stabilization. Light sources easily get overexposed and blurred, while objects in the dark remain nigh-indistinguishable (check out samples 23, 24, 25).

The front camera is nothing to write home about, either. It will produce passable selfies and is good enough for video chat, but don't expect detailed, or color-accurate pictures from it.

Taking a pic Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec) Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium 3.3
No data
No data
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 2.1
No data
LG V10 2.7
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 1.6

As far as video goes, the camera's issues with detail bleed into the clips as well. Thankfully, you won't be zooming in video playback as much, but a harshness in the finer details within a shot can still be seen. The software stabilization works great and eliminates those hand shivers really well. We also like the audio of the captured clips – the phone is pretty good at canceling unwanted noise, all the while recording voices and sounds with a nice, thick depth to them.


Needless to say, a 5.5” 4K Ultra HD display lends itself well for visual media consumption. Granted, we had to set the RGB sliders in the phone's settings to taste, as it was a bit too blue for our eyes to enjoy. However, once one does that, the Xperia Z5 Premium's screen is pure eyecandy.

The sound, however, definitely didn't meet our expectations. Sure, the phone has dual front-firing stereo speakers, but they are, unfortunately, quite weak. The sound also lacks depth and is, in general, very “phone-like”. There is an equalizer in settings, which we liked operating, but it will only go down to 400 Hz, so we couldn't dial in some meaty lows to try and boost the grunt. And yes, there is a “Sub Bass” slider, but that one didn't seem to affect the speakers at all.

Headphones output power (Volts) Higher is better
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium 0.36
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 0.609
LG V10 0.52
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 0.986
Loudspeaker loudness (dB) Higher is better
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium 73
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 70.7
LG V10 69
Apple iPhone 6s Plus 69.1



3. TyrionLannister unregistered

This phone is for showing the impressive feat of 4K display in a screen and bragging rights. For normal people, the regular z5 is much more logical solution. This is like the S6 edge or the BB priv.Those phones don't make much sense for normal people as they have too many issues and exist for proving that this is possible to make these phones. But don't make practical sense to buy. This I obviously my personal opinion. You might disagree.

15. combatmedic870

Posts: 986; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

4K display makes sense with VR. I don't know if its the SD810. But this handset would do really well for VR if it did it in 4K. We will see what happens with the Z6

28. Zomer

Posts: 361; Member since: May 31, 2013

I'm pretty sure the Snapdragon 810 will burn down a complete village when it has to render images in 4K

34. Acer_Predator unregistered

what u think will happen? what else you wanna add on smartphone? more mHz? stupidity of people..(naive youth) problem is apple exists..

51. rkoforever90

Posts: 474; Member since: Dec 03, 2011

a galaxy s4 will be more than enough for normal people.

52. Subie

Posts: 2415; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

I agree with you Tyrion. However, the regular z5 and z5 compact scored poorly on here as well.

119. DSP96

Posts: 20; Member since: Oct 13, 2015

True. It is more of a technical exercise that such a display is possible and as an answer to those people who were saying that QHD displays are the sharpest displays achievable on a mobile phone. To be honest, a 1080p display on a phone is more than enough, because even though people might discern the extra sharpness (which they can't), getting media (videos) in QHD is very difficult. The world of media and movies have not totally moved to QHD or 4K.

8. quintessential

Posts: 86; Member since: Mar 11, 2015

It's funny, when everyone else reviewing the Z5 Premium seem to think the phone has good ergonomics, display and prowess, the people at PA appear very keen to put down Sony with every review of their models, often ending up recommending a Samsung as a conclusion. Personally, having used a Sony Z2, Z3, and Z3+, its really not as bad as the folks at PA often make it out to be, which is pretty puzzling. Apart from the differences in interface outlook, I feel that whatever Samsung flagship models like the Galaxy S series or Note can do, these Sony flagships are as equally capable, if not better. It just boils down to a matter of brand choice. Nothing incompetent about the Sony handsets. In fact, they served me well longer than my Samsung handsets did. I tried out the Sony Z5 Premium at a telco store earlier this week. The phone feels good in the hand, looks great, works great and takes good photos. I would choose it over a Note 5 anytime. With the kind of ratings PA gives to Sony phones for their reviews, it's kinda hard to believe there is no biasness involved.

101. Danieldaniel1

Posts: 1; Member since: Dec 09, 2015

You really do not understand some things here... PhoneArena like many other publications are payed by samsung and apple for a good marketing... If there is a person who want to buy a new smartphone, than is gonna go to test it itself, if there is a person who buy any product because others says is a good product... Than that person have some psychologically problems... They are what we name sheeps and becouse are so many sheeps in this world... some financial empires evolve very well...

114. DeusExCellula

Posts: 1390; Member since: Oct 05, 2014

Show proof that they are paid.

10. jesus_sheep

Posts: 279; Member since: Apr 18, 2015

I agree, the z5 premium is a massive fail ( just an overblowin z5 which itself is an unattractive device).

12. combatmedic870

Posts: 986; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

Ummmm S6 edge+??? Just an overblown S6 edge. What's your point?

73. maccess

Posts: 742; Member since: Jan 16, 2013

The thing is the s6 edge+ is much more attractive than the z5 or hell any other phones on the market..

13. Arch_Fiend

Posts: 3951; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

7 Is The New Standard Around It.

14. nycguy54

Posts: 64; Member since: Dec 13, 2014

I bought it for $693 on eBay

17. xperiaZlover

Posts: 202; Member since: Nov 15, 2015

Hello everyone, please dont trust this review.check for other reviews from youtube and notebookcheck as well. From personal experience i can say that the 4k display of this device is not a gimmick.The display panel is really really better than the iphone 6s plus.It somewhat equals or is better than even the note 5 display. Batterylife is really very excellent for a 4k display.but average in comparison which means same as iphone 6s and samsung S6. Standby is better than almost all android phones because of stamina mode. As for the camera ,it sometimes beats the S6 and sometimes doesnt.but the colors are better than S6. Dxomark doesnt lie. I think their are 3 different camera qualities from the imx300. There is one version out which beats the S6. And another version with bad camera. Buy this device for yourself and see that i am not telling lies.

18. xperiaZlover

Posts: 202; Member since: Nov 15, 2015

I would have given it a rating of 9 out of 10. Even 9.5 out 10 if it had the Sd820.

24. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

You don't say :/

80. ph00ny

Posts: 2067; Member since: May 26, 2011

4k res is a gimmick until VR comes into play. I don't think there is one for sony. Only for Samsung and HTC

104. Rhinoface

Posts: 179; Member since: Dec 05, 2014

Google Cardboard lol

20. ryq24

Posts: 875; Member since: Oct 17, 2011

A 7!!! Ouch!

23. Pattyface

Posts: 1658; Member since: Aug 20, 2014

Looks great honestly and I'd love to own one but this would get a 7.5 from me based solely on availability in the USA. Sony continues to eff up by not offering it on any of the carriers or all of the carriers.

26. Theus

Posts: 13; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

They didn't even bother to update the firmware or camera app to their latest version and there is no batery benchmark listed, just charging time.

27. adecvat

Posts: 654; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

Crappy camera, again. Sony style.

29. TezzaBP

Posts: 274; Member since: May 18, 2015

PA is really beginning to annoy me now

105. ogee4life

Posts: 105; Member since: Apr 12, 2014

I don't bother with their reviews any more, u should follow suit. The score isn't surprising and can never shock those here. These guys are certainly and officially the worst mobile phone review site i have ever seen.

30. Hallyu

Posts: 790; Member since: Jul 21, 2015

Lol. Look at those Sony paid shills crybaby. Let me tell you that this 7 rating is almost too high for such a worthless phone. There are a lot better phones from Chinese OEMs than this toy and were rated at just 6 and 6.5. Stop acting childish immature because no one is going to care about your complaint.

41. xperiaZlover

Posts: 202; Member since: Nov 15, 2015

I guess you are from wonder. Well i would buy a apple or sony even if it was 50% more expensive than samsung with same specs. There are people who still love japanease products. I only like the samsung amoled display and their innovations . Nothing else

55. Hallyu

Posts: 790; Member since: Jul 21, 2015

Because they are blind by old school theory that Japanese products have best quality. Or maybe their parents and their older generation are just mean to them that they still believe in this propaganda. This is not the 80s or 90s anymore. Business and innovation grow everywhere. If they can't keep up with Korea's Companies, they are not the best anymore. Look at the electronic and appliances sectors where Samsung and LG are dominating in. That's what you need to judge in real life.

60. xperiaZlover

Posts: 202; Member since: Nov 15, 2015

Who cares? atleast the design looks awesome .and not a copy of no other phone. Sony Z series have an original genuine design although used for the last 3 years. Yes i agree samsung is dominating.that is why i am fed up of buying samsung.everyone has a samsung. Have to move on.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

Xperia Z5 Premium
  • Display 5.5" 2160 x 3840 pixels
  • Camera 23 MP / 5 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, Octa-core, 2000 MHz
  • Storage 32 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 3430 mAh(19.17h 3G talk time)

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