Sony Xperia Z5 Premium Review
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.
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.