Sony Xperia Z5 Premium – Camera
Sony is responsible for many of the best mobile phone camera sensors, and it has kept hold of something a little special for the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium.
The Z5 Premium includes the IMX300 sensor seen on other Z5 phones. It may be listed as a 23-megapixel sensor, but be warned – for much of the time it actually takes photos at 8 megapixels. You need to switch over to 23-megapixel shooting manually, and note that when you do, you’ll be unable to use certain scene modes, including HDR.
As with the 4K screen, you may end up frustrated by the fact that the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium doesn’t really make full use of most of its hardware.
However, for the most part the camera is pretty good.
Use the default Superior Auto mode and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium will do a fairly good job of choosing the right settings, including using an HDR-a-like mode when there’s a strong background light source. It also performs reasonably well in dark scenes.
Even in a virtually pitch-black room, the phone can brighten up the image to make objects clear. This is in contrast to other, cheaper phones that might leave the scene looking intensely dark. It rarely results in a natural-looking shot, but it’s a pretty neat party trick.
However, the quality of night shots is actually poor in this price class. I had a chance to go out shooting at night with the Z5 Premium, Nexus 6P, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and iPhone 6S Plus, and the Z5 Premium was, by a clear margin, the worst performer.
From looking at the samples below, you may conclude that they look great. And they do. However, the level of detail visible up-close is significantly worse than OIS-equipped phones such as the Lumia 950, Edge and iPhone 6S. That’s whether you use 23-megapixel shooting or 8-megapixel shooting.
A closer look at the hardware reveals that the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium lacks optical image stabilisation, or large sensor pixels such as the Nexus 6P. As such, it generally needs to use higher ISO settings.
Night shots appear clear when viewed zoomed-out, but they don’t stand up to pixel-level scrutiny anywhere near as those taken with the Samsung Galaxy S6 family of phones, for example.
I also found that the phone’s 23-megapixel images tended to look a little scratchy and indistinct close-up, even in good lighting – which regularly destroys fine pattern detail. The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium displayed some of the ugliest noise-reduction processing I’ve seen in a top-end phone. The approach appears to be about making the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s photos clean at 8 megapixels, not at full resolution. I’d just stick to 8-megapixel shooting.
I should stress that all the criticisms I’m making are relative to its status as a top-tier mobile phone camera. In general it’s still a decent camera, offering very good detail in 8-megapixel images, superb colour, excellent contrast in most situations, and reliable metering.
Here are some shots taken with the camera:
Despite all my criticisms, it’s still a top IQ performer, especially for non pixel peepers
A few other areas where the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s camera doesn’t live up to its promises. For example: speed – the IMX300 sensor has an impressive-sounding 192 phase-detection points. Phase detection is faster than contrast detection, partly because it gets rid of the “back and forth” motion of contrast detection, which is what most phones use.
In theory that’s great. However, it doesn’t really add much here because the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium has a relatively slow camera. I found that there was a pause of half to a full second between pressing the shutter and a shot actually being taken. That’s serious lag, and it makes the camera much less fun and immediate-feeling than the best from Apple and Samsung.
It also doesn’t use phase detection all the time, despite having that huge wealth of focusing points. At times, there’s very clear focus seeking, which is an indication of the phone reverting to contrast-detection AF.
The app is a little fiddly too. Sony has just given its camera app a substantial re-vamp, with the main mode selection now living to the left of the screen. However, flicking between the modes still feels slow and awkward.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium offers many of the additional modes you get in other Z5s. This means plenty of augmented-reality nonsense, pasting 3D faces onto your own,, but no “proper” manual mode to provide control over focusing and shutter speed. There’s a mode labelled “manual”, but it’s simply a less heavy-handed Auto mode than the default one.
4K video is available, but you have to use the separate 4K mode rather than just switching to 4K capture in the default video camera section. It’s all rather bitty.
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s selfie camera is nothing to get excited about either. It’s a basic 5-megapixel sensor whose photos are often pretty noisy and low on detail.
Sony Xperia Z5 Premium – Battery Life
One thing Sony Xperia Z-series phones have traditionally got right is battery life. I’ve seen an Xperia Z phone last for up to 16 hours when playing back video locally. Don’t expect that from the Xperia Z5 Premium’s 3,430mAh battery, though.
Even with the phone displaying at 1080p resolution instead of 4K, this screen seems to be a bit of a power hog. It lasts for 11 hours when playing back video, which is around 3.5 hours less than I squeezed out of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.
I did find that when not using the display as much, stamina is actually pretty good. Even after several hours of streaming Spotify and podcasts during the day, I was left with around 40% battery by bedtime.
But this will largely depend on how you use your phone. An hour of Netflix eats 18% of the battery, which is within normal limits but, as expected, not exactly impressive. And an hour of 3D gaming lops off 34%, suggesting you’ll get only around three hours’ use when really taxing the phone.
All told, though, the Xperia Z5 Premium’s stamina doesn’t reach the heights of some of Sony’s previous big-hitters.
You do get fast-charging support – although unfortunately, I didn’t get to try it out using a QuickCharge 2.0 charger. You can expect the phone to be fully charged in under two hours with one, though.
One area I haven’t yet covered is sound quality. While the headphone output on Sony’s higher-end phones is well-regarded, the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium’s speakers are fairly disappointing.
The handset uses a pair of front-loaded speakers, which is a good start, but the sound quality is nothing special.
Sony is falling behind here, as Apple and HTC have offered better-quality speakers for some time now, and this year’s Samsung phones are also significantly beefier-sounding.
Should I buy the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium?
The Sony Xperia Z5 Premium lays the weight of its hefty price on an ultra-high-resolution screen. And it doesn’t support the load well.
4K adds little to the experience, especially when the phone actually runs at 1080p for the majority of the time. The screen also robs the phone of the Xperia Z series’ well-regarded stamina for battery life.
Add to this a chunky, hard-edged design and a camera that doesn’t match most other top phones’ low-light photo quality and the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium is hard to recommend. Most buyers would do better to check out the Nexus 6P or Samsung Galaxy S6.
Big, expensive and with a USP that falls flat, the Z5 Premium isn’t in the running for phone of the year.
Score in detail
Battery Life 7
Calls & Sound 6
Screen Quality 9