Sony Xperia 1 II review: I shot an entire short film with this phone

Sony Xperia 1 II review: When I told someone about it Sony Xperia 1 II, her first reaction was “Sony is still making phones ?!” Admittedly, this phone is not aimed at the masses iPhone 11 Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S20. Sony is looking for creative types who want more control over their photos and videos. That’s why the company has equipped the $ 1,200 Xperia with controls and tools from its popular Alpha series of mirrorless full-frame cameras. I will deal exclusively with this in this article.

On paper, the Xperia 1 II seems like most other Android flagship phones that run on a Snapdragon 865 processor. It features a 6.5-inch 4K OLED screen, 5G (outside the United States) and a wide-angle main camera, an ultra-wide-angle camera and a telephoto camera on the back – all with a 12-megapixel sensor.

The tall, slim, angular exterior of the Sony Xperia 1 II hides a number of functions for filmmaking and photography for creative people.Patrick Holland / CNET


But there are things that make this phone stand out. For example, the telephoto lens has the full-frame equivalence of a 70mm lens – which means that it is actually a telephoto lens! (When companies say that their phones have telephoto lenses, they are usually between 52 and 56 mm.) There is also a physical trigger on the phone that is very convenient to use. There are also three pre-installed apps that take full advantage of the camera. One of them is the basic Xperia Android camera app. The other two are Photo Pro and Cinema Pro, which allow you to control all aspects of your phone’s photo and video capture in great detail.

To my delight, these apps allow the Xperia 1 II to work more like a camera than a phone. I wondered how good these cameras were, especially when recording video. To find out, I made a short film on the phone and was very impressed.

I made a film with the Cinema Pro app

The best way to talk about and test the video quality of the Xperia 1 II and the Cinema Pro app was to make a movie. So I wrote, shot, and played in the 4-minute film I, Robber, which you can see below. Every shot was taken with Xperia’s Cinema Pro app and I had a lot of fun with it.

While shooting my film, the physical trigger of the Xperia 1 II made it easy to shoot myself even when I couldn’t see the screen. The Xperia 1 is also small compared to mirrorless cameras and allows me to place it in different locations for unique shots and perspectives. For example, I glued the phone to the inside of a closet door for a scene.

The left side of the phone has no buttons and is relatively flat, which means that the phone can stand alone … mostly.

Unlike other apps that offer video-centric controls, Cinema Pro has a detailed yet accessible layout. The minimal menus are very simple and all-important settings are available at a glance. Things like shutter angle, ISO and manual focus are easy to set and you can automate focusing between two subjects – which is very convenient.

Videos are recorded in an H.265 codec with 10-bit color. 4K videos from the Cinema Pro app are sharp, especially from the 24mm main camera. Resolution and frame rates are 4K 60fps or HD 120fps. I should note that Cinema Pro videos have an aspect ratio of 2.39: 1 and are not recorded with full 4K UHD. Instead, you need to use the native Xperia camera app to capture real UHD in an aspect ratio of 16: 9.

However, Sony can add improvements to the Xperia 1 II that would make it more helpful. For one, I wish there was more “Pro” in the Cinema Pro app. It would be great to enlarge the viewfinder to focus manually or to get a focus tip. A real flat video profile would also be nice.

When filming outdoors, you need a neutral filter to avoid overexposed videos. Since the aperture is fixed, you can only adjust the exposure by changing the ISO and the shutter angle. On a really bright day, I often drove both the ISO and shutter angles to the ground and still had an overexposed image. One hack I learned was shooting at 4K 60fps (or HD 120fps), which exposes each frame to a shorter exposure than when shooting at 24fps. It’s not ideal, but sometimes it brings exposure to a manageable location.

There are times when I re-shot a scene and had to guess what my settings were for the original setting. Accessing ISO and shutter speed metadata for clips I’ve already captured, even if it’s only available in the project file, would be another great tool. Adding a histogram to the Cinema Pro app (instead of just the Photo Pro app) and additional tools like waveform and zebras would also help.

I know that my wish list actually sounds like the list of functions Third-party video app Filmic Pro. While adding tools to Cinema Pro would be great, I understand that Cinema Pro and Filmic Pro are two fundamentally different apps, and part of what I like about the former is that it’s fairly easy. If I were to use Filmic Pro as a young filmmaker, I would be overwhelmed. While Cinema Pro provides a solid place to get my feet wet and capture what is in my head as a video.

Photo Pro App and Eye AF turn the Xperia 1 II into a mirrorless camera

When we think of phones that take great photos, like the iPhone 11 Pro or Google Pixel 4, they stand out because they can hold, process and optimize for a moment to create a single picture that looks as good as possible. After you tap the shutter button, your phone’s computer photography appears Chops does the rest. For many people, that’s all they ever expect from a phone camera.

But for people like me who want more creative control, the Xperia 1 II is a real treat. I have access to advanced controls and can interact with them like a normal camera.

If you’re already familiar with the Sony Alpha camera ecosystem, the Photo Pro app will immediately seem familiar to you, as it essentially mimics a Sony Alpha camera. There are controls for metering, focus, exposure compensation, and more. I can choose shutter speed and ISO, and there is even a screen histogram and horizon level.

The best feature is Eye AF, an autofocus tool borrowed from the Sony A9 camera for $ 3,500. Eye AF can identify a face in your frame and then capture the eye of your subject. It’s amazing how well this works on the Xperia.

This function should also work with animals, which is fun and I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts, I never got the eye focus box for my roommate’s Cheddar cat. My video producer tried his dog Max and the green box didn’t show up on his eyes either. I’m working with Sony to find out exactly what’s going on.

Xperia 1 II photos are great

Regardless of whether I used the standard Xperia camera app or Photo Pro, I was able to take consistently good photos with the Sony Xperia 1 II. The pictures had a lot of details, wonderful colors, and a precise focus.

Even indoors and in medium and low light conditions, the Xperia 1 II creates photos with low noise that look natural. Check out the photo of Cheddar the cat below. The kitchen offers a mixture of warm and cold light as well as bright and heavily shaded areas. Cheddar’s fur has wonderful details and its white fur highlights are not blown out.

The only place I am disappointed is the selfie camera, which only takes photos of average quality. Image quality is a big step down compared to the rearview camera, and there is a beauty mode that smoothes the skin and enlarges the eyes to an extreme point. Some people may prefer that, but I’m not.

The Xperia 1 II costs $ 1,200

Ultimately, the triple-rear camera and the pre-installed camera apps of the Xperia 1 II Tool, with which my pursuit of filmmaking and photography felt more legitimate on a phone than on the LG V60 or even that iPhone 11 Pro.

But the price of $ 1,200 is certainly not for everyone. If you’re deeply rooted in the Sony alpha camera ecosystem, the Xperia 1 II is definitely worth considering, especially if you have the budget. Sony has a pre-order contract that comes with a pair when you buy the phone Sony WF1000XM3 wireless headphones, which typically cost $ 230. If you are interested in the Xperia, I would definitely use it.

As a Journalist and shabby short filmmaker, phone costs me too much and I also imagine it for many other people. Still, using this phone has been a great experience, and maybe Sony may be able to transfer these great camera tricks to cheaper phone models in the near future.

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