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Sony Xperia XZs camera low-light performance examined in detail

The Sony Xperia XZs turned out a great flagship in spite of a few caveats here and there. We published our review on Friday and it has been under the spotlight ever since. Many people showed interest in the device and quite a few expressed their opinions and concerns. And we thank you for that!

Sony Xperia XZs review

We noticed one particular review chapter to be gathering unusually big attention – our low-light camera samples – and so we decided to make an in-depth follow up on that.

What we usually do for our low-light test is shoot the urban landscape from our office balcony. We would take one handheld sample, then we’d use a tripod, and if available – we would snap a long-exposure photo. That’s what we do with the rest of the phones and that’s what we did with the Xperia XZs.

Our readers became curios about the uninspiring Xperia XZs low-light samples and eventually the discussion gathered traction. We monitored our feedback, so we took the Xperia XZs for another spin at night and the results are in.

The first batch of samples shows how the Xperia XZs performs at capturing different scenes at night when you shoot hand-held, using the onscreen shutter to reduce shake as much as possible, and relying on Superior Auto mode.

The samples are hardly the greatest around, with plenty of detail lost to heavy-handed noise reduction, which ironically isn’t doing all that good of a job of masking the noise itself. Not it’s not a terrible performance by any means, but it’s one that’s lagging behind the vast majority of competitors.

Sony Xperia XZs low-light landscapes - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light landscapes - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light landscapes - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light landscapes - Sony Xperia XZs review

Sony Xperia XZs low-light landscapes

Then we pointed the Xperia XZs towards buildings and the camera handled the scenes well. There is enough detail, and while the ISO could have been lower (and thus the noise levels), the pictures turned out very pleasant and with nice contrast.

Sony Xperia XZs low-light close-ups - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light close-ups - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light close-ups - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light close-ups - Sony Xperia XZs review

Sony Xperia XZs low-light close-ups

Switching to Manual mode allows you to choose a lower ISO setting, adjust the focus, the shutter speed, and the exposure compensation. And if you could stabilize the phone with a tripod or use a wall or a railing for support, you can get even better samples.

The lower ISO setting you choose, the lower shutter speed you’d need. Here are a few low-light samples shot at ISO 100 and 1s shutter speed, which is the slowest the Xperia XZs will go.

Sony Xperia XZs low-light samples shot at 1s shutter speed - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light samples shot at 1s shutter speed - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light samples shot at 1s shutter speed - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs low-light samples shot at 1s shutter speed - Sony Xperia XZs review

Sony Xperia XZs low-light samples shot at 1s shutter speed

Of course, if you don’t have a tripod for 1s speed, you can go with an object for a support and still use a shutter speed of 1/32s, 1/8s or 1/4s.

Sony Xperia XZs lowlight: 1/8s sample - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs lowlight: 1/32s sample - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs lowlight: 1/4s sample - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs lowlight: 1/4s sample - Sony Xperia XZs review

Sony Xperia XZs lowlight: 1/8s sample 1/32s sample 1/4s sample 1/4s sample

We know the high resolution of 19MP may give the wrong impression of the Xperia XZs low-light capabilities, so we took a few 12MP samples with the iPhone 7 and the Xperia XZs for comparison.

The iPhone 7 images are less noisy, but keep in mind that it lowered the shutter speed to 1/5s, which may result in blurry images. Camera shake is an issue and while the optical stabilization helps a bit there, there’s nothing it can do about moving objects. And the iPhone images lack the lively colors and contrast of the Xperia XZs, so it’s not completely one-sided even with that in mind.

Apple iPhone 7 - Sony Xperia XZs review
Apple iPhone 7 - Sony Xperia XZs review
Apple iPhone 7 - Sony Xperia XZs review

Apple iPhone 7

Sony Xperia XZs - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs - Sony Xperia XZs review
Sony Xperia XZs - Sony Xperia XZs review

Sony Xperia XZs

Finally, we tried the single LED flash at the back of the Xperia XZs. We shot the scene at about 2m distance, and the LED flash didn’t seem powerful enough to add that much extra light to the frame. Still, the XZs made good use of the little bit of light it got and improved notably in terms of detail and noise, without comprising the while balance.

Xperia XZs flash off - Sony Xperia XZs review
Xperia XZs flash on - Sony Xperia XZs review

Xperia XZs flash off Xperia XZs flash on

Smartphones, including the Xperia XZs aren’t well suited for low-light landscape shots unless you carry some additional equipment. Yet, if you keep your expectations realistic the Xperia XZs might do a decent job. The Auto images may be a little too noisy, but make up for that with nice colors and contrast. If you have a tripod, the Manual mode can give you much nicer shots. It’s not really the spirit of smartphone photography, but we won’t judge you if you go that way.