There are many mobile phones with photographic aspirations. Increasingly. But mobiles really designed for photographers and that can boast a sensor like that of a camera, not so many. In fact, this new Sony Xperia Pro-I is one of the few that dare – at least in the European market – with a one-inch CMOS.
Announced last fall, Sony has finally been encouraged to put this terminal up for sale in Spain, which at a price of 1,800 euros is proposed not as a photographic smartphone, but directly as a tool or accessory for photographers. Wow, a camera, a monitor, a transmitter and, in addition, a smartphone.
For a few days we have been testing it to see if that inch – with some fine print – performs as expected. In the video you can see it in action and we tell you the best and the worst of this Xperia Pro-I.
In addition to the high-resolution samples that can be seen here, we also leave some original RAW files for those who dare to play with them and see the possibilities they offer.
(Almost) 1 inch
We are not going to stop to comment much on the design because the details are much better appreciated in the video and, above all, because what was said at the time of the Xperia 1 III is applicable here. But improved: the somewhat greater thickness and the shutter button make the ergonomics from the photographic point of view one of the best on the market.
Of course, the well-known menus of the dedicated photo application are not missing either, with advanced options and settings with the same philosophy as the cameras. Any photographer will feel very comfortable using them. Of course, horizontally because, as we mentioned at the time, only the “basic” mode offers a vertical adjustment configuration when the mobile is oriented in this position.
But let’s go with the really interesting: the new 1-inch 20-megapixel CMOS that this Xperia opens. This is the same sensor seen on the RX100 VII, ie a stacked Exmor RS CMOS sensor. It is not only about size, therefore, but also about speed.
But in this case there is fine print. Instead of using the entire surface of the sensor -which would mean having to resort to a larger lens- a crop is applied to keep 60% of the sensor center, reducing the resolution to 12 megapixels.
Despite this, it is true that the size of the sensor’s fodiodes -which determines to a certain extent its performance in low light and dynamic range- is the same as that of an RX100: 2.4 microns. A lot for a mobile.
However, the 24mm f2 equivalent lens of this Xperia is actually a 6.6 millimeter, compared to the 8.8 millimeter of the RX100. Therefore, same equivalent coverage but different depth of field.
A detail that has gone quite unnoticed in this mobile is that the objective offers variable aperture. Except for some experiment -apparently abandoned- by Samsung and other brands, the vast majority of mobiles offer a fixed aperture lens.
As we saw at the time, a small sensor means that it does not make much sense to play with this value, neither to change the depth of field nor to see if the quality improves when closing the diaphragm, as occurs in camera lenses.
However, in this case the possibility of shooting at f2 or f4 does have a visible effect on the depth of field of the image, at least if we play with a close object and a background that allows the effect to be appreciated.
An interesting creative resource, although we confess that the integration of this aperture control – there is no diaphragm priority mode – makes us forget this possibility in most shots. And, from what we have seen, in automatic mode the camera does not play with this option either, always shooting at f2.
As expected, the results offered by the Xperia Pro-I are magnificent in terms of detail, color, sharpness, noise control, dynamic range… It is also no surprise that, as in other Xperia, here the magic of photography computational is minimal, with which we can speak of very natural images. If that is good or bad, of course, it will depend on each user.
The issue gets a little more complicated if we think of the Xperia Pro-I as a smartphone with three cameras. That is, here we not only have a great 24mm f2 with a huge sensor, but we also have a 16mm f2.2 and a 50mm f2.4 that use standard sensors.
It is a classic that in most mobiles there is a notable gap between the quality of the main camera and the rest. Here that difference is even more noticeable. At least we do think of demanding users from a photographic point of view and that we are talking about a terminal of 1800 euros.
Compared to an iPhone 13 Pro and an RX100
But the question that has to be asked is not whether or not the Xperia Pro-I offers good photographic results because it is evident that it does. The interesting thing is to see if this difference in sensor size marks distances with respect to smartphones that use smaller sensors.
A kind of battle between the classic photographic criteria -large sensor- and the options offered by the so-called computational photography. To see it, we have pitted the Xperia Pro-I against the iPhone 13 Pro Max. In the video you can see the results but, to summarize, there is a difference that has more to do with the treatment of the image or the color than with the detail, quite similar in both cases.
Differences that become more acute in night scenes, where the Xperia handles high sensitivities well with a very natural noise, but the iPhone prevails with its night mode, long exposure and a photo that claims to be made at 1000 ISO and where there is more detail than on the Xperia. Also more tricks, of course.
And what happens if we include an RX100 in the game? Specifically, an already quite veteran (RX100 III) that did not have a stacked sensor. Again, the answer in the video, but although the 20 megapixels offer a little more detail in the camera than in the Xperia, the corners of the image appear much better resolved in the smartphone than in the camera.
We ended with a three-way duel, with an indoor photograph at 800 ISO. The results and differences can be seen above so that everyone can draw their own conclusions. Our? That the Xperia Pro-I has all the good and also all the limitations of a camera against the convenience and magic of a smartphone.
More than a smartphone
And it is that, as Sony has emphasized since its presentation, the Xperia Pro-I is more than a smartphone. Putting it to compete in that category without further ado and with a price of 1,800 euros leaves it a bit unarmed.
The key is to see this terminal as a professional accessory that, beyond its function of being a powerful smartphone and a wonderful pocket camera and camcorder -24 mm f2 and an inch in the pocket with advanced photo and video options- offers two other interesting features.
And it is that a USB-C cable is enough to be able to use the mobile directly as an external camera monitor. An interesting trick is to always have a screen of excellent quality at hand. The mobile, in addition, can also act as a transmitter of images and video from a Sony camera, both to send content and to stream.
Sufficient arguments to justify the price? Adding the options the numbers come out, but it is true that we are talking about a very special product with a very limited market niche.
But beyond that, it is also a demonstration of strength -another- of Sony and its potential in the photography segment. In fact, this Xperia Pro-I invites us to think that the future of the RX100 passes through here.
The path seems clear and also the improvements to be integrated into future models: manage to integrate a zoom into that main sensor, add the right amount of computational photo to compete with other terminals, and all this without sacrificing size. Whether it is possible or easy is another matter.
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Sony Xperia Pro-I, we tested the mobile with a 1-inch sensor: the RX100 of the future?
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