Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

Is the solution to the Z1 conundrum to make it smaller?

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Sony has clearly put a lot of work into the Xperia Z1 Compact's camera, and it shows. Based purely on specifications the 20.7MP sensor dwarfs almost the entire smartphone market, but Sony has also taken a look deeper.

The whole camera app is well designed, and comes with enough features to satisfy both the amateur photographer looking to come up with some creative snaps that they can post to Instagram or Twitter, as well as the more serious photographer looking for something to replace the need to carry a compact.

Standard images in well-lit conditions are second to none, although the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact does appear to suffer in lower light conditions. This is an area that HTC has pretty much nailed with its UltraPixel technology, and is a little disappointing in a camera that promises so much.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The inclusion of a dedicated shutter button does wonders. Not only does it allow for the quick launch of the app and capture of images, it also allows the camera to focus before capture. Being completely waterproof it also lets you capture images underwater, something difficult if you have to hit an on-screen button.

The downside is that this button is very small, quite stiff and doesn't make it clear when you've actually depressed it or not - it's still good to have, but I've used better on phones.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

An Augmented Reality mode allows the capture of images with a layer added over the top, whether it be a 60s disco mode that gives faces funky glasses and big hair, or the butterfly mode that adds a few plants and insects.

This is something that I can see really appealing to those with younger kids, as you can pretend that the Xperia Z1 Compact is magic and can peer into a world that people can't normally see.

Other creative modes include the ability to add effects such as sketch images, brighten colours or create a Kaleidoscope. These are perfect for those who want to create something that can be shared via social media, but add little else.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

One filter that I really enjoyed was the partial colour mode. The Xperia Z1 Compact brings up a black and white image of what you can see, only allowing one specific colour to be added to an otherwise monochromatic image.

While this allows the creation of some pretty spectacular images, the range of colour that is taken can sometimes be really disappointing. It would be better if you could select items rather than specific colours.

The mode most users will use is Superior Auto, as it automatically selects all the best presets based on what is in front of you. Sony has also included the ability to allow you to change certain things though, thereby appeasing the more experienced photographer.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

White balance can be changed, as well as exposure, and different scene modes can also be selected. These change the settings slightly in order to allow a better shot in certain conditions.

Sony has also included three other main modes on the Xperia Z1 Compact's camera, the fourth being a sweep panorama mode that functions in the same way as on every other smartphone.

These three modes are Info-eye, Timeshift Burst and Social live. Info-eye captures a photo and then offers up information about what you have just snapped in the same way as Google Goggles, only its integration into the camera app makes it feel a lot more useful.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The second, Timeshift Burst, is something that users of Sony phones of old will be very used to. A series of images are captured before and after you press the shutter button and presented in a fan allowing you to swipe through images and choose which one is best.

This is a mode that will prove incredibly useful if you take a lot of photos of faces, or of children that just won't sit still.

The final mode worth noting is the Social live feature, which does exactly what you might expect from the name. If you've connected it up to Facebook it broadcasts a live feed to those that follow your news feed, perfect for those that want to hold live web chats.

My overall time with the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact's camera was one that left me slightly cold. It's not a bad snapper by any stretch of the imagination, but given it's got so much heritage in the imaging space it's actually confusing how badly the Superior Auto mode can perform indoors.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact review

The likes of the LG G3 are much better at analysing an image and using software to improve things - the Sony option ends up with a really muddy picture with elements distorted at the outlying areas.

Images in good light and strong outlines are excellent though; if you're looking for a really powerful camera the Z1 Compact won't disappoint.

However, if you want something for day to day photography then I suggest you look elsewhere - HTC's option is much clearer and faster, despite not giving you many snaps you'd want to pull out and frame.


Phones and Tablets Editor

Gareth (Twitter, Google+) has been part of the mobile phone industry from the era of the brick to the tiny device in the pocket... and now watching them grow back up to behemothic proportions once more. He's spent five years dissecting all the top phones in the world as TechRadar's Phones and Tablets Editor, and still can't resist answering the dreaded question - "which new phone should I get?" - with 15 choices.