Sony Xperia M2 Aqua review
Like the M2, but it'll fare better in the bath

The Sony Xperia M2 Aqua camera is a mixed bag. As with other Sony phones, you get plenty of modes and there's some fun to be had. But actual pictures suffer from some pretty significant image quality issues.

First, let's have a look at how the app operates. By default, the Xperia M2 Aqua shoots using a superior auto mode that automatically picks the settings needed for all kinds of photo situations. It's 100% snap and go, although you can at least pick where in the scene you want to focus.

Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

Superior auto mode will pick the settings you need, making this a point and shoot camera

If you want to have a bit more control, or want to shoot a few HDRs, you need to ditch auto and head to the manual mode. It's not a true manual mode though, rather just gives you more access to controls. It's still auto at heart.

These are the two main modes, the others being more about fun and filters. Sony's signature extra is augmented reality, which jams 3D visuals into your photos, from fishes to little elf characters. The kids will love it. Adults? That depends on how many drinks they've had.

Other extras include picture filters, panorama and portrait retouching – which tweaks and superimposes visuals onto your selfies. You can also download extra photo apps to plug into the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua's photo menu.

Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

There are some other modes and features but no serious photographic thrills

It's more frills than serious photographic thrills, but that suits the phone's positioning in the market pretty well. It is not trying to be the Nokia Lumia 1020, after all.

The extent of the M2 Aqua's photo ambition, or lack thereof, becomes apparent when you take the camera for a proper road test.

First, it's not a particularly quick camera. Focusing is a slow for a mid-range phone and there's a solid pause between shots. If you want to shoot fast-moving objects, the M2 Aqua probably won't be able to keep up.

Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

If you don't want to use superior auto mode you can set up shots yourself

The actual hardware of the phone doesn't sound too bad. It has an 8MP main sensor with an f/2.4 lens. Not great, not terrible.

However, in action the camera is quite disappointing. As well as being a bit slow, dynamic range in images is poor.

Dynamic range dictates how much detail you'll see in the darkest and lightest areas of high-contrast photos. I found that to get a dynamic range that was remotely acceptable in these sorts of scenes you need to use the HDR mode, which artificially boosts range by merging multiple exposures.

Shooting HDRs takes even longer than normal shots too, so the M2 Aqua camera really demands patience.

Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

You can even use the camera underwater

The M2 Aqua also struggles very badly with intense light sources. There's loads of light 'bloom', where the luminance of the light spreads out, fogging-out surrounding areas. With high-contrast areas of light/dark there is an awful lot of purple chroma noise as well.

This means objects frequently end up with a purple outline or, in the worst cases, are turned completely purple when they should be black or off-black.

Unlike the higher-end Sony Xperia Z2, the M2 Aqua does not have good low-light photo performance either. The more expensive Sony has a handy low-light 'turbo' mode that massively ramps-up sensitivity, making even very dark scenes clear. But on the M2 Aqua a really dark scene will produce an even darker photo, one with barely any visible detail.

Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

The M2 Aqua struggles with intense light sources

Even with slightly lighter low-light scenes where there is something for the Sony Xperia M2 Aqua to work with, shoot without a flash and the colour tends to end up extremely cool, making photos look quite ugly.

It's a shame because when you shoot with the flash the colour temperature warms up hugely, even if your subject is far too far away for it to have any direct effect.

This phone does not have a very good camera. But give it lighting that's either perfect or not particularly challenging and you can take some decent shots. On a nice day with a blue sky ahead of you, it is possible to get more detail than you could get from a 5MP phone.

Camera samples

Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

This was shot using the M2 Aqua's HDR mode. The foreground is underexposed and disappointing

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

The M2 Aqua takes the best photos when not asked to deal with big light contrast in the same scene, like this

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

Work with the M2 Aqua's limitations and you can make nice, fairly natural-looking HDR shots

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

Distortion around the ceiling windows, and an all-round lack of 'pop' show this is not a particularly high-performing lens/sensor combo

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

The Xperia M2 Aqua struggles with metering and dynamic range. Here the highlights should really be sacrificed in order to bring out more of the foreground dino

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

With limited indoors lighting, photos generally look quite cold

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

The Xperia M2 Aqua suffers from purple fringing and chromatic aberration. Here it's exacerbated by using HDR. Check out that purple gate

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

Search for the right lighting conditions and you can actually produce some nice-looking, well-saturated images

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

Here, the results are improved by using HDR, which brings out the reflection in the puddle a bit more

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

This photo has been ruined by light blooming (and the bin to the left), which has killed the contrast of the image

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

Poor dynamic range and a fairly conservative HDR mode means the Xperia M2 Aqua hasn't brought out enough detail here, despite using HDR

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Sony Xperia M2 Aqua

The Xperia M2 Aqua does not have good low-light chops, unlike some of Sony's other phones

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