Sony Xperia 1 ii review: Sony’s best phone in years

Lots of cameras, even more control

The Xperia 1 ii has a handful of cameras on its back, and it’s worth working through them in order:

  • At the top is a 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera with an f/2.2 aperture and phase detection autofocus. It captures a 124-degree field of view with the equivalent of a 16mm lens, and there’s very little barrel distortion. It’s reliable, though it’s the camera I use the least. 

  • Next is the 12MP telephoto camera, with optical image stabilization and an f/2.4 aperture. It shoots at the equivalent of 70mm so it’s very helpful for situations where you can’t physically get closer to your subject, but results tend to be a little soft.

  • Here’s the curveball: Sony wedged a 3D time-of-flight sensor in between its cameras. It’s there to help with focus, but it only has a 15-foot range.

  • The star of the show is the 12MP wide camera. In addition to having an f/1.7 aperture, the sensor itself is physically larger than most, meaning it just gobbles up light. It’s fantastic, and fares surprisingly well in low light even without a dedicated night mode.

There are a few interesting tidbits to note: For one, all these cameras are shielded by Zeiss’s T* lens coating, which is designed to keep reflections and ghosting from fouling up your photos. And, despite making some of the most pixel-dense smartphone camera sensors in the world, Sony kept things pretty modest here. Not one of these cameras tiptoes over the 12MP threshold. Meanwhile, Samsung is running around, selling its 108-megapixel ISOCELL sensor to vendors like Huawei and Motorola. 

One might assume that Samsung’s cameras are superior, but the numbers never tell the whole story. Sony did a remarkable job squeezing everything it could out of these sensors and developed a suite of tools to help you do the same. 

Let’s start with video. Like the Xperia 1 before it, the 1 ii draws inspiration from Sony’s CineAlta cameras. They’re a mainstay of movie sets, not the vlogs you’re likely to run into on the street. If you’re not shooting your thesis student film, you’ll do fine sticking to the standard Camera app.  It shoots in 4K, and the resulting footage looks pretty damn good. Sony’s Cinema Pro app, meanwhile, offers a wealth of controls for people trying to capture a very specific vision. 

The app lets you shoot 10-bit color video in either 2K at frame rates as high as 120fps, or the more standard 4K at 60fps. Want to dial in a specific ISO or shutter speed value? You can do that. What about cycling through a palette of video filters? Yep — Sony’s Venice filter is especially moody and atmospheric. Need to set focus manually? Go right ahead. You can even set the camera to perform a focus pull at the touch of a button, which comes in especially handy when you’re, say, shooting a smartphone review video. 

The Cinema Pro app is a great tool for anyone who wants more than just a point-and-shoot video experience — it’s feature-rich, but not too daunting. That’s not to say it’s perfect, though. Once you’ve decided what resolution you want to shoot in, though, you’re basically stuck with it. The Cinema Pro app keeps all your footage organized by in separate bins by project, and the only way to change your resolution after you’ve started shooting is… by making a new project. In shooting with my video producer, Brian Oh, we noticed that it can also be surprisingly tough to get properly exposed footage, even when ISO is bottomed out at 64. And more than anything, I’m surprised Sony didn’t add even more pro-grade features. Manual focus is a nice touch, but Sony has been doing focus peaking on its actual cameras for years, and it would’ve been a huge help here. Even LG figured that out years ago, on its V-series smartphones.