Product test

Testing out the Sony Xperia 1 IV for two weeks in the mountains

Jan Johannsen
28.07.2022

We left our DSLR camera behind for our family holiday. In its place, the camera on the Sony Xperia 1 IV gave a good account of itself over two weeks in the Allgäu Alps near Oberstdorf.

With optical zoom, photo and video apps with plenty of manual options, 4K at 120 fps, eye tracking and compatibility with Sony’s Alpha cameras, the Xperia 1 IV offers a raft of special features, but they’re not important for everyone.

I’ve got less and less pleasure from using my SLR camera on our last few holidays. It wasn’t because of the pictures; it was down to its size and weight. Although it still went in the car, it often didn’t come with us on day trips. That’s why it stayed at home this year. Instead, I took our photos with a camera that I always carry with me anyway: the one on my smartphone, the Sony Xperia 1 IV. Although it’s more comparable to a compact camera than a DSLR, (spoiler alert!) I never regretted my decision.

The smartphone has three small lenses instead of a single-lens reflex camera with a large lens.
The smartphone has three small lenses instead of a single-lens reflex camera with a large lens.

A smartphone with top-of-the-range equipment

The fast Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, a 120-hertz display that’s easy to see on sunny mountain tops and Android 12 are just a small selection of what’s on the data sheet for the Xperia 1 IV. They show that Sony has done its homework and put together a top smartphone, albeit one that’s more expensive than other models with the same equipment. That’s why I paid particular attention to the features that distinguish the Xperia 1 IV from other top smartphones.

The sideways-mounted lens with optical zoom

The Xperia 1 IV’s zoom lens covers a focal length of 85 to 125 millimetres. The lenses required for this are mounted vertically – similar to this lens, which Oppo first showcased in summer 2021 (article in German). You don’t see the movement of the lens from the outside. The Xperia 1 IV’s other two lenses have fixed focal lengths of 16 and 24 millimetres.

The travel lens on my DSLR has a focal length of 24 to 300 millimetres. With the Xperia, I get 16 to 125 millimeters without missing anything in the mountains. This allows me to get close enough to my subjects and work with the conventional depth of field. I don’t have to rely on the software for blurred backgrounds.

Depending on the focal length (in this case 24 mm) …
Depending on the focal length (in this case 24 mm) …
… the same subject looks completely different (in this case 125 mm) – and I don’t have to trample on any flowers to get closer.
… the same subject looks completely different (in this case 125 mm) – and I don’t have to trample on any flowers to get closer.

To clarify, the different cameras and focal lengths are:

16 mm.
16 mm.
24 mm.
24 mm.
85 mm.
85 mm.
125 mm.
125 mm.

I’m very satisfied with the quality of the shots. I still had my Pixel 6 with me but, despite all the AI, it doesn’t come close to the performance of a decent design when it comes to capturing a subject up close.

Pixel 6 at 7× zoom.
Pixel 6 at 7× zoom.

I still wonder how the optical zoom of the Xperia 1 IV compares to other smartphones with good telephoto cameras that only have digital zoom, which is why I’m reaching for the Huawei P50 Pro again in Hamburg. It gives me about the same field of view with 3.5× zoom as the Xperia 1 IV with 125 millimetres.

Sony Xperia i IV, 125 mm.
Sony Xperia i IV, 125 mm.
Huawei P50 Pro, approx. 3.5× zoom.
Huawei P50 Pro, approx. 3.5× zoom.

The Xperia 1 IV comes out on top when it comes to colour. The bricks of the church tower are red, not yellow – even when the sun is shining. If I enlarge the view to 100 per cent, the photo taken on the Huawei P50 Pro seems sharper than that of the Xperia 1 IV – despite the digital zoom. The software seems to offset the advantage of the optical zoom hardware.

The Xperia 1 IV also zooms digitally between the 16 mm and 24 mm and the telephoto lens. There’s negligible quality loss, but I have noticed that I avoid the digital intermediate range when taking photos and switch directly from one optical focal length to another. The zoom is optical between 85 and 125 millimetres.

Pro apps for manual settings

Sony includes a camera app and two video apps with the Xperia 1 IV that you won’t find in the Play Store. «Photo Pro», «Video Pro» and «Cinema Pro» are pre-installed and can be updated via the Software Update menu item in the settings. They include a wide range of manual settings. If you’re using a Sony Alpha camera, the menus should look familiar, as the elements are arranged in the same way.

The Photo Pro app.
The Photo Pro app.

In «Basic» mode, «Photo Pro» takes care of all the settings, but I mostly used P mode in the mountains. It was the compromise between manual settings and not keeping the family waiting.

The only exception was when I was trying to photograph the starry sky, when I took a cautious approach to the optimal settings in manual mode.

With the Gorillapod, an exposure time of 30 seconds at ISO 800 is possible.
With the Gorillapod, an exposure time of 30 seconds at ISO 800 is possible.

I thought the dark starry sky would also be a good opportunity to see what I can get out of the Xperia 1 IV’s RAW images afterwards. The answer was not much at first, but my colleague and RAW magician David Lee gives me a hand and conjures up this view of the starry sky from the raw data.

Sony Xperia 1 IV, the James Webb telescope of smartphones
Sony Xperia 1 IV, the James Webb telescope of smartphones

When the sun is shining, I manage to get more out of the RAW images right away – but I still have to practice sharpening in Lightroom. If you don’t want to leave your photos to AI, the Xperia 1 IV’s DNG files help you to edit your pictures the way you want.

The Xperia 1 IV delivers this JPG.
The Xperia 1 IV delivers this JPG.
This is what the photo looks like after a short editing session on the RAW file.
This is what the photo looks like after a short editing session on the RAW file.

The Photos app on the Xperia 1 IV shows you the differences compared to the JPG files, but only offers rudimentary editing options. To get more out of the raw data, you’ll need to install another app or transfer the images to your computer for editing.

If the Sony design of the exclusive apps isn’t important to you, you should also be able to use the manual settings when taking photos with other apps (recommendations are welcome in the comments!). However, this doesn’t apply to videos. Sony not only offers 4K at 120 fps, which is still a rarity for smartphones; it also has exclusive presets. If you want «Venice CS» or «Opak/BU60YE60», there’s not really any way around using «Cinema Pro».

A real shutter release button

If you turn the Xperia 1 IV to the left in landscape format, there’s a shutter release button on the top. I liked using it. Once it’s there, the trigger on the touchscreen is no longer an option for me. The pressure point which triggers the shot just feels better. A big advantage of the physical button is that if I only press it halfway down, the camera focuses and I can check the subject and focus. You can’t do that with the touchscreen.

In addition, the shutter release button is positioned better than the volume buttons, which can take over the function of the shutter button on many other smartphones. You use them to control the zoom on the Xperia 1 IV, but this doesn’t feel as good as with a real camera. The volume buttons are still uncomfortable to reach in landscape mode. I also have to be careful that my left middle finger isn’t in front of the lenses.

Another special feature is the card slot, which you can open without any tools. This enables you to easily change the SIM card or remove the micro SD card – very helpful with the amount of data that can accumulate when shooting with the Xperia 1 IV.

External monitor for Alpha cameras

If you have a Sony Alpha camera, you can use the Xperia 1 IV as an external monitor. The main advantages of the OLED display compared to camera screens are the higher brightness, higher viewing angle stability and larger image. With the latest Alpha 7 IV as well as the ZV 1 and ZV E10, all you need is a USB-C 3.2 cable to transmit the image signal. For older models, you’ll need an HDMI-to-USB-C cable.

This function is activated via a special app with the self-explanatory name «external monitor». Like the camera and photo apps, it’s not available in the Play Store, but you can access it via the Software Update menu item in the settings on the Xperia 1 IV. You can then adjust the camera settings via the smartphone, where the menu items are organised identically to the camera.

Verdict: an excellent SLR camera substitute

I have no regrets about leaving my SLR at home and relying on a smartphone instead. The Xperia 1 IV’s camera options are extensive and the image quality is very good. However, the Sony requires more manual post-processing and doesn’t deliver optimised images at the click of a button like many other smartphones.

Overall, the Xperia 1 IV is a top-of-the-range smartphone, but the extra cost isn’t worth it for everyone. It’s only worth it if one or more of the exclusive features – optical zoom, shutter release buttons, exclusive apps – win you over. Otherwise, you can get other smartphones with a very good camera for less and install camera apps with manual settings afterwards.

Sony Xperia 1 IV (256 GB, Black, 6.50 ", SIM + eSIM, 12 Mpx, 5G)
Mobile phones
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Sony Xperia 1 IV

256 GB, Black, 6.50 ", SIM + eSIM, 12 Mpx, 5G

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Sony Xperia 1 IV (256 GB, Violet, 6.50 ", Hybrid Dual SIM, 12 Mpx, 5G)
Mobile phones
1049.–

Sony Xperia 1 IV

256 GB, Violet, 6.50 ", Hybrid Dual SIM, 12 Mpx, 5G

72
Sony Xperia 1 IV (256 GB, White, 6.50 ", Hybrid Dual SIM, 12 Mpx, 5G)
Mobile phones
1101.–

Sony Xperia 1 IV

256 GB, White, 6.50 ", Hybrid Dual SIM, 12 Mpx, 5G

72

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Jan Johannsen
Content Development Editor
jan.johannsen@galaxus.de

When I was but a young student, I'd sit in my friend's living room with all my classmates and play on his SuperNES. Since then I've had the opportunity to test out all the newest technology for you. I've done reviews at Curved, Computer Bild and Netzwelt, and have now arrived at Galaxus.de. 


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