Data points: Sony Xperia 5 iv imaging versus iPhone ProRAW

Actually reviewing the Sony Xperia 5 iv is tricky, since it's so relatively similar to the 5 ii and 5 iii in previous years. But that's not a criticism per se, since I absolutely love the form factor and 'bells and whistles' specification. And you do get Qi charging this year, which I appreciated very much.

I attempted a few YouTube Shorts covering the device:

But it proved all but impossible to look at imaging in YouTube Short format, hence this blog post. 

They don't look much, but it's a very refined camera combination. Note the white balance sensor and the T* anti-reflection coatings...

I've taken a handful of likely subjects and test scenes and shot them with the Xperia 5 iv and my 'gold standard' Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max with ProRAW toggled on. This comparison is made even more valid by the match of camera specs, right up to the same 2.5x telephoto on each.

(The latter - ProRAW - avoids typical iPhone sharpening and edge enhancement. Notably, shooting RAW on the Xperia 5 iv is also possible, but it's straight from the sensor and you then lose a lot of the worthwhile corrections and enhancements, while on the iPhone, the ProRAW is after the necessary multi-frame enhancements have been done.)

Test 1: Suburbs, good light

Here's the test scene. No sun, but that's fine as it doesn't make things too easy for the camera systems:


What I'm interested in are the quality of the Xperia's optics and the purity of its image processing. Here are 1:1 crops from the centre of (in turn) the Xperia 5 iv's image and then that of the iPhone:



Other than a slight red tinge in roofs and brickwork, the crops are very comparable, which is a compliment to the Sony. Treatment of greenery is excellent.

Test 2: Suburbs, zoomed

The same scene, but this time let's use the 2.5x telephoto on each. Here are 1:1 crops from the centre of the photos (Xperia 5 iv, then iPhone below):



The extra detail on the cars and garage door in the Xperia 5 iv shot is impressive. You could argue that some of the grass is a little over-sharpened but I think Sony has done a great job balancing enhancement with actual detail.

Test 3: Garden Gloom

By which I mean a dimly lit part of the garden to try and work the phone cameras hard. In this case focussed on a solar lantern label, with detail that should be easy to compare. Here's the overall scene:


In each case then, I tapped on the lantern/label to ensure focus. And, again, note that light levels were low in an overcast sky - this is going to be tricky detail to capture. Here are 1:1 crops from, in turn, the Xperia 5 iv and the iPhone:



Pros and cons here - the iPhone nails the text and imagery on the label, while the slightly wider angle lens on the Sony does a better job at the greenery and detail around the label. I also noted the slight angle difference on the label between shots and concluded that the breeze must have shifted it slightly.

Test 4: Close-up, sunny

Aha, the sun actually came out for this one. Looking at a backlit leaf, close up, around 30cm. A typical user nature shot (though no actual flowers were out this time of year, etc!) Here's the overall scene:


And here are 1:1 crops from the centre of the Xperia and iPhone images, in turn:



These crops are more or less identical in colour an detail, again confirming just how close these two smartphone cameras are in terms of quality. 

Conclusion

Choosing one smartphone over another often comes down to having your eye on one feature, one area of superiority, over the competition. And the verdict here is that the incredibly closely matched cameras of the Sony Xperia 5 iv and iPhone 12 Pro Max are indeed... closely matched. 

See the YouTube link above for my thoughts on the 'zoom gap' - the phenomenon where the main camera on a phone is stretched to zoom to 2x, 3x and even beyond before a (e.g.) periscope telephoto kicks in. With the Xperia 5 iv - and indeed the modern 'Pro' iPhones - the gap from 1x is only to 2.5x, meaning that there's negligible drop off in quality over the range 1x to (say) 4x, i.e. the most commonly used zoom factors in day to day snaps are well served. So no zoom gap.

See also chat about the Sony Xperia 5 iv on the Phones Show Chat podcast and in other blog posts to come. 

Having used it for two weeks, I'm convinced - if I had to pick any one phone, starting from scratch, in the Android world then this would be it. (Or perhaps its larger sister device, the 1 iv - maybe that's a comparison yet to come!)

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