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A closer look at the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium’s dual cameras in low-light

By Alvin Soon - 18 Aug 2018

It’s an increasingly crowded world

High ISO shots are surprisingly clean

This UHS shot at ISO 8,000 is surprisingly clean. Yes, details are muddier (100% crop, right), but that’s par for the course when shooting at high ISOs. It’s an impressive performance when you consider that this is ISO 8,000 from a smartphone.

The XZ2 Premium manages to keep image noise down surprisingly well, even at higher ISO settings. It even manages to keep skin tones relatively accurate. Compared to other flagships, the XZ2 Premium’s high ISO images are sharper, but you do see muddier blacks and the occasional mosaic.

It’s likely the XZ2 Premium is applying aggressive sharpening, perhaps an unsharp mask for image outlines. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a Sony smartphone camera go to town with the Sharpen tool, but the overall result is decent.

Here’s a comparison to make it easier to understand Sony’s choices. This is a 100% crop of our lab test image, shot by the Sony at ISO 3,200 (non-UHS). The image is sharper than the Huawei P20 Pro’s (below), but the sharpening also results in more jitteriness. There are more hard-edged pixels inside the women’s faces, for example, not just in the outlines of their faces. But the Sony keeps skin tones better at this high ISO than the Huawei.

In this 100% crop of an ISO 3,200 from the Huawei P20 Pro, you’ll notice that the image is softer, but also cleaner and less jittery. It’s a remarkably clean image at such a high ISO setting. It’s likely that Huawei has chosen to apply less aggressive sharpening to keep the noise down. You’ll also notice that the skin tones have lost their luster at this setting.

Other first impressions of the XZ2 Premium from shooting in the dark

  • The electronic image stabilization worked better than I expected. Some images at 1/15th of a second had soft details but were steadier than I could have gotten with a non-stabilized DSLR at the same shutter speed.
  • The top right corner of the lens looks soft.
  • There’s no HDR button in the Superior Auto mode
  • The HDR button is hidden in the settings in Manual mode.
  • There’s no option to save in raw.

 

It’s an increasingly crowded world

The Sony XZ2 Premium’s dual camera system combines high sensitivity with computational photography to produce brighter images in low-light that can be impressive.

But the XZ2 Premium’s Ultra-high Sensitivity mode has limitations. Because it doesn’t appear to be combining multiple exposures, UHS works best in scenes that are evenly dark, not scenes with both bright and dark areas.

The bigger problem is that the XZ2 Premium doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You have smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 that’s combining up to 12 exposures for a single image that preserves both highlights and shadows. And the Huawei P20 Pro in Night mode, which not only combines multiple exposures but also handheld long exposures, into a single image that reveals more in the dark than even the eye can see.

These days, a flagship smartphone’s camera has to deliver so much more to be worth its price tag. It’ll be interesting to see what Sony has up its sleeve for the camera on its upcoming Xperia XZ3, which, curiously enough, might have a single camera setup.

If you're keen to give the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium a shot, check out the price and availability details here.

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