Street photography has really needed a more serious smartphone, and the Sony Xperia 1 II is just the item.
Street photography is one of the best ways for people to explore their city. When you’re traveling, it can help you understand what’s going on around you. And the Sony Xperia 1 II does that better than other phones. Sony created the phone from the ground up for the photography experience. Of any that we’ve used on the market, this one has surprised us the most. If you shoot street photography, then pay attention to this.
Pro Camera Mode with the Sony Xperia 1 II
If you’re already a street photographer shooting with Sony, the interface will look very similar. The Pro Camera app borrows its interface from the modernized Alpha camera lineup. There are cool features like Exposure compensation, metering modes, object tracking, continuous autofocus, RAW mode, etc. Plus, you can zoom in and out using the three lenses on the phone.
Curious about those lenses and the camera? Here are the specs from our initial coverage of the phone.
- 16mm f2.4 12MP Dual Phase Detection AF lens
- 70mm f2.4 12MP Phase Detection AF
- 24mm f1.7 12MP Dual Phase Detection AF
- All of these optics are from Zeiss
- 1/1.7″ sensor that’s 50% larger than the one in the previous phone
- 20fps with autofocus and autoexposure
You’ll end up sticking mostly between the 24-70mm range in the Pro Camera mode. Typically I stuck to the wide-angle 24mm. 70mm is also very cool when you want to be extra careful about social distancing. You can switch to 35mm and 50mm too if you wish, but you’ll get your best results at 24mm. Of course, 16mm is way too wide. But that’s useful when you’re trying to make a scene look incredibly dramatic.
The phone even has a sensor that will tell you when your fingers are too close to the lenses. You’ll find that there are lots of ways to hold the Sony Xperia 1 II.
The Secret Aperture Priority Mode (Sort of)
It’s pretty obvious that lots of street photographers live or die by aperture priority mode. Unfortunately, that’s what’s put off a lot of photographers from using phones. But believe it or not, this smartphone has a secret aperture priority mode. On your phone, load up the Pro Camera app. Then set it to Program mode. Lock your ISO setting, and just go shoot! One can make a solid argument that this is aperture priority. Sure, you can only change the aperture by changing the lenses. But it works the same. We used the camera this way with the wide focus area, ISO 800, and burst shooting mode through most of our shooting.
For those who don’t know, aperture priority lets you control the depth of field or how shallow the scene is. It’s specifically all about the f-stop. The camera controls the shutter and the ISO. Ideally, you’ll lock the ISO.
It felt just like shooting aperture priority on a camera like the Sony a7s III. The cool thing is that you’re getting the light gathering of a wide aperture while getting much more in focus.
The Sony Xperia 1 II also has a full manual mode. This lets you do things like set the phone down and shoot long exposures of scenes. That can be very fun to do.
If you’re looking to get gorgeous bokeh, the Sony Xperia 1 II has that mode too, in the regular camera app. Indeed, you can do pretty much everything you need with this phone. But if you’re shooting street photography, you need stealth, fast autofocus, and light. Luckily, this phone does all of that!
The Dedicated Shutter Button on the Sony Xperia 1 II
Sony put a lot of thought into the Sony Xperia 1 II. The placement of the shutter button is honestly the best I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, this button is dedicated to being the shutter. From a sleep state, you can press the button to boot up the camera. Then hold the phone and shoot with either your index finger or your thumb while holding the camera. When you’re done, put the phone back to sleep and put it away.
This makes shooting street photography so incredibly easy. Better yet, because of how you’re holding the phone, no one will be suspicious. That’s because no manufacturer puts the shutter button where Sony did with the device. The experience is comfortable yet stealthy.
Pro Tip: Sony lets to rebind the volume buttons to be shutter buttons. Generally speaking, we wouldn’t do this unless you’re shooting vertical. Keep them as the zoom rocker. Go from 24mm to 70mm and everything in between.
The Sony Xperia 1 II Lets You Be the Fly on the Wall
Lots of street photographers worry about stealth. We’ve covered how to deal with confrontations here on the site. But using the Sony Xperia 1 II in the right way helps you avoid them. The way that the smartphone is set up lends itself to not alerting anyone that you’re taking a photo. The camera lenses are oriented in a straight line. When you hold the Sony Xperia 1 II and walk down the street, you’re bound to put your thumb on the dedicated shutter button. As you walk past people on the streets at a respectable distance, it will look just like you’re video conferencing or watching a video. But instead, you’ll be shooting your next street photo. It’s a brilliant design that seems quite obvious.
Combine that with the Sony Xperia 1 II’s silent shutter, and you’ve got lots of potential. It’s hard to miss the shot with a 24mm f1.7 lens and a 1/1.7″ 12MP Dual Phase Detection AF sensor.
Pro Tip: As you’re using the Sony Xperia 1 II, bring the screen up to be eye-level. Using the 24mm lens, angle it down ever so slightly. Then just walk and shoot. Hold it down to ensure you never miss a shot.
Use the Burst Function and Object Tracking
Some of the best modern street photographers using a burst function on their cameras. It helps them nail the fast-paced action. And the Sony Xperia 1 II can do just that. Hold the shutter button down, and you can easily shoot a sequence. We sometimes went for 17 photos then picked the one we wanted later on. But the Sony Xperia 1 II can shoot up to 20 fps. This is fantastic for when you’re anticipating something happening in the scene in front of you.
If you really want to track one specific subject in the frame, this smartphone has object tracking. After enabling it in the menu, just tap the subject on the screen. The system will continue to track it as it moves similarly to your Sony a9 II.
Most of the best street photographers use zone focusing. The settings let you do that, too, with the manual focus setting. Realistically though, you don’t need to. It’s got a 1/1.7″ 12MP Dual Phase Detection AF sensor built-in. Even better, though, you can turn the autofocus to be always on. Tap the setting in the Pro Camera Mode. Then you’ll see the phone always tracking subjects. The Sony Xperia 1 II can focus on the wide scene as a whole or just the center. We preferred the wide setting.
Pro Tip: Hold your breath and use two hands! Even the steadiest person can run into issues with camera shake. Because this is a phone and the ergonomics aren’t the same as a dedicated camera, you need to steady it. Press the shutter button down with your thumb. If you’re extra shaky, then control your breath. Personally, I shoot with my breath held in, but some folks do it with all their breath let out. If you’re wearing glasses and a mask, this could make shooting a bit more difficult. Bring a Micro-Fiber cloth with you to clean your glasses and the phone’s lenses. Certain masks do a better job too.
The Sony Xperia 1 II shoots RAW photos in the DNG format. So you can shoot photos and then edit them later. The Sony Xperia 1 II already takes great photos. But with RAW, you can do even more. Shoot the RAWs, and then load them up into your favorite app like Adobe Lightroom Mobile. Then edit them with your presets synced from your computer. Apply adjustments like clarity, highlight control, sharpness, etc. Best of all, just have fun and get creative. That’s what the Sony Xperia 1 II is really all about.
Some of our favorite presets are by RNI Films. We like adding the look of old-school film emulsion to our street photography. The classic look always gets us!
At $1,199.99, it’s nice to know that the Sony Xperia 1 II is so capable. As a working journalist, we know that our phones can be integral parts of our workflow. With the latest Android version on it, the Sony Xperia 1 II is both a capable tool and an essential lifestyle device. If you’re a street photographer, this phone is as good as it gets.