A Great Sony Alpha Companion Device: Sony Xperia 1 II Review

The Sony Xperia 1 II blends smartphone photography with the features of a dedicated Sony Alpha camera.

Smartphone cameras have come a long way in a small amount of time. Most reach for an iPhone or a Samsung device. However, you have other options. Sony makes smartphones too. Sony’s Xperia line of phones has been around for a while, but they tend to fly under the radar. However, they have a unique product in the Sony Xperia 1 II that we think photographers might like. The Xperia 1 II takes smartphone photography and mashes it together with the tech like human and animal eye autofocus found in Sony’s Alpha line of cameras. This all sounds great, but how does the camera perform in the real-world? Find out in our full review.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

$1,098 for an unlocked smartphone is pretty reasonable. When you add what many photographers like about Sony Alpha cameras to this phone’s cameras, you have a compelling option. You’re getting a manual mode, three great lenses, excellent autofocus with tracking, human and animal eye AF, 20 frame per second bursts, and RAW and JPEG capabilities all wrapped up into a familiar alpha interface. The Sony Xperia 1 II is a great companion camera for any photographer.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Pretty great image quality
  • The dedicated shutter button is fantastic
  • Human and animal eye AF
  • A great selection of lenses
  • 20 frame per second burst mode
  • RAW and JPEG capabilities
  • It feels like a premium smartphone
  • Excellent battery life
  • Well priced at $1,098 for a carrier unlocked version

Cons

  • The phone is extremely slick
  • The 21:9 form factor takes some getting used to

What’s Innovative

The Sony Xperia 1 II borrows a lot of technology from Sony’s Alpha line of Mirrorless cameras. In this smartphone camera, you’ll find excellent autofocus including human and pet eye AF. Then there’s the 20 frames per second burst mode, RAW files, macro modes, and almost full manual controls. It’s a well-rounded feature set that’s not found in a lot of smartphones.

Gear Used

We used the Sony Xperia 1 II by itself for the duration of the review.

Tech Specs

All of the tech specs listed here have been taken from the official Sony Xperia 1 II website:

  • Up to 20 fps AF / AE for ultra-fast focus
  • Real-Time Eye AF for Humans and Animals
  • Cinematography Pro “Powered by CineAlta”
  • 6.5″ 21:9 CinemaWide™ 4K HDR OLED display
  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 865 Mobile Platform
  • Dimensions – 6.5 × 2.8 × 0.3 in
  • Weight – 6.4 oz
  • Weather Sealing – Water resistant (IP65/68)
  • Battery – 4,000 mAh
  • 16mm f2.4 12MP, 24mm f1.7 12MP, and 70mm f2.4 12MP cameras with Dual Phase Detection AF
  • 0.3 MP 3D depth camera
  • 8 Megapixel selfie camera
  • Dedicated shutter button
  • LED flash

Sony Xperia 1 II – Ergonomics

Sony Xperia 1 II

The Sony Xperia 1 II is different from most phones on the market regarding its design. The Xperia 1 II takes on a 21:9 form factor. This means the phone is longer yet narrower than most on the market. You can see above the difference between the Xperia 1 II and my iPhone 11 Pro Max. This makes the phone a little more challenging to hold and use. However, you soon get used to the different dimensions. The image above shows that the 4K OLED display is edge-to-edge as well.

The Back

Sony Xperia 1 II

Flip the camera around the back, and you’ll find the camera bump that sits at the top left corner. Being placed so close to the edge of the device, you’ll run into some issues with your fingers blocking the cameras. Especially when you use the wide-angle camera. Apart from the cameras, the depth sensors, and LED flash, there’s nothing else going on around the back.

Side Controls

Sony Xperia 1 II

On the right side of the Sony Xperia 1 II, you’ll find the volume rocker and the power button/fingerprint reader. You’ll also find one of my favorite features of this phone – the dedicated shutter button. The volume rocker and dedicated shutter button protrude from the body just enough, while the fingerprint reader is slightly recessed. I like this: the recessed button is a good way of figuring out where on the phone your fingers lie in the dark. The left side of the Xperia 1 II houses the dual-purpose Sim Card and SD card slot.

Overall, the Sony Xperia 1 II is a really nice-looking phone. However, it has a solid glass body, which can make the phone quite slick. I wish there were a rubberized grip around the edge of the phone to provide some finger traction. If I owned this phone, it would definitely be living in a case.

Sony Xperia 1 II – Build Quality

The Sony Xperia I II is a premium-priced phone, and it feels like it. The phone has a bit of heft to it. It weighs in at 0.39lbs. This due to the all-glass build. The buttons on the phone feel fantastic, and they provide nice positive clicks when pressed. The phone is also weather sealed. It has an IP rating of IP65/68. This means the phone is completely dustproof. It’s also protected against two types of water damage: full immersion and low-pressure jets. You’re not going to have any issues using this phone out in the rain, snow, wind, or anything else. I used it during a rain shower, and it was just fine. Overall, the Sony Xperia 1 II is a solid phone. The amount of glass is a slight concern, but a case to protect against drops will help.

“I can say I’ve never had as much fun using a smartphone camera before.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Sony Xperia 1 II – Ease of Use

Sony Xperia 1 II

We’re not going to go into the differences between Android and iOS here. Nor will we be covering things like call quality or daily use. We’re strictly covering the cameras and how they function. Anyone who has used a Sony Alpha camera in the last few years will feel right at home with the Sony Xperia 1 II. This is because the Sony Photo Pro application offers the same user interface as Sony Alpha cameras.

As you can see in the image above, the app makes use of the large screen well. On the left, you have your live view. On the right, you have a ton of menu options. At the top right, you have the shutter speeds that you simply scroll through. Hit the ISO button, and it changes to ISO settings. Underneath, you have focus lock and exposure lock settings. Then you dive down into tracking modes, burst modes, white balance JPEG and RAW selection, face and eye focus. You can choose from full auto, full manual, program, and shutter priority modes on the extreme left. The extreme left side is also where you select which lens you want to use. The layout is slick and intuitive.

At Times, It Feels Like You’re Using a Traditional Camera

Another great feature is that you can alter the display to show as much or as little information as you please. If you want the live view area to be nothing but the scene you’re looking at, you can do that. If you want to have a level and a histogram, you can do that too. All these things add up to a great user experience. Besides the onscreen features that make this phone easy to use, you have the dedicated shutter button. You use it just like a regular shutter button. Half-press to focus and track. Full press to snap your image or burst. This feature alone makes the Sony Xperia 1 II a joy to use. I can say I’ve never had as much fun using a smartphone camera before.

If you don’t want to use the Sony Photo Pro app, you can use the regular Google Camera app instead. To use the front-facing camera, you have to use the Google Camera app. If you like having options, then you will love using this phone as a camera. The Sony Xperia 1 II can be as easy or as complex to use as you want it to be. If you like being in control, knock yourself out. If you want to just shoot and be happy, turn it to auto mode and have fun. There’s something for everyone here.

Sony Xperia 1 II – Autofocus

Sony Xperia 1 II

In a word, the autofocus is awesome. The Sony Xperia 1 II, in almost every situation, has been fast, snappy, and reliable. In excellent light, the camera will find focus in the blink of an eye. That goes for all focal lengths. Even in low light, the response is rapid and accurate.

When it comes to human and animal eye detection, it will struggle a little in low light. I have been incredibly impressed with the autofocus system overall. When using the center point, you can tap the screen to adjust your focal point. When in wide, the camera does a good job selecting what it thinks you want in focus. Again, the AF looks and works just like a Sony Alpha camera. So when you have wide mode selected, you’ll see the little green focal points dancing around the screen. As you can see in the image above, eye AF works like a charm too. Tracking is also excellent. Sony has done a good job implementing the Sony Alpha focusing wizardry into this phone.

“You’re going to get bold, punchy colors no matter which lens you use. The cameras capture a ton of detail too.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Sony Xperia 1 II – Image Quality

You won’t have much to complain about when it comes to image quality. Remember this is a phone, so keep your expectation around that level, and you’ll be fine. Having said that, you’re going to get bold, punchy colors no matter which lens you use. The cameras capture a ton of detail too. In terms of dynamic range, the Sony Xperia 1 II delivers what I would call more than good enough for a phone. There’s no vignetting. A little distortion can be seen with the 16mm lens, and there is a little bit of fringing. Overall, the images are great. Let’s break image quality down a little further.

RAW File Versatility

I love the fact that smartphones are now letting us capture RAW images. You can now capture an image, open it up in Lightroom Mobile, edit and share instantly. The RAW files from the Sony Xperia 1 II are pretty great. Above is an underexposed image. I took the file to LR Mobile and edited the file.

Here’s the edited file. These are nothing ground breaking, but again, we’re talking about cell phone shots here. I was still able to bring back a lot of details from the shadows.

Here’s the same scene only overexposed this time.

The same image but edited in LR Mobile. I was able to bring back a bit of detail in the highlights. I will say that overall, it’s easier to underexpose and bring back details from the shadows. Overexposing and fixing the highlights is a little trickier. Overall, though, the RAW files from the Sony Xperia 1 II have a fair amount of play in them.

JPEG Quality

Straight out of camera JPEGS will please just about everyone. The JPEGS are packed with bold colors. The Xperia 1 II also does a nice job with noise reduction. You’ll see a little fringing in extreme circumstances, but overall the cameras do a great job.

You could honestly walk around shooting JPEGS all day and then just post the images to your favorite social site. This is what makes this smartphone camera so great. Just go and shoot. Be happy, have a smile on your face. The images you capture will look great.

High ISO

ISO 1000

The high ISO performance is okay. Again, keep in mind that this is a smartphone with a tiny sensor. From IS0 50 to 400, you’re going to get clean images. From 500 and up, you’re going to start seeing noise. The Sony Xperia 1 II is capable of going up to ISO 3200. However, that doesn’t mean you should.

Unless you want images with some pretty intense color noise, keep it under ISO 1600. Images above 1600 are still usable, especially for sharing on social media. Still, if you want any chance of blowing pictures up and getting them printed, just say no to anything above 1600.

Sony Xperia 1 II – Extra Image Samples

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Front facing selfie cam

“Great image and build quality, and advanced Sony Alpha features, make this a solid smartphone camera.”

Brett Day – Gear Editor

Sony Xperia 1 II – Conclusions

Likes

  • The camera is great fun to use, and having fun is what it’s all about
  • There’s lots of versatility. Full auto or full manual modes. RAW or JPEG
  • Overall build quality is solid
  • Human and animal eye autofocus in a phone is fantastic
  • Great overall image quality
  • The dedicated shutter button

Dislikes

  • The ergonomics lead to an overall slippery experience

I can honestly say I had more fun shooting with the Sony Xperia 1 II than I have ever had with my iPhone. The dedicated shutter button makes the camera fun to use. The user interface feels familiar and works well. The overall feature set in the Sony Photo Pro app makes this phone great for casual, enthusiast, and pro photographers. It’s a great package. The biggest issue I have is with the ergonomics. Still, this is nothing that can’t be fixed with a case. You can even record 4K 60p video with the CineAlta inspired Cinema Pro app. If you love creating, the Sony Xperia 1 II has you covered. It’s priced well at $1,098 for a carrier unlocked version. Smartphone photography can be a serious business. However, for me, smartphone photography is about having fun, and I had that by the bucket load.

We award the Sony Xperia 1 II four out of five stars. This smartphone is a great companion camera for not just current Sony Alpha shooters but photographers in general. Great image and build quality, and advanced Sony Alpha features, make this a solid smartphone camera. Want one? Head on over to Amazon.

Brett Day

Brett Day is the Gear Editor at The Phoblographer and has been a photographer for as long as he can remember. Brett has his own photography business that focuses on corporate events and portraiture. In his spare time, Brett loves to practice landscape and wildlife photography. When he's not behind a camera, he's enjoying life with his wife and two kids, or he's playing video games, drinking coffee, and eating Cheetos.