Here’s why Xperia cameras have never lived up to their potential

by XB on 4th March 2019

in Imaging, Xperia 1 series

It’s a mystery that has perplexed Sony Xperia fans for many years – why does Sony, who has so much imaging prowess though their camera division, produce Xperia smartphones where the camera performance is sub-par versus the competition. Well, according to a TrustedReviews interview with Adam Marsh, Senior Manager of Global Marketing, the answer is likely one that we should have expected all along.

Marsh confirmed that internal barriers between the camera and smartphone teams, meant the information did not flow freely between teams. “Sometimes (there were) barriers that Alpha didn’t want to give Mobile certain things, because all of a sudden you have the same as what a £3,000 camera’s got,” said Marsh.

So, Sony did not want to cannibalise its more expensive Alpha cameras, with people buying Xperia smartphones instead. However, this view was incredibly short-sighted, as the pace of growth in smartphone cameras has only become ever-faster in recent years. Whether this be in computational photography that Google’s Pixel phones have pushed, or the use of multiple cameras to give users increased flexibility.

Unfortunately, Sony Xperia smartphones have been left behind, and this has showed through the significant decline in Xperia volumes in recent years. However, Sony finally looks like they have listened – helped by the restructuring that has taken place since Kenichiro Yoshida took charge as CEO. He brought on Kimio Maki (previously looking after Digital Imaging) to take over the helm of Sony Mobile.

The upshot of this will be much closer collaboration between the Sony Alpha camera team and the Xperia mobile teams. The fruits of this tighter relationship will be seen in the Xperia 1 first, resulting in lower image noise, better autofocus and even RAW support. We’re excited about a brighter future for Xperia camera performance, but after many years of hoping for better, we’ll wait for the results before partying too early.

Discussion with Adam Marsh, Senior Manager of Global Marketing

On greater collaboration within the Sony Alpha camera teams

“(Kimio Maki – Head of Product Development for Sony Mobile) stopped production on what would have been a Sony XZ4. He said, ‘okay, so we work with Alpha here, let’s take this bit, we work with the CineAlta brand, let’s bring this bit’. He opened up the whole of digital imaging for us. Because that imaging team is all together, they can share that experience across Cybershot, Alpha and Xperia.”

On the possibility for more Sony Alpha features on Xperia smartphones

“It’s possible. If it’s software, it could be possible to bring it across. A closer collaboration with Alpha is a definite, thanks to the management change that’s happened in Tokyo with Mobile now belonging to Imaging.”

On internal barriers that stopped Sony producing the best possible Xperia camera experience

“Even though we’re one company, there are still sometimes barriers that Alpha doesn’t want to give Mobile certain things, because all of a sudden you have the same as what a £3,000 camera’s got. Now that barrier’s gone a little bit. They’re saying ‘okay, we see that having a smartphone and camera that gives you the same experience is a good thing’.”

On autofocus improvements

“If you compare the burst mode to the XZ2, when you zoom in it’s not kept in focus. Whereas on the Xperia 1 it’s in focus and the colour and the contrast is also kept.”

On image noise reduction

“Normally when you take a picture, the phone will then compress it into a JPEG and then add the noise reduction. How Alpha does it is that it takes the Raw image, adds the algorithm to reduce the noise on the Raw image, then compresses it to JPEG, then you put noise reduction on top. That’s how Alpha is doing it. From Xperia 1, that’s how Xperia 1 will do it as well. So from a noise reduction point of view, it’s going to be massively improved compared to even XZ2 Premium. That’s going to be a big step up.”

On RAW image files

Adam Marsh confirmed that the Xperia 1 will support the ability to extract the RAW image file using a third party Android app.

On the new Xperia phones not supporting the latest 48MP sensors

“The Tokyo camera team said ‘okay, because of what we want to achieve from a quality point of view, three 12-megapixel cameras will provide us with much better quality than one 48-megapixel camera’. The 48-megapixel module is, for example, not memory stacked, so you can’t do the 960fps super slow motion that we can do on the 12-megapixel sensor. So that’s one example where they went ‘okay, you can have this, but actually we then lose this’.”

On the reason to buy a Sony Xperia smartphone

“Sony as a brand is not going to appeal to everybody. We’re not a Samsung, we’re not a Huawei. But what we will appeal to is people who want quality products where they are able to take amazing pictures or a video, or do something different. Our key USPs will be the screen and the camera. The screen thanks to Bravia, the camera thanks to Alpha. Competitors have different key USPs, which may attract certain customers. But for us, people who know their photography and people who want to buy into that Sony ecosystem of interchangeable lenses, will buy an Xperia 1.”

Via TrustedReviews.

Thanks Diogo, Plastique and Sarante

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