Sony Xperia Z5 Review

Sony Xperia Z5 Review ImageSony Xperia Z5 Review Image

Mac users, we’re pleased to announce Macphun’s all-in-one photo editor Luminar is now available for just $69£52 for new users, or $59£44 for existing Macphun users.Use coupon code “PHOTOBLOG” to save another $10 on Luminar.

We rated Luminar as “Highly Recommended”. Visit the Luminar web site to try it for free.

Download Luminar & Try Free »


The Sony Xperia Z5 was announced in September 2015 and replaces the Xperia Z3+ as the company’s flagship smartphone. The new model shares the same 5.2-inch, 1080 x 1920 screen as its predecessor, but the camera module is new. Out goes the 20MP sensor and 25mm-equivalent lens from the Z3+, replaced in the Z5 by a 23MP chip paired with a 24mm-equivalent f/2.0 lens. Autofocussing speed has also been improved with the addition of a new Hybrid AF system featuring phase detection AF for focussing speeds as fast as 0.03 seconds.

You also get 3GB RAM and 32GB of on-board storage, whilst Micro SD expandability enables you to add up to 200GB of extra storage capacity. Finally, there’s a new fingerprint sensor, and the Z5 retains the same IP68 water and dust resistance rating of the Z3+.

The Sony Xperia Z5 is available sim-free for £549/$600, but it also has two sister phones available at different price points. The Z5 Compact has a smaller 4.6-inch screen and a reduced price of £429/$500, or there’s the bigger 5.5-inch Xperia Z5 Premium which boasts a 4K screen resolution and can be had for around £629/$700.

Ease of Use

The Sony Xperia Z5 is outwardly similar to the Z3+, sharing the same length and width, but the new phone is 0.4mm thicker at 7.3mm. It’s also slightly heavier at 154g, although you’ll struggle to notice the extra weight compared to the marginally lighter Samsung Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6s. A painted metal bezel surrounds the phone, and with its slim thickness and satin finish, it doesn’t make the Z5 feel particularly secure in the hand. That said, all the Z5’s direct rivals prioritise style over ergonomics and feel very similar. Where the Z5 falls slightly short is the quality of the plasticky rear panel, which doesn’t quite match the quality of an iPhone 6s, Galaxy S6 or HTC One A9.

The LG G4 shares a similar issue, however that phone compensates by having a removable back panel to access its battery, where the Sony Xperia Z5’s case is sealed. Inside is a 2900mAh Li-ion battery, which is 30mAh down on the cell in the Z3+, but is still larger and capable of more talk time and music playback than the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6S. Also, unlike these phones, there’s expandable storage by way of a MicroSD tray, accessed via a flap on the upper left edge of the phone. This can provide an impressive 200GB of additional data capacity.

On the right edge you’ll find what looks like a conventional power button, and it does function like one, but it also incorporates a fingerprint sensor. You’ll need to spend 30 seconds or so to register your thumb print (other people’s prints can also be scanned, if you want) but once set up, the scanner performs flawlessly and instantly unlocks the phone. Beneath this is the volume rocker button, which in the camera app controls zooming by default. Annoyingly when holding the phone in landscape orientation, the zoom rocker functions in the reverse of what you’d expect, with the left direction zooming in and the right side retracting to wide angle.

Sony Xperia Z5
Front of the Sony Xperia Z5

The zoom functionality itself is also worth mentioning, as although this is still digital zoom (the Z5’s lens has a fixed 24mm-equivalent focal length), Sony is claiming up to 5x magnification with minimal quality reduction. This does however rely on you shooting at 8MP, thereby enabling the camera to enlarge a portion of the 23MP sensor without upsampling. It’s a trick we’ve seen before with phones like the 41MP Nokia Lumia 1020 and it has the potential to work well, but check out the image quality section to see the real world performance.

The third and final button on the Sony Xperia Z5 is the camera shutter release, located alongside the volume/zoom rocker. It’s great to see a phone with a dedicated shutter release button, as most top-end smartphones don’t feature one. What’s more, the Z5’s implementation is a two-stage design that lets you half-press to focus. The button itself is still tiny with very little travel, but it’s nonetheless a welcome inclusion if you want a shooting experience more akin to a conventional camera.

Sony Xperia Z5
Front of the Sony Xperia Z5 / Image Displayed

Power up the Sony Xperia Z5 and you’re greeted by a 5.2” IPS LCD screen that boasts superb viewing angles, brightness and contrast. With a Full HD 1080 x 1920 resolution equating to 428 pixels per inch, it’s not top dog in the detail department, with the Galaxy S6 and LG G4 both offering 1440 x 2560 displays with a higher pixel density. However, in the real world you’ll be very hard pressed to see any difference in pixel density. The slightly mundane Full HD resolution can also have a positive impact when it comes to battery life, as fewer pixels means a lower power draw.

Accessing the camera app is as simple as pressing the camera icon on the home screen, or holding the physical shutter release button down for around one second. The app loads almost instantly and you’re ready to start shooting. Basic controls are nice and obvious, with a large shutter release button flanked by a video record icon. Next to this is the mode selection button that reveals no fewer than fourteen separate shooting modes.

Sony Xperia Z5
Front of the Sony Xperia Z5 / Camera App

The default mode is Superior Auto, which can also be found on many of Sony’s standalone cameras. This unleashes the full force of Sony’s scene detection and image enhancement processing with the aim of capturing bright, sharp and vibrant images, even in tricky conditions like low light or when shooting backlit scenes.

Alternatively, if you’d rather get creative and take more control over your shots, then there’s Manual mode. Although many smartphones do include a certain level of manual controls, the Z5 – like the Z3+ – offers an impressively comprehensive amount of control. Once in Manual mode, pressing the settings icon (symbolised by three dots, in the upper left corner of the screen when shooting portrait orientation) reveals the extra parameters available for manual tweaking. These include focus modes (chose between single and multi-point, face detection, touch focussing and object tracking), metering options (Face, Multi, Centre and Spot), plus the ability to disable image stabilisation.

Sony Xperia Z5
Rear of the Sony Xperia Z5

If you’re thinking that means the Sony Xperia Z5 packs true optical image stabilisation, that’s not quite the case. Instead there’s Sony’s SteadyShot digital stabilisation system, though Sony’s press demonstrations have gone to great lengths to show its effectiveness at combating camera shake in both stills and video. Finally there’s an ISO option in the Manual mode settings menu with settings from ISO 50 to 3200. There is a catch though, and it’s that you can only manually select ISO sensitivities when the image resolution is set at 8MP or less. Other options are available in manual mode but they’re accessed via the sliders icon at the top of the camera app screen. These include exposure compensation (+/-2EV) and five white balance settings (cloudy, sunny, fluorescent, incandescent, and auto). Don’t expect to find control over shutter speed or aperture in Manual mode, but that’s no real surprise, given these are features usually only found on enthusiast compact cameras and above.

In addition to the Superior Auto and Manual modes, the Sony Xperia Z5 also includes two augmented reality modes. AR Effect lets you insert virtual scenes or characters such as fish or dinosaur illustrations into your photographs as you compose a shot, while AR Mask overlays your face with a virtual lion, gorilla, or a face of your choice. Both augmented reality modes are very easy to use and fairly accurately target appropriate image areas, but once the initial novelty wears off, it’s unlikely these modes will have much long-term appeal. The same also goes for the Style Portrait mode, which works in a similar way, live-targeting your face with ‘enhancements’ like bright red lips, suntan, or even bubbles.

Sony Xperia Z5
Memory Card Slot

The remaining shooting modes include a dedicated 4K video record setting, Sony’s Sweep Panorama mode, Creative Effect (19 effects filters, all previewed live. See the Image Quality section of this review for samples), Sticker Creator mode that lets you do exactly that – turn images into sticker designs ready for printing, and there’s Timeshift Video mode where you can record a video clip and select a portion to be played back in slow motion. Face in Picture mode utilises both the front and rear-facing cameras, allowing you to snap a selfie and instantly drag it into a scene to be captured by the rear camera. Multi Camera mode enables you to record the same scene from different viewpoints by pairing the Z5 to another Wi-Fi/NFC-enabled camera. Sound Photo mode accompanies a photo with background sounds, and finally there’s Vine mode for creating six-second video loops for sharing to the Vine network.

Thankfully the camera isn’t just crammed with toys, it also nails the basics. Sony’s made a big deal of the new hybrid focusing system offering phase detection AF similar to what you’d find in a DSLR. Whether you’ll achieve the fastest 0.03-second lock-on speed depends a lot on lighting and your subject type, but in general use the Sony Xperia Z5 is certainly no slouch to focus, and crucially it maintains this nippy when the going gets dim.

Sony Xperia Z5 Review ImageSony Xperia Z5 Review Image

Mac users, we’re pleased to announce Macphun’s all-in-one photo editor Luminar is now available for just $69£52, and now comes with 12 portrait presets created by Scott Kelby, plus 1 month of access to KelbyOne photography training.

Use coupon code “PHOTOBLOG” to save another $10 on Luminar.

We rated Luminar as “Highly Recommended”. Visit the Luminar web site to try it for free.

Download Luminar & Try Free »

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 20 megapixel JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 7Mb.

With th eSony Xperia Z5 in default Superior Auto mode, images impress from the off with punchy colours, accurate exposure metering and good dynamic range. Zoom in on captured images and there’s plenty of detail, and whilst this isn’t all that surprising for a 23MP sensor, a high megapixel count is actually no guarantee of crisp detail.

Despite the 1/2.3-inch sensor in the Sony Xperia Z5 being larger than average for a smartphone, this sensor size is still only a match for what’s inside a conventional compact camera, many of which run into problems with harsh noise reduction processing smearing fine detail once the pixel count reaches roughly 20MP. Fortunately the Z5 isn’t overly prone to this, but shoot a distant landscape and there are the tell-tale signs of smoothed foliage, which gives an unnatural painterly appearance. Even when photographing closer subjects in good light there’s evidence of grain; something that’s not helped by Sony’s slightly overzealous sharpening. All of this would be less of a problem if the Z5 supported raw capture, but sadly it doesn’t.

That’s not to say any of this is a deal-breaker, as you’ll need to be pixel-peeping at 100% image size to really notice the over-processing, but bear in mind that the 16MP Galaxy S6 and LG G4 manage to avoid these shortcomings almost entirely, demonstrating that the Z5’s extra megapixels aren’t necessarily a good thing.

The Sony Xperia Z5 makes a clearer case for itself in low light. Taking manual control of ISO sensitivity will restrict image capture to 8MP and reduce outright detail levels, but this is more than compensated for by the impressively low noise levels, even at the maximum user-selectable sensitivity of ISO 3200. Colour vibrancy does take a hit at ISO 1600 and above, but the overall performance in low light is still enough to just about edge out the competition from LG and Samsung.


The Sony Xperia Z5 has seven manually-selectable ISO sensitivity settings ranging between ISO 50 and ISO 3200. Manually selecting ISO sensitivities does require you to select a resolution of 8MP or less, however.

ISO 50 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)


Focal Length

The Sony Xperia Z5’s fixed focal length lens is equivalent to 24mm in 35mm camera terms. 3x digital zoom is available when shooting at the full 23MP resolution, and this can be upped to 5x magnification if the resolution is dropped to 8MP. As these samples show, zooming in at full resolution results in a predictably pixelated mess. 5x zoom at 8MP produces better results, but only just. You’ll need to stay under 3x zoom at 8MP to retain decent image quality.

24mm – 23MP

Digital Zoom – 23MP


24mm – 8MP

Digital Zoom – 8MP

File Quality

No image file compression options are available and the Sony Xperia Z5 can’t capture raw files, but the Z5 does offer several resolution options. These include: 23MP 4:3 (5520 x 4140), 20MP 16:9 (5984 x 3366), 8MP 4:3 (3264 x 2448), 8MP 16:9 (3840 x 2160), 3MP 4:3 (2048 x 1536) and 2MP 16:9 (1920 x 1080).


Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web – Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are sharp enough and don’t really benefit from further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Sony Xperia Z5 handled chromatic aberrations well during the review, with a little purple fringing present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)


The Sony Xperia Z5 will only focus accurately for close-up shots down to around 10cm from your subject, which isn’t close enough to equal a Galaxy S6, but it’s not a bad performance.


Macro (100% Crop)


With just a small LED flash, it’s no surprise that the Sony Xperia Z5 struggled to overcome the ambient light when shooting this white surface from a distance of 1.5m, although the flash burst does have good spread. With the flash set to standard Fill Flash, it produces a slight hint of red-eye, but you can avoid that by switching to red-eye reduction flash.

Flash Off

Flash On

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are come portrait shots.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Image Stabilisation

The Sony Xperia Z5 utilises Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilisation system. The exact technology behind this isn’t especially clear, but Sony is not touting it as optical image stabilisation in the conventional sense. SteadyShot at least in part relies on software trickery, but it works well.



ISO 64 ISO 64

Creative Effects

The Sony Xperia Z5’s camera app includes nineteen filter effects: Normal, Brightness-Contrast, Hue-Saturation, Mirror, Old Film, Motion Effects, Mosaic, Motion Trail, Nostalgic, Miniature, Vivid, Tint, Fisheye, Colour sketch, Comic, Partial colour, Harris Shutter, and Kaleidoscope. This is an unusually extensive and attractive selection of effects to be included with a standard camera app. All effects are previewed live, but it’s a pity they’re only recorded at 1920 x 1080.


AR Effect

The Sony Xperia Z5 includes several augmented reality effect modes where you the camera app automatically places cartoon graphics into your images. Here’s what a dinosaur looks like back from extinction in 2016. Like the other Creative effects, images are recorded at Full HD resolution, and the low quality look is exacerbated by the graphic’s low resolution textures.


Activating the Sony Xperia Z5’s HDR feature gives a subtle yet worthwhile boost in dynamic range.



ISO 64 ISO 64


The combination of a large f/2.0 aperture and Sony’s effective SteadyShot image stabilisation system makes it easy to capture a night shot. These images were both captured at ISO 1600, however the second shot was recorded at 8MP instead of the maximum 23MP. Despite the resolution drop, the second shot actually has more detail, proving that the sensor’s full resolution is only beneficial in good light, and often only when shooting close-range subjects.

Night 8MP

Night 8MP (100% Crop)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Night 8MP

Night 8MP (100% Crop)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Selfie Camera

The Sony Xperia Z5’s front-facing selfie camera won’t record very large images, but you do get a fair amount of detail, vibrant colours and well-balanced exposures.


Sweep Panorama

Sony’s Sweep Panorama mode performs much like it does in many of the company’s compact cameras, but this isn’t a good thing. The extra processing power in smartphones mean they can produce high resolution results with seamless stitching, whereas the Z5 generates panoramas measuring a relatively modest 1080 vertical pixels. This alone wouldn’t be too bad, but the image quality is also very soft and ghosting is common. Overall, panoramas captured by the Z5 (or at least via its camera app) look unappealing and are at odds with the rest of the camera’s performance.