Sony Xperia 1ii – Photo Pro deep dive
This post is based on firmware version 58.0.A.3.88 which added camera tweaks and RAW support. Additional RAW support is planned for future updates in the form of RAW format in continuous drive mode.
The Photo Pro app is one of two specialty apps on the Sony Xperia 1ii. The Photo Pro app is intended to provide the user with the greatest control over all the camera’s abilities. Unlike other phones like the Pixel, where the software does most of the processing and decision making, the Xperia 1ii and the Photo Pro app gives all the control to you, the photographer. Admittedly, that is not for everyone. Just like not everyone should be running out to buy a $5,000 dSLR/mirrorless, not everyone is going to enjoy having to make all the photography decisions and that’s okay. But if you are the type who wants to use your camera knowledge and have full artistic control over your photos, you will undoubtedly enjoy what the Xperia 1ii has to offer with the Photo Pro app.
what is Photo Pro?
Photo Pro is the photography focused app on the Xperia 1ii. There are no preset filters, no AI powered auto-modes like a portrait mode, and no video recording. For video, you’d need to look to Cinema Pro, which will also get a deep dive in a later post. Photo Pro gives you the ability to take full control over all the camera features offered on the Xperia 1ii. Most notably, the Xperia 1ii provides up to 20fps burst capture with up to 60 times per second auto focus/auto exposure calculations and eye-autofocus/face detection for both humans and (some) animals.
If you are a user of Sony’s alpha cameras, you’ll find the interface very familiar. Personally, I have never used a Sony alpha camera, so this interface was new to me, but it didn’t take very long to figure out where everything was and how to use it. I can see how some may be turned off by it, but I found it to be okay after tinkering around with it for a little while.
As you can see from the interface above, you are presented with a live view finder, which takes up the majority of the left side. On the left most edge, you have indicators to tell you what mode you’re in (AUTO, P(rogram mode), S(hutter Priority), and M(anual)), the MENU button, DISPLAY button, LENS button, and a small thumbnail of the last photo taken.
Changing the camera mode takes you through each of the interfaces shown in the slide show above. Within each mode, the available features change and choosing the correct mode for your situation and needs is entirely up to you.
AUTO mode is exactly what you’d expect it to be. The app takes care of everything and all you have to do is point and shoot. In this mode, you need only select the drive mode, auto focus mode, eye auto focus, flash, and format. More information on these features below. As of right now, RAW is available in AUTO mode while taking single shots. It is not available for either of the continuous (i.e., burst) modes. It is planned to be available in a low burst mode in the future according to the Sony website (more on that below). AUTO mode also detects a “scene” (e.g., landscape, document, food, etc) and takes the photo with appropriate settings. Unlike in the past, you cannot select a particular scene yourself.
Program mode gives you slightly more control over the image you’re capturing. You’re now able to select a particular white balance, ISO, focus area, metering, and adjust exposure compensation. You’ll notice that the AEL button (more on this below) is also enabled. In this mode, you do not have the ability to adjust the shutter speed.
Shutter Priority mode is essentially the same as Program mode, but instead of being able to adjust the ISO (which is now disabled), you have full control over the shutter speed. You are still able to adjust the exposure compensation in this mode.
Manual mode gives you full control over the camera. The only things disabled in this mode are the exposure compensation and the AEL (auto exposure lock). These are disabled because you should be able to get the desired exposure by adjusting the shutter speed and ISO settings.
the lenses & zooming
The Sony Xperia 1ii provides three different lenses: standard (24mm), telephoto (70mm), and wide angle (16mm). It also has a 3D iToF camera and sensor that is used for fast auto focus but is only useful for subjects up to 5 meters (~16 feet) (for the 24mm camera only). Selecting the lens you want is as easy as tapping the lens indicator and subsequently selecting the desired lens. The right pointing arrow expands the zoom dial, which allows you to zoom within the limits of each lens by rotating the dial. Alternatively, you can use the volume rocker to zoom if this is its configured function through the menu (more on that below). There is no method of zooming through ALL lenses continuously. You must select the correct lens for the desired zoom. Think of it like having an actual interchangeable lens camera.
NOTE: Zoom is digital and not optical. That being said, the digital zoom is fairly good. However, in my opinion, to get the best possible image quality, I would recommend using the 70mm telephoto lens to get “close up” or move yourself closer to the subject. Zoom is also not enabled in RAW only format. When shooting in RAW+JPEG format, the zoom is enabled, but the RAW version of the image will be the image from the selected lens while the JPEG version of the image will be zoomed. For example, using the 24mm lens and zooming to 35mm, the RAW image will be a 24mm image while the JPEG image will be a 35mm image.
menu, display, thumbnail
As you would expect, the menu button takes you into the menu screen (more below). The display button cycles through what is displayed in the viewfinder, such as battery status, storage capacity, and histogram. Tapping the thumbnail lets you view the camera roll in Google Photos. Unfortunately, Sony has discontinued and retired their very good Album app. It can’t even be sideloaded using an old APK. Tapping the camera icon on the top left returns you to Photo Pro while tapping the small Photos icon on the top right next to the 3 dot menu sends you to the Google Photos app. Note that RAW images are indicated with the RAW icon in Google Photos.
interface feature options
The menu option on the left side essentially lets you view all the features that are available to you from the main interface. It also includes a few other options, like selecting where you want to store your images. For the most part though, you can change the same settings from the main interface instead of digging through the menu. Since manual mode gives you access to practically every feature, I’ll focus on the main interface adjustment options in this mode and then take a deep dive through each option. Where applicable, I’ll add a screen shot of the corresponding menu option.
From the manual mode interface, you can see the ability to change the shutter speed immediately available on the top right. You change the setting by swiping left or right to reach your desired shutter speed. As of right now, the maximum shutter speed is 1/8000 of a second and the slowest is 30 seconds. This could potentially change with future updates, but there are is currently no word that it will. By no means is this limiting as you should be able to capture just about anything you want within these limits.
Below the shutter speed dial are the AF ON and AEL buttons. Even though AF ON seems like it should stand for turning on autofocus, it’s actually for locking the autofocus. When enabled, the focus will be locked and autofocus will not continue to calculate if in continuous focus mode and it will not re-focus upon a half shutter press. This allows for focusing without having to take the picture and maintaining the same focus. So long as the subject remains at the same distance, you need only take pictures and the camera doesn’t need to refocus and re-meter the scene each time. AEL stands for “auto exposure lock” and it is disabled in manual mode since exposure is already locked based on the selected shutter speed and ISO. In other modes, AEL will lock the exposure so that it does not change when the lighting changes or you move locations. This is also very useful in studio conditions where you want to ensure the exposure remains the same (although if you had a studio, you’d probably be shooting in manual mode anyway).
Looking at the array of buttons in the lower right area, starting on the first row (left to right) shows Drive Mode, Focus Mode, Focus Area, Exposure Compensation, ISO, Metering Mode, Flash Mode, White Balance, Eye Auto Focus, Format, and a Lock switch. Each of these features is discussed below.
Drive mode selection gives you a choice of single shooting, continuous shooting (hi), continuous shooting (lo), 10 second timer, and 3 second timer. Selecting the drive mode for your particular situation will help you save storage space and save time having to look through a series of photos, which you’ll likely end up deleting anyway.
Single shooting is always available with every lens and every format (RAW/JPEG) and lets you snap one photo with each press of the shutter, even if you hold the shutter down.
Continuous shooting (HI) is only available with the 24mm main camera lens and is only available in JPEG format. This option will be grayed out for other lenses and formats. In this mode, you will be able to take 20 frames per second (fps) while utilizing the continuous 60 times per second autofocus calculations.
Continuous shooting (LO) is available on all the lenses but currently only with the JPEG format. In this mode, 10 frames per second (fps) will be taken. The 24mm camera will maintain it’s 60 times per second autofocus calculations while the 16mm and 70mm camera are only capable of 30 times per second autofocus calculations.
Self timer mode (3sec, 10sec) is pretty self explanatory. This mode will take a single photo after the selected time expires. It is available to all lenses and formats.
NOTE: RAW format for burst mode will be enabled later through a software update. Sony states on their website that the 24mm camera will be able to take 8 fps in RAW format.
Focus mode selection gives you the choice of single shot AF, continuous AF, and manual focus. It is important to select the correct mode for your purposes. Some features are only enabled in certain focus modes, as noted below.
Single shot AF focuses on the subject within the focus area. You enable the autofocusing by half pressing the shutter. The camera will remain focused on the subject (indicated by the focus brackets turning green) until the shutter key is released.
Continuous shot AF utilizes the camera’s ability to focus 60 times per second (24mm lens) or 30 times per second (16mm and 70mm lenses). Focus calculations will start when the shutter key is half depressed allowing for tracking moving objects or if you, yourself are moving. When the continuous drive modes are selected, the camera continues to calculate autofocus as frames are captured.
Manual Focus is as you would expect. A slider is provided to manually focus the camera. The slider is only available within the focus mode selection screen and not on the main interface. It would have been nice if they found a way to fit the slider on the main interface but I think most people would end up using the autofocus modes anyway, since they are very good.
Focus area selection gives you the choice between wide or center. Selecting the correct mode for your situation and desired outcome is important.
Wide focus area allows for the fast focus calculation to be performed over a wider area of the frame. Usually, the closest object is used as the subject to focus on. This mode is useful when there is a lot going on or if there is a lot of fast movement that would make following and keeping the subject in the center of the frame difficult.
Center focus area focuses on the subject within the brackets at the center of the frame. Continuous autofocus does work in this mode, though it may not be as obvious since the focus boxes are not moving all over with the movement in the frame. You can test that it does indeed work by half pressing the shutter key to focus on a close object then moving to an object at a different distance. The camera will change focus automatically.
NOTE: Eye autofocus also works in both modes, but is more forgiving in the wide focus area mode. in center focus mode the subject must be within the center of the frame.
Exposure compensation gives you the ability to compensate for lack or of too much exposure. This feature is not available in all modes. When selected, a scale is displayed in the upper right side of the interface. Zero is the exposure determined by the camera using the selected metering mode. Adjusting the level of exposure compensation is done by simply tapping anywhere on the scale, tapping the tiny arrows on the right or left, or dragging the orange arrow to the desired value. Setting the exposure compensation to a negative value will decrease the exposure while a positive value will increase it.
The ISO setting determines how sensitive to light the sensor is. Sensitivity to light increases as the ISO number increases. Adjusting this value lets you take photos in low light while having a higher shutter speed since the sensor is more sensitive to light. The downside is that the higher the ISO, the more noise is introduced to the photo, especially in very low light situations. If you’re able to take a photo with a longer exposure (i.e., with a slow shutter speed) and a tripod, you will get higher quality photos than if you were to use a faster shutter speed and a higher ISO. What combination of shutter speed and ISO you choose is based on your particular situation and creative direction.
Metering mode gives you a selection on how you want the camera to perform its metering calculations. Metering helps the camera determine the correct exposure. In an automatic mode, this would determine the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture (though aperture is fixed on the Xperia 1ii). In manual mode, the metering normally displays an indicator to show you whether your settings are providing the correct exposure based on the camera’s calculations. For the life of me, I am unable to find out where this metering indicator is in Photo Pro while in Manual mode. I’m not sure if it was an oversight or a software glitch, but I couldn’t find it. If you know where it is, please leave a comment below and I’ll edit this portion. Otherwise, it seems it is best used in Program or Shutter priority mode.
Multi metering divides the frame into multiple areas and calculates the exposure based on each of the individual areas. Depending on the scene you are photographing, this could make the camera reduce or increase the exposure. For example, a very bright scene may be under exposed if you use this metering mode.
Center metering mode takes the average over the entire frame with emphasis on the central area of the frame. Unlike multi metering mode, this mode is more focused on the center of the frame.
Spot metering focuses on exactly where you are pointing the camera to focus on. It will essentially ignore everything else in the frame and make the metering calculations based on the spot of the frame you are trying to focus on. This is useful for situations where it is a very dark scene or a very bright scene and you simply want to get your specific subject correctly exposed.
Flash mode lets you select how the flash will fire or if it will fire at all. Of course, the “flash” on the Xperia 1ii, or any other phone for that matter, is just a small LED so be mindful of your expectations for “flash” photography. The options allow you to select from Auto, Fill Flash, Red Eye reduction, Off, and Flashlight. Flash is entirely disabled when shooting in either of the continuous drive modes.
Auto mode detects when the scene is too dark and it will automatically turn the LED flash on. This only occurs when the camera is in Auto mode as well.
Fill flash mode will fire the LED flash every time the shutter is pressed.
Red-eye reduction mode will fire a small burst of light prior to the actual flash firing coincident with the camera taking the photo. This will help to reduce the red eye result, which is caused by light bouncing off a person’s retinas.
Off obviously disables the flash entirely.
Flashlight mode enables the flash LED and it stays on until the mode is changed or Photo Pro is exited. Just like when you enable the flashlight from the notification pull down menu.
White balance is a setting to ensure that the camera is capturing colors correctly. The way to think about it is under your current lighting conditions, how should the camera interpret pure white? Once the camera knows how to interpret pure white, it can correctly interpret the other colors. In actually, white balance setting is more or less a matter of determining the color temperature of the lighting you are currently in and selecting the appropriate preset or letting the camera decide for itself. When adjusting this feature, you are able to select between six presets and three custom settings. The six presets of auto white balance, cloudy, daylight, fluorescent, incandescent, and shade.
AWB (auto white balance) tells the camera to automatically determine the white balance based on the current lighting visible in the view finder. That also means that when you turn a different direction or move to a different location, if the lighting changes, the white balance will also change. If you are shooting in RAW, this probably doesn’t matter a whole lot because you can post process to get the correct colors.
Cloudy changes the preset white balance assuming that you are in natural light but with cloudy skies or in an environment with a color temperature similar to a natural, cloudy environment.
Daylight assumes you are using natural light with sunny skies not blocked by clouds or other obstructions or in an environment with a color temperature similar to a natural, sunny environment.
Fluorescent assumes you are under fluorescent, white lights, which are usually a cooler, white color. You would also use this setting if you’re in an environment with similar color temperature.
Incandescent assumes you are using the old incandescent style lights or lighting conditions that are a similar color temperature, which is more of a warm white.
Custom lets you set up to three of your own white balance configurations. I usually go with custom white balance unless it’s a fully cloudy or sunny day outside and I know the preset is good enough. By selecting one of the custom options, you can preset your own white balance for particular situations. This would be useful if you have particular studio environments that you want to have preset white balances for or if you’re in a complicated lighting condition that none of the presets apply to. To set a custom white balance, you select one of them and choose the SET button (see images above). You will be provided with a target box, which is meant to be aimed at something that is white. Once set, the camera will use these settings until you change the white balance mode. If you are still unhappy with how Photo Pro detected the white balance, you can further manually adjust it by selecting the “adjust” button. You’ll be presented with a color grid, allowing you to fine tune the white balance that way.
eye auto focus / face detection
Eye autofocus is one of the special features marketed for the Xperia 1ii. This feature is continued from last year’s Xperia 1, but presumably, it works faster with the Xperia 1ii’s much faster autofocus calculations. The menu option simply allows you to enable or disable it. Most people will leave it on, but there may be rare occasions when you’d want to disable it if the system is detecting eyes where there are none. New to this year’s implementation of the feature, animal eye detection has been added. However, Sony states it is not guaranteed to work for all animals.
With eye autofocus enabled, the camera will detect a face and then the eye of the subject. If continuous autofocus mode is enabled, then the camera will follow the subject’s detected eye. Otherwise, it will only find the eye and focus upon half press of the shutter key. This mode will not be enabled if the focus mode is set to CENTER. Wide mode is required. This is presumably because if you have center focus mode enabled, you want to set exactly where you want to focus and don’t want the camera to find the focus for you.
In summary, eye autofocus works in single or continuous autofocus but only with wide focus mode.
Photo Pro can save photos in RAW, JPEG, or a combination of RAW and JPEG (meaning you get two files, one in each format). The RAW format was recently added in the last firmware update and has been a very welcomed feature. In my experience, RAW format files are about 23-25MB in size, which is plenty of information to post process with.
RAW format is currently not available in any of the continuous drive modes but is expected to be added in a future update with a maximum burst rate of 8 frames per second on the main 24mm camera only.
The lock switch does exactly what you would expect. After adjusting all the settings to your liking, enabling the lock switch will gray out all the options and prevent any inadvertent modifications.
menu based feature options
As I stated at the beginning of this post, most of the menu options are accessible/adjustable from the main interface. However, there are some options that are only found within the menu system. You can flip through each of the menu categories in the slideshow above. Menu specific options are each discussed below.
Photo Pro lets you take photos in particular aspect ratios. As shown in the menu image above, only 4:3 gives you a full 12 megapixel image. If you are good with your framing, you can always crop to any of the other aspect ratios, so I recommend using 4:3 and getting the most data possible.
This menu option controls whether or not D-Range optimizer or Auto HDR are enabled. These features are used to take better photos when the dynamic range of the scene to be captured vary.
D-Range Optimizer uses a single image taken, analyzes it, and determines the best range of adjustments to make to the image to brighten shadows and under-expose bright areas.
Auto HDR combines multiple exposures of a scene to create a single photo that has the full dynamic range of the scene.
In my experience, neither of these are the greatest but they do work. They could definitely be improved and hopefully, Sony will do so in future software updates.
soft skin effect
The soft skin effect toggle does what you would expect. When enabled, photos will look slightly airbrushed and soft. It seems to be a popular setting for people taking selfies.
touch to adjust
Touch to adjust lets you select what you want to happen when you touch the viewfinder. You have a choice between autofocus and focus & brightness.
Autofocus will tell Photo Pro to autofocus on the spot that it touched in the viewfinder.
Focus and Brightness will tell Photo Pro the spot you touch is where you will want to focus and calculate the exposure metering. The camera will not perform focusing and metering until the shutter key is half pressed.
The grid lines help you frame the scene. Use them to help you keep the image level or divide up the scene, creating a more visually aesthetic photo.
Level calibration is used to calibrate the leveling that appears in the middle of the viewfinder. In most cases, this is unnecessary. But if for some reason you need a specific angle or if your phone’s gyroscope becomes uncalibrated for some reason, you can use this feature to re-calibrate what is considered level in Photo Pro.
volume key as, audio signals, data storage, location saving
The last few options are pretty self explanatory based on the images above. What you select is entirely up to your preferences.
limitations and wish list
Although Photo Pro and the cameras of the Xperia 1ii are amazing in many ways, there are some limitations and I definitely have a wish list. As far as limitations, some of it is based on the hardware. Obviously, RAW is limited as mentioned above and the continuous drive modes are limited with the 16mm and 70mm lenses. There is also no super slow motion 960fps as on prior Xperias because of the non-DRAM sensors in the Xperia 1ii. You are limited to 120fps and that feature is only found in the stock camera app and not in Photo Pro (which is one of my wish list items).
As for my wish list, I’d like to see the slow motion and panoramic features added to Photo Pro. Yes, I understand they are sort of “gimmick” features that normally aren’t part of actual cameras, but this is a mobile phone in the end. It would be nice to get access to these features from Photo Pro without having to switch. I would also like to see a metering indicator on the interface (I couldn’t find it) when using manual mode to help gauge the correct exposure. Another wishlist item that is probably unlikely to happen is having custom presets. What I mean is having presets for specific situations like I want continuous mode with wide focus area, ISO 600, RAW, etc., and I can set all those things by tapping a single button instead of having to go through each of the options and changing everything one at a time.
Here are a handful of samples taken with Photo Pro using Manual mode. I am not a professional photographer by any means and to be honest, I didn’t take too much time to take the perfect picture. Samples are directly from the camera and have not been manipulated or photoshopped except for rotations where necessary.
The camera on the Xperia 1ii definitely has a lot of potential waiting to be utilized by a creative photographer. The possibilities with this camera and Photo Pro are pretty vast. Of course, there are limitations to the camera and to Photo Pro (which I mentioned above), but Photo Pro is definitely a solid app for taking high quality, natural looking photos with as much control over it as you want. Please let me know what you think or if you have any questions about any of the features.
2 Replies to “Sony Xperia 1ii – Photo Pro deep dive”
Odd that manual mode doesn’t display the light meter. Kind of nulls the point of choosing a meter method.
What do you think about the image quality coming out of the phone? What are your thoughts on using the pro app vs the native camera app?
Image quality is definitely superior to my prior Xperia XZ Premium. The lenses are very sharp. I haven’t compared too many photos from the pro app vs the native camera app, but the few that I’ve seen have been pretty similar at first glance. The obvious advantage is having more freedom to adjust the settings to your given situation with the Photo Pro app.