Sony is a brand that excels in many areas, from gaming consoles and digital cameras, to movies and music. And Sony manages to combine elements from most of these into its range of Xperia smartphones – most specifically its cameras.
Sony’s Alpha range of digital cameras is well-respected amongst amateur and professional photographers alike. A lot of the technology, from the Zeiss glass lenses to the control interface, appears in the new Sony Xperia 1 III.
This device is cleverly marketed towards photography enthusiasts and those that are more familiar with the technical workings of a professional digital camera. And with the addition of a variable telephoto lens, the Sony Xperia 1 III is a flagship phone that’s ideal for photographers.
First impressions and design
Size wise, the Sony Xperia 1 III strikes a nice balance. It’s large enough to have a stunning, high-quality screen, and still be a manageable-size device that can fit in your hand and in your pocket.
The Xperia 1 III certainly has the flagship look. Covered by a Gorilla Glass Victus front and the frosted Gorilla Glass 6 back, it feels sturdy and premium, but also light and comfortable to hold. With a 21:9 aspect ratio, subtly rounded corners and the distinct physical camera shutter button, the Xperia 1 III clearly stands out from its competitors.
Screen and display
While the main focus of the Xperia 1 III is photography and video capture, it’s equally set up for watching content in stunning clarity and detail on its 6.5-inch 4K HDR OLED display.
Using some of the technology from its Bravia OLED TV range, the Xperia 1 III has a 3840x1644 resolution screen. That gives you plenty of pixels to play full resolution 4K video without any letterboxing.
The screen usually defaults to Full HD+ to save on battery life, but you’ll be able to make full use of the stunning OLED screen whenever you have access to UHD content.
The OLED screen also has a silky smooth 120Hz refresh rate, a welcome upgrade from the previous Xperia 1 model. This too places extra demands on the battery life, but it’s absolutely worth it to see text, images and icons glide across the screen.
The Sony Xperia 1 III is marketed as a smartphone for photography professionals, offering a degree of control and an interface that professional photographers will be familiar with. As such, the camera setup on this device is pretty impressive, drawing on the technology and industry insight from Sony’s popular Alpha digital camera series.
The camera unit features three different lenses, a 27mm wide angle lens, a 16mm ultrawide lens, and a variable focal length telephoto lens. Each of these use a 12MP sensor with all sorts of top-end image stabilisation and detection technology, including dual pixel Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) and a 3D time-of-flight sensor for real-time autofocus and object tracking.
A simple extra that’s a personal favourite is the inclusion of a physical shutter button. As the camera interface is more geared towards horizontal photographs, having a physical button right by your index finger makes for a very intuitive and satisfying photography experience.
Xperia 1 III periscopic telephoto lens
The star of the camera setup is the entirely unique periscopic telephoto lens. The telephoto lens element in the Xperia 1 III physically moves inside the device, allowing you to swap between 70mm and 105mm without losing any image quality, the way you would with digital zoom.
The ability to shift the telephoto lens means you get four focal lengths from three cameras, making the camera unit smaller and the phone more compact without sacrificing image quality. This makes a big difference when handling the phone, especially one-handed, making it much easier to use than larger phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Sony Camera Pro app
In order to make the most of the professional-level camera, Sony has pre-installed its Camera Pro and Cinema Pro apps. Each one gives you the option to use either the ‘Basic Mode’ for simple point-and-shoot users, or switch to more manual controls.
Anyone familiar with DSLR or mirrorless cameras will know their way around Auto, Program, Shutter speed priority and Manual exposure modes. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see that there still isn’t an option to shoot in Aperture priority mode, something that’s incredibly useful when taking portrait and lifestyle photos with a professional camera.
The Basic mode gives you a few options that even beginners should be able to get a handle on, including adjusting zoom levels and focal lengths, continuous shooting and adding bokeh blur. All useful functionality that will improve the quality of your photos, but still fairly easy to master. The real fun starts when you switch over to manual mode.
Within any of the pro shooting modes you’re given the option to change your focal length, auto-focus point, shooting mode (single shot, continuous, self-timer), white balance and exposure level. You’ll also see a light meter histogram on the screen which is really helpful in gauging light levels and exposure.
Another useful feature that photographers will appreciate is the option to shoot and save your photos in RAW as well as JPEG formats. This means that significantly more information is stored for each photograph you take, which allows for a greater level of control when editing your photos in applications like Lightroom and Photoshop.
If any or all of the above information made sense, then you should seriously consider the Xperia 1 III for your next upgrade. However, if light meters and shutter speeds and RAW image files have you baffled and confused, then the added control you get with the Xperia is probably not necessary and could end up causing more frustration than it’s worth.
When taking photos, Sony smartphones tend to capture more true-to-life colours which, if you’re used to iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones, may seem a bit flat and muted. Things like HDR processing –– where the camera captures multiple images at different exposures in a single shot and the phone stitches them together to produce a single photo –– have become standard in most smartphone cameras. Sony’s more realistic images may therefore seem less impressive than you’re used to.
Battery and performance
The Sony Xperia 1 III runs on the Snapdragon 888 processor, paired with 12GB of RAM. That means this smartphone can handle pretty much whatever you throw at it. Which is to be expected given the high level of image processing power you’ll need to make full use of Sony’s suite of semi-professional camera applications.
The Xperia 1 III uses Sony’s custom version of Android which isn’t overloaded with additional apps, leaving it largely a Google OS that most Android users will be familiar and comfortable with. It does feature an optional floating shortcut bar which can be useful if you struggle to use the phone one-handed.
All-in-all the performance is strong and smooth, able to handle multi-tasking apps, has enough GPU for mobile gaming and processing photos and videos in 4K.
More processing power inevitably means more demands on your battery life, so thankfully the Xperia 1 III has a larger 4500mAh battery than its predecessor’s 4000mAh.
The large battery cell will mean you can comfortably spend a day using your device as normal without any worries that your battery will run out. However, you might need to find a charger if you plan to do more processor-intensive tasks such as gaming, HDR video playback or filming in 4K.
Sony Xperia 1 III: Verdict
The Sony Xperia 1 III isn’t for everyone, in fact it’s been specifically designed and marketed for a niche group of users with a knowledge and passion for photography. If that’s not you, then Sony’s flagship product might not be worth the £1,199 price tag.
If you regularly use a DSLR camera and find the level of control you get from your iPhone or Android phone too limiting, then you should definitely consider upgrading to the Xperia 1 III.
With four focal lengths and an array of fine-level controls, combined with a hefty processor, gorgeously vivid screen and a large battery, the Xperia 1 III is a professional-grade product that fits comfortably in your pocket.