After an Xperia 1 III with a zoom equivalent to 70-105 mm, Sony is back with an Xperia 1 IV this time equipped with a true continuous zoom ranging from 85 to 125 mm. An interesting development, but with a delicate implementation, as our laboratory tests illustrate.
In 2021, Sony had shown inventiveness by offering, with its Xperia 1 III and 5 III, a varifocal telephoto lens as a third photo module. This made it possible to alternate between a focal length equivalent to 70 mm (in 24 x 36) and 105 mm. An interesting concept that brought a certain versatility to the smartphone. A year later, while some competitors, such as Google and its Pixel 6 Pro, have also launched (and successfully) on long focal lengths, Sony is pushing its zoom a little further.
Indeed, the very recent Xperia 1 IV is seen this time with a zoom equivalent to 85-125 mm. For those looking to see ever more distant subjects or wishing to specialize in portraits, these new focal lengths seem quite relevant. In addition, it is now, according to Sony, a real zoom, and the passage from one focal length to another will no longer go through a digital zoom. However, the technical characteristics of the telephoto lens raise some questions.
If the telephoto modules of the two smartphones remain very similar, we can note that the sensor of the Xperia 1 IV is smaller than that of the 1 III. And when we talk about smartphone sensors, already not very large, reducing the sensitive cell a little more can lead to certain complications, especially in low light. Then you need a good dose of software to compensate.
Eq. 70mm vs 85mm – day
As we can see, there is a certain difference. At 85mm, the Sony Xperia 1 IV struggles to render the same level of detail as the Xperia 1 III at 70mm. A white veil seems to have settled in front of the lens and apart from the lenses, we can assume that reducing the size of the sensor from 1/2.9″ to 1/3.5″ has a big impact and that the software cannot make up for the faults.
Eq. 105mm vs 125mm – day
When you push the focal length, the loss of detail is even more accentuated. The Xperia 1 III’s results aren’t exceptional, but they hold up. Opposite, the 125 mm equivalent of the Xperia 1 IV offers a considerably degraded image. Looking at the initial shots, we thought we were dealing with dirty optics, or even motion blur. However, after multiple tests, we can say that this 125mm focal length offers a clearly disappointing shot.
The loss of detail observed at 85 mm is further accentuated at 125 mm. Between the small sensor, the 12 megapixel definition and the low f/2.8 aperture, it becomes difficult to obtain a truly usable image. And yet, we used a tripod, focusing on a distant subject not being its strong point. Handheld, despite optical stabilization, capturing usable footage will be a bit more complicated.
After our initial results, we got our hands on a second copy of Xperia 1 IV, to check if the same defects were observable everywhere. The second recovered model offers a poor quality image, but to a lesser extent. The autofocus performance with the zoom module being very uncertain, the two phones, two prototypes therefore, were faced with the same problem of focusing at full zoom.
At night, difficult use
When the brightness drops, performance drops quite drastically on both sides. Despite the software processing, it becomes complicated to clearly distinguish the scene. The Sony Xperia 1 IV retains its whitish appearance which allows it to benefit from a slightly better exposure, but with a level of detail that is still too low.
A zoom to book under specific conditions
To qualify our point, we wanted to show the latitude of the zoom. We can then observe the full intensity of the optical zoom and also its usefulness. We framed our scene using the widest focal length — 16mm — before zooming in incrementally. With the longer focal lengths, we have noticeably better results than in our previous tests. By getting closer to the scene thanks to the zoom, the low definition of the sensor and its small size have less impact on the shots, and the images taken are thus of much higher quality. Autofocus problems also seem less present.
That being said, outside our laboratory, it was almost impossible for us to repeat the operation, the image losing irreparably in quality. To maintain such a level of detail, and a consistent autofocus, you must therefore be quite close to your subject, on foot and with powerful lighting, which does not necessarily correspond to reproducible conditions of use on a daily basis.
Bonus: facing the Google Pixel 6 Pro
The Google Pixel 6 Pro has a telephoto lens with a focal length close to that of the Sony Xperia 1 III (around 105mm). But unlike Sony smartphones, it has a larger 1/2″ sensor, with a definition of 48 megapixels (reduced to 12.5 megapixels by the pixel binning) and above all a functional autofocus. Thanks to these two characteristics and to Google’s know-how in image processing, we can observe that the Pixel 6 Pro offers a much richer and more detailed image, almost too much. This is quite visible with our extract of the two smartphones with the same focal length. We can even estimate that a digital crop in this image up to 125 mm will then be preferable to the optical zoom of the Xperia 1 IV.
In the field, outside our laboratories, we can observe the same differences. Admittedly, the Pixel 6 Pro offers a very saturated shot with an almost whimsical accentuation of details, but opposite, in addition to a more neutral, perhaps more “natural” colorimetry, the photo of the Sony Xperia 1 IV is sorely lacking in detail and above all appears as near-blurry due to this focus problem. This test highlights the problems of Sony’s long focal length.
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