Lab – Sony Xperia 1 IV: a new zoom questions

After an Xperia 1 III with a zoom equivalent of 70-105 mm, Sony is back with an Xperia 1 IV now equipped with a truly continuous zoom from 85 to 125 mm. An interesting development, but with a risky implementation, as described in our laboratory tests.

In 2021, Sony showed ingenuity by offering, along with the Xperia 1 III and 5 III, a varifocal telephoto lens as a third photo module. This makes it possible to alternate between focal lengths equivalent to 70 mm (at 24 x 36) and 105 mm. An interesting concept that brings a certain versatility to the smartphone. A year ago, while some competitors, such as Google and its Pixel 6 Pro, were also launching (and successfully) high focal length, Sony pushed to zoom it a little further.

In fact, the latest Xperia 1 IV is seen this season with an equivalent zoom of 85-125 mm. For those looking to see more distant subjects or want to specialize in photographs, these new focal lengths seem relevant. In addition, it is now, according to Sony, a true zoom, and the path from one focal length to another no longer goes through 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 notice that the sensor on the Xperia 1 IV is smaller than the 1 III. And if we talk about smartphone sensors, it is no longer very large, the reduction of cell sensitivity even more can lead to some complications, especially in low light. Then you need a good dose of software to get paid for.

Eq. 70mm vs 85mm – day

Sony Xperia 1 IV – 85mm

Sony Xperia 1 III – 70mm

As we can see, there is a definite difference. At 85mm, the Sony Xperia 1 IV struggles to deliver the same level of detail as the Xperia 1 III at 70mm. A white curtain seems to be fixed in front of the lens and outside of the lenses, we can assume that reducing the size of the sensor from 1 / 2.9 “to 1 / 3.5” has a big effect and that the software cannot make the errors.

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Eq. 105mm vs 125mm – day

Sony Xperia 1 IV – 125mm

Sony Xperia 1 III – 105mm

If you push the focal length, the loss of detail is even more emphasized. The results on the Xperia 1 III aren’t remarkable, but they remain. In contrast, the 125 mm equivalent of the Xperia 1 IV offers a much worse image. Looking at the initial shots, we thought we were dealing with dirty optics, or even motion blur. However, after many tests, we can say that this 125mm focal length offers a clearly disappointing shot.

The loss of detail seen at 85 mm is further emphasized at 125 mm. Between the small sensor, the 12 megapixel definition and the low f/2.8 aperture, it can be difficult to capture a truly usable image. And yet, we used a tripod, which focused on a distant subject that was not a solid point. Handheld, despite optical stabilization, capturing usable footage can be more complicated.

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Xperia 1 IV – 125mm – V2

Xperia 1 IV – 125mm – V1

After our first results, we got our hands on the second copy of the Xperia 1 IV, to check if the same defects were visible anywhere. The second obtained model offers a poor image quality, but in small size. The autofocus display with the zoom module is uncertain, both phones, both prototypes therefore, face the same problem of focusing at full zoom.

At night, it is difficult to use

Xperia 1 IV – 125mm – night

Xperia 1 III – 105mm – night

If the light is reduced, performance is significantly reduced on both sides. Despite software processing, clear scene identification becomes complicated. The Sony Xperia 1 IV retains its white appearance allowing it to benefit from slightly better exposure, but has a much lower level of detail.

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A zoom to book under certain conditions

To qualify our point, we want to show the latitude in zoom. We can observe the full intensity of optical zoom and also its usefulness. We framed our scene using the widest focal length-16mm-before zooming in incrementally. With the higher focal length, we had better results than our previous tests. By getting closer to the scene thanks to the zoom, the low definition of the sensor and its small size have little effect on the shots, and the images captured in such a much higher quality. Autofocus problems seem to be less common now.

As such, outside of our laboratory, it was almost impossible for us to repeat the operation, the image was lost without any improvement in quality. In order to maintain such a level of detail, and a consistent autofocus, you need to be close to your subject, walking and having strong lighting, which doesn’t have to correspond to the conditions that apply to changing every day.

Bonus: facing Google Pixel 6 Pro

Sony Xperia 1 IV – 105mm

Google Pixel 6 Pro – 105mm

The Google Pixel 6 Pro has a telephoto lens with a focal length close to that of the Sony Xperia 1 III (about 105mm). But unlike Sony smartphones, it has a larger 1/2 ”sensor, which has a definition of 48 megapixels (reduced to 12.5 megapixels in pixel binning) and above all a functional autofocus. Thanks to these two characteristics and Google’s knowledge of image processing, we can observe that the Pixel 6 Pro offers a much more highly detailed image, almost too much. This is very visible when we took two smartphones with the same focal length. We can even estimate that a digital harvest of this image up to 125 mm is much better than the optical zoom of the Xperia 1 IV.

Sony Xperia 1 IV – 125mm

Google Pixel 6 Pro – 105mm

In the field, outside our laboratories, we can observe the same differences. True, the Pixel 6 Pro offers a saturated shot with an almost bizarre emphasis on detail, but conversely, in addition to a more neutral, perhaps more “natural” colorimeter, the Sony Xperia 1 IV’s photo lacks very detailed and above all appears to be near obscure due to this focus problem. This test highlights Sony’s long focal length problems.

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