Sony Xperia 1 IV Aims to Take On the iPhone With Actual Zoom Lens
Sony's newest phone pushes the boundaries of specs, features and price.
Patrick HollandManaging Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Inside the svelte, understated body of the new Sony Xperia 1 IV is a telephoto camera lens with tiny elements that can freely move back and forth to zoom in and out. No other phone can do this. Last year's Xperia 1 III had a similar lens, but those tiny lens elements were restricted to one of two positions. And as innovative as the Xperia 1 III's dual-telephoto lens was, in use it didn't provide any real advantage over rivals such as the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which uses two separate telephoto cameras to achieve something similar.
The Xperia 1 IV is the world's first phone with a true optical zoom lens -- and yet, most people would be surprised to learn that Sony still makes phones. If you're a creative type, photographer, filmmaker, gamer or audiophile, Sony and its Xperia line of phones are after your heart, creativity and wallet. After all, the Sony Xperia 1 IV costs $1,600 (which converts roughly to £1,300, AU$2,300) and makes the new phone one of the most expensive models sold today.
Sony Xperia 1 IV
4K high-refresh rate display
An actual zoom lens with moving elements
Lacks night mode for photos
Software was rough on the prototype we tested
The Xperia 1 IV represents an ideal that Sony's chased since 2019. The Tokyo-based company isn't looking to compete with mainstream phones such as the iPhone 13, Samsung Galaxy S22 or Google Pixel 6 Pro. Instead, with the Xperia 1 IV, Sony has carved out its own corner of the sandbox and it's building some impressive castles.
Let's go back to that $1,600 price tag. Sticker shock aside, you get a phone that not only has a cutting edge zoom lens, but one with a 4K high-refresh rate display (which no other phone has aside from Sony), a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, a 5,000-mAh battery, Gorilla Glass Victus as well as Android features of yesteryear you won't find on most flagship phones. These include a headphone jack, a slot for expandable storage and an LED notification light on the front.
For most people, including me, the Xperia 1 IV will be too expensive. At $1,600, I'd be more inclined to buy a dedicated camera. But if you can afford it and you want a cutting-edge phone that's steeped in the intricate processes of photography and filmmaking, the Xperia 1 IV is waiting for you.
Sony lent me a preproduction sample of the Xperia 1 IV. The software isn't final and some features didn't work fully or were completely absent. One missing app is Sony's Music Pro app which can provide studio tuning for vocals. In a video from Sony, a singer on a windy beach records her vocal track with the Xperia 1 IV and the Music Pro app.
Music Pro applies a combination of noise reduction, deReverb and studio mic simulations to remove the noise from the wind and make her voice sound more present and full. I found the demo impressive.
Sadly, the new app wasn't ready for me to try. Next to the cameras, Music Pro could be the biggest new feature on the Xperia 1 IV.
Sony Xperia 1 IV gets all-new cameras
You could write a book with the number of details Sony sent me about the cameras on the Xperia 1 IV. And the photography nerd in me loves that. But I'll keep things concise for this review.
All of the cameras on the Xperia 1 IV have new and faster sensors, meaning they're capable of multiple calculations and processing within fractions of a second. You can shoot bursts of 20 photos per second with auto exposure and autofocus enabled, using any camera on the phone.
Rear cameras on the Xperia 1 IV
Focal length equivalent
Let's go back to that telephoto camera. Between 85mm and 125mm (or 3.5x and 5.2x) magnification, it's all optical zoom all the time. There isn't any digital zooming or cropping happening unless you zoom past 5.2x or are shooting between 1.1x and 3.4x magnification. If you can zoom optically, in other words, the image quality won't degrade like it does with digital zoom.
I got to use the Xperia 1 IV for a week and a half and I was impressed with the new cameras. Take a look below at some of my favorite photos that I took with the Sony Xperia 1 IV.
The Xperia 1 IV vs. the iPhone 13 Pro, Google Pixel 6 Pro
The iPhone 13 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro are two of the best phones you can buy today for photography. Apple and Google use a combination of solid hardware and computational photography to make photos and videos look the best they can. Sony focuses more on the hardware to achieve great photos. The Xperia's lack of computational magic gives the iPhone and Pixel the edge when comparing models.
Under good light, and even medium lighting, all three phones are capable of taking excellent photos. Look at the pictures below that I took of a vase of flowers indoors. The photo from the iPhone looks the sharpest, but I love the way the Xperia captures the colors.
Below are some shots of motorcycles parked outdoors. The Xperia's photo has the most contrast and the Pixel's photo the least. The iPhone's photo lands right between the two.
When things get dark is where you can see the biggest difference between the phones. The Xperia 1 IV doesn't have a night mode. It can take an OK low-light shot like the below photo of a cocktail in a dark bar.
But look at these photos of a street that I shot handheld. The photos from the iPhone and Pixel, which both used Night mode, look so much better. The Sony's photo looks soft and the details are muddy. Notice all the noise reduction going on in the sky and with the telephone wires.
For video clips from the Xperia 1 IV, including some that I compare with clips from the iPhone and Pixel, check out the video below.
Photo Pro, Video Pro and Cinema Pro
The Xperia 1 IV has three apps focused on taking photos and videos: Photo Pro, Video Pro and Cinema Pro. Photo Pro mimics the interface of Sony's line of Alpha mirrorless cameras. Cinema Pro is aimed at filmmakers and draws inspiration from Sony's Venice line of cinema cameras.
Video Pro is a less fussy app to use for recording videos compared to the Cinema Pro app. Video Pro offers a bunch of manual controls but there's an auto mode that leaves everything up to the Xperia. Video Pro is becoming one of my favorite ways to capture video on a phone.
While image quality is important, these three apps help Sony stand out from the iPhone, Pixel or Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Consider me impressed, but I'm reserving my judgment
I had the prototype Sony lent me for 10 days. And while that would be normally more than enough time to review the phone, the fact of the matter is that the early software I used was a little rough. But if you want more of my impressions about the Sony Xperia 1 IV, check out my in-depth hands-on video.