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2014-11-03 10:24 PM - edited 2014-11-06 01:57 PM
With this post I would like to raise two distinct issues with the Z3 camera. I know the reviews have been mostly positive, but I think there are serious flaws in the resulting image, as seen when looking closer and comparing with similarly priced phones, and I have photos to back my claims up in a very measurable way. I also want to point out that this post is not meant to be a rant, but rather a plea for Sony to acknowledge these issues so we can have them remedied. The Z3 is a fantastic phone, but the camera is not living up to its promise. I have written several posts on the xda forums, and will summarize here.
Issue 1: Washed out photos
For some reason, the photos taken with the Z3 can look quite washed out, or watercolory, especially when taking photos of fine detail, like trees with colorful autumn leaves. To see where this comes from, one can convert the photo to the YCbCr encoding scheme. Here, the image is encoded in one Luminance and two Chrominance channels, and one can see that the channels containing color information are extremely blurred in all Z3 photos. Here is a quick look of a 1:1 crop of the Cb (blueness) channel for 6 different cameras (original RGB photos taken from this phonearena review http://www.phonearena.com/news/Samsung-Galaxy-Note-4-wins-our-blind-camera-comparison-iPhone-6-is-di... (make sure to open the image in a new view to see the actual size)
As you can see, the Z3 has very little information left. The Note 4 and the other Samsungs on the other hand are very detailed, which I presume is the way it should look like. The result of the blind test, from which I have taken the photos, speaks its clear language; the photos with the most blurred out chroma channels ranked last, namely Z3 and LG. The Note 4 came out on top, which is the photo with the most detailed chroma channel.
Here is a post I wrote about it, when comparing the Z3 and iPhone5s, and also locked versus unlocked bootloader:
I have witnessed this chroma blur in each and every Z3 photo I have looked at, whether it's mine or something I pulled from the web. It is most certainly not related to my particular device. It is also something that is not evident in the competition, as evidenced above. This leads me to believe that it's a flaw inherent in the Z3 camera design.
Issue 2: "Cross hatching"
I don't know the technical term for this, but it manifests when taking photos of fine detail, such as leaves. It seems to be a result of oversharpening, but I'm just guessing here. Following are three 1:1 crops comparing the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with my Z3 compact. It is not a random occurrence, but shows up in every single photo I have taken, and it also shows up in photos I see online.
More 1:1 crops from the same photo:
Next is a photo where I compare photos of the same scene between the Z3 and iPhone5s. You can clearly see that the iPhone5 has more real detail in its 8MP photo, than in the corresponding 20MP from Z3. The detail seem to have been destroyed by the processing which cause the cross hatching / over sharpened look. The Z3 8MP image is simply a resize I made to see the difference in another light.
Sony, if you read this, please adress these issues for the release of Android 5.0, if possible. There seems to be quite a few owners unsatisfied with the camera if you judge by forum activity, and it is generating very bad brand reputation. Also, I have seen many posts where people say they are discouraged from buying the Z3 because of the camera alone!
If you bring the camera up to par with the competition, the Z3 will pretty much be the best phone on the market right now, and I'm certain the coming Z4 will also benefit greatly from a truly competetive camera!
2014-11-05 06:19 PM
2014-11-06 05:26 AM
2014-11-06 02:20 PM
Yeah, Sony supplies sensors to many phones which produce great looking photos. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has one as far as I know, and the photos from that camera look stunning, at least in daylight. So no doubt Sony produces great sensors!
And the sensor in the Z3 is even bigger than that in the Note 4, so unless this particular sensor is inherently flawed, we should be able to get great quality photos!
I don't like to speculate too much, but it seems as if Sony has prioritized low light photos (understandably, since this is a big selling point with the Z3), and applies image processing tailored to those cases. The heavy chroma blur is likely a result of getting rid of that low-light chromatic noise. And indeed, the low light photos are phenomenal, but when similar processing is applied (needlessly!) to daylight shots, the result is much much worse. Well, that's what I think is going on anyway.
2014-11-15 08:42 PM - edited 2014-11-15 09:24 PM
Thanks VERY much for the post - I'm not alone then in being disappointed with the camera.
I too can confirm the "cross hatching" on 20mp shots. I can't post them because they're of another person but I can confirm they were taken, day time, in high light levels i.e. no need for application of any crazy noise controlling algorithms, etc.
i'm a little confused though by the different resolution modes:
I've established that Scene Selection is only available on the 8mp shots... but these shots are based on the full use of the camera sensor and are simply rescaled?
Is there any 'real' benefit to using the 20mp mode then, without Scene Selection available, especially with the cross-hatching artifacts?
As you've clearly done a lot of research with the camera and sound like you know your digital photo science, what is your preferred set-up? Is there a best compromise configuration?
What little tinkering I've done has established:
- image stabilisation doesn't really seem to help - much better to just hold the camera still!
- the flash is underpowered, except on fill mode
- I don't see the point of a super high ISO mode for low light use, when realistically you just need a longer exposure (and can forgo the noise that you inevitably get with high ISO settings). HOWEVER, I can't seem to control exposure / shutter speed manually and I've not tried fiddling with the exposure slider... so am only left with the ISO parameter... and... presumably noise
In fact, I've just done some night time tests and leaving ISO on auto appears to generate the most realistically exposed shot.
All shots were done with camera stabilised on a window sill. Metering mode was multi. All exposures were 1/8 second, baring the 200 ISO one, which was pretty long @ .77 secs. 20mp shots were 4:3. 8mp were 16:9.
- Superior Auto overexposed massively (12800 ISO).
- 20mp 4:3 (ISO auto at 800). Focus was good but under exposed.
- Night scene selected on 16:9 8mp, you can see the processing, although the light levels weren't bad.
- The only ISO where I managed to force a longer exposure was setting it to 200. The EXIF data reports 250 ISO though. It was a manual, 8mp. Colouring of window lights and the streetlight playing on the whitewashed walls of the next door house (right side) weren't too far off being correct.
- 8mp ISO auto seemed to create most realistic representation (ISO came out at 1600). The sky was most accurately represented here but maybe because I managed to miss out the illumination from the windows at the side of the other photos.
EDIT: had initially used "small" images but plumped for bigger ones, since you can actually see them!
I would be interested in hearing your further opinions on the z3 / z3 compact camera.
Also, I was wondering whether I might be able to improve camera performance using a 3rd party app. Any thoughts / recommendations?
2014-11-16 10:22 PM - edited 2014-11-16 10:25 PM
Count me as another disappointed camera user. I know the sensor is capable of great performance, as indicated by the few shots I've taken that look amazing. But those are few and far between.
I can't believe how bad Sony's camera software is and how unintelligent the "intelligent auto" mode can be. Shutter speed and ISO in daylight seem to often be completely hit and miss, white balance is all over the place and totally unreliable, jpeg processing destroys detail (probably because of the obsession with low noise night shots), and I'm still confused by which camera features are available at which resolutions. Why can't we have scene selection available at higher resolutions? Oh, and don't even get me started on the pink blob "phenomenon", which also seems related to crummy white balance control.
Having read the reviews of the camera I was expecting so much more. As it is, however, the schizophrenic nature of the Z3 camera's decision making results in absolutely no consistency. My Nexus 4 has a crummy camera, but at least I quickly got to know how it consistently behaved in different situations and soon mastered how to get the best out of it. There seesm to be far less chance of getting to know this Z3 camera in the same way. Heck, I mastered a new DSLR faster than I'm able to this camera.
I've read that some people are getting better results from third-party apps (Open Camera, FV5, Pro Capture, JB+) so I'm going to give them a go and hope Sony gets it's app act together in the next update.
2014-11-17 12:28 AM
It's difficult to speculate about the camera 'issues'.
I've done a fair amount of reading on the matter and closely monitor the xda-dev forums on the z3 compact.
I'm really disappointed about the 20mp performance and I think the 8mp photos are where Sony anticipates most usage from, so maybe they've put more work into that resolution? Anyway, I think I'm going to spend more time using them.
Good question regarding scene selection at higher resolutions. Maybe it was too complicated to generate all the appropriate settings at the higher resolution or they couldn't generate consistent and/or acceptable results?
Maybe they plan to roll out a camera app patch?
I think the general consensus is:
- use manual rather than automatic (which is kinda ironic). The review I cite below disagrees with me but opinion on forums are to not use auto (unless I've completely got that wrong).
- with my limited assessment, leave ISO on auto and let camera decide how to 'expose'.
- be aware of WB settings. Tbh this is a common problem for digital cameras, so I frankly expect issues there. incandescent lighting is a classic one (yellow tinge to images). Flourescent lighting I think makes stuff blue.
- metering may need to be altered for different shots. You'd expect multi sourced metering to be accurate but i could imagine if a scene had lots of different light levels, this might result in under or over exposure.
- blurred shots seem rather easy on z3 compact (my experience certainly) - be really careful and keep extra still.
- HDR struggles on the z3 compact (here's a detailed camera analysis for some current top end phones - personally I think all 'seem' average to poor: http://www.gsmarena.com/iphone_6_vs_galaxy_alpha_vs_xperia_z3c-review-1148p7.php).
- I know it shouldn't be like this but people taking photos need to be aware of the limitations of digital cameras e.g. don't expect a flash to do much; rest / stabilise the camera for low-light shots; phone cameras are hugely limited due to the optics and fixed aperture, etc. We also must remember that a camera is not half as clever as our eyes / brains at processing light levels, etc, etc.
Specific features missing from the current camera app: I'd have liked to have seen a control on quality of JPEG. Alternatively, output to png would be brilliant.
Regarding improving the camera app - I suspect Sony are beavering away for the lollipop version of the app. As I understand it, lollip camera API supports RAW images, which should give people more control over images. The flipside is: can I be bothered on a phone camera, when i just want to take simple shots / selfies, etc?
Regarding 3rd party apps: JB+ They claim to have won a 2013 best camera app (bestappever), so this could be a good option? I think the standard google app is good too - simple functionality but works. Sadly though, Sony's should have the best specific performance because it's their camera. 3rd party apps in theory are generic and won't be able to bring out the best in specific camera tech, since a lot of the performance comes down to post-processing.
I agree but am not surprised. It would be useful to have some guidance from Sony on maximising camera performance, since people seme to be struggling with consistency.
2014-11-17 12:51 AM