Sony Xperia PRO-I raises the bar with its approach to the smartphone camera

Size isn't everything: Sony puts a big sensor in its PRO-I phone but there's a lot more to it than that.

by Justin Choo

These days, the primary differentiator for any flagship phone is the camera. And this is something that speaks to you, you might want to take a look at the Sony Xperia PRO-I, which will soon be available for pre-order.

That sensor

The biggest talking point for the PRO-I is that one-inch Exmor RS sensor, which is similar to what can be found on Sony’s highly-regarded RX100 compact cameras. The one-inch sensor concept isn’t new – Panasonic had one on the DMC-CM1 as early as 2014. While the concept worked, it didn’t quite catch on; much like the Dell Streak 5, which was ridiculed for its massive 5-inch display when it first appeared, some things are just way ahead of their time.

There is one caveat though. The PRO-I doesn’t quite make use of the full sensor; just around 60 per cent of it, which makes it only slightly larger than the 1/1.12 sensors found on the likes of the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.

It’s still a large sensor area to work with nonetheless, and the most important bit is that the sensor’s pixels have 2.4µm pixel pitch, which means that the phone need not resort to pixel binning to maximise light collection. There are additional benefits in doing it this way, which includes having a better dynamic range and a faster sensor readout.

On paper at least, it seems like the PRO-I will perform a lot better in challenging lighting conditions while producing more natural-looking photos. And for the tweakers, RAW 12-bit dynamic range offers more life-like colour.

Other hardware perks

Autofocus and tracking are a big thing for the PRO-I, which looks like it was made for action shots and video: 315 phase-detection AF points (covers 90 per cent of the frame), 3D iToF sensor (all three lenses) for speedy and accurate autofocus, real-time Eye-AF in humans and animals, real-time tracking and 20fps AF/AE burst shooting. And to aid the cleaner capture of fast-moving objects, the camera also has an anti-distortion shutter.

ZEISS lenses

Accompanying the new sensor is a 24 mm ZEISS Tessar Optics lens, along with 16mm and 50mm lens options. And good news if you’re wondering – all three lenses feature the ZEISS T anti-reflective coating. The camera also uses a physical dual aperture (F2.0/F4.0) to physically change the depth of field, which will look more natural-looking than digital methods. To complete the ‘Alpha-lite’ experience, the phone also features BIONZ X for mobile for speedy performance and improved image quality.

Video ready

The Xperia PRO-I is also notable for its video features. It’s also the world’s first smartphone that can shoot 4K 120fps (slow-motion video at up to 5x) videos. Aside from the headline act, the phone also boasts a variety of features such as Optical SteadyShot with FlawlessEye, which help you keep a sharp focus on the subject, allowing you to focus on composition.

What’s new in the Videography Pro app is that they’ve placed creative settings in an easy to access location so you can adjust settings like focus, exposure, and white balance on the fly. In the Cinematography Pro app, you get eight different colour settings inspired by the VENICE cameras.

Other quality of life enhancements for enthusiasts and professionals include the ability to adjust the colour shift of the display and the inclusion of an individually calibrated high-precision level meter. There’s even an additional mono microphone next to the main camera dedicated to recording speech.

Vlog kit

In terms of accessories, Sony will be releasing a Vlog Monitor as an accompaniment. The 16:9, 3.5-inch LCD (1280×720) sits on the back of the phone so you can use the main camera to record yourself. It features a magnetic detachable mount and is best used with a Bluetooth shooting grip such as the GP-VPT2BT. There’s a 3.5mm 3-pole microphone jack for an external microphone and you can still film while supplying power to both the smartphone and the accessories.

Oh yes, it’s a phone too

Lest we forget that it’s essentially a mobile phone, the PRO-I has all the standard flagship features one would expect:

  • Snapdragon 888 5G with 12GB RAM
  • 512GB ROM with micro SDXC support up to 1TB
  • 5G with WiFi 6 connectivity
  • 4k HDR 10-bit (equivalent) OLED, 120 Hz refresh rate and 240 Hz motion blur reduction.
  • Dolby Atmos audio, 360 Reality Audio and 360 spatial sound (three months free TIDAL)
  • High-Resolution Audio Wireless (LDAC)
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2 port
  • Heat Suppression power control (powers the phone systems directly)
  • IP65/68 rating Gorilla Glass Victus
  • Dedicated shutter button, can also long-press the shutter button to quickly launch Photography Pro and start shooting immediately
  • 4,500mAh battery with fast charge (up to 50% in 30 minutes)

While the battery feels a little small for something that’s video-centric, you can always power it via cable without worrying about shanking the battery over time.

Pricing and Availability

The new Xperia PRO-I , Vlog Monitor and Style Cover Leather for Xperia PRO-I will go on sale at Sony Stores and Sony Store Online from December 2021.

So here’s the bit… If it sounds good, it also means the price will hurt. And the magic number is… $2,299. The pre-order free gifts might soften the blow a little, especially if you’re looking to pick up the excellent WF-1000XM4 . The promotion is ongoing and will run till 5th December 2021.

You’ll receive the Sony WF-1000XM4 in-ears and a 128GB SanDisk Extreme PRO microSD UHS-I card, worth a total of $428. Sony will also be offering the Bluetooth shooting grip (GP-VPT2BT) and Display monitor (XQZ-IV01) as a bundle for $399 (U.P. $514). Pre-order link here .