Sony Xperia PRO-I Review: This camera is a smartphone

The Sony Xperia PRO-I is the ultimate manifestation of the camera in a smartphone. This Android smartphone features a wide-angle camera with a 12-megapixel (MP) 1.0-inch image sensor – the same found in Sony RX100 VII prosumer camera – and a 24mm Zeiss Tessar lens. The PRO-I also features Bionz X image processor found in Sony’s Alpha mirrorless camera for fast processing.

The Sony Xperia PRO-I. (Photo: Sony)

It also comes with 315 phase detection autofocusing (AF) points to capture subjects at high speed as well as Real-time Eye-AF for humans and animals. In other words, the PRO-I seems more like a camera that happens to be a smartphone than a smartphone with camera.

PRICE: S$2,299, available in Lazada and Shopee
PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G
DISPLAY: 6.5-inch 4K OLED, 3,840 x 1,644 pixels
REAR CAMERAS: 12MP ultra-wide-angle, 12MP wide-angle (1-inch Exmor RS sensor), 12MP telephoto (2.1x optical zoom)
MEMORY: 512GB (microSDXC expandable up to 1TB); 12GB RAM
BATTERY: Non-removable 4,500mAh
WEIGHT: 211g

But since the RX100 VII’s image sensor is 20.1 megapixels and the PRO-I is only 12 megapixels, the effective image sensor size is probably less than an inch. This is probably due to the smaller size of the smartphone.

Still, this image sensor is way larger than the flagship smartphones out there. To put things into perspective, Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max’s image sensor size is 1/1.66 inch while the one found on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is 1/1.33 inch.

However, the PRO-I does not come with a periscopic telephoto camera found in the likes of S22 Ultra, Huawei P50 Pro or Google Pixel 6 Pro. The PRO-I only features a 12MP telephoto camera (with 2.1x optical zoom) in addition to its 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera to complete its rear triple-camera system.

Similar to many Xperia smartphones, the PRO-I is a sleek monolithic slab with ridged edges. These ridged edges offer better grip than the smooth edges found in many flagship smartphones.

The design of PRO-I is as minimalistic as it gets. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

On the right side is where all the most buttons are sited. Apart from the usual volume rocker and power/fingerprint sensor button on the top right, there is a dedicated shutter release button and a smaller video recording button on the bottom right.

Thus, when you hold the PRO-I in landscape position, it is as if you are holding a compact camera with the shutter release button near to your right index finger.

All the controls and buttons are on the right side of the smartphone. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

Sony says it uses the same shutter switch module as the RX100 series cameras. It even uses similar button strokes to operate AF and shutter release. In other words, you can half-press to secure a focus before a full press to capture the photo.

Unlike many smartphones, the PRO-I rear cameras are centred instead of being at the sides. While this placement means you are get to see what is really in front of you when shooting, your fingers sometime get in the way when holding it to shoot.

The rear camera module of PRO-I is sited at the centre. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

Facing you is a 6.5-inch 4K OLED display with an aspect ratio of 21:9. This gives you plenty of screen real estate to play with in the camera app interface. But when you hold it normally, aka portrait orientation, the display becomes a tad long. A wee bit of an issue when it comes to one-hand use.

Otherwise, the display is gorgeously sharp with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz and 1 billion colours. Any content shown on this display will just look good.

+ Great overall performance
+ Sleek chassis
+ Plenty of professional photo and video tools
+ Superb image quality from 1-inch image sensor
+ Expandable storage via microSDXC

– Expensive
– Pro-centric tools might isolate most
– Does not support wireless charging

The PRO-I not only comes with 512GB of internal storage but features expandable storage of up to 1TB of extra storage via a microSDXC card. This is something lacking in most flagship smartphones these days and I love that Sony has decided to include expandable storage in the PRO-I.

Also, it comes with a 3.5mm audio jack. But on the downside, the PRO-I does not support wireless charging – a feature found in most flagship smartphones.

The PRO-I does not come with one, but three camera apps. The main camera app is Photo Pro. It features a Basic mode, which is the kind you usually see on a smartphone camera app. It has an on-screen shutter release with the optical zoom options to tap on.

However, you can switch to the modes, such as Auto, Program auto, Shutter priority, Manual exposure and Memory recall, found in “proper” cameras. In these modes, you can only use the shutter release button to shoot. Plus, you can change the AF modes such as single-shot AF or continuous AF, as well as the option to shoot in RAW format.

The Photo Pro app of PRO-I. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

For those who have used RX series cameras, you will be familiar with the user interface (UI) here. But for newbies, it can be quite confusing. So, you probably want to remain in the Basic mode.

The other two camera apps are video apps – Cinema Pro and the new Video Pro. The Cinema Pro app is really designed for the professional videographers who know what they are doing. You can change the look of the video, frame rate, white balance and other parameters.

The Cinema Pro app of PRO-I. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

The Video Pro app is geared towards the video bloggers with a more accessible UI compared to the Cinema Pro app. For instance, it has a virtual T-W slider that lets you zoom in and out during video recording, something missing in the Cinema Pro app.

The Video Pro app of PRO-I. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

Even then, these apps seem a bit complicated for most users. It lacks the intuitiveness of most camera apps that are just point and shoot. But for professionals, they will love the amount of control and latitude these apps allow.

Regardless of the app you use, the image quality by the PRO-I is superb especially when shot using the main camera. In bright sunlight, the photos are sharp and full of details.

The still picture quality of the PRO-I from the 1.0-type camera is superb, as you can see from this photo. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

At night, the image quality is equally stellar with great details in shadow areas while light sources are not overexposed.

The well-balanced exposure of a night scene shot by PRO-I. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

For the ultra-wide-angle and telephoto camera, the image quality is still great but not as sharp as the main camera. Nonetheless, they are better than many smartphone cameras out there in the market.

Overall, the photos shot by PRO-I is more realistic devoid of automatic post-processing found in some flagship smartphones. I recommend shooting RAW if you want to fully take advantage of the photos shot.

You really get what you see when taking photos with the PRO-I like this picture. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

Sony really leaves it to you to fully experiment and utilise the tools in PRO-I. But some might find these tools overwhelming, especially for those who are not into post-processing.

The PRO-I features Qualcomm’s previous flagship chip – Snapdragon 888 5G – with 12GB of system memory. As such, you can be sure its performance will be top-notch.

In the GeekBench 5 benchmarking tests, the PRO-I scored 1,129 (single-core) and 3,682 (multi-core). In comparison, the Samsung S21 Ultra scored 1,022 (single-core) and 3,261 (multi-core).

For everyday use or when shooting photos and videos, the PRO-I is very responsive. All the apps launch quickly and there are no lags in any of the operations I try. Plus, playing games on this smartphone is just pleasing with the display’s high refresh rate.

Battery life of the PRO-I is pretty good, even if it is slightly a notch down compared to battery life leaders like vivo X70 Pro. In our usual video-loop battery test with the display set to 120Hz refresh rate, the PRO-I lasted 12 hours 40 minutes.

This is around 2 hours less than the likes of X70 Pro (see review) or iPhone 13 Pro Max (see review). Still, the PRO-I easily beats most smartphones out there. For example, the Oppo Find X3 Pro (see review) lasted only 10 hours 32 minutes with a 120Hz display.

As usual, mileage will differ based on your usage. But on a normal day such as taking some photos, checking emails, reading news feed and scrolling through various social media platforms, I found that the PRO-I still has around 30 per cent battery life by the time I go to bed.

There is no doubt that the Sony Xperia PRO-I is the smartphone for professional photographers and videographers. Despite its stellar image quality, its professional-centric tools will isolate most people who might not be well versed in these manual controls. Unless you are sure of your photographic skills, this might not be the smartphone for you.

FEATURES: 8.5/10
DESIGN: 9/10
OVERALL: 8.5/10

Trevor Tan

Started out with dreams to become a street photographer, Trevor Tan somehow became a tech journalist with over 16 years of consumer tech experience. Maybe he plays too much video games and buys too many new gadgets.
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