The Xperia PRO-I is Sony’s latest smartphone. The new release is a follow-up to the Xperia PRO, which only went on sale itself earlier this year. Like its predecessor, the new phone features sophisticated camera specifications. We recently had the chance to try out a pre-production model of the phone, putting its impressive photo and video capabilities to the test. This is our Sony Xperia PRO-I review.
The Xperia PRO-I is the fourth smartphone Sony has announced this year. The Xperia PRO went on sale in January, while the Xperia 1 III and 5 III were announced in April. However, the new model isn’t necessarily a smartphone… at least according to Sony. They describe the PRO-I as a “1-inch image sensor with full smartphone capabilities.” The ‘I’ in the name stands for imaging, in case you were wondering.
Whatever you choose to call it, the PRO-I is certainly intriguing. Given the emphasis placed on its camera, for the purposes of our review we focused on testing the phone’s photo and video performance. However, before we get into that, let’s briefly review some of the smartphone capabilities of the Sony Xperia PRO-I.
In our review of the Xperia 1 III, we called it “so much more than a smartphone”, and a “compelling choice” for prospective buyers. The flagship model holds specific appeal to photographers, gamers, and cinephiles.
The Xperia PRO-I shares many of the same attributes. The phone is long and thin, with a 6.5-inch 21:9 4K HDR OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. These specs mean the phone is great for watching movies or videos, considering it also fits in your pocket. Plus, if you don’t have headphones, the phone’s built-in stereo speakers have a surprisingly loud, clear output.
These features are great for gaming too. However, serious gamers may prefer the Xperia 1 III. That phone features the same display, albeit with 240Hz motion blur reduction and a 240Hz touch-scanning rate.
The PRO-I is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform, the same processor used by the 1 III, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, and other recent android phones. The processor allows the phone to support fast 5G and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, advanced photo and video capabilities, and more.
The Xperia PRO-I has a large internal memory (12GB RAM & 512GB ROM), which can be further expanded with a MicroSD, and a powerful 4.500mAh battery. The charge life is great, and the phone can recharge up to 50% in thirty minutes. Sony also reports that the battery will stay healthy even after three years of use.
Overall, the PRO-I has pretty much everything you want in a smartphone. However, it stands out from competitors thanks to its advanced photo and video capabilities, which we were excited to try out.
As mentioned earlier, the PRO-I is equipped with a 1-inch image sensor, the largest sensor currently available in a smartphone. Sony reports it’s the first smartphone to feature this size sensor and a phase detection autofocus system.
The phone has three lenses (16mm/24mm/50mm), each of which supports the phase detection AF. When using the 24mm lens, a dual mechanical aperture allows you to toggle between F4.0 and F2.0. Additionally, like previous Xperia models, a 3D iTOF sensor ensures the autofocus is as fast and reliable as you’d expect from a full-size Sony camera.
The PRO-I can shoot 4K HDR video at up to 120fps, and captures 12MP stills with up to 20fps continuous shooting with AF/AE on the 24mm lens. Using the 16mm and 50mm lenses, you can shoot up to 10fps with AF/AE.
For video, the PRO-I camera also features 8 different color settings, including VENICE CS. Inspired by Sony’s CineAlta camera of the same name, the VENICE color setting offers smoother color gradation and a lower contrast curve to produce a more cinematic look.
If the camera specs aren’t enough to convince you this phone was designed for content creators, Sony has also released a vlog monitor for use with the PRO-I. The monitor connects to the phone via USB-C, and is designed for use with the phone and the Sony GP-VPT2BT Bluetooth grip and tripod.
In order to test the Xperia PRO-I’s camera capabilities, we set up a mock product shoot in our Brooklyn studio. We selected Sony’s popular WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones as our subject.
Despite the promising specifications, we were not sure what to expect in terms of image quality from the Xperia PRO-I. The camera is, after all, built into a smartphone. These doubts quickly faded as we started shooting.
The still images we captured looked great on the phone, and we were still happy once we uploaded and reviewed them on a large monitor. The phone offers all the functionalities of a standard Sony mirrorless camera. We were able to experiment and adjust the settings to produce the visual style we wanted, albeit via a different interface.
There were pros and cons to the PRO-I’s usability. The compact size and dimensions of the phone meant we could shoot handheld in positions that would otherwise be uncomfortable or unstable with a regular camera. Plus, we appreciated that it was possible customize and adjust advanced settings, something that’s not possible to the same extent on other smartphones. However, using a smartphone display to frame the shot and adjust the settings took some getting used to.
The phone’s touch screen looks and works great, but there were times when we accidentally hit the wrong button, or accidentally closed the app. Presumably, these issues become rare once you’ve used the phone for more than a few days. But you should anticipate a learning curve if you’re used to shooting on a typical digital camera.
If you’ve primarily used a smartphone as your camera in the past, the Xperia PRO-I would be a great upgrade if you’re interested in learning more about advanced camera settings, and how they can be manipulated to improve your work.
When shooting video, we initially opted to shoot in 4K at 120fps, which is only possible on the 24mm camera. We shot in VENICE CS, using an F4 aperture and 1000 ISO.
The resulting visuals looked incredible on the phone, although we could see there was a slight haze over the footage. The haze became more noticeable once we uploaded and started reviewing each clip in post.
Shooting again with a lower ISO of 500 and an aperture of F2, the haze was still present. But it was completely eradicated once we started shooting at a lower frame rate of 60fps. In any case, we were also able to remove most of the haze in our 120fps footage through color grading.
Our initial assumption was that the haze was caused by shooting in low-light, however, there was almost no improvement when we changed to a lower ISO and wider aperture. Additionally, we were using a pre-production model of the PRO-I, and Sony let us know they were still refining the camera.
Overall, the footage we captured looked incredible, especially once we started shooting at 60fps. The VENICE CS added a rich, cinematic tone to the clips that made color grading a breeze. Once we finished editing, it was hard to believe we shot everything on a smartphone.
We shot the stills and video over two days, and only had to charge the phone once, overnight between shooting. Impressive, given the frame rate and resolution we were shooting at for multiple hours.
At one point during shooting, the PRO-I did flash an overheating warning. However, at the time the phone was under a bright light, and we had been recording for some time. Once removed from the light, it cooled down within minutes and worked fine the rest of the day.
The Xperia PRO-I look and feels like a smartphone, offering many of the same features as its competitors, and then some. Additionally, the phone offers sophisticated camera capabilities that allow it to produce remarkably high-quality stills and video.
While a $1,798 price tag means it may not reach mass market appeal, the Xperia PRO-I is a great option for content creators or smartphone photographers and filmmakers, especially if they’re looking to advance their technical skills.