One-inch Image Sensor Camera with Full Smartphone Capabilities

Review by Dave Williams

The Sony Xperia PRO-I is a camera that can make phone calls, and that was the whole point when it was dreamed up. Sony says that this model “redefines the camera, combining professional imaging quality with smartphone communication capabilities. So you can be creative, wherever, whenever.” Well, that’s certainly the truth. Unlike other smartphone cameras, this smartphone is literally marketed as a camera. It appears in the Sony camera line-up and can be purchased at camera stores. The “I” in the name stands for imaging. 

I’ll start with the negative element I found with this camera: There’s no magic! By that, I mean when you shoot with it you must have your photographer’s head on. If you pull a Samsung S21 or iPhone 13 out of your pocket to take a shot, for example, there’s an element of “auto-magic” inside the camera system that helps us to create the image. The focus is set, the ISO is set, the white balance is set, and beyond that, there are other things that are automated, such as HDR processing and image stabilization for longer exposures. With the Sony Xperia PRO-I, there’s none of this magic, and you have to rely on your photography skills to get everything right. Although this isn’t a strong negative, it’s certainly something worth bearing in mind, that will require some getting used to. The most basic way to put it is like this: You can’t just pull this smartphone out of your pocket and shoot like an iPhone; you have to think for a second and remember that it’s a proper camera.

Actually, that’s a good way to describe this smartphone: it’s a proper camera. It features a large 1″ Exmor RS CMOS image sensor that allows you to capture a higher-quality image, which is then supported by Sony’s image signal processor, giving great results from a great sensor. This sensor performs exceptionally in low light, which I found very useful with my favorite subject: the northern lights. Stepping back slightly to my previous mention of HDR processing, although the magic doesn’t exist in the camera, it can certainly capture a high-dynamic range that can be dealt with in postprocess. 

The 24mm Zeiss lens offers f/2.0 and f/4.0 apertures, giving a nice, natural bokeh and depth, and then there’s a 16mm f/2.2 lens for wider shots, and 50mm f/2.4 lens for tighter crops, all at 12 megapixels. The focusing power is assisted by a fourth element housed with these lenses, called 3D iTOF, which measures the distance to the subject and therefore sets the focus. In this device there are 315 phase detection AF points that cover 90% of the frame and, together with Eye AF for humans and animals, and active real-time tracking, you get your focus locked in super-fast, every time. 

This Sony Xperia PRO-I smartphone is clearly inspired by the Sony Alpha range in its aesthetic, inside and out, and even the shutter button feels like a Sony camera shutter button. That aesthetic is protected pretty well, too: The glass yields improved drop-and-scratch resistance thanks to Corning Gorilla Glass Victus; and the body is dust and water resistant. You have all the features that you expect in this phone, and a 4,500mAh battery to keep shooting all day. All in all, this is a camera with ultimate portability and massive performance. ■