Sony Xperia XZs review: Slow (e)motion
The Xperia XZs features 4K video recording, which supports SteadyShot video stabilization. Of course, you get the standard 1080p/30fps and high-speed 1080p/60fps options. There is also a 120fps recording in 720p, and finally, there is the headline 960fps slow motion video recording - that's recorded again in 720p.
The 2160p recording is still a separate shooting mode after all these years, instead of being a setting in video recording.
Historically, flagship Xperias have had no optical image stabilization, and neither does the XZs. Sony's SteadyShot with Intelligent Active offers 5-axis image stabilization. We're not too comfortable with the term 'axis' that's become all too popular for describing what is a 'degree of freedom,' but the point is that Sony's system can compensate for translation along two axes and rotation around all three.
The 1080p/60fps mode also gets the SteadyShot Standard variety. In contrast, shooting in 1080p/30fps mode gives you a choice between Standard and Intelligent Active options. It's this last mode that gets the headline 5-axis stabilization (still digital), but only when recording close-up subjects.
Bitrates are 54Mbps for 4K, 30Mbps for 1080p/60fps and 17.5Mbps for 1080p/30fps. Audio is recorded in 156Kbps in all cases.
Finally, you can choose to save the 4K videos in H.264 or H.265 containers. The latter have a smaller storage footprint - a 3 minute 4K video is 1.24GB in H.264 but only 790MB in H.265. However, in the H.265 video, you can see the compression takes its toll on foliage. Youtube also doesn't support H.265 so that's why we prefer sticking with the widespread H.264 format.
4K videos have plenty of detail, great contrast, and accurate colors. There is no corner softness. They may not look super sharp overall, but that's due to the laid back processing which doesn't involve much sharpening. The footage is practically noise-free, and it looks natural. We can also praise the dynamic range.
The 1080p videos are equally impressive and even better - they came out sharper. No matter if you opt for 30 or 60fps, the frame rate is smooth, and the quality is excellent.
Sony offers SteadyShot software video stabilization for all videos, even those shot at 4K. The better (5-axis) Intelligent mode is available only for the 1080p videos, while the Standard (3-axis) can be applied to all resolutions.
SteadyShot has always been good, and the stabilization is quite impressive. There isn't any loss in quality, while the field of view penalty is quite small. We would go further and recommend keeping SteadyShot active at all times; you'll never regret it.
The playlist below has 4K videos shot with and without SteadyShot Standard, and 1080p samples taken with and without SteadyShot Intelligent Active stabilization.
The most fun feature of this camera surely has to be the 960fps slow motion video recording. The videos are recorded at 720p resolution, and run at normal speed until you press the on-screen button that slows down time for a split second. The camera's buffer is enough for only a blink of an eye (0.18s), but a lot can happen in that tiny window when time slows to a crawl, and you catch the right moment.
Unfortunately, it you are quickly trying to capture a spontaneous event the steps required to get to this video recording mode are far too many and too confusing to do correctly. You have to switch to video recording, then hit the slow motion button, then start recording the video and then hit the slow motion button again at the exact possible moment.
Even if you go through the sequence, nailing the right moment is still quite hard as the camera doesn't start a special process when you hit the button. Instead, it offloads what's already in its buffer, so it shows you the recording of the events that have already happened when you press the button. Once you get the hang of this, it becomes much easier, but it is still hit or miss.
The camera also has another mode where you can record a 5sec slow-mo video directly with the press of the shutter, but it's not nearly as striking when you can't see the normal speed of the process you are recording for comparison.
The quality of the videos is very good for HD resolution, but for such high-speed shooting, you need plenty of light. We can't stress this enough. If there is not enough, the camera will increase the ISO, and you get very noisy footage.
Despite these limitations, we had a lot of fun recording these sample videos in the playlist below. You can certainly find far more creative uses for this camera mode with time and patience.
Finally, we give you the opportunity to compare the quality of the regular video recording modes of the Xperia XZs to any of the numerous phones and tablets we've tested. We've pre-selected the Xperia XZ and LG G6 to get you started.