Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S review: S as in Sophomore
8 megapixel camera offers Sweep Panorama
The Xperia arc S boasts an 8 megapixel camera, complete with a single LED light. Much like the Xperia ray and arc, the Xperia arc S uses an backlit Exmor R sensor, which promises improved low-light performance. Our experience with these sort of sensors is that they indeed offer lowered noise levels but the improvement is nothing that major.
The camera controls on the Xperia arc S are available on two taskbars on either side of the viewfinder. The left one holds five shortcuts to various settings, while the right one shows thumbnails of the five most recent photos.
You can pull to expand the settings taskbars or push them out of sight. It’s a clever solution that lets you pick how much of the camera controls are seen in the viewfinder. The shortcuts in the left column can be rearranged and you can replace some of them with others from the extended menu.
The Xperia arc S camera interface
You can choose between five capture modes - Normal, Scene recognition, Smile detection, Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama. In Normal, you pick the Scene settings manually or you can enable Scene recognition and let the Xperia arc S take a guess (it's fairly good at it).
The two panorama modes are the additions brought by the Android 2.3.4. The Sweep Panorama option is available in lots of Sony portable cameras, so it should be familiar to some of you. Anyway, it’s very easy to take a panorama - you just follow an on-screen slider until you reach the end and your panorama shot is taken. Unfortunately you can't choose how long it will be, you have to shoot it until the slider run out. If you are too slow or too fast you'll have to start over.
Depending on which panorama mode you have chosen, you will be able either to view your 2D shot (4912x1080 pixels) on your arc S or take it on a 3D TV and see it there.
Other settings include changing the resolution, toggling between front/back camera, photo light (but it's switched manually, not automatically as a flash), geotagging, image stabilization and focus mode. Also at your disposal are a self-timer, shutter sound, exposure, white balance and metering settings.
The image quality is good - comparable to that of the neo and the ray and it's tuned slightly differently than the first arc (the S model offers more accurate color rendering). Noise levels are kept relatively low but there is some color noise. Photos have good contrast and good (though slightly oversaturated) colors. The amount of captured detail isn't among the best in the 8MP league however. Purple fringing and oversharpening are evident in high-contrast areas, but nothing drastic.
Another downside of the camera is that it overexposes shots, especially when there are a lot of shadows in the scene. On the upside, the Xperia arc S manages to keep some detail in those shadows.
The panorama shots are captured with 4912x1080 pixels resolution and if you take them with a tripod they will be assembled perfectly. If not, you'll be surprised to out the pictures are almost as good as tripod enhanced ones.
Unfortunately the pano shots suffer from everything the standard ones do - lack of detail, over sharpening and are overexposed.
We also snapped a couple of shots in poor lighting so you can probably see the high ISO result for yourself
Photo quality comparison
We’ve also added the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S to our Photo Compare database. The tool’s page has a quick how to guide.
The Xperia arc S performed very well on all the three charts, producing enough amount of detail and pleasant colors. We saw some fringing in high-contrast areas again. It seems the Xperia arc S performs a lot better when is put and stabilized on a tripod within a studio environment, rather than outside.
Very good 720p video recording
The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S captures 720p video at 30 fps and does a very good job of it. The camcorder has similar settings to the still camera - focus mode, metering, exposure value and image stabilization are all user-configurable.
The arc S camcorder joins the select few with continuous autofocus. It may take a few seconds to refocus after you re-frame but that's better than repeating attempts to lock focus that may ruin a video.
Videos are stored in MP4 format (6Mbps bitrate) and the frame rate nails the 30fps mark. The amount of captured detail is very good and so are the colors (though they're slightly oversaturated again). Contrast is good too. The still camera defects (purple fringing, oversharpening) are not present here.
The amount of detail drops a bit in the dark as noise reduction fights to keep videos mostly noise free.
The arc S videos come with stereo sound recorded at 128Kbps bitrate and 48kHz samplong.
Check out the 720p samples that we captured with the Xperia arc S:
If you want to look closer at the video quality, you can download this untouched sample 720p@30fps, taken straight off the device.
Video quality comparison
We entered the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S in our Video Compare Tool database too and put it head to head with other 720p mobile camcorders. You'll find it a good match or even superior for the latest Gingerbread running HTC and Samsung single-core droids.