Sony Xperia neo L review: Blast from the past
Camera with stock Android interface
The Xperia neo L boasts a 5 megapixel camera with a single LED flash. It's capable of producing stills of 2592 x 1944 resolution.
The user interface is pure Android Ice Cream Sandwich rather than the bespoke Xperia interface. We are not the biggest fans of it and it lacks some of the fancy functions and streamlined interface of custom camera apps, but it covers everything a casual user would need.
The viewfinder takes up most of the screen, with a panel to the right of it for some of the controls: the gallery shortcut (which is a thumbnail of the last photo taken), the virtual shutter key and the camera mode switch.
The rest of the controls are overlaid on the right side of the viewfinder. By default, you only see the front/back camera toggle and a shortcut that brings out more controls. The extra controls are semitransparent, so you can keep them on if you like, they won't block your view.
What the Xperia neo L camera lets you customize is the LED flash mode (on, off, auto), white balance, exposure compensation, scene (auto, action, night), geotagging and focus mode. You can choose between three focus modes - auto, infinity and macro. Tap focus and face detection are not available.
When you tap the Gallery shortcut it opens a preview of the last photo taken with a list of all ways to share it and another shortcut to get into the regular gallery mode.
Panoramas are easy to shoot - you just hit the shutter key and start panning left or right, the phone will take care of the rest. The phone will warn you if you're panning too fast. When you're done, it takes several seconds to create the panorama afterwards.
The image quality is very good for the class and it shows an improvement over the neo V. There's less noise to deal with, so there's a good amount of fine detail in the shots though noise reduction is still visible in complex areas (e.g. foliage).
Color and contrast are good as is exposure, though photos look oversharpened and the stock Android camera offers no option to reduce the sharpening.
Image quality comparison
The standard test shots from the Xperia neo L are in our Photo Compare Tool database. The synthetic resolution chart shows average results. The oversharpening haloes are pretty easy to spot here. The noise reduction has smeared the grass and gravel in the second chart, but they are still recognizable. The third chart has accurate white balance and good colors under artificial lighting.
Okay video recording
The Sony Xperia neo L captures 720p video at 30 fps, which is all we can expect out of a single-core processor and a 5MP camera.
The camcorder has the same interface as the still camera and some of the same settings. You can use the LED as a video light, adjust white balance and geotagging. You can also choose to shoot in SD resolution (480p) or do a time lapse video.
The Xperia neo L camcorder features 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 recorded in MP4 files with a bitrate of 6Mbps and stereo AAC sound (130Kbps, 38kHz). The overall bitrate isn't enough for 720p though, and the amount of captured detail is sub par for HD video. On the up side, the framerate is a smooth 30fps and there are no issues with constant autofocus as we've seen on some phones.
If you want to look closer at the video quality, you can download this untouched sample 720p@30fps (0:16s, 12MB), taken straight off the device.
Video quality comparison
You can have a closer look at the video quality with our Video quality compare tool. The fairly static Ferris wheel scene is rendered fairly well though you can see the effects of the low framerate. When the lights go out, the Xperia neo L has lighting fast reflexes and adjusts quickly to the dark, but a lot of noise appears. The third chard shows that videos are oversharpened too, just like the still photos.