Sony Xperia P review: Ironclad
Good 8MP camera
The Xperia P has an 8 megapixel camera, complete with a single LED light. It's capable of producing images of 3264 x 2448 resolution and packs Sony's usual panorama and 3D photo mode.
The camera controls on the Xperia P are available on two taskbars on either side of the viewfinder. On the left you get four shortcuts to various settings, while the still camera/camcorder toggle, the virtual shutter key and a thumbnail of the last photo taken are on the right.
The menu key brings up two pages of extra settings: scenes, resolution, smile detection, geotagging, image stabilization and focus mode, among others. You can customize three of the shortcuts on the left (the shooting mode shortcut is fixed).
There're five capture modes to choose from: Normal, Scene recognition, Sweep Panorama, Sweep Multi Angle and 3D Sweep Panorama. In Normal, you pick the Scene settings manually or you can enable Scene recognition and let the Xperia S take a guess (it's fairly good at it).
The 3D Sweep Panorama is business as usual - you press the shutter key and pan the phone across the scene. The resulting panoramic photo can be viewed in both 2D and 3D (on a compatible TV).
The Sweep Multi Angle is much more impressive - you take a photo in the exact same way, but the result is very different. It produces something like a lenticular card.
Tilting the phone lets you look at the object from different sides. A shot of a moving object looks like an animated GIF or creates interesting distortions, which can be pretty funny too.
There are some distortions visible even in a static scene, but it's still one of the coolest camera features we've seen in a while. Photos taken in Sweep Multi Angle modes are handled by a separate app called 3D album, and not listed in the regular gallery. And just to be clear, the Xperia sola doesn't have a 3D screen. It cleverly relies on its sensors to detect the handset movement and it changes the on-screen image accordingly.
The Xperia P features a Quick launch option, which lets you customize the phone's behavior upon a press of the camera key when the phone is locked. The default option is Launch and capture - it unlocks the phone, starts the camera and instantly snaps a photo - a rather uncomfortable option because it's nearly impossible to correctly frame a picture before the screen is on. This usually produces images with motion blur. The other option is to just unlock the phone and start the camera, or you can disable the feature completely.
The hardware shutter key on the Xperia P is better than the one on the Xperia sola, though it's still not perfect. The phone itself is slightly more comfortable to hold - the "chin" on the sola was on the opposite side of the shutter key and that got in the way of a better grip. Still, pressing the shutter key all the way down requires too much effort for shake-free shooting.
The Sony Xperia P camera is a really good 8MP shooter though we do have some complaints. There is plenty of resolved detail, but there's quite a bit of noise in the photos (including color noise). Color rendering is fairly accurate despite the slight yellowish tint. The exposure is good too, though there's a tendency to overexpose highlights, though that mostly happens to the sky).
Overall photos are some of the best 8MP shots we've seen, especially if you don't pixel peep - downscaling photos makes most of the noise go away. Most displays can't display 8MP photos at full resolution anyway.
Photo quality comparison
The Xperia P joins a long list of tested devices in our photo comparison tool. The page of the tool has information on how to use it.
The synthetic resolution chart shows very good resolving capabilities of the 8MP shooter. The next chart demonstrates low noise reduction, but the flat grey also really brings out the color noise. Under artificial lighting, the yellow tint is gone and there's plenty of detail (and slightly oversaturated colors).
FullHD video recording could be better
The Sony Xperia P camera offers 1080p video capture @ 30fps, matching the Xperia S and ion and beating the others in the new Xperia lineup.
The camcorder has similar settings to the still camera, including focus mode, metering, exposure value, image stabilization and so on. The layout of the shortcuts can be customized here too.
The Xperia P camcorder has 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. In fast-paced videos the continuous focusing could get a little hectic and focus every second or two, but you can turn the setting off.
Videos are smooth, but the resolution isn't spectacular. There's still a reasonable amount of detail in the videos, though we've seen other 1080p camcorders do better. Jaggies are quite noticeable on diagonal lines. Pretty much the same goes for the 720p videos, though the jaggies are less noticeable. The continuous autofocus would sometimes trigger too often, but at least its very fast.
The actual recorded frames per second hovered just under the 30 fps mark while the bitrate was the pretty decent 14 to 16Mbps for 1080p and 6Mbps for 720p. Both 1080p and 720p videos have the same field of view.
Check out the video sample we captured with the Xperia P below.
Video quality comparison
In our video comparison tool, the Xperia P measures up against its bigger sibling, the Xperia S, and a likely opponent, the HTC One S.
The synthetic resolution chart confirms our impressions from the real-life videos - 1080p videos from the Xperia P don't have much actual resolution (that goes for all Xperias actually). In our Ferris wheel setup, the phone does relatively well, but the compression artifacts are all too easy to spot. Poor lighting takes a heavy toll on fine detail and noise gets mixed in with compression artifacts.