The Xperia S boasts a 12 megapixel camera, complete with a single LED light. Much like previous Xperia phones, the S uses a backlit Exmor R sensor for improved low-light performance.
The camera controls on the Xperia S 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 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 scenes, but it's still one of the coolest camera features we've seen in a while. Photos taken in Sweep Multi Angle mode are handled by a separate app called 3D album, and not listed in the regular gallery. And just to make it clear again - the Xperia S 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 S 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.
It's hard to frame the shot right, but you can quickly take another photo, as the camera reloads quite fast. The other option is to just unlock the phone and start the camera, or you can disable the feature completely.
With a 12MP camera, image quality is obviously a priority with the Xperia S and Sony have created a very capable shooter. The photos have plenty of detail and noise is kept quite low (though color noise isn't completely ruled out).
Older Xperia phones have demonstrated a tendency to overexpose, but that's almost never the case with the Xperia S. It also manages to develop the shadows much better. Colors are slightly oversaturated, but white balance is pretty accurate overall (just a tad on the yellow side).
The Sony Xperia S is one of the few 12MP shooters in our Photo Quality Comparison database. It does fairly well in the simple black and white ISO chart, though we expected it to be a bit better. The second chart shows that the noise reduction takes away some fine detail. Colors look pretty good though, even under artificial lighting (third chart).
The Sony Xperia S captures 1080p video at 30 fps and does a very good job of it. 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 S 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 stored in MP4 format (14Mbps bitrate) and the frame rate nails the 30fps mark. The Xperia S videos come with stereo sound recorded at 128Kbps bitrate and 48kHz sampling.
A 1080p shooter is nothing new, but the Sony Xperia S is among the best. Videos have a lot of detail, practically no noise and pleasing (if oversaturated) colors. The framerate is buttery smooth too.
Check out the 1080p and 720p samples that we captured with the Xperia S:
If you want to look closer at the video quality, you can download this untouched sample 1080p@30fps, taken straight off the device.
The front camera on the Sony Xperia S shoots 720p video, so we gave that a shot too. Expectedly, the results are much worse than what the main camera produces and there's a purple tint. They're still more than good enough for video calls though.
The Sony Xperia S stacks up quite well against the other 1080p shooters in our Video Quality Comparison tool. It captures a lot of fine detail, but some of it is lost due to compression (the blue wall in the first image). Quality remains good under low lighting, with good detail and an acceptable amount of noise.