The Plus, quite like its Xperia XA1 brethren, comes equipped with a 23MP camera on its back. It's no news that the pair of an in-house IMX300 sensor and a 24mm-equiv. f/2.0 aperture lens was once the camera of Sony flagships. In existance since the Z5 series, the IMX300 was relegated to Sony's mid-tier devices, the XA1 Plus included.
Depending on whether you shoot in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio, different portions of the sensor are used; you get either 22.8MP or 20.1MP images, respectively, and never the full 24.8MP. Hence the official 23MP designation. Among the benefits of having such a multi-aspect sensor are the similar field of view in both modes (measured diagonally), and higher-res 16:9 shots than what you'd get by cropping from a regular 23MP sensor which has a 4:3 aspect ratio.
You can read more about the IMX300 it in our dedicated article, which we published back when the Z5 came out (when the sensor's designation wasn't official, strictly speaking).
The Xperia XA1 Plus doesn't get the laser autofocusing and the RGBC-IR sensor that came with the same 23MP image sensor on the Xperia XZ and X Compact - there's only so many niceties allowed on this mid-range phone. Then again, they weren't game changers on those models, so their absence here is no big deal.
Sony's camera UI has been polished over the years, and the Xperia XA1 Plus comes with the latest iteration. You change modes by swiping up and down (or left and right, if you're holding it in portrait). A swipe will also let you switch to the selfie camera single-handedly.
Superior Auto is the default mode and it will try to adjust image parameters to better match the scene by recognizing among some two dozen different scenarios. It can also engage HDR for you (Backlit scene it's called), which isn't available as a toggle in this mode - it's only found in Manual mode.
Other than HDR override, in Manual mode you get access to full range shutter speed selection (1/4000s - 1s), exposure compensation, white balance, and a manual focus slider. The ISO setting (50-3200) is still tucked away in an extra settings menu, though, and you can select sensitivity OR shutter speed, but not both at the same time.
The Xperia XA1 Plus captures an abundance of fine detail in bright light. There is, inevitably, visible noise in areas of uniform color, but not as much as to detract from the overall image. Superior Auto does a good job of recognizing the scene and dials up the saturation in landscape scenarios to achieve pleasingly vivid output. Dynamic range is decent too. There's a hint of corner softness, but it's in the absolute extremes, so you shouldn't worry.
Now, if you'd prefer to shoot in 16:9 ratio, you'd be getting 20MP images. Here are the same scenes shot in this aspect for a coverage comparison.
Alternatively, you can ditch Superior Auto and shoot in Manual mode. If you don't play around with the sliders, it's almost as auto, only without the scene recognition. Samples below.
HDR mode can only be enabled manually in, um, Manual mode, but Superior Auto has you covered with Backlit scene mode, when it recognizes that it's a difficult high-contrast scene. Manual HDR tends to produce super saturated over the top images. For comparison, check out the shots below.
Sony finally stepped into this century with its panorama mode a few models ago bringing improvements in both usability and end results. You can swipe in either direction and the phone will recognize it and act accordingly. Additionally, the resulting images are now around 3,600px tall as opposed to a measly 1,000px.
Stitching is quite well done, without visible flaws in stationary objects. Sharpness could be further improved, though.
Feel free to check how the Xperia XA1 Plus stacks against the Galaxy A5 (2017) and the Xiaomi Mi 5X in our Photo Compare Tool. You can, of course, pick another set of competitors among the wide selection of devices we've tested over the years.
The front facing camera of the XA1 Plus looks promising with an 8MP 1/4" sensor and a 23mm f/2.0 lens, complete with autofocus. In our experience it didn't seem to autofocus with remarkable consistency, tap to focus isn't available and there's no manual focus even in Manual mode, so it pays out to take multiple shots just in case. The keepers have good levels of detail and nice skin colors.
As with all rear cam photos, selfies can be taken in either Superior Auto or Manual mode and in both cases you can turn Soft skin effect on and off, though you don't get to pick the strength of it. Here's a comparison between Superior Auto with Soft skin off, Soft skin on, and Manual (where it only makes sense for it to be off, right?).
The Xperia XA1 Plus tops out at 1080p/30fps when recording video, a limitation imposed by the Mediatek chipset, though we've seen Sony consistently keep 4K to its higher-end phones even when the hardware supports it. Competitors based on the Snapdragon 625 chip do have 4K video recording capabilities, so that's worth keeping in mind.
You also have the option for capturing the 1080p clips in HDR, but that won't get you a quality improvement.
The standard 1080p/30fps mode is encoded at about 17Mbps, which is the defacto standard. Audio is recorded in stereo at 128Kbps.
The video samples are soft and detail levels are unimpressive. The limited dynamic range in videos will leave you with pretty dark shadows, too.
You can also download a 1080p@30fps (10s, 22MB) video sample taken straight off the XA1 Plus.
As usual, the final step would be to examine the phone's video output in our video comparison tool. We've pre-selected the Galaxy A5 (2017) and the Xiaomi Mi 5X, but you can go ahead and pick your own set for comparisons.