The Sony Xperia ZR is equipped with a 13 megapixel camera that can produce still shots with a maximum resolution of 4128 x 3096 pixels. However, if you use the default Superior auto mode, you only get 12 MP 3920 x 2940 shots instead.
The difference between the Superior auto mode and regular mode with all settings set to auto is that the first tries to guess what kind of scene you are trying to capture and adjusts all properties accordingly - color saturation, contrast, metering mode, whatnot. The regular auto mode only sets the exposure automatically, but lets you fiddle with the other settings if you like.
The good news is the Superior auto mode also tells you what it guessed so you can easily intervene if it gets it wrong. From our experience so far though, it gets things right almost every time, so unless you are keen to always have your say or just have to have that extra megapixel of resolution, you're probably better off sticking to Superior auto.
The camera interface consists of two panes. The right one holds four virtual buttons - a shortcut to the gallery, stills/video switch, and a front/rear camera toggle. On the left, you get the shooting mode selection key in the top corner, followed by three customizable shortcuts. The final shortcut here opens the drawer with all available settings for the selected shooting mode.
Naturally, the Sony Xperia ZR camera offers a wealth of features, including face detection, smile shutter, geotagging, touch capture and HDR mode. There's also the home-baked quick launch mode, which lets you select what the camera shortcut on the lockscreen does.
You can go for simply launching the camera in either still or movie mode, or you can set it to immediately snap a photo/start capturing video. This might come in handy for those shots you just can't afford to miss, but is also useful when you don't want to waste your battery keeping the camera interface constantly going (it's quite the power hog).
While the camera module is the same thing we had on the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL, the firmware has been tweaked a bit to make the right kind of difference.
Just like before, photos taken in Superior auto mode have pleasing, albeit slightly oversaturated colors. The contrast is good, as is the dynamic range. The resolved detail is slightly better on the Xperia ZR, compared to the Xperia Z, but so is noise. The results are good overall, although we wouldn't say the Xperia ZR is a match for the Galaxy S4.
If you use the regular auto mode, you get images that appear more natural and lack that overprocessed look. They also have a tiny bit more detail and less noise and while their colors aren't as punchy by default they give you more headroom if you plan on post-processing your images.
Fortunately, Sony has finally addressed the issue we encountered with the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL, where regular image processing was too heavy and you had to use Burst mode if you needed the best per-pixel sharpness.
Truth be told, the Burst mode shots are still a dash more detailed than those shot in regular auto, but the difference is really minor this time and is more than compensated for by the less noise present on the regular shots.
This mean you no longer have to choose between full-res shots and maximum amount of detail - you can have the best of both worlds with the regular auto mode. And here go a couple of Burst mode shots so you can see the difference for yourself.
On with the camera tour, we also gave the HDR feature a whirl. The Xperia ZR did a great job adding extra detail in both highlights and shadow area, but not overdoing it and ending up with an unrealistically flat shot. There's some loss of detail though, particularly when you don't have very steady hands and the shots don't align too well. Here are the samples.
The Sony Xperia ZR challenges the best 13MP shooters in town but it's pretty clear that it can't quite match the level of detail of the Galaxy S4 and LG Optimus G. Still it holds its ground pretty well against most of the other shooters, so it's not a bad performance overall.
The Sony Xperia ZR is capable of capturing 1080p video at 30fps, which is on par with most modern day smartphones. However, as a nice extra touch, the smartphone also offers HDR for video capture, making it only the third one to have that after the Oppo Find 5 and Sony's own Xperia Z.
What came as a massive disappointment is the fact that even though the Xperia ZR is able to shoot stills while recording video, the images have the dismal 1MP of resolution. That's less than half the resolution of the individual video frames and not really good for much. Given that last year's flagships could capture full res stills during video recording, what the Xperia ZR offers is plain poor.
That's a minor thing however and what's important is the Xperia ZR does the important things right. Videos come with very good detail and a 29fps framerate. Their bitrate hovers about the 17MBps mark, which is a decent compromise between quality and file size. Audio is recorded at 128Kbps and is a 2 channel stereo.
Here is a 1080p video sample we've uploaded on YouTube.
You can also download an untouched 1080p video sample as well.
The benefits of the HDR mode are not always as easily visible as we hoped, but it still adds some detail in the highlight areas, which, on some occasions, can mean the difference between usable and poor video.
The full-HD videos of the Sony Xperia ZR are nowhere near the best we have seen, but they are still in the running. The Sony smartphone matched the Optimus G and the Galaxy S4 in the first two charts, but came a distant third in the last test. The tool's page will let you compare the Xperia ZR against other smartphones and give you instructions on what too for.