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Sony is making me choose between cameras and compactness, and I'd rather not
We’ve had to wait a little bit this year, but the Sony Xperia 5 IV is officially here. Nestled between the ultra-premium Xperia 1 IV, which costs an extraordinary $1,599 in the US, and the affordable Xperia 10 IV, the Xperia 5 IV is about as close as Sony gets to an “everyman” that fans with less deep pockets might feasibly pick up. Priced at £949 in the UK, and according to Sony an estimated $1,000 when it launches in October, it’s still not exactly cheap and once again more expensive than last year, but it’s not the cost that’s left me a bit disappointed. No, it’s the lack of Sony’s variable focal length periscope camera.
For the uninitiated, Sony’s variable focal length camera offers seamless optical zoom between 85mm and 125mm, removing the reliance on digital zoom between 3.5x and 5.2x. Not only does this improve image quality but also benefits from natural bokeh and compression as you move through the focal lengths, more closely matching the experience you’ll receive from high-end cameras. You can see some examples below and more in our Xperia 1 IV review.
This is a noteworthy absence because camera hardware has always been a key component of the Xperia 5 brand identity. Going right back to the original Xperia 5 and Xperia 1, Sony brought the same package to both phones, giving consumers a choice in form factor without the usual compromises on feature quality.
True optical zoom would have been a great way to add more flexibility to a compact phone.
The more basic switchable focal length on both the Xperia 1 III and the Xperia 5 III brought greater flexibility to Sony’s little and large flagships, without the gargantuan quad-camera setups found on other phones. I was a huge fan of the feature last year, and the Xperia 1 IV’s adjustable optical zoom takes this idea to another level. The feature would have been the perfect way to fit more flexibility into a compact form. Unfortunately, there’s just a fixed focal length for the 5 IV, so we’re back to smaller phones being ever so slightly less impressive, photography-wise, than their larger counterparts.
According to Sony, its cutting-edge optical zoom camera technology has been sacrificed at the altar of larger battery capacity and form factor. Some may find that a worthwhile trade-off. A 5,000mAh battery, 11% larger than last year’s 4,500mAh cell, is a fair improvement. However, we didn’t have any issue obtaining all-day battery life, and then some, from the Xperia 5 III, so this wasn’t exactly an area in desperate need of improvement.
Would you sacrifice camera features for a larger battery?
Of course, the Xperia 5 series has always had its fair share of compromises — it is a less expensive phone. But you could forgive the lower-resolution display — you certainly don’t need 4K at 6.1 inches — and the lack of wireless charging helped to keep the price down (though this has now been added to the Xperia 5 IV). Otherwise, though, the Xperia 5 series still had all of the key features you’d find in the Xperia 1: blazing fast performance, Sony’s signature style, an IP65/68 rating, plus the company’s best camera hardware. Thankfully, the bulk of the other flagship Xperia experience still carries over to the 5 IV.
All that said, the Sony Xperia 5 IV is an otherwise powerful photography package, featuring the same main and ultrawide shooting options as the Xperia 1 IV. With 4K/120fps HDR slow-mo and eye autofocus tracking on all three lenses, Sony is still packing most of its best-in-class technology into the 5 IV. The 60mm telephoto focal length should still serve well for portraits, even if the 2.5x zoom factor won’t be that great for longer-range shots, and there’s an improved selfie snapper too. So, plenty for Xperia photography fans to sink their teeth into.
Unfortunately, Xperia fans have to choose between size and Sony's absolute best cameras.
Still, for £949/€1,049, the Xperia 5 IV is expensive even by the standard of the very best camera phones. Without Sony’s absolute greatest camera suite, it’s hard not to be tempted by the regularly discounted Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra for the broader comprehensive package. Or, you could simply stump up the extra €250 for the Xperia 1 IV, at least outside of the US, where the jump in price isn’t so huge. Of course, that’s not a great solution if you’re after a compact smartphone. Unfortunately, Xperia fans now have to choose between size and Sony’s absolute best cameras.
Correction: This article originally suggested that the Xperia 5 IV does not have wireless charging. This has been amended. Our apologies for the error.