If you say “wow” while reading this Sony Xperia 1 IV review, when hearing about all its novel tools and features, then I can instantly recommend this phone for you. However, if you find yourself asking “why?” instead, perhaps it’s worth steering clear.
The Sony Xperia 1 IV is one of the best smartphones for creative professionals right now - not so much for general consumers, though, with a high price that’ll definitely put some off, and a feature set that's aimed at a particular audience.
With a continuous optical zoom camera, a microSD card slot for up to 1TB storage and a physical camera shutter button, people who take lots of pictures or videos will have plenty of useful tools on this device.
That’s doubly the case when you factor in all the phone’s bespoke apps – Photography Pro, Video Pro, Cinema Pro and Music Pro will all appeal to different users, and bring you features that most other phones don’t offer.
It’s not quite the best camera phone out there, as Samsung is trouncing Sony in terms of zoom photography range, and Xiaomi is miles ahead when it comes to macrophotography. Plus, the lack of much AI scene optimisation might put off some users, who are used to the digital image tweakery that most mobile companies use.
But for a small audience of professional creatives, the feature-set this phone provides will make it a must-buy. Read on to discover in detail why I love the Sony Xperia 1 IV.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: price
The Sony Xperia 1 IV will set you back $1,599 / £1,299. That price difference is because the UK model has 128GB storage, but the US one has 256GB – if you live in the UK and feel that you’re missing out, we should point out that the phone has a micro SD slot to expand that storage up to 1TB anyway.
The phone will cost you more than the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which starts at $1,199 / £1,149, or the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which will set you back $1,099 / £1,049, both at their lowest storage options.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: creative tools
A big selling point of the Sony Xperia 1 IV is its range of creative apps. Photography Pro is the default camera app, and its layout will be familiar to people who own DSLRs. It eschews the simple layout of most camera apps with one that has ready access to different shooting modes and options, though if you’re not familiar with photography this might make it hard to use.
Cinema Pro is similar, but designed for – you guessed it – video. You can tweak settings like frame rate, shutter speed and resolution, and also apply LUTs to give your video a cinematic look. There’s also Video Pro, which does basically the same thing, but without the range of options.
Those modes have been in previous Xperia phones, but new is the Music Pro app. This lets you record and layer audio, whether it’s vocals or instruments, and also can use cloud computing to clean it up, but you do have to pay a subscription to use this feature.
As well as creative apps, Sony packs on a few entertainment ones; there’s Sony Bravia, which is a streaming service for Sony Entertainment-produced movies, as well as the company’s headphone partnering app. Plus, there are loads of third-party ones like Tidal and Netflix.
The Sony Xperia 1 IV does have a long list of pre-installed apps, which can be an overwhelming experience upon turning it on, but most of them are pretty useful and soon you'll enjoy using them.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: camera
The Sony Xperia 1 IV has four cameras, three of which are on the back. The phone is great if you’re knowledgeable on your photography and image editing, but the lack of AI and complicated camera app software might confuse people who want to easily take social-media-ready pictures.
The most interesting rear camera is the 12MP telephoto one, as Sony has added a continuous optical zoom lens that can move between 85mm and 125mm. It’s a neat trick, and lets you take good-looking pictures… as long as you’re fine operating in the 3.5x to 5.2x range. More than that and you’re using digital zoom.
The main camera has a 12MP sensor and a f/1.7 24mm lens, and it’s the only of the snappers to get OIS. It’s joined by an ultra-wide with another 12MP sensor and f/2.2 16mm lens with a 124-degree field of view. This latter one does have some edge distortion, but less so than most smartphone cameras we see.
Pictures taken on these three cameras might not seem as vibrant or saturated as on rival mobiles, and that’s because Sony is very light-touch with regard to AI tweakery. But port the picture over to an editing app, especially if you shoot in RAW (which is an option) and you can get some great imagery.
That’s also the case on the 12MP f/2.0 24mm front camera, which has seen a resolution increase over the last model. This increase allows you to record 4K 120fps video, and a new feature of the phone is that all four cameras now support this high resolution and refresh rate, even when recording at the same time. It’s useful for videography, especially if you’re looking to utilize that zoom camera.
One thing to note, is that if you’re looking to record video, you might want to pay attention to the shutter speed and ISO yourself. When you jump into auto mode, the phone often chooses ones that are inappropriate for the setting.
Most of my gripes with the camera experience are smaller than that, though. The difference between Cinema Pro and Video Pro is very minor; when you've used them enough, you can tell their strengths and weaknesses (put simply, Video Pro is basically a non-Pro video-recording app). But those names are far too similar and I can never remember which to open.
And the cool new continuous optical zoom can be a little fiddly to use in the camera app, with the pinch-and-zoom method too imprecise and the zoom wheel not limiting you to optical zoom, so you can accidentally go digital very easily.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: screen
A selling point of Sony’s Xperia 1 line is their 4K displays, a feature no other smartphones have. It’s 6.5 inches, and has a 120Hz refresh rate, but with a 21:9 aspect ratio it’s just as tall as most other premium mobiles.
An issue I have is that the maximum brightness is a little low, despite this being one of the upgrades over the Xperia 1 III. You might find yourself squinting to see the screen in direct sunlight.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: battery life
You can rely on the Sony Xperia 1 IV, more so than other premium camera phones, to last through a long photo shoot. I am impressed with its battery life, and it easily lasts a full day of use if you don’t tax it too much.
The battery has a 5,000mAh capacity, which is to thank here. It does take quite a while to power up though, with its 30W powering a little on the slow side, but since the phone will last through your photoshoots or video recording sessions that’s not a huge issue.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: shutter button
Despite having a rather workmanlike design in most regards, photography fans will love one aspect of the Sony Xperia 1 IV’s body. This phone has a physical shutter button that you can fully or partially depress to capture a photo or find focus.
This is hugely useful for taking photos, as it lets you keep your hands clear of the screen itself to better see pictures, and we all know how that little wobble, when you press the on-screen camera shutter, can ruin pictures sometimes.
Pressing the button also brings up the camera app, giving you a quick shortcut to Photography Pro even when the handset is locked. This is a nice feature for those who love to snap on the go without needing to unlock the phone.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Should you buy it?
The Sony Xperia 1 IV doesn’t exactly have ‘ease-of-use’ in its bag. Not only is it quite an awkward and angular phone, but its camera and video modes are designed for people who know their way around a camera.
If that’s you, you’ll find the phone really useful, with certain creative tools that other mobiles just don’t offer, from its apps to its continuous optical zoom and the fact that it has a micro SD card slot.
If it’s not, though, you might find the phone far too expensive compared to rival devices, especially when you consider that you’re mainly paying for these artistic tools anyway.