(Pocket-lint) - The new Sony Z5 family might be a new generation of devices, but it's really about the camera. The switch to this new 23-megapixel camera is the first change since the introduction of Sony's 20.7-megapixel model on the Z1.
The camera is probably the biggest single talking point of a modern smartphone, and the performance of cameras keeps going up and up. In introducing the new smartphones to us, Sony put the camera first and foremost, more so than any other aspect of these new devices.
It's also worth remembering that other smartphone manufacturers turn to Sony for their cameras, so you might be seeing this sensor appear elsewhere too. The cynic might say that the Xperia Z5 is something of a showcase for this new camera module too.
Here's everything we know about Sony's the new camera.
New sensor, new fast phase detection AF
There's a new Exmor RS for mobile sensor at the heart of this camera with 23-megapixels spread across its 1/2.3in surface. One of the major claims of this new camera is that it will focus faster than any other smartphone camera, hitting focus in 0.03 seconds, in ideal conditions.
That's because it uses a phase detection system, something that's been emerging on smartphones over the past year, with Samsung introducing phase detection on the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Apple on the iPhone 6. Like Apple with it's Focus Pixels, Sony is talking about phase detection pixels on its new sensor.
Sony has had great successes with its recent Alpha cameras, with focusing being a strong point, so the message here is that Alpha technology is coming to Xperia.
The aim is to ensure that your image is in focus so you never miss the action and Sony is claiming that you have a wide detection across the lens, including into the corners, so this isn't limited to accurate focusing in the centre only.
We've seen the Xperia Z5 focusing and it is really, really, fast, both when touching to force focus and when using autofocus.
Additionally, the new AF system enhances focusing in video, giving much faster continuous AF in video. Many will remember the irritating focus seeking that smartphones used to do in video: that should never have to happen again.
Digital zoom that's usable
Digital zoom is almost a rude word in photography. Where optical zoom uses the lens to enlarge the image, in digital zoom you're reliant on upscaling what you get from the sensor. Often that ends up in a pixelated mess.
There have been lots of ways around that in the past, but one has been using a higher resolution sensor. We've seen Nokia use high resolutions on its PureView sensors to offer a better fidelity when zooming and Sony is taking a similar approach.
The Xperia Z5 is using Sony Super Resolution Technology, as it's being called for its new Clear Image Zoom. What this does is examine the image and look for patterns in the pixels. Using an algorithm, these patterns are replicated to neighbouring pixels, so you have more pixels carrying the image, returning more detail and sharpness.
Sony claims that this gives up to 5x zoom without a drastic drop-off in quality, outputting an 8-megapixel image.
Low light shooting
Low light conditions are hard for cameras to work with. Longer exposures mean the camera is prone to shake; boosting ISO to speed things up boosts the noise and downgrades the quality of the image.
Sony is claiming that the new 23-megapixel camera in the Z5 family deals with low light better, thanks to a number of technologies. Firstly, the sensor at 1/2.3in is pretty large and the f/2.0 aperture is generous, although fairly common on smartphones now.
Then Sony employs automatic scene recognition to try and assist you through it's Superior Auto mode in the camera. This is the default shooting mode that does everything for you and we suspect many people will never stray away from.
Sony is also applying area-specific noise reduction to help counter increased ISO noise, although you can often lose detail through noise reduction. Finally there's oversampling of the 8-megapixel image that's output.
It's worth remembering that although this is a 23-megapixel sensor, much of the time you're taking 8-megapixel photos and that's been the case with Sony's smartphones since the Z1.
Enhanced optical image stabilisation and SteadyShot
Of course one of the biggest factors in achieving better low light shots might be image stabilisation. In the new camera on the Xperia Z5, Sony has made a number of changes to the image stabilisation system.
There's a new closed-loop actuator in the camera that controls the lens position. Essentially, this is adding a feedback loop to the previous open-loop actuator, aiming to make it more accurate. Sony claims that the new unit deals much better with controlling motion.
SteadyShot is applied to video, this time using digital stabilisation to analyse the motion around frame edges and working in tandem with the gyro in the handset to keep things steady.
We've seen sample video captured on the Xperia Z5 attached to a bike, and it removed much more of the vibration and wobble that you'd get on the Xperia Z3+, so things are looking good.
There's a six-element 24mm wide-angle lens on the front of the new Sony camera and aside from the aspects we've mentioned above, you'll get 4K video capture from it, HDR (high dynamic range) in both photos and video, as well as ISO up to 12800, as we've seen before.
Sony has supplied some sample images that we've included here in the gallery, so feel free to take a look. We're sure we will be hearing a lot more about this camera in the future. Of course we'll be giving it a thorough test on the Xperia Z5 handsets closer to launch.