To big fanfare, Sony released their Xperia PRO phone in January, the first “Pro” phone with an HDMI port which allows it to be used as a monitor for cameras, and with live streaming capabilities built in. I gave these functions a go and tested them with the eyes of a professional filmmaker in this Xperia PRO Review. Here are my impressions!
It’s a logical evolution: Smartphones pack high-resolution screens and combine it with high-speed Internet connections, so using them as a monitor and transmission device in combination with a professional camera was the next logical step. However, because of the fact that our pro filmmaker industry is a niche market, it probably wasn’t interesting for companies to tackle this before. So hats off to Sony for tackling this.
Not a Xperia PRO review of phone’s cameras & functions
Let’s get this straight from the beginning: I did not look at the quality of Xperia PRO’s cameras, the camera app or general phone functions as part of this review. As they are the same as the cameras inside the Xperia 1 II which has been on the market for much longer already (and has been succeeded by the Xperia 1 III already), I decided to skip reviewing the cameras on the Sony Xperia Pro. We did however review the shooting capabilities of the Sony Xperia 1 after it was released.
To my knowledge, the Sony Xperia PRO is the only smartphone on the market with a Micro HDMI port, which of course is the prerequisite to get a non-lagging image from a separate device into the phone. Talking about lag, it really is minimal, and while I haven’t measured the latency, I can confirm it feels very similar to using a professional monitor. Some people have asked why a Sony camera couldn’t simply send the image signal wirelessly via the built-in Wifi connection to the Xperia PRO, but that is the answer – the lag would be considerably higher and not really make it usable as an on-camera monitor, which is Sony’s intention here.
Though, it has to be added that professional Sony cameras like the FX6 and FX9 can send a wireless video signal from their built-in Wifi transmitter directly to any phone using the free Content Browser Mobile app by Sony. You can even control these cameras with the app and ironically, it has many more monitoring functions than the Sony Xperia Pro (which is connected via HDMI as mentioned above).
As a professional filmmaker, you have certain expectations from an on-camera monitor. Some “minimal requirements”, I would say. For example exposure aids like zebras, waveforms and/or histograms, on higher-end models even false colors, and of course as a standard also focusing aids like peaking, and so on.
After plugging in the Sony Xperia Pro via HDMI, the image from the camera shows up quickly without much fuzz after starting the appropriate app. The low lag makes it intuitive to use, and so does the pinch-to-zoom function which is simply extremely convenient and something I wish all other touch monitors would have because it’s so useful to check focus without having to rely on peaking.
This is about where my positive surprises with regards to the monitoring functions of the Sony Xperia PRO ended. And frustratingly so, because I think it could be so much more, if they had simply put the development power behind a proper monitoring app. However, there is only one other noteworthy function that the monitoring app offers: frame guides in various shapes and sizes to help you shoot your content specific to your requirements in terms of formats. But that’s really it. The minimal requirements for an external camera monitor are simply not met: There’s no peaking, no zebras, no false colors, no waveform and no histogram. And of course no preview LUTs. None of that stuff is there, and I really wonder why, because those limitations are a lack of effort on the software development side, not on the hardware side at all. A huge let-down for a phone priced at $2.499.
Like mentioned in my quick Xperia PRO review video above, other manufacturers like Accsoon have managed to develop smartphone apps that turn your iOS device into proper monitors when using their CineEye wireless transmitters, with all the functions that are missing from the Xperia Pro monitoring apps, and they don’t even make a big fuzz around it.
Live streaming functions
The other big feature that Sony advertises as “pro” with the Xperia PRO is the built-in live streaming functionality. Granted, the built-in 5G antennas and the phone’s design make it well suited to have the fastest possible wireless data connections that are possible with any smartphones right now.
And I have to say, I found video live streaming from the Xperia PRO fairly easy. It took me a bit to find out how to do it as there is no dedicated app for live video streaming on the phone, but after starting up the YouTube app, I realized that after you start a live stream, you can cycle through the phone’s cameras, and as the last one, the externally connected camera would show up in the live stream preview. It’s not very intuitively designed by YouTube because you only see the live stream preview in the background before actually hitting “go live”, but it works in a very easy way.
Not having to use an external computer to live stream from a professional camera has huge implications about the location you can stream from. It frees you up from Wifi because you can rely on 5G/4G connections on the phone and literally start a live stream using your professional camera from the middle of nowhere. This opens up a lot of possibilities for news transmission in broadcast, but also for content creators and influencers who are sick and tired of only using their phone’s built-in cameras to engage live with their community.
Other Xperia PRO functions for professional photographers and filmmakers
While this is not so relevant for filmmakers because of the amount of data generated, Xperia PRO also allows for direct FTP upload of photos right after they are shot when connected to a Sony camera via USB. This is huge for photographers because it literally allows their client or agency to watch what they are shooting in almost-realtime from the comfort of their desks. This is a function that I can see used a lot by nature and event photographers, although it might also mean a loss of control for many photographers who already are quite reluctant of a “prying eye” over their shoulder while they are shooting.
Sony is taking a bold step in the right direction with the introduction of the Xperia PRO. A phone truly targeted at professional photographers and filmmakers is a first in the industry and a sign of things to come. It aims to be a professional monitor, a live streaming device and a live FTP upload connection. It succeeds only in two of those three endeavours, but in order to be a viable consideration for filmmakers considering it’s high price tag, Sony needs to invest into the development of a professional monitoring app. If they manage to half the price of the phone and manage to get this proper app done, they will definitely have a winner that will end up in a lot of filmmakers’ pockets.