If you follow smartphones or digital photography, chances are good that you’ve seen images of the QX10 and the QX100 pop up a few times over the last month or so. But Sony officially introduced its “lens-style” cameras at an event on Wednesday and I got to spend a bit of time with them. Sony has created an interesting new category here – part mobile accessory and part digital camera.
Essentially, the QX10 and QX100 are high-quality, fully featured digital cameras, minus the actual camera body. Instead, you get all of your usual digital camera features packed into a single lens that works with your Android or iOS(a aapl) smartphone.
These lens-style cameras are all about enhancing the mobile photography experience, says Sony. According to Patrick Huang, director of the Cyber-shot business at Sony, “We are making it easier for the ever-growing population of mobile photographers to capture far superior, higher-quality content without sacrificing the convenience and accessibility of their existing mobile network or the familiar phone-style shooting experience that they’ve grown accustomed to.”
While I didn’t get a chance to capture any images with the QX10 or the QX100, I did get to test out the “phone-style” shooting experience with the QX10. And Huang is right in that regard — these lenses make for a pretty seamless transition from your traditional smartphone camera experience.
Attaching the lens
Physically, here’s how they work. Either lens can be attached to your smartphone via an adjustable, spring-loaded bracket. The bracket is designed to accommodate phones between 2.12 to 2.91 inches wide, which includes most phones with a display of 5 inches or less. I was able to fit each of these lenses onto my iPhone 4S (including a thin plastic case) and both gripped on securely.
But you actually don’t need to attach the lens to your phone at all. You can hold it separately in your hand or even mount it to a tripod for steadier shots. All you have to do is remain within around 10-15 feet of the lens for it to connect to your phone. You can even use it completely independent of your phone if you choose, since each lens has its own shutter release and memory card slot, but you’ll be sacrificing the digital viewfinder of your phone’s display.
The lenses connect to your phone via NFC or Wi-Fi. If your phone supports NFC, simply touch the lens to your device to connect. But if your phone doesn’t support NFC, you can actually use Wi-Fi to connect with it as you would any other wireless network. Once you’ve gone through the initial setup, all you have to do is load up Sony’s PlayMemories app (available in Google Play and the Apple App Store) and tap the lens to your phone for future pairings.
When you’re all connected and you fire up PlayMemories, the app basically turns your phone’s display into a real-time viewfinder for the camera lens. You can take pictures, record video, and adjust camera settings like zoom, auto focus and shooting mode. I played around with it for a bit on an iPhone, and the experience felt very similar to most of the other camera apps I’ve tried.
When pictures are taken, they are saved directly on both the phone and the camera, provided you have a memory card installed. Sony says that images should average around 3-4MB each.
You’re probably wondering about the lenses themselves. Let’s start with the pricier model, the $500 QX100. The QX100 features a 1-inch, 20.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor, which is actually the same sensor you’ll find in Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100 II camera. It should make for detailed images with very little noise, even in dim lighting. The sensor is paired with a wide-aperture Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens with 3.6x optical zoom and a BIONZ image processor.
The QX100 also sports a dedicated control ring for camera-like adjustment of manual focus and zoom. And you can select a bunch of different shooting modes while using the lens, including Superior Auto, which recognizes 44 different shooting conditions and adjusts the camera’s settings accordingly.
Next up is the QX10, which at $250, costs half the price of the QX100. The QX10 features an 18.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor and 10x optical zoom Sony G Lens. It also has built-in Optical SteadyShot, which helps to prevent motion blur in handheld shots. It too comes with a number of different shooting modes, including Superior Auto. Both lenses feature rechargeable batteries that should be good for capturing up to 220 images or shooting 25 minutes of video.
Accessory or new digital camera?
While the QX10 and the QX100 are both on the pricey side for mobile accessories, I actually see them more as replacements for your current digital camera. Instead of carrying both your smartphone and your dedicated digital camera with you whenever you want to take some high-quality pictures, all you have to do now is throw an extra lens in your bag. It’s a neat idea, and it’ll be interesting to see if the world is ready to go truly mobile with its digital photography when Sony releases the QX10 and QX100 later this month.