If you have read my recent column - "Instagram, EyeEm an Co. - or how your Smartphone Photos can become your own Art" - you already know that I'm a big fan of smartphone photography since my smartphone is always with me. Therefore I was absolutely thrilled when the first Sony Cyber-shot lens camera leaks hit the web because the idea to put a complete camera on your phone sounds pretty appealing. The concept behind the Cyber-shot lens camera is that it is a complete camera, with lens, image sensor, etc. but without the camera body and display. And indeed, at last last week's press conference at the IFA in Berlin, Sony officially announced the Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 and DSC-QX10 WiFi lens cameras.
The DSC-QX10, the smaller sibling of the even more powerful DSC-QX100, comes with a Sony G lens with 9 elements in 7 groups (including 4 aspheric elements) and optical image stabilization which sports a maximum aperture of F3.3 - F5.9. The lens camera uses Sony's BIONZ image processor and Exmor R CMOS 1/2.3" (7.76mm) imaging sensor which gives the QX10 an impressive 18.9 megapixels resolution. The lens sports an 10x optical zoom which is also available during video recording. The focal length (35mm equivalent) for 16:9 still images is f=27.5 - 275 mm, for 4:3 still images it's f=25 - 250 mm and for 1080p/30p Full HD 16:9 movies it's again f=27.5 - 275mm in SteadyShot Standard / f=27.5 - 385mm in SteadyShot Active Mode. The shutter speeds are between 4 to 1/1600 sec or 1 - 1/1600 sec; depending on the selected program.
Still images are stored as JPEG (DCF, Exif, MPF Baseline) which are DPOF compatible but there there's no option for shooting and storing photos in RAW format. Videos are recorded and stored as MP4.
The lens measures 62.4 x 61.8 x 30.0 mm and weights around 165 g. Since the lens camera is designed to work autonomously, it comes with its own 630 mAh Li-Ion battery which is said to be good for around 200 images. Images and videos can be directly stored in the camera, using of Sony's Memory Stick Micro or standard microSD / microSDHC memory cards. For easier pairing with a smartphone, the QX10 comes with NFC and supports WiFi direct for communication with the attached Android or iOS smartphones. The lens camera is featuring a stereo microphone for video recordings and a micro USB 2.0 port for charging the battery and copying snapped photos and recorded videos to a connected PC. Last but not least is the QX10 coming with its own standard tripod mount.
The QX10 comes with the rechargeable Li-Ion battery, the removable smartphone attachment, a micro USB cable, the instruction manual and a wrist strap.
So much about the technical details but how does it work in real-life? Thankfully I got the review unit before the IFA started and therefore I was able to use it under real conditions during the IFA where I used it with the HTC One and the HTC One mini. Before the lens camera can be used, Sony's PlayMemories Mobile app needs to be installed from either Google Play or iTunes. This app is the smartphone interface for the lens camera and allows to remote control it. At the same time it also acts as the viewfinder since the QX10 hasn't have a LCD display. Pairing the camera with a smartphone is straight forward via NFC. Alternatively the WiFi password needs to entered on the smartphone, but then the camera is ready for use. And it's important to remember that the camera can be used independently from the smartphone. It doesn't need to be physically connected to the device. It's also possible to hold it in one hand, or to put it on a tripod, while the smartphone is used with the other hand - thanks to the WiFi connection. The connectivity between the QX10 and a connected smartphone is easily lasting 10 meters. Therefore the camera can also put in a different place from where it can be remote controlled via the phone.
Nevertheless, the QX10 also comes with a clip which allows to mount it on the backside of a smartphone. And like a traditional lens, the QX10 can be removed from the clip, by simply rotating it, while the clip can stay attached to the phone.
Sony PlayMemories Mobile is not only used for the QX10 and QX100 but for all WiFi enabled Sony cameras. Therefore it wasn't dedicatedly developed for the lens camera but it nevertheless has all basic features to use it with the QX10. It sports a virtual camera shutter button, allows to zoom in and out as well as it allows to set the white balance and exposure compensation and settings plus it allows to configuring the self-timer. Last but not least it also allows to format memory cards.
However, PlayMemories Mobile is a pretty basic app and it lacks some state of the art features even most smartphone camera have nowadays. It's not offering an in-display grid which makes it more difficult to hold the QX10 horizontal if not physically attached to a smartphone. There's no HDR option and it's not possible to shoot series. However, at least it also offers touch autofocus which works pretty accurate. While the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app is pretty basic, it does nevertheless a good job in automatically setting the camera in best shooting condition with its iAuto mode. Furthermore, the QX10 itself can recognize scenes like low-light, back-lit, macro and more to automatically adjust to make sure the best shot is taken.
Last but not least it allows to set the size of the so called "review image". This means that a copy of the original photo is transferred to the smartphone while the original, much larger, photo stays on the memory card. The review image is either a shrunken 2 megapixel Full HD or - optional - the full 18 megapixel original photo. In most cases, the 2 megapixel copy is good enough to be used for sharing via Facebook or Twitter and the reduced size saves phone memory. The transferring speed of the review image is fast enough and not bothering too much. However, for sure the combination is neither a point and shoot nor a DSL camera and therefore it's taking some more time to get the results displayed on the smartphone screen.
In addition to operating the QX10 with the connected smartphone, it's also possible to use it independently by just turning it on and snapping photos straight with the lens camera. On the left side, opposite to the small LCD display which shows the battery and memory card status, the camera features a zoom rocker and a hardware shutter key. Both, the rocker and the shutter, can also be used with PlayMemories Mobile, but as said it also allows to use the camera stand-alone. For sure, due to the missing LCD display, it can't be exactly said what scene is photographed, rather than shooting into a direction. But it works pretty good for quick point and shoot situations where it's more about the moment than the exact aperture. Turning on the camera and having it ready for shooting takes less than 2 seconds. However, in stand-alone mode the QX10 can only take still images, it's not possible to record videos. But as soon as the QX10 is again connected with a smartphone, PlayMemories Mobile can take the photo previews to the device, taken in standalone mode.
While we are talking about the attachment of phones. The WiFi connection between the camera and the phone works quite stable and is even able to overtake an existing connection if the phone is already connected to a WiFi network. This worked also fine in such a busy place like the IFA which was full of WiFi networks. As soon as PlayMemories Mobile started, it jumps in and connects both with each other. However this has one serious drawback. If an Android phone is connected to the camera, it looses its Internet connectivity since Android isn't able to hold two concurrent connections. This means for instance that if a taken photo should be shared to Facebook, the camera needs to be turned off first to let Android establish an Internet connection (WiFi, 3G, 2G) again. This also means that the phone can't be used for any Internet tasks, including Web and E-Mail, while connected to the QX10; even if PlayMemories Mobile is only running in the background.
As said, when the first leaks hit the web, I put the the idea to my virtual "Want List". However, at that time I thought about getting a QX100 instead of the QX10 because that model even comes with a Carl Zeiss lens, an 1.0" Exmor R CMOS sensor and 20.9 megapixel. On the other hand is the QX100 at least double as big as the QX10 and Sony hasn't given it away for reviews. Now, after playing with and using the QX10 a couple of day I must say it's good enough anyway - for casual photos but even at events like press releases. I'm still thrilled and impressed by the concept since it leaves my smartphone as tiny and good looking as it was designed. But if I need, because of the aperture or situation a more powerful camera, the QX10 is ready within seconds. I also like that it can be used either standalone or detached from the smartphone. This allows totally new and different views. The battery seems to be a little bit tiny but a spare battery isn't too expansive and might be recommended. Unfortunately is Sony not giving a pouch but is instead selling a separate case.
My biggest concern is the PlayMemories Mobile app which is a little bit too basic for such a powerful lens (camera). It lacks some important features and at the end, it's just the view finder and the shutter/zoom. From my Nex 5 and other Sony cameras, I know that Sony can do it better and I really hope this will improve over the next weeks. Thankfully it's just a piece of software which can be developed. The hardware itself, the QX10, is rock solid and well specified. It's only mussing a flash but this might be too much to ask for - at least for a v1 concept.
All together the QX10 can be recommended for everybody who loves smartphone photography but sometimes wants a little bit more than the inbuilt camera. It's neither my everyday smartphone camera now nor will or can it replace my Sony Nex 5 or Nikon D80, but there's a space for this kind of cameras and I'm really looking forward to give it another test at my next holidays.
The Sony DCS-QX 10 can now be pre-ordered for around 199 Euro (the DCS-QX100 will retail for around 449 Euro) and release is expected for end of September.
Cheers ~ Arne