What would happen if the all-powerful smartphone and the struggling consumer camera met, hit it off right and decided to start a long term relationship? Well, you'd get a product like the Sony QX10, a lens and sensor combo that attaches to a smartphone. The controls and instant uploads are all smartphone, but the image stabilization, 10x optical zoom and backlit sensor? Those are all camera.
In the simplest terms, the QX10 and the QX100 are cameras without screens or operating systems—those are supplied by the smartphone. The QX10 is the cheaper of the two models but offers the better zoom, while the QX100 is pricer but has the same large sensor as the popular RX100.
The smartphone has been haunting the camera market for years and Sony's response is innovative and attractive—but does the QX10 achieve the best of both worlds? Is it really possible to take great images from a phone? I had the chance to try out the QX10 for just a few hours in Nashville and I was rather surprised at the experience.
Sony QX10: Body and Design
|The Sony QX10 is about the size of a pool ball.|
The QX10 is not like most cameras—actually, it isn't like any other camera except it's big sibling the QX100. And so, of course, the body is quite different. The QX10 takes the shape of a cylinder, two and a half inches long when the lens isn't showing off its 10x zoom. The entire thing weighs just 3.7 ounces.
Fold out arms attach the QX10 to a smartphone. I tested the QX10 with a (now severely outdated) iPhone 4 and the arms even held onto my phone with the bulky Otterbox cover, though the fit felt more secure without the cover. With the arms still attached to the phone, you can remove the camera by twisting it, much like removing a lens from a DSLR. With the holster detached, the back of the QX10 has a hatch to access the battery and mini SD card (as well as the information for setting up the first wi-fi connection).
The side of the QX10 does have a shutter button and zoom toggle, but it's difficult to access while attached to the phone. It's there, however, and it can be used while the camera and phone are being used separately (which can be quite entertaining).
|The smartphone acts as the LCD for the Sony QX10.|
Other than the shutter button and zoom toggle, there are no controls on the QX10—that is left up to the phone. The QX10 operates by using Sony's PlayMemories app. Everything is touchscreen controlled, which also means you can touch to focus. Navigating through the options is straightforward, but there really isn't all that many options anyways—there are three different shooting modes (all of them contain the word “auto”).
Once you take an image with the QX10, it's stored both in the phone's image gallery and on the mini SD card. And since the images are on the phone, it opens up the possibility of using the images with editing apps, and of course, sharing on Facebook and Instagram.
Sony QX10: User Experience & Performance
To have a successful relationship, the QX10 and smartphone must combine the benefits of both smartphone photography and a good digital camera. And there are many things right with the QX10, but there's a few elements missing in the performance arena.
The wi-fi set-up is easy enough, head into the phone's wi-fi settings, select the QX10's network and enter the password that's inside the battery compartment. The password only has to be entered once, but to take a picture with the PlayMemories app, I did have to go back and reconnect to the right network if I hadn't taken a picture in a while.
The wi-fi on the QX10 is really both an advantage and a detriment. The QX10 enables fast uploads to the web, but taking pictures with it isn't exactly speedy. The camera is connected to the phone via wi-fi, but what you see on the screen isn't real time, so you may touch the screen when there's a smile, but by the time the phone communicates to the camera, the moment is gone. And then once you realize the blunder, you have to wait a few seconds for the camera to communicate all of that information to the phone before you can take another shot. There's no burst mode to try to anticipate the moment and make up for the shutter lag either.
The QX10 is also a little more basic than the average point-and-shoot, at least as the picture is being taken. There are three modes, intelligent auto, programmed auto and superior auto. The user can also adjust the white balance, exposure value and use manual focus via the touchscreen, but that's pretty much it. Of course, once the photo is taken there are almost unlimited possibilities with image apps, but as far as actually getting the shot, the options are limited.
The QX10 does perform better than a smartphone, but the shutter lag keeps it from reaching the level of usability of a dedicated camera. The QX10 opens up a lot of possibilities to use different apps to edit images and then post them quickly, however, which for some consumers may outweigh the lack of speed and shooting options.
Sony QX10: Image Quality
Looking at images from the QX10, it's hard to tell that they came from a phone. The camera uses a 1/2.3 inch backlit sensor, which is the sensor used in a comparably priced point and shoot like the Sony WX150. The sensor combined with the 10x optical zoom and image stabilization system leads to smartphone photos that don't look like smartphone photos.
The QX10 did very well with color, nothing seemed to be over or undersaturated. Images are detailed for this price point as well. The 10x optical zoom also led to some solid pictures.
I was pleasantly surprised by the low light performance, a 1/2.3 inch sensor isn't big, but it's bigger then most smartphone sensors and it's backlit. Images taken indoors in mixed light didn't have a high grain to them at all and still picked up quite a bit of detail.
The issues with speed do creep into the image quality a little. Several of my shots were blurry because I didn't wait for the shutter lag and moved the camera too soon. It was a user error for sure, I'm used to shooting much faster cameras, but it's an issue that's likely to pop up for other users as well.
Sony QX10: Conclusion
With the QX10 attached to my phone, I shot the best images I've ever taken “with my smartphone.” The QX10 has image quality on par with other similarly priced point-and-shoots, only using a smartphone. But the QX10 suffers from a serious shutter lag and recording delay because everything has to wait for a wi-fi connection. It's the first of it's kind, alongside the more advanced QX100, and it is really an excellent idea, but it needs to see improvements in speed before it truly becomes an enticing camera.
I will be the first to admit, however, that I'm not the ideal consumer for the QX10. I like my “old school” camera with a viewfinder and a big body that actually gives me something to hold on to—and I actually don't even have an Instagram account (gasp!). But, it was easy for me to see that there are consumers who will love the QX10 and taking above average images with their phone. It's fun to use, particularly when you disconnect the QX10 and use the phone as a remote, and it's certainly unlike anything else out there.
While the QX10 has the zoom, the QX100 has the larger sensor and better lens, making it the nicer but pricer option of the two. The QX10 is similar to the Sony WX150 basic compact camera like the QX100 is to the advanced compact RX100. The QX models are the only ones that you can use with your phone, but Samsung makes a few options that operate with 3G and can use the same apps a smartphone can. Any wi-fi enabled camera can upload to a phone after the picture is taken, and many of them can also use the phone as a remote control.
The QX10 is certainly innovative and enjoyable to use, but the shutter lag and lack of shooting options keeps it from reaching it's full potential.