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Sony Announces DSC-QX100 Camera for Smartphones

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Sony just announced the DSC-QX100 and DSC-QX10 lens-style camera attachments for smartphones at IFA 2013 in Berlin. The two remarkable gadgets are pretty intriguing in several ways, and they could possibly define a new product category. The DSC-QX100, in particular, is literally the guts of the Sony DSC-RX100 II (pictured on left) pared down, then designed to be used with a smartphone.

You don’t have to live with the crappy photo quality from your smartphone’s built-in camera anymore. These two lens-style camera attachments are really top-notch cameras.

The QX10 has the guts of the Cyber-shot WX150, using a 1/2.3″ Exmor R CMOS 18.2MP sensor and Sony G Lens with 10x optical zoom. The QX100, which still resembles the lens part of its DSC-RX100 II parentage, has a 1″ Exmor R CMOS 20.2MP sensor and Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens with 3.6x optical zoom.

Take a look at the photos in some of the source links (TechCrunchDPReview) to get a better idea of what camera we’re talking about, since I don’t have a photo of my own to share.

These cameras won’t function on their own (actually, the QX100 can, but there’s no viewfinder so you wouldn’t know what you’re shooting), and need to be paired with an Android or iOS smartphone running Son’y PlayMemories app which will serve as the user interface to the phone.

Sony’s CEO Kazuo Hirai describes this as a “watershed moment” for the company. We’re talking about a real camera, and a real smartphone, paired together, but not glued together in the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom monster. Sony would probably love for you to buy a Xperia smartphone, but you can choose to go with your favourite Android or iOS device.

The nice thing about using your smartphone to take pictures is the abundance of things you can immediately do with the photos, and apps you can use with the photos. For example, you can easily share to various social media platforms, or you can import into an app do some post-processing with the photos (think effects filters, collages, etc). What the QX100 and QX10 lens-style camera attachment gives you is image quality, while letting you have all the smartness of your smartphone to work with.

The QX100 and QX10 will easily let you take photos from difficult angles or hard to reach places. The camera doesn’t actually have to be attached to the phone, so you can keep your smartphone (i.e. the viewfinder) in a comfortable viewing position, while the camera positioned some place else. This is better than an articulating LCD screen; it’s actually a detachable LCD screen, distance limited only by Wi-Fi range. In fact, you also get a nice touchscreen UI (the PlayMemories app), something the RX100 II lacks.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, yes, the QX100 and QX10 communicates with your smartphone over Wi-Fi. Initially Wi-Fi setup can be performed via NFC.

I can’t say enough about premium image quality, particularly for the QX100 with it’s 1″ sensor. Typical compact digital cameras contain a 1/2.3″ sensor, which higher end ones sporting a 1/1.6″ sensor. A 1″ sensor is the same size as that in the Nikon J1/V1 interchangeable lens camera. It’s the reason why the RX100 II takes such great pictures, and also why it costs so much.

These new cameras are not perfect. First of all, the inherent latency of a smartphone app controlling a camera over Wi-Fi will surely be a bummer for some users. There are also fewer real buttons to use. Fortunately zoom and shutter release controls are available on the camera itself. So while you can avoid shutter lag by using the real button, you can’t get past the live-view on the app not being quite as quick to update as a real viewfinder on an actual camera.

I also wondered about portability. Let’s talk about the QX100, since I’m familiar with the RX100 (which is almost the same as the RX100 II). The QX100 is not exactly compact. Sure, it is probably slightly smaller in volume. But it still feels almost as clunky as the RX100 in my pocket. So, then, if I have to carry around the QX100 in a bag like I do with my RX100, there is no portability benefit with the new gadget.

There are also other minor things like the lack of flash, though I’d expect you can get by pretty well in most situations with the great low-light performance of the sensor in the QX100.

There are certainly many interesting use cases for the new QX100 and QX10, and I can’t help but love the novel idea of pairing a real compact digital camera with a smartphone. (Without gluing them together.) However, I don’t think they are going to start a revolution just yet. Considering that they cost US$500 and US$250 respectively, they have got to be the most expensive smartphone accessory yet.

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