September 18, 2014

Turn Your Smartphone Into A Serious Camera (For Real!)

The new Sony “Lens-Style Camera” is a bold move, bringing high-end optics and sensors to smartphones everywhere. The new QX10 and QX100 strip away the camera body, consisting of just a lens, sensor, and rudimentary controls, and rely on an Android or iOS smartphone as a screen and sharing device.

Update: Do not buy this! Read my hands-on review: Sony QX100 Lens Camera: Ruined by a Flaky iOS App

Yes, that’s really a complete camera inside that “lens”!

What is a Lens-Style Camera?

When they see the photos I upload from my phone to Instagram, Flickr and the rest, folks often ask how I took such good shots with an iPhone. The truth is, I didn’t. Instead, I bring along my Sony NEX-7 camera and use my Eye-Fi card to transfer the photos to the phone. I’m not the only one juggling a “real camera” and a smartphone, either!

Sony caught on, and have introduced a totally new way to bring serious photography to smartphones and tablets. The QX10 and QX100 pack high-quality optics and serious imaging sensors into a tiny package the size and shape of a detachable camera lens. They can snap onto a smartphone or can be used “bare” for blind photos and videos.

The QX10 and QX100 “lens cameras” pack serious hardware into a small package

While some other manufacturers attempted to build hybrid smartphone cameras, these have either offered middling camera quality (see the Samsung Galaxy Camera) or a mediocre experience all around (Nikon COOLPIX S800c). Others tried to add “apps” to their cameras to appeal to the new generation, but there is no ecosystem support for these (ahem, Sony). And trying to wedge social sharing into a camera just doesn’t work.

Rather than try to force a new camera/phone hybrid on the public, Sony stripped the guts out of two fantastic cameras and are selling them as smartphone accessories. This is truly a radical idea, especially in the lens-style form factor. Will it work? Will it satisfy? We shall see!

Sony’s QX10 vs. QX100

There are two models of the “lens-style camera” on offer:

  • The $250 Sony DSC-QX10 uses the 1/2.3″ from the well-regarded DSC-WX150, including its Sony G 10x Zoom lens
  • The $500 Sony DSC-QX100 goes crazy, stealing a full 1″ sensor and Zeiss 3.6x F1.8 zoom lens from the fantastic DSC-RX100M II

Normal people should buy the QX10. It’ll be way better than any smartphone camera, and the 10x “G” zoom is a solid performer. Plus, it’s small enough for jeans pockets and cheap enough to be an impulse purchase for high-end smartphone buyers.

But photo people aren’t normal. For them there’s the mind-bending QX100. Seriously, that lens is a work of art, and an aperture of 1.8 and 1″ sensor will give amazing low light performance. The RX100 II is perhaps the best compact camera on the market today, and Sony is selling its guts for $500? Sold!

Stephen’s Stance

Sony just got its mojo back. Even as the TV and video game business is souring, Sony is flying in imaging, becoming the top sensor builder, partnering with Zeiss and Olympus for lenses, and rocking the boat with the NEX line. The “lens-style camera” is a truly innovative and up-to-the-minute product, perfectly timed and aimed. These things are going to make a killing for Sony!

Note: There are lots of Amazon links here that earn a commission for me. But I’m not writing this to make money. I put in my pre-order and I think lots of folks who read this blog will be very impressed by this device. Go buy one if you are included in that group!

  • debbie moynihan

    I might have to try this :) I have been missing my DSLR but my phone is just so convenient…