Sony Reinventing Smartphone Photography?

Today, Sony has made quite a bold announcement. It was hardly unexpected – rumors about QX10 and QX100 have been floating around the internet for a while now. And yet these rumors hardly undermine the strangeness of these products. Because you see, QX10 and QX100 are cameras that attach to your smartphone. The camera modules are controlled via WiFi connectivity or NFC and use the screen of the smartphone itself (via dedicated app). Both camera modules look much like point-and-shoot camera lenses that were cut off from the rest of the camera body. They feature their own batteries and memory card, and, most interestingly, sensors.

Sony QX10

1) Key Sony QX10 and QX100 Camera Module Specifications

The lower-cost QX10 has a 1/2.3″ 18.2 megapixel sensor which is the same size as most compact cameras. It has a 25-250mm equivalent G-designated zoom lens with f/3.3-5.9 aperture and an ISO range of 100-3200. In Sony language, G lenses are usually high-end, much like L lenses are from Canon. The lens is optically stabilized, which is, frankly, impressive. Here is a short list of key specifications for the QX10 camera module:

  • Priced at $250
  • 1/2.3″ 18.2 megapixel BSI sensor
  • 25-250mm equivalent lens with f/3.3-5.9 maximum aperture
  • Optical image stabilization
  • ISO range of 100-3200
  • Shutter speed range of 4-1/1600s
  • Minimum focus distance (macro) 5cm (1.97″)
  • Controlled via smartphone (WiFi and NFC connectivity)
  • Contrast-detect autofocus
  • 1440×1080 video recording at 30 frames per second
  • microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC, Memory Stick Micro memory card support
  • No continuous drive
  • Weighs 105g with battery (0.23 lb/ 3.70 oz)
  • Measures 62mm (2.46″) in diameter, 33mm (1.31″) long
  • Battery life rated for approx. 220 shots

Basically, what you have is a low-end compact camera that attaches to a smartphone but with some bits missing, such as an LCD screen. In that sense, the more expensive QX100 is very similar. Unlike its cheaper sibling, though, it can potentially deliver much higher image quality thanks to its large 1″ 20.2 megapixel sensor – the same one used in Sony’s high-end RX100 II compact camera.

Sony QX100

There are more similarities between QX100 and RX100, actually – starting with the same Zeiss 28-100mm equivalent lens all the way down to shutter speeds of up to 1/2000s. Here is a short list of QX100 key specifications:

  • Priced at $500
  • 1″ 20.2 megapixel BSI sensor
  • 28-100mm equivalent lens with f/1.8-4.9 maximum aperture
  • Optical image stabilization
  • ISO range of 160-6400
  • Shutter speed range of 4-1/2000s
  • Minimum focus distance (macro) 5cm (1.97″)
  • Controlled via smartphone (WiFi and NFC connectivity)
  • Contrast-detect autofocus
  • 1440×1080 video recording at 30 frames per second
  • microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC, Memory Stick Micro memory card support
  • No continuous drive
  • Weighs 179g with battery (0.39 lb/ 6.31 oz)
  • Measures 63mm (2.46″) in diameter, 56mm (2.19″) long
  • Battery life rated for approx. 200 shots

As you can see, it is twice as expensive as QX10, but packs more “punch” due to the larger sensor and faster aperture at the wide end. It is worth noting both camera modules can be used without smartphones, but it is not difficult to see the limitations of such use.

2) What is The Point?

Compact cameras have been losing the “war” against smartphones for a few years now, and the rise of popularity of cameraphones is swifter than ever. Current flagships from all OS camps now have at least 8 megapixels with 12-13 becoming the new bottom limit. Such hits as 41 megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020 are at the very top. And it is not just about cramming more dots into a small sensor. Whichever mobile operating system you prefer and no matter how you feel about the giants that compete in smartphone business, Lumia 1020 has drawn a lot of well-deserved attention with its sizable sensor and optical image stabilization. It is only going to get tougher for compact cameras to stand their ground. However, the truth is, save for the mentioned Lumia 1020, few cameraphones can actually out-class their compact camera rivals in terms of pure image quality. And that is what Sony is trying to exploit with QX10 and QX100 camera modules.

Sony_QX10_White_Rear

Basically, here is what they are thinking. Instead of trying to add smartphone functionality to compact cameras (an approach used by Samsung with its Galaxy Camera and Galaxy NX mirrorless), Sony is trying to improve smartphones by adding proper cameras to them. By clipping-on one of the modules, you basically get all the functionality and connectivity of the smartphone, but with image quality of a proper compact camera, especially if QX100 is used. What’s not to like?

3) Fundamental Flaw

You may have sensed how I was not convinced by my own arguments before. And that is because Sony’s concept has one major flaw – the already-included camera of the smartphone. Whatever you do, you still have your cameraphone with you and, of the two products, that is the one you will always try to carry with. In other words, you are buying a camera module for a product that already has a, most likely, decent camera on board. And not only are you not using one of the cameras, both of which cost money one way or another, but you also get to carry two products if you want to use the Sony camera module. How is that better than carrying a smartphone and a compact camera? It is true that the camera modules are both smaller and lighter than compact camera equivalents, but they are also somewhat dependent on the smartphone they are supposed to be clipped on. Once that is done, your otherwise compact smartphones becomes rather bulky. That QX100, though small, is still not exactly tiny.

It is true that, in the end, the camera module will deliver better image quality than the smartphone. However, if image quality is a priority, you won’t mind carrying something not much bigger than the module – a proper compact camera. And if you don’t want to carry a compact camera alongside your smartphone, there is a good chance you will not want to carry a camera module as well. Just pocket the cash and use the camera that’s built-in to your smartphone. After all, when we buy one of those, a camera is often a big deal. Does your smartphone have a crappy camera? Both modules are quite expensive, especially the bigger, better QX100 at a whopping $500. That is not much less than a Fujifilm X20 and actually more than a Canon G15. Add that cash to your next smartphone purchase, and you’ll have decent image quality without added bulk, all in one package.

4) Final Thoughts

It is very difficult for me to finally make up my mind whether I like Sony’s idea or don’t. But then, the facts are quite simple. The camera modules are quite expensive and do not hold much in that regard over regular compact cameras. They also do not solve the problem of carrying two products – one for connectivity, the other for its photographic capabilities. On the other hand, they do open some intriguing possibilities for mobile photography enthusiasts, especially for candid photography.

It is hard to argue that Sony did something new and bold. It is also quite obvious that both QX10 and QX100 will likely sell well and gain a fan base. As in most situations, it all comes down to personal needs. I can not see myself using either QX10 or QX100. If I want pocketable, I always have my smartphone with me. If I need quality, I’ll go for a mirrorless camera or a DSLR. A compact camera is a compromise I do not need, personally. These camera modules make even less sense for what I do. At the same time, I can see a lot of people using them and thinking they are brilliant. And you know what? No one could blame you for sticking to either one of the sides.

5) Official Press Release

Here is the official press release by Sony:

New Sony QX100 and QX10 “Lens-Style Cameras” Redefine the Mobile Photography Experience

Sony QX10 on a Smartphone

New Concept Cameras Link Flawlessly to Smartphone, Offering High-Zoom, Stunning Quality Images and HD Videos for Instant Sharing

NEW YORK, Sept. 4, 2013 – Merging the creative power of a premium compact camera with the convenience and connectivity of today’s smartphones, Sony today introduced two “lens-style” QX series cameras that bring new levels of fun and creativity to the mobile photography experience.

The innovative Cyber-shot® QX100 and QX10 models utilize Wi-Fi® connectivity to instantly transform a connected smartphone into a versatile, powerful photographic tool, allowing it to shoot high-quality images and HD videos to rival a premium compact camera. It’s an entirely new and different way for consumers to capture and share memories with friends and family.

With a distinct lens-style shape, the new cameras utilize the latest version of Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile™ application (available for iOS™ and Android™ devices, version 3.1 or higher required) to connect wirelessly to a smartphone, converting the bright, large LCD screen of the phone into a real-time viewfinder with the ability to release the shutter, start/stop movie recordings, and adjust common photographic settings like shooting mode, zoom, Auto Focus area and more.

For added convenience, the app can be activated using NFC one-touch with compatible devices. Once pictures are taken, they are saved directly on both the phone and the camera*, and can be shared instantly via social media or other common mobile applications.

“With the new QX100 and QX10 cameras, 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,” said Patrick Huang, director of the Cyber-shot business at Sony. “We feel that these new products represent not only an evolution for the digital camera business, but a revolution in terms of redefining how cameras and smartphones can cooperatively flourish in today’s market.”

The new compact, ultra-portable cameras can be attached to a connected phone with a supplied mechanically adjustable adapter, or can be held separately in hand or even mounted to a tripod while still maintaining all functionality and connectivity with the smartphone. They can also be operated as completely independent cameras if desired, as both the QX100 and QX10 cameras have a shutter release, memory card slot and come with a rechargeable battery.

Premium, Large-Sensor QX100 Camera

The Cyber-shot QX100 camera features a premium, high-quality 1.0 inch, 20.2 MP Exmor® RCMOS sensor. Identical to the sensor found in the acclaimed Cyber-shot RX100 II camera, it allows for exceptionally detailed, ultra-low noise images in all types of lighting conditions, including dimly lit indoor and night scenes.

The sensor is paired with a fast, wide-aperture Carl Zeiss® Vario-Sonnar T* lens with 3.6x optical zoom and a powerful BIONZ® image processor, ensuring beautifully natural, detail-packed still images and HD videos. As an extra refinement, the QX100 sports a dedicated control ring for camera-like adjustment of manual focus and zoom.

Several different shooting modes can be selected while using the QX100 including Program Auto, Aperture Priority, Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto, which automatically recognizes 44 different shooting conditions and adjusts camera settings to suit.

High-Zoom Cyber-shot QX10 model

Boasting a powerful 18.2 effective megapixel Exmor RCMOS sensor and versatile 10x optical zoom Sony G Lens, the Cyber-shot QX10 camera allows mobile photographers to bring distant subjects closer without sacrificing image quality or resolution, a common problem in smartphones. It’s also extremely portable and lightweight – weighing less than 4 oz and measuring about 2.5”X2.5”x1.3”, it’s a great tool for travel photography.

Additionally, the camera has built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization to combat camera shake, keeping handheld pictures and videos steady and blur-free. It has Program Auto, Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto modes to choose from, and will be available in two different colors – black and white.

Pricing and Availability

The new Cyber-shot QX100 and QX10 lens-style cameras will available later this month for about $500 and $250, respectively.

The cameras and a range of compatible accessories including a soft carry case and dedicated camera attachment for Sony Mobile phones like the Xperia™ Z can be purchased at Sony retail stores (www.store.sony.com) and other authorized dealers nationwide.

Please visit www.blog.sony.com for a full video preview of the new Sony Cyber-shot QX Series cameras and follow #SonyCamera on Twitter for the latest camera news.

6) Pre-Order Links


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Avatar of Romanas Naryškin About Romanas Naryškin

A student and a wedding photographer with a passion for cinematography and writing. You'll see me buying film even when there's no food in the fridge. Follow me on Google+, Facebook or visit my wedding photography website to see some of my work.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Antonio Mario

    Romanas,

    Thanks for the article.

    Overall, I think it’s a brilliant idea. One can easily come up with many ideas for such a camera/phone combo. Do we know the range the WiFi connectivity will allow? I can envisage mouting the lens/camera on a mini little tripod and use it for macro (e.g., insects) or remote (e.g. bird nests) shots.

    Thanks.

    • Antonio, I think the idea fails for iPhoneography, but I can see it being useful for wildlife and other opportunities. I also have the same question – what is the range of WiFi? If the range is very small, it is useless. But if it can send images and live view info over 20+ feet, then it is a great idea!

      • 23
        ) Nilay

        Yes it supports WiFi (and not Bluetooth) so range must be pretty good not sure exact range though.

    • 5
      ) David Ahn

      Great idea for wireless remote application!

    • 8
      ) Paul

      Sony has brilliant ideas, but not good business strategies since 2000. Will you buy this toy? I may prefer upcoming i-watch w/camera for CONVENIENCE. If Zeiss lenes are integrated into Sony gear, I will have a look with curiosity.

  2. Its really about the instant online sharing of higher quality images than would be allowed by your phone alone (plus having a zoom on your phone).. this might also explain why shooting in RAW is not available… I think anyone buying this for other than the above should really just go with a dedicated compact camera…

    cheers.
    samer

  3. 4
    ) David Ahn

    You make a good point about the hassle of having to carry an extra piece. But other people carry those Olloclip and the like, this will just get you much better optics. I’ve been tempted by the Olloclip, but this might just tip the scales for me.

    This is pretty exciting for me for higher quality travel photos. I have a D800E but it’s big, bulky, and heavy (especially with all the batteries, charger, lenses, filters, etc.), so I usually leave it at home. I always have my iPhone 5, but it has a fixed wide angle lens which leaves a lot to be desired when you need a zoom (and Olloclip has questionable IQ). So for me, since I’ve already proven to be a leaver (DSLR), this might be just the thing to help me get a lot better photos. The 1″ sensor of the QX100 is especially exciting, which along with the OIS and f/1.8 (at wide end) will get great night and indoor photos, the greatest weakness of camera phones.

    David

  4. 6
    ) Mike

    What do you mean by “rated for 200″ shots?

  5. 7
    ) Lawrence Yang

    That is an interesting concept. Although I still prefer a dedicated camera over a camera phone.
    I often find myself unable to accept the quality of photos produced on my Sony Smartphone, despite it having a 13mp sensor ^^

  6. 9
    ) Chris Zeller

    I agree. While I think the camera companies will need to come up with a stategy to better exist in the digital landscape I don’t think this idea makes any sense.

    I think the solution will be twofold.
    1) Given that dedicated cameras will allways produce better IQ than a do-it-all gaget smartphone, the challenge is to use the connectivity and editing/processing functions of the smartphone with a dedicated camera. The wi-fi built into or as add-ons to Nikon and Canon cameras are a start. They just need to work more reliably, be built-in to all cameras, and have more features (like aperture/shutter control for a start). Integration into the OS would help.
    2) If you can’t beat-em join-em. Why not promote better cameras in smartphones made by the camera companies? Ala Intel inside, why not Nikon Inside? Larger sensors. Real aperture control. Manual exposure control. Extendable lenses? Yes the smartphone will be bulkier but some will opt for it to gain IQ. Harness the name-brand apeal of a real imageing company.

  7. 11
    ) Larry Mitchell

    Agree with Chris. These Sony products are ‘bridge’ (interim) products that represent more Sony “look what we can do.” They will sell poorly & in a few years their only value will be as collectible artifacts of a transition.

    NO camera mfr has gotten connectivity right. I want pocketable point & shoots, prosumer compacts and regular DSLR’s with builtin WiFi (rather than dongles, ala Nikon WU-1a silliness). Like most of us, I have a cell phone with me 100% of my waking hours. I want to be able to take a camera better than the phone’s built-in to the neighborhood park or the zoo or even the kitchen or backyard to capture our 33-month old in daily life AND share pictures quickly and easily. Sometimes a pocketable camera is good enough. Sometimes I want a DSLR with interchangeable lenses.

    Right now I (and everyone else) must choose between camera phones with their horrid UI’s, _huge_ shutter lag, invisible-in-sunlight screens & carrying a ‘real’ camera but waiting til I’m home to PP and share.

    Nikon continues to market eleventy-billion compact models with various photographic features. NONE of ‘em let me use their good-to-excellent photographic capability to make an image I can quickly and easily transmit to my phone & upload to the world via my choice of text msg, email or social media.

    Multi-megapixel cameraphones won’t solve this. Phone mfrs need to copy, license or steal UI’s (including minimal shutter lag) from camera companies. Adding photo brand (NIKON / CANON / ZEISS / LEICA / etc) halo’s to phones will likely prove worthwhile.

    Or camera mfr/s must add to their products (high and low end) simple, reliable, inexpensive WiFi *built-in” with easy to use AND capable applications for IOS and Android. Whether it’s a phone or camera maker, the first company to get this right will have to crank production and stay out of the doorway cause consumers will mob them.

    Not to mention how this capability will further revolutionize news reporting. It’s not just about family pictures….

  8. 12
    ) Larry Mitchell

    Oops – I stand corrected. There is the Coolpix S6500. A huge step in the right direction. Seems a decent pont-and-shoot – can anyone comment on how easily / well it shares?

  9. 13
    ) JD

    I think I would be more interested in a quality lens, rather than a camera, that attached like this item, and featured auto focus, and manual focus, aperture control, shutter speed, all controllable from the phone, but it would use the cell phone to capture the image. So I would be looking at the picture on my phone and controlling the exposure from the phone and I’d capture and store the image on the phone and have all the advantages of that, i.e., image catalogued in the phone system, able to send it to friends, post to social media etc.

  10. 14
    ) Nic

    It’s a camera without a display. why would i buy one @ that ridiculous price?

    • 18
      ) Paul

      Me too. If somebody really wants Sony, NEX-5R may be a better buy. 5R has Wifi, 3X bigger APS-C sensor and can shoot video in full HD mode under $500. Market of 1″ sensor cameras is the fastest disappearing segment. When Nikon introduced Nikon 1, Sony may have decided to follow and started the development. I hope Sony surprises everybody with light weight mirrorless medium format cameras, making my heavy FF gear obsolete.

    • 19
      ) David Ahn

      Who would buy it? I’m seriously considering it. It’s not for everyone; I’ll give you that. But people tend to think products will either capture the lion’s share of the market or die, when in reality most products have varying degrees of success somewhere in the middle. Remember how for years people predicted the death of Apple, yet they hung on for years at about 10% market share? Then they REALLY thought they would die at 5% market share, until SJ came back and they bought NeXT for $400M? That’s a lot of cash in the bank for a “dying” company. This seems like a niche product but could make Sony a nice added income stream… if people could just ever so slightly let go of conventional thinking.

      Thinking of it as a camera without a screen is appropriate, but in a good way: your phone has an IPS retina display rather than the QVGA or VGA TFT display on most P&S cameras. Why would you want to carry 2 devices with LCD screens?

      A lot of people seem to be comfortable with mounting higher quality optics onto phones, but that still doesn’t fix sensor size and quality, especially high ISO performance for great night/street photography.

      I prefer to think of it not as a camera w/o a screen but rather a lens + sensor upgrade for your smart phone. In my mind, this for now seems to be the best compromise between crappy cell phone photos and always lugging around an SLR, and they’re even offering two different compromise points for different people: smaller, crappier, and bulkier and better IQ. For less money and way less quality, you can go with an Olloclip, or for more money and a LOT more bulk, compact ILCs, then SLRs with lenses. I believe Sony really closed a rather wide gap in product offerings between the Olloclip and the dual camera (phone + camera) setups while reducing the redundancy of two bodies and two screens and two UIs and transferring images and uploading later. But it just may not survive because of the mental barrier people have against things they’ve never seen before.

      You know what? After all this cheerleading, I think I’ve talked myself into buying this. Now if I can just talk my wife into it! I’ll have to see if the reviews are good as far as performance, but Sony makes some of the best sensors in the world (just look at DxOMark), and Zeiss is no slouch, so it’s a matter of how well they can bridge the phone connection and ease of use, time to first shot, etc. But I’m really excited the more I think about it. Diff’rent strokes, I guess.

      David

      • 21
        ) Paul

        David:
        I bought 1 Nikon V1 that came with 1″ sensor. I am still regretting for this choice. Image quality of 1″ sensor is in between P&S and D3100, but closer to the former. I discovered later 1″ sensor size is actually 13.2mm X8.8mm only. I simply couldn’t accept my images from 1 Nikon. May be I have my own prejudice on 1″ sensor cameras for this sour experience. If it is image quality that you are going to achieve, I believe 5R gives you much better ones than QX-100 would do. If you want something else, try it and post your comment later. Good luck David.

        • 22
          ) David Ahn

          I admit I did get excited about the 1″ sensor before I did the math. I didn’t realize the active sensor areas of these sensors is so much smaller than the nominal size: the 1″ sensors at 13.2 x 8.8mm is only 15.9 mm diagonal, way less than 25.4 mm.

          But 15.9mm is still HUGE compared to the iPhone 5′s 1/3.2″, 5.7mm diagonal (116.2mm^2 vs. 15.5 mm^2). So I still say this is a HUGE upgrade over smartphone photography. Maybe with a Fujifilm X-Pro or X-E1, you could leave your DSLR at home most outings with almost no loss of image quality, but with lenses, that’s MUCH bulkier than the QX100.

          David

  11. 15
    ) James Voortman

    I think they missed the obvious opportunity to make these lens/sensor/battery packages more pocketable. I absolutely go with the concept of a high quality optics module that clips onto the phone, but why put the battery, card and mounting plate in-line behind the lens? This creates a deep cylindrical form. By placing the card, battery and electronics (other than sensor) to the side and incorporating the phone clamps into the lens housing the concept could have been packaged into a more pocketable rounded rectangular shape roughly the size of a cigarette carton or bar of soap and I would be more likely to carry that around in my pocket all the time.

    The next move should be to improve the phone design by incorporating lugs or indentations into the back of the phone casing so the camera can clip on more securely using a less bulky clamp system. This can be done without affecting the shape, size or sleekness of the phone casing.

  12. No sure if these will be very popular, as they are quite large.
    Rob

  13. 17
    ) James

    I give credit to Sony for trying something different, but don’t think these will be that popular. I have a D600 and just got the RX100M2 for a backup/travel camera. The RX100 gives me the ability to shoot RAW + JPEG and has some connectivity to boot. My phone takes good enough pictures to share over social media already, though.

    I took the RX100M2 on a recent vacation and it fit comfortably in the front pocket of my “relaxed fit” jeans.

    As stated in the article, if I want better pictures than I feel I can get from my phone then I’ll just take a camera anyway. Pretty much agree with Romanas completely.

  14. 20
    ) David Ahn

    Oh, one more vote for these products: I change my cell phone every 1-2 years, and if I’m happy with this lens camera, I can keep my camera and just get a new phone!

  15. 24
    ) Nilay

    +1 David for your comment (20). Same my thought.

    Sold my Nexus 4 and Htc One for Xperia Z1 recently. Also eyeing for Note 3. All this android camera phone just ok (but now want more ;)) for novice user like me so i am very much interested in QX100.

    QX 100 priced 25k in India. Lumia 1020 priced ~48k and RX100 Mark 2 ~43k. Basically for me QX100 better choice (price wise) as i am gonna use Auto mode in most of the case and tried to learn basics of photography with little given manual option.

    Also i think sony will improve their SW + connectivity issues and provide more option in near future *hopefully* :)

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