Sony’s 2013 IFA showcase in Berlin didn’t just give us a new flagship smartphone to play with, in the form of the Sony Xperia Z1, but a number of intriguing new accessories too.
The Sony QX10 is one of two new ‘lens-style’ cameras (along with the QX100) aiming to offer a superior photography experience for your smartphone.
Design: Compact and clever
Take your typical compact digital camera with a zoom lens, throw away the body and push the remaining controls around the barrel of the lens itself, that’s what you get with the QX10, which makes for an impressively small, compact body that’s easily pocketable and weighs only 90 grams.
The body is tastefully finished in a satin plastic (in black/white) with a metal zoom lens (in black/champagne gold) and the whole thing looks in keeping with Sony’s other compacts, although perhaps a little less so when it comes to its smartphones.
The left side houses the camera’s primary hardware controls, a dual-detent shutter key, which sits behind the zoom rocker. On the top sits the power button as well as a logo highlighting the NFC support the QX10 offers, either side of which sit dual microphones. The right side features an LCD battery indicator and the underside has one of the main highlights, a tripod thread, an inclusion bound to help outdo your conventional smartphone snaps.
The retractable grip which attaches to the back of the QX10 adds a lot of thickness, but can be removed to get at the battery door and microSD slot as well as when not needing to attach the camera directly to a phone.
Sony Xperia Z, Z1 and Z Ultra owners will also have the option of buying a special Sony case which allows them the ability to snap either of the QX family members onto the back of their phones directly.
Is it a good camera?
The shots themselves are on the whole very appealing and with the addition of a 10x optical zoom, it’s easy to see how this small accessory could help transform the mobile photography experience of nearly any smartphone.
In the majority of situations underexposure appeared to be the QX10’s biggest weakness, a problem that could more easily be rectified on a conventional camera with some manual jiggery-pokery. That being said colour vibrancy looks to be both accurate and well preserved.
Shooting 18-megapixel snaps with Sony’s own G Lens and EXMOR R CMOS image sensor in tow means you’re almost always going to trump your smartphone’s camera with regards to depth, clarity and fine detail. Darker areas do breed a little noise in certain shots, but again, for the price and the physical size of the QX10, images still look fantastic.
The pièce de résistance of the QX10 is almost undoubtedly it’s wireless capabilities. Although it’s true that the intention is for the camera grip to the back of your smartphone, once a connection is made it can really be placed anywhere.
Pairing is more seamless with Sony’s latest NFC-laden handsets, which simultaneously pair QX10 device, start the necessary app and power up the camera in one fell swoop. Should you not posses an Xperia handset however, the compatible app is free to download and once you’ve switched the QX10 on, a pairing can be made via WiFi Direct based on the network and password information printed under the camera’s battery door. It’s a little less elegant, but still works well.
The app: Everything’s under control – almost
Doing away with the display and the majority of the hardware controls on a camera does pose its own unique problems, but the QX10 is essentially purpose built to work in conjunction with an Android or iOS device to offer a slightly different experience to your conventional compact.
The PlayMemories Mobile app is free to both iOS and Android users and is the primary way in which you’ll find yourself interacting with the QX10. Whether it’s attached to your phone, on a tripod or any other form of camera rig, once the app is launched and the camera detected, the pairing process can take up to 20 seconds to complete. Admittedly not a lightning fast response time, but in a pinch the hardware controls on the QX10’s body can be used to shoot blind too.
The main UI is broken down into three still shooting modes and a video mode. Intelligent auto will select the right tool for the job depending on the environment, Superior Auto layers elements from a sequence of shots to create the best final image and Program Auto adds manual EV control, although ISO, aperture and shutter control all remain automated.
This won’t suit amateur enthusiasts or anyone who wants to delve into the nitty gritty of mobile photography, but will be spot-on for point and shooters.
The app itself also features tools to switch between snapping stills and recording Full HD video with stereo sound, as well as access to the gallery and the ability to pull shots stored on the camera to your device. It’s worth noting that you’ll need a memory card installed in the QX10 to record any video, although stills can be beamed and stored directly onto your device, card or not.
Conclusion: To buy or not to buy?
With support for multiple media formats, fantastic flexibility, not to mention innovative wireless capabilities and some impressive imaging from Sony’s Cyber-shot team, we’re fans of the QX10 as a concept – and are impressed with Sony’s execution.
A price-tag of £170 also doesn’t sting anywhere near as much as the £400+ Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom for example. While the S4 Zoom offers a more complete solution out of the box, from an imaging standpoint, you can pair the QX10 with a much better, or indeed, cheaper phone.
That the QX10 is cross platform makes it perfect for any iPhone in need of an imaging boost. It’s also a great addition to affordable Androids lacking on the imaging front, not to mention flagships shy of megapixels like the HTC One, or noise handling like the Samsung Galaxy S4.
While the PlayMemories Mobile software could be a little bit more malleable, all-in-all, the Sony Cyber-shot QX10 is a triumph of mobile imaging, hardware design and wireless innovation.