Sony QX10 £170
27th Sep 2013 | 15:33
Has Sony found the solution to the declining compact camera sales?
It's no secret that the smartphone market is rapidly eating into the compact camera market. Many companies are trying to figure out new ways to get consumers to buy dedicated image making devices, but Sony's approach is to produce something that works with your smartphone rather than competing against it.
It's introduced two new compact cameras, which look like lenses but actually contain everything you might expect from a standard device, including a sensor, processor, memory card slot and optical zoom. The crucial bit that's missing is the screen, which is where your smart phone comes in.
These cameras hook up to your smartphone - not just Sony devices - and are controlled via the free app which is available for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire. From there you've got a decent camera to use in conjunction with your top notch sharing device, so in theory you get the best of both worlds.
Sony is a company which is known for its innovation, and here is another device that could, if not revolutionise, evolutionise, the way we think about compact cameras. By acknowledging that many users don't want something entirely separate, but do want better image quality, the QX10 is the kind of device that should have a lot of heads turning – indeed it is generating a fair amount of buzz already.
The QX10 is the cheaper of the two new devices, and is based on the Sony WX100 compact camera. It therefore features a 18.2 million pixel 1/2.3 inch sensor and a 10x optical zoom. It's also equipped with a Bionz processor. All this adds up to what should provide your smartphone with much better low light and better zoom capabilities than what it can muster all by itself. By comparison, the QX100 is based on the premium Sony RX100 II and features a one-inch 20.2 million-pixel sensor.
You connect the camera to your smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi or NFC. You could of course use the camera without a smartphone or tablet, but you wouldn't be able to control any of the settings or see exactly what's in frame.
There is a microSD slot within the camera itself, but you can also choose to save photos directly to the phone, or to save a large file to the memory card and a more share-friendly file size to the phone. Neither of the two new QX devices shoot in raw format.
At launch, the QX10 will be available for £180 (US$248, AU$279), making it competitive with plenty of dedicated compact cameras which also feature Wi-Fi, such as the Canon IXUS 140. It seems likely that the price will drop significantly after it has been in the market for a while.
It also competes with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, which is a smartphone with an integrated 10x optical zoom camera. The QX10 is arguably a more flexible option though since you can use it with more than one device, and you can remove it from the phone should you be struggling for pocket space.
As it stands, only Sony's proprietary PlayMemories app is compatible with the camera, but there have already been announcements that other apps will include functionality with the QX10, so perhaps other developers will follow suit. It will be interesting to see if something as hugely popular as Instagram updates its app to include compatibility with devices such as this.
Build Quality and Handling
As the smaller of the two new cameras, the QX10 is more pocket friendly than the QX100. If you attach it to your smartphone, you're unlikely to be able to get it in a jeans pocket, but as a separate device it shouldn't add too much bulk to your luggage.
At first glance, both cameras look like small interchangeable lenses. The QX10 is circular, rather than the rectangular shape we're familiar with for compact cameras. When powered on, the lens protrudes quite far from the body, but when off, the device is much more slimline.
You'll find hardly any physical buttons on the QX10, since most of the operation is carried out using the connected device. There's an on-off switch, a zoom lever and shutter release button. These buttons have virtual equivalents you can use on the PlayMemories app - so for instance, you can use the app to fire off the shutter release if you prefer, or use the button if you want to hold the camera in a traditional manner.
Although there's no LCD screen for composing, a very small display indicates remaining battery life. Other than that, you'll need to rely pretty much entirely on the PlayMemories app for shooting images and changing settings, such as exposure compensation or aperture.
Anybody who wants to use physical buttons - quite simply, this is not the device for you. Once you've paired the camera with your device, it's akin to using a camera entirely with a touchscreen.
The QX10 has a 10x optical zoom, which can be activated through the touchscreen, or controlled using a switch on the side of the lens. This is helpful if you're using the camera at a distance from the screen - or of course you just prefer a physical switch. Zooming seems to be fairly quick and fluid, and the 10x optical zoom of course surpasses the digital option you'll find on the typical smartphone.
There are limited options via the app, which is a shame. Even shooting on Program Auto, all you can change is white balance and exposure compensation. Ideally we'd have liked to have seen even more control here, but given that the QX10 is based on a simple point and shoot, it's perhaps not wholly surprising. We'd also like to see some more creative options available via the app, such as digital filters and so on.
As it stands, you can't use the QX10 with other apps, such as Instagram, but Camera 360 has already announced that it will make its app compatible with the device, so hopefully others will follow in the same vein to make the device truly integrated and even more useful.
If you've been using the QX10 without a tablet/smartphone screen, so long as you have a Micro SD card in the camera it will continue to record. If you shoot independently, you can retrieve the images shot via the app fairly easily, and it can be a fun way to shoot, though of course you will rely entirely on guesswork. There's no way to record video without connecting it to a smartphone or tablet though.
A problem with using the app in conjunction with the attachment mechanism presents itself when you want to shoot a landscape image. Turning the phone around with the camera attached makes the preview window turn on its head – it's not a problem when turning the camera independently away from the phone, but it's a little frustrating when it is attached. There seems to be no way to stop the preview window turning from the app menu, either.
Connecting the camera is fairly easy, especially if you have an NFC device – you'll simply need to tap the camera to the NFC area on your device and it should automatically register the QX10's presence and launch the PlayMemories app. Connecting via Wi-Fi is a little more laborious, but once you've set it up and the device is remembered it's not too tricky. It's a shame that the Wi-Fi setting can't be triggered directly from the app though, meaning that you need to enter into your device's settings area to connect, then go back into the PlayMemories app. It's also worth noting that the password for the QX10 can be found on both the instruction manual in the box, and printed on a sticker on the back of the battery compartment door.
A spring loaded mechanism on the back of the QX10 can be attached if you want to attach the camera to your smartphone for a more conventional shooting set-up. This feels pretty sturdy and not prone to breaking even after repeated opening and closing. It's flexible so it should fit pretty much any phone you have, though of course it's not big enough to stretch around a tablet.
You will need to remove this attachment to reach the battery and memory card compartment, which are accessed at the back of the camera. Charging the device is done via the port on the side of the camera though, so it's unlikely you'll need to access the battery for any reason.
We've come to expect good things from Sony's cameras, and the QX10 is no different. Colours are bright and vibrant, while detail is captured well thanks to its 18 million-pixel sensor. That's quite the step up from the majority of smartphones out there, and if you're keen to crop into your images, you should really enjoy those extra pixels.
Images appear pretty sharp, but if you examine some at 100%, there is evidence of image smoothing even at lower sensitivities. It becomes more apparent when closely examining images shot at the full telephoto zoom (280mm equivalent), but when viewing the images at small printing and web sizes, there shouldn't be any problems.
Having the optical zoom ability is what elevates the QX10 above a standard smartphone. It also offers more flexibility than the higher specced QX100, so if you're all about the zoom, this is probably the better option for you. Although there is evidence of image smoothing, the ability to get closer to the subject is good. Generally speaking image stabilisation does well at the far end of the telephoto zoom, which is useful when holding the camera separately from your smartphone or tablet as this can be a little less sturdy than when shooting two handedly.
You don't have the options to change many of the settings with the QX10, so you'll come to rely on the camera's automatic modes. In most instances it's fine to leave the camera in smart or intelligent automatic mode as it is good at evaluating the scene in front of it, for example determining when it is confronted with a low light or macro scene.
Automatic white balance and metering do a good job to provide balanced exposures with accurate colours in the majority of conditions, perhaps erring slightly towards warm tones under artificial lighting conditions. Changing to a more appropriate white balance setting is available via Program Auto, one of the few settings you can change, so it's worth switching if the camera is really struggling.
Low light shooting is also something which is often challenging for a smartphone. The QX10 with its comparatively larger sensor, along with functions such as a large sensitivity range and twilight mode, make it a good option once light levels drop. Hand held twilight mode takes a number of shots then combines to produce an image with lower noise, it works well for subjects which are still, but is less useful when attempting to photograph something moving such as a person or event.
Unfortunately, there is, for now at least, no way to use a flash with the QX10. Even those phones that do have an LED device in built, there seems to be no way of triggering it from the PlayMemories app. Again this is something that could potentially be changed via an update to the app.
Noise is relatively well concealed throughout the sensitivity range. At higher sensitivities, this does come at the cost of some loss of detail, but it's the kind of thing that it is only really evident when zooming in to 100%. Considering the majority of the photos taken with the QX10 will be shared vis the likes of Facebook and Instagram, this likely isn't going to present too much of a problem.
Autofocusing speeds are generally quick, and you can change the autofocus point by tapping a point on the screen of the device the camera is paired with. Macro focusing, which can only be activated automatically if the camera detects it, does a good job of capturing fine detail.
It's not however the camera to use for capturing quick action from off. Since you'll need to pair it with your device to compose, going from completely off to ready to shoot can take anything from a few seconds (if you're lucky enough to have NFC) to over a minute by the time you've gone through the process of switching your Wi-Fi networks.
We also found that on occasion the app froze, lagged behind or was generally slow. We tested it on both iOS and Android and encountered the same problem, so it's by no means perfect. The majority of the time though it's fairly easy to use and responsive, hopefully the app can be updated for more stability in the future, as well as other apps (such as Instagram) hopefully making it possible to use the camera elsewhere.
Battery life is reasonable. Sony promises 220 shots, and we found that it generally lasts the day. However, it's worth bearing in mind that you're also relying on the battery life of your smartphone, so once that's dead, it's almost like having no camera at all. You can still shoot on the QX10 without the smartphone, but you'll have no way to check composition, focus or change settings, so you'll be pretty much shooting blindly. It's probably worth investing in a portable smartphone charger if you plan on using this device a lot.
Vibrant colours are captured well by the QX10, being natural and punchy without being over the top.
Shooting in Twilight Mode (which the camera chooses automatically) means that the camera will fire off three sequential shots to be combined automatically to reduce noise.
One of the most fun aspects of the QX10 is being able to control it remotely, allowing you to leave it on a table and fire the shutter from a smart phone or tablet up to 10 metres away.
At last, a solution for taking photos of cocktails in dimly lit bars so you can share them on Instagram has been found.
The QX10 has coped well with the mixed and dark lighting here, but some highlights have been blown out on the illuminated lettering.
Examining images taken with the full telephoto zoom at 100% reveals some image smoothing and loss of detail, but they are fine for sharing online or small printing sizes.
Sony's focus at the moment seems to be innovation, and it's done it once again with the QX range. For some time, camera manufacturers have struggled to keep up with camera phones in terms of instant connectivity and ease of use. This time we've seen something designed to work with your phone, rather than beat it.
We're intrigued by the concept of something you can easily slip into your pocket but use it in conjunction with your phone. In reality, the camera does deliver as well as a standard point and shoot camera, but it has the added advantage of instant connectivity and a nifty way to attach it to your phone.
That said, there is a lot more work to be done to make this the perfect solution, especially with regards to the app which has a fair number of problems for now. It'll also become more appealing should other app developers choose to make their apps compatible with the device – which hopefully they will. The existing PlayMemories app could do with some tweaking as well, for instance making it so the preview window doesn't flip around when shooting a landscape images.
Ultimately, as you're relying on your smartphone battery, the camera does remain limited – which is not strictly the QX10's fault, but it is worth considering if you're planning to use it a lot, on holiday for example.
The QX10 represents a genuine innovation in the way we think about compact cameras and is an intriguing prospect. The ability to clip it to your phone and connect instantly is the most appealing thing, but it's equally fun to have it roaming free and controlling from elsewhere. It's a lot of fun to experiment with at parties and outings and so on.
As it stands, the biggest let down of the QX10 at the moment is the PlayMemories app which seems to be in dire need of an update to make it more functional. A standalone compact camera generally offers more functionality than the QX10, including the option to change various settings, shoot panoramas and so on. Hopefully the app will be developed and improved upon and more developers will get involved too.
Overall, the QX10 is an excellent camera which produces great images which are on a par with similar point and shoot compact cameras. If you're looking for more control and even higher image quality, then it's worth taking a look at the QX100, which is more expensive but does give you more options.
There are a few downsides to using a QX10, mainly the fact that you're reliant on your smartphone or tablet to take (compose) the picture, so you'll be at the mercy of its battery life – unless of course you can charge it up during the day or via a portable battery charger.
Where the camera perhaps really comes into its own is when you want to shoot from an awkward angle or distance, as you can control it from up to around 10 metres away. Great for selfies, parties and perhaps even wildlife photography, it's something that you can really have fun experimenting with.
All in all it's an intriguing new prospect that will hopefully improve with age and app development.