Digital Cameras Guide
Hands-on: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10
Your Smartphone Becomes a Premium Camera
As expected, at a pre-IFA 2013 press conference, Sony has announced the Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 and QX100. To recap, these are lens/camera attachments that you can attach to a smartphone to take photos. While we call them lens attachments, Sony still calls them digital still cameras. Whatever it is that you call them, the fact that they work on both Android and iOS means that they’re now very viable options for those who’re tempted by the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 Mark II or the Xperia Z1’s camera prowess, but are put off by the price, or aren’t willing to switch to the Xperia camp. For Sony, enabling the QX ‘cameras’ to work on the two most popular mobile platforms is a shrewd move; and who knows, it may be exactly what the camera division needs to make up for the drop of digital camera sales (ironically, a large part of it is due to smartphones).
In a nutshell, the QX10 is the lower-end model of the two cameras. It has a 1/2.3-inch-type, 18.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor, while the more expensive QX100 has a bigger 1.0-inch-type, 20.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor. The built-in lens is also different: the QX10 has a Sony G lens capable of 10x optical zoom (25-250mm equivalent), while the QX100 sports a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens capable of 3.6x optical zoom (28-100mm equivalent). The latter also has a maximum aperture of F1.8, compared to F3.3 for the former. The QX100 also has the ISO sensitivity advantage thanks to its larger sensor, expandable up to ISO 25,600, versus ISO 12,800 for the QX10. And only the longer (55.5mm vs. 33.3mm) and heavier (165g vs. 90g) QX100 has an aperture priority mode, and is able to do manual focusing and zooming through a physical control ring.
The above said, the QX10 and QX100 share several similarities too. Both can do movie recording (1,440 x 1,080/30fps), have SteadyShot optical image stabilization, as well as support for Wi-Fi and NFC.
Sony has kindly provided us with a unit of the QX10, and the following is our hands-on experience with it. Most of it is also applicable to the QX100.
Setting It Up
The QX attachments are effectively digital cameras without an LCD monitor back. Still, they require power, and they get it from their own Lithium-ion battery instead of drawing from the smartphone. The QX10 comes with a 3.6V, 630mAh (2.3Wh) battery that goes under a flap at the base. A micro-USB-to-USB cable is provided for PC charging. Alternatively, Sony also sells an AC adapter. We happened to have a typical third-party mobile charger (some call it power bank) with us, and it worked just as well. According to the CIPA standards, a full charge lasts about 220 shots, and about 65 minutes when you're shooting movies continuously.
Opening the plastic battery compartment cover also reveals the tiny memory card slot: either a microSD card (including microSDXC) or a Memory Stick Micro (M2) card can be used.
As you’d have guessed by now, the smartphone is used as the camera’s LCD monitor, and to control the camera, a mobile app is needed. This app is called PlayMemories Mobile, and it’s available on both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. On Android, after installing, fire up the app, select the SSID, and input the password - both of which are printed on the cover of the instruction manual and under the battery compartment cover. When this is done, the camera will be connected to your smartphone over Wi-Fi.
For iOS, connecting both devices requires a few more steps. In a nutshell, you’ve to go to the Wi-Fi section in the Settings app to select the SSID and enter the password. You then return to the home screen and launch the PlayMemories Mobile app.
For Android users, a far easier way is to use NFC. Touching your NFC-enabled phone against the N mark on the camera for a couple of seconds until the PlayMemories Mobile app launches will pair up the devices.
The last step is of course to attach the camera to the phone. Instead of sticky pads or suction cups, clamps are used. The clamps are built into a separate attachment that comes in the box, and which you’ve to now attach to the camera. One of the clamps is spring-loaded and extendable to cater to different phone sizes. The surfaces of the clamps that come into contact with the phone have a layer of rubber to prevent them from scratching the phone.
Despite being a version 1 device, the QX10 actually works quite well. The PlayMemories Mobile app’s (we tested the Android version) shooting interface resembles very much like a digital camera’s (duh!). You can use the onscreen buttons to zoom in and out and release the shutter, or if you prefer, you can use the physical controls that are on the camera. For focusing, just tap on the subject on the screen. During our testing, this was a hit-and-miss affair: often, some areas in the frame will not have the green in-focus indication. You can also half-press the shutter button on the camera to focus, but the focus point doesn’t show on the screen. For advanced users, we can imagine how the QX100’s manual focusing ring will come in handy.
Pressing the icon on the top left brings up a popup menu where you can choose other photo shooting modes. By default, it’s set to Intelligent Auto, but there are also Superior Auto, and Program Auto. Superior Auto raises the ISO limit from 3,200 to 12,800, and while Program Auto caps this back to ISO 1,600, it gives you additional adjustments for EV (–2 to +2), and white balance (seven of them, including auto white balance).
Hitting the play button on the top right opens the Gallery app to view your photos; hitting the mode button on the bottom right allows you to select movie shooting mode. The icon on the bottom left is the settings button. You can turn on self timer (2 or 10 seconds), change image resolution (the lowest is 5MP for a 4:3 image, or 2MP for a 16:9 image), change the size of review image, format the memory card, copy photos over from the connected device, and more. By default, the original 18MP photos are saved in the memory card on the camera, only 2MP photos are transmitted for image review. You can choose whether or not to save these review images. For movies, they’re recorded on the card, but aren’t transferred automatically to the phone.
So that’s it! Without a doubt, the QX10 and QX100 are some of the most innovative digital imaging devices we’ve seen in recent times, not just from the company, but the industry too. As usual, keep your eyes peeled on HardwareZone for a full review (that includes image quality) in the near future.