“What on earth is that thing?”, is a fair enough question: it looks like an interchangeable camera lens, so what’s it doing attached to your smartphone? Even weirder, how come you can take photos with a lens that doesn’t have a body, and can – in fact – be used while disembodied?
Barely two weeks ago this strange new(ish) gadget crossed my newsfeed, quickly firing my imagination, and within days I had purchased one second-hand on Gumtree. Yay! The problem in my back story is that I use my Android smartphone for taking photos most of the time because it’s so accessible and immediate, but even though my Sony Xperia Z1 Compact has great specifications, I’ve been let down by the image quality. You probably know the feeling: your Instagram photos look fantastic on your phone, but once you get a look on a full size computer screen your smile gets turned upside-down. Especially when your iPhone4S-toting partner consistently takes amazing photos that scream “look at me RIGHT NOW!” while I’m still waiting to upload my photos from my camera (because of my sub-par phone photos) to my computer for editing and sharing. It sucks!
So…where was I before the sour grapes took over? Oh yes, the DSC-QX100 (henceforth referred to as QX). Firstly, what it isn’t: it isn’t a lens that clips onto your smartphone to improve the native camera’s photos – if that’s what you’re after, then there are some great products out there, and a browse of the photojojo online store will put you in the know.
What it is, then, is a “lens style camera” that looks like a decent quality Carl Zeiss lens, but has its own 1″ sensor, rechargeable (via micro USB cable) battery, micro SD card slot, tripod mount, and an adjustable clamp to attach it to your smartphone, which acts as a screen for the QX. It connects via wifi to an app on your phone, where you can make some moderate adjustments to its function, use the touchscreen to focus, and shoot also – unless you prefer to use the shutter button on the QX. It still connects with your phone without being clamped on, which is where things get even more interesting – and tricky, as you try to get used to the idea of positioning the lens anywhere you like, within wifi range. Can it take a photo of itself? Of course not, you silly womble. Think of it as being like a ventriloquist’s doll for smartphone photographers.
It’s not quick, so don’t rush out and buy one thinking you can use it for sports or sneaky/candid street photography; while the QX is pretty quick to start up, the app takes time to load and connect wirelessly, and each photo takes a few seconds to record, so you’re going to miss action shots. But what is nice about it is the f1.8 lens (at the widest; it’s f4.9 at the pointy end) that is a match for the one on Sony’s apparently excellent RX100 compact camera. This was one big plus for me, as my Olympus XZ-2 compact also has an f1.8 lens, which makes it great for lower-light situations and getting prettily out-of-focus backgrounds. Oh, and it does have 3x zoom. There is another, smaller, QX model, the QX10, with a 10x zoom, that sells for considerably less $$$, but it has a smaller sensor and less-appealing aperture range.
The QX100 isn’t likely to take the place of either my Olympus compact or my smartphone, and so far I’ve only taken a handful of shots (making me just a gushy “look what I bought!” fanatic), but give me time, I’m sure there will be interesting things to come from this.