Sony is now selling two radically different digital cameras, which it believes will overcome many of the limitations of smartphone photography and video.
The two cameras, which Sony calls “smart lenses” are designed as accessories that clip on to a smartphone – such as its Xperia range of Android handsets, or the iPhone – and make use of the phone’s screen both as the viewfinder, and control interface.
The two smart lenses, the QX10 and the more expensive, Zeiss-based QX100, have no viewfinders, and little in the way of camera controls.
The QX100, which was on display at IBC 2013, has a motorised zoom lever on the lens body, with a shutter button behind it, a manual focus ring on the front, and an on-off switch. But the cameras have no other settings buttons: that function is carried out by the host phones.
Instead, the two Sony smart lenses have a clip mechanism that folds out of the back of the unit, allowing them to be adjusted to fit a range of smartphone bodies. Behind the clip, the camera units have a flap for onboard storage, of either micro SD, or Sony’s own Memory Stick. There is also a multi-use USB terminal.
In use, the cameras feel solid and suitable for professional work. The QX100 in particular, in the black finish, looks and feels both durable and well made.
Sony also seems to have paid attention to detail in designing the smart lenses: the focus ring has a proper grip, and the camera also has a tripod bush.
This allows the camera unit and smartphone to work with conventional tripods – smartphones, with the exception of Nokia’s Lumia 1020, using its camera grip – do not have them.
But it also opens up the possibility of using the QX series on their own, as remote or point of view cameras, or even a B-camera for interviews. Given that they use smartphones as viewfinders and controls, locating the camera away from the operator is not an issue.
Connecting the camera to the smartphone means downloading a QX-series app from the appropriate app store. For owners of Sony Xperia phones with NFC, pairing is speeded up as the smart lenses also have an NFC chip built in. Connection to the phone itself, for previewing images, is over WiFi.
Technical specifications for the smart lenses include a Sony G lens, with a 10x zoom, a widest aperture of f3.3, and an 18mp sensor for the QX10, but without the manual focus ring of the more expensive unit.
For the QX100, the lens is a Carl Zeiss T* 3.6 times optical zoom, with a widest aperture of f1.8, dropping to f4.9 at the telephoto end. The sensor is a 1-inch CMOS type, with a sensitivity of 1000 to 3200 ISO. Both cameras record video at 30fps, in 1440x1080p format. Audio is recorded using a built-in stereo mic. The QX10 costs £179, including VAT, and the QX100, £399.
The two camera units, and especially the higher-spec QX100, could provide a radical alternative to both smartphones for video journalism, and compact or handheld camcorders. Much will depend, of course, on the image quality — and also, the robustness of the smartphone app.
- We will post video samples from these new cameras, as soon as they become available.