The quality of images captured with smartphone cameras improves dramatically with each new generation of devices. In fact, we’re getting to the point where photos taken with top of the line smartphone cameras like the Lumia 1020 and iPhone 5, and pictures captured by basic dedicated point-and-shoot cameras are nearly indistinguishable. But right now there’s only so much that camera sensor and optics makers can do in the small amount of space available in today’s razor-thin smartphones. What if that limitation was somehow eliminated entirely, however, and almost any iPhone or Android smartphone currently on the market could be instantly transformed into a top-notch Cyber-shot camera? With Sony’s new QX10 and QX100 smartphone accessories, the company has achieved just that.
Sony on Wednesday unveiled its brand new Cyber-shot QX10 and Cyber-shot QX100 accessories during the IFA trade show in Berlin, Germany. The two devices create an entirely new category of smartphone accessory that completely eliminates the current barriers that stand between smartphones and high-quality imaging by moving the camera outside the device.
I recently spent some hands-on time with both of Sony’s new Cyber-shot smartphone accessories and I came away impressed. Of course it’s important to first note that these are not mass-market devices Sony expects average consumers to purchase. The QX10 and QX100 are specialized devices aimed directly at big-time photography enthusiasts, and they are intended to bridge the gap between a smartphone and a DSLR. If you pretty much only use your phone to take selfies, snap pictures of sunsets and occasionally capture photos of your dinner, these accessories are not for you.
At $250, the Cyber-shot QX10 will likely be the more popular “lens camera” among these two devices. It features an 18-megapixel sensor, 10x optical zoom, optical image stabilization and HD video recording support. It also features a base with integrated expandable brackets that allows the device to be clipped to any reasonably sized smartphone.
The QX10 features integrated NFC that allows it to instantly connect to just about any modern Android phone. After the initial pairing, Wi-Fi is used to move data back and forth between devices, which means it can also work with phones that aren’t equipped with NFC — including Apple’s iPhone.
An included “Play Memories Mobile” app for Android and iOS controls the QX10 once it is connected, and it features all of the capabilities one might expect to find on a point-and-shoot camera. Since it’s running on an Android phone or on iOS, however, it also features remarkably simple sharing features that allow users to instantly share images and videos on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks.
The pricier Cyber-shot QX100 features a design that is similar to the QX10, but it is a bit more high-end. At $500, the QX100 sports a 20.2-megapixel sensor and a 28-millimeter lens with 3.6x zoom and a maximum aperture of F1.8(W)-4.8(T) compared to the QX10′s F3.3(W)-5.9(T). It also features Carl Zeiss optics, a manual focus option and an ISO range of 160-6400. The QX100 sports much more impressive specs than the QX10 and photos captured with the device reflect that.
Using the devices is remarkably simple, especially if you own a Sony smartphone. Simply open the companion app, tap the lens to the phone to initiate the near-instant NFC pairing, and clip the lens to the back of your smartphone. That’s it. Connections must me made manually on devices like the iPhone that don’t have NFC, but it only takes a few extra seconds.
Once connected, the QX10 and QX100 are controlled by Sony’s app. Though awkward, the devices can also be used without connecting them to a smartphone and images are saved to a microSD card or one of Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Micro cards if there is no connected handset available. This is a nice feature for capturing a quick photo here and there, and it also means you can connect the device to an Android tablet or an iPad and use it that way.
In terms of battery life, Sony says both the QX10 and QX100 will last for about 220 shots per charge. And just like point-and-shoot cameras, they feature removable batteries so users can carry one or more fully charged spares to ensure they never miss an important photo opp.
Sony’s Cyber-shot QX10 and Cyber-shot QX100 will both launch later this month. The QX10 will be available in both black and white for $249.99 and the QX100 will launch in black only for $499.99.