Cyber-shot, Design, Ericsson, Optics, Sony -

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX100

Sony's new QX100 smartphone accessory will let you take plenty of great pictures on your smartphone, but you may be better off just buying the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II camera and using its built-in wireless features to transfer files to your handset instead.

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Introduced at the IFA 2013 tradeshow in Berlin alongside the new Sony Xperia Z1, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 and QX10 are a new breed of camera accessory that is designed to improve the quality of images shot with smartphones. Equipped with bigger sensors and optical zoom capabilities, these accessories are essentially cameras add-ons (without viewfinders) for your phone that lets you shoot better pictures than the current crop of smartphones.

In fact, the high-end QX100 model is actually based on the innards of Sony's advanced compact camera, the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II. This should ensure pretty high quality images, given the excellent track record of the RX100 II and RX100. Sadly, as much as we'd like to give Sony credit for an innovative attempt to improve the image quality of smartphone cameras, the QX100 isn't the most user-friendly device.

(Credit: Aloysius Low/CNET)

Design

Even though the QX10 has a 10x optical zoom lens compared with the 3.6x zoom on the QX100, the latter is about twice as tall due to its higher-end imaging specifications. Like the QX10, the QX100 comes with a bracket that lets you mount it on any smartphone. You can also use the QX100 separately on its own.

(Credit: Aloysius Low/CNET)

The device fits comfortably in the hand, and you can take pictures simply by pressing the onboard shutter button with one hand. You can also adjust the zoom level via the controls that are located next to the shutter button.

(Credit: Aloysius Low/CNET)

In actual use, I find it can be quite awkward to hold a phone with one hand and the QX100 in the other. Perhaps this is a matter of personal preference, and while mounting the QX100 on a smartphone may seem unwieldy for taking pictures, I am more inclined to use the QX100 mounted to a phone. You can also shoot without a smartphone, but the lack of a viewfinder for framing shots will likely result in badly composed images.

It also works with iOS.
(Credit: Aloysius Low/CNET)

Features

Since the QX100 is based on the imaging components of the RX100 II, it features the same 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor, bright F1.8 optics, Carl Zeiss lens with 3.6x zoom and Sony's Bionz imaging engine. Unlike the RX100 II which can capture in RAW, the QX100 is only capable of taking pictures in JPEG.

The QX100's battery is rated for around 200 images before needing a recharge. To pair the lens with your smartphone, all you need to do is connect it to the Wi-Fi Direct hotspot and load up the PlayMemories app. Android users can turn on NFC and tap the lens for quick pairing. Note that leaving your Wi-Fi connected to the lens will drain your smartphone battery.

Like the QX10, it seems that the QX100 has very limited shooting modes. It comes with five: Superior Auto, Intelligent Auto, Program Auto, Aperture Priority Shooting and Movie Mode. There's no flash, nor can you use the smartphone's flash for taking pictures.

I found Intelligent Auto to be sufficient for most situations, while Superior Auto, like in the RX100 II, takes several shots to combine into one. As highlighted in the QX10 review, do not use Superior Auto to capture moving shots.

Program Auto lets you tweak the white balance and exposure, while Aperture Priority Shooting adds aperture to the mix. There's no ISO control, or burst modes. So those who want more manual controls will have to consider the RX100 II instead.

Shooting with the lens can be quite frustrating, especially if you're in an area with a lot of Wi-Fi networks. The screen tends to randomly freeze, and there is also a lag between what you see on the smartphone screen (as a viewfinder for QX100) and what is happening in real time. So while the QX100 is great for shooting static subjects like food and portraits, the screen lag will mean you are likely to miss the moment in an action shot. Having said that, the shutter is very responsive and will snap on command.

My biggest gripe with the QX100 has to be the tedious setup process. To use it, you have to mount it on the phone, turn it on, activate the phone's Wi-Fi, load the app, wait for it to search and connect to the lens before you can take the first shot. You can, of course, choose not to mount it or shoot without connecting to the phone (hence no viewfinder) to save a few steps, but that brings about other challenges.

Performance

Not surprisingly, the QX100 takes very similar pictures compared with the RX100 II. The only difference we noticed was that the pictures taken RX100 II were slightly brighter. Pictures were shot in the Intelligent Auto mode with shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings similar for both pictures.

Nonetheless, the QX100 takes really good pictures with beautiful depth of field. Colors are natural and vibrant with good details. In fact, we find the picture quality better than some of the compact cameras out there. So if you are looking to take really good pictures with your smartphone, this is probably an accessory you can seriously consider.

Taken with the QX100 (click to enlarge).
(Credit: Aloysius Low/CNET)
Taken with the RX100 (click to enlarge).
(Credit: Aloysius Low/CNET)
Taken with the QX100 (click to enlarge).
(Credit: Aloysius Low/CNET)
Taken with the RX100 (click to enlarge).
(Credit: Aloysius Low/CNET)

Conclusion

There's no doubt that the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 is an innovative product, but at S$649, it is not for everyone. As a comparison, the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II retails at S$999, which is just S$350 more. While the QX100 captures great images, until Sony finds a way to make it easier to use with a smartphone, it's hard to wholeheartedly recommend this camera accessory to phone photographers, for now.


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