It was no secret that Sony was lining up to launch a couple of exciting smartphone accessories, looking to give you access to better smartphone pictures. The Sony QX100 is the higher-quality of the two lens-style cameras just announced by Sony at IFA 2013, and we had a chance to play with a prototype prior to launch.
Starting at the beginning, the Sony QX100 is derived from the Cyber-shot RX100 II. It has the same 20-megapixel sensor and the same 3.6x zoom and it comes with the Zeiss tag, so you're getting a high-quality lens, with Sony telling us it was "almost the same as the RX100 Zeiss glass", whatever that means.
In the hands the QX100 feels like good quality too. This isn't a cheap plastic clip-on lens and at £399, you wouldn't expect that. Instead, it's a high-quality lens component designed to enhance the photographic possibilities of your smartphone.
Starting with mounting, there's a clip that attaches to the back of the lens with jaws to clamp on to your smartphone. That means you can leave it in place, attached to the phone, whilst you disconnect the lens, which you might want to do when you slip it into your pocket.
The clamp will accommodate devices up to 13mm thick and from 54-75mm wide, so that includes most current smartphones and some tablets too. In the real world it felt secure, so you don't have to worry about your £399 Zeiss lens dropping off when you're lining up that perfect shot.
Being able to detach the lens has another advantage. You don't need it to be physically connected to the smartphone to use it. The smartphone is the control interface, but the lens itself has a zoom toggle, shutter button and a front control ring around the lens barrel. That means you can easily shoot in tight spaces or at awkward angles, watching the live view on your phone.
The body of the lens accommodates a battery in the rear, as well as a microSD card for onboard storage. There's a Micro-USB connection for charging as well as a screw thread for a tripod, so you could quickly position it using your phone as a remote control from a distance.
The QX100 is NFC enabled, meaning you'll be able to pair with a tap of an NFC device. We tried it with the Sony Xperia Z and it worked seamlessly, firing up the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app, which is the interface you have to use with the QX100. As that app is also available for iPhone and Kindle, you'll be able to use the lens with those devices too.
The device we saw was a prototype and we weren't allowed to take away any images that we shot and the performance wasn't reflective of the final product, so we'll have to reserve judgement on the quality until we have a final sample in for review.
The concept is one we like. It's good to see a company like Sony trying things out and being creative. The compact camera market has been under threat from smartphones for some time because of the convenience of being able to carry your phone with you all the time. Does the smart lens change that situation?
Ultimately, you still have a separate piece of hardware to carry around and, priced at £399, we're not sure that those wanting better quality pictures will give up a dedicated camera. It's fun, it's creative, and we're sure it will be good quality, but we'll have to wait until we've reviewed it to decide if it's something we actually want.
For those looking for something cheaper, the Sony QX10 gives you 10x zoom and costs £179. You can check-out our first impressions via the link below.