Once again: What are Sony's lens-style cameras?
At IFA 2013, Sony launched the lens-style camera, a quirky photography device that's incredibly forward-looking.
The lens-style camera makes perfect sense if you think about it. In the pursuit of portability, it makes sense to strip the camera down to the bare essentials. That's what you get in the QX lens-style cameras: you have a lens, a sensor, an imaging processor and that's about it.
The device that you always have to hand from dawn to dusk, your smartphone, can handle the rest of the operation.
At a base level this symbiosis works. The QX lens captures your imaging data, your powerful smartphone shares, stores, controls and acts as a viewfinder, not to mention being a physical grip.
There's one weak link in this chain of otherwise strong parts and that's the connection. Opting for a wireless connection over Wi-Fi, it's here that the lens-style cameras have suffered.
When we reviewed the QX100 (essentially the RX100 II) and the QX10 (based on the WX200) we loved the results. The QX100 is very potent, as you'd expect from the RX100 II's sensor and lens, but the thing that confounded us was in the connection and the software.
There was just too much lag to recreate that compact camera experience and the software didn't give you anywhere near the controls that you'd want for a camera at this level.
Today's announcement at IFA 2014 saw Sony repeated the trick, providing some suggestion that the QX format is something that Sony is determined to crack.
Two new devices join the family. The first is the QX30. This, as the name suggests, has a 30x zoom lens, we suspect from the HX60.
The second addition is the QX1, which takes the concept in the different direction. The QX1 ditches the lens part of the equation, instead giving you an APS-C sensor, a pop-up flash and an E-mount.
Onto this you could attach your E-mount lens from your NEX/Alpha system cameras. It sounds crazy, and perhaps it is, but you can't fault Sony for trying to make use of an ecosystem it's already built. Putting an APS-C sensor in your pocket, perhaps paired with a pancake lens, sounds like an appealing, highly portable, option.
However, the thing that interests us the most is the software update. PlayMemories Mobile has seen an update to version 5, aiming to address that weak link problem.
It's on this update that a lot of the QX value hangs, because this is what dominates the experience. It claims to offer faster one-touch NFC connection and has had a makeover for better one-handed operation.
There's a single touch shutter function, advanced focusing options, as well as the option for grid lines to aid composition, and from the QX1, you have the option to capture RAW data too.
It's too soon to tell if these updates will propel the lens-style camera forwards. Certainly, the prospect of ditching the camera body and just carrying lenses has some appeal, but if QX can't deliver the photography experience, it's no fun at all.