In less than a week, at IFA 2013, Sony is rumored to be announcing two new lenses under the QX series. Dubbed the ‘lens camera’, the QX100 and QX10 will apparently, judging by the buzz on social media, be a game changer and revolutionise mobile photography. Call me a sceptic, but I’m not convinced.
Looking at the leaked specs, what makes these lenses unique is that they effectively function as a mini camera; complete with their own sensor, battery, wifi connectivity, zoom lever, focus ring, shutter button and micro sd card… everything sans a viewfinder. So, how exactly do you frame, focus and shoot? That’s where your smartphone comes into play. The lens is designed to be ‘clipped on’ to your smartphone then paired with a companion app that serves as a viewfinder for the lens.
It’s an incredible feat by Sony and one I’d say is pretty innovative. Good optics and a bigger sensor is what most mobiles seem to lack. One might think Sony’s QX lenses are the missing link between smartphones and digital cameras! As good as this all sounds on paper, what most people fail to see is that it’s just not convenient.
There’s a saying, “The best camera is the one that’s with you”. I don’t carry my DSLR with me everywhere I go, there’s a time and place for its use and everyday shooting is not it. Similarly, I’ve used Micro Four Thirds and compact APS-C cameras such as the Fuji X100 and while I like how portable those cameras are, it’s still one extra item that I need to carry, store and look after when I’m out. Sony’s QX lenses have that same issue. The lower end QX10 is rumored to be 6.3cm×6.2cm×3.3cm (WxHxD), which is not going to fit in your pocket easily, unless you’re going for the ‘Are you happy to see me’ look, which I doubt most people are. Given that the lens has to house a sensor and a battery, it’s unlikely we’ll see a pancake type lens anytime soon.
Next, do you leave the lens clipped on to the phone at all times? You could… though it would probably be a bit awkward to have that lens stick out when you try and make or answer a call. Then comes the pairing, do you keep the phone always connected to the lens to capture that decisive moment? You could… but you’ll lose any other wifi connectivity and likely drain both batteries quickly. Additionally, anyone that’s tried pairing smartphones with wifi-enabled cameras will know that the process is usually clunky at best. With all these downsides, you may start to wonder if this innovative new lens is doomed to be dead on arrival… I certainly hope not.
It all boils down to how Sony markets the QX series. If pushed as an accessory to ‘revolutionise’ mobile photography then it’s more likely to fail. Both the Samsung Galaxy Zoom and the Nokia Lumia 1020 offer a far more practical, self-contained approach. While the sensor in both devices may not come close to Sony’s 1” offering, the convenience of carrying one device outweighs the accessory juggling in my opinion. Alright, now let’s take a step back and consider if Sony markets these lenses as standalone devices. Does it start to resemble any other product? Maybe perhaps the GoPro? Now things start to get a little more interesting. Side by side, apart from the dimension, the QX lens crushes the GoPro on specs. So, if Sony manage to get the right mounts, waterproof housing and showcase their apps (hopefully not proprietary to Sony devices) as remote triggers/viewers, we may just see a compelling competitor to the GoPro series. Sony’s Smart Watch is said to function as a remote link to the QX10 and QX100 which looks pretty exciting. I for one know many GoPro users who would jump at the hint of a better spec’d outdoor camera.
It remains to be seen what path Sony will take with the ‘lens camera’, thankfully for us it won’t be too long a wait.