The Sony QX10 was released as part of a pair of now models which, along with the Sony QX100, are aimed at transforming smartphone photography. Read our Sony QX10 review to find out whether it's successful or otherwise
The Sony QX cameras are a innovative idea and a first of their kind. Designed to merge the technology that’s used within Sony’s compact cameras into a small handheld unit that can be controlled wirelessly by a mobile device via Wi-fi or NFC, it’s easy to get the impression that this new concept is all about bringing new levels of fun and creativity to taking photos with a smartphone.
In truth it is, but there’s a lot more to these QX cameras than first meets the eye and with their larger sensors and impressive zooms they’re also capable of bringing better image quality and more versatility to the increasing number of people who rely on a smartphone to take photos.
Not content with producing a single version of the QX camera, Sony has developed two models to provide consumers with a choice of whether they’d prefer to get closer to the subjects they’re photographing with a 10x optical zoom, or to record more impressive levels of detail and better image quality thanks to the inclusion of a large sensor. Is this technology likely to catch on? Let’s find out…
Sony QX10 and QX100 Review – Features
The obvious difference between the QX10 and QX100 is their size. The QX10 is equivalent to half the size of the QX100 in terms of its length, and the reason for it being more petite comes down to the way it features a smaller sensor than the 1.0inch 20.2MP Exmor R CMOS chip as located within the QX100.
Whereas the QX100’s sensor is exactly the same as that used within Sony’s premium compact camera, the RX100 II, the QX10’s 18MP Exmor RCMOS chip is the 1/2.3in type, derived from the company’s WX200 point-and-shoot compact. Naturally, with different sized sensors come different ISO ranges, and the QX100 offers the slightly better span of the two, shooting between ISO 160-25,600 compared to the QX10, which shoots as high as ISO 12,800.
Another key difference are the optics both units use. With the QX100 essentially being an RX100 II without a body and viewfinder, it’s no surprise that it features the same 3.6x Carl Zeiss optic, which boasts a fast f/1.8-4.9 variable aperture and focal length that’s equivalent to 28-100mm.
In comparison, the QX10 has a 10x optical zoom that’s equivalent to 25-250mm with an f/3.3-5.9 variable aperture. What you have here then are two completely different cameras – the QX10 is destined to appeal to the mass market of smartphone users who’d like the benefit of a more powerful zoom, and the QX100 is ultimately all about capturing the best image quality and providing the opportunity to get more creative with depth of field thanks to its faster maximum aperture.
One important point to consider is that neither QX model offers the support of Raw shooting, so it’s JPEG for stills, while video is recorded in the MP4 format at a resolution of 1440×1080@30fps.
Sony QX10 and QX100 Review – Design
The design of the QX models is very clever and there’s a removable collar at the rear that enables access to the battery compartment where the Wi-fi network name and password are located to connect the camera. In addition, the collar doubles up as a clamp and after the two fold out flaps have been pulled out it allows you to attach the QX10 or QX100 to any smartphone, provided it’s no wider than 75mm.
Attaching the QX to the back of a phone and using it this like this feels a bit odd the first few times you use it, but there will be some who prefer using it this way as it gives the option to support the lens slightly better in your left hand.
The good news is the QX10 and QX100 are very light, making them easy to carry and transport. On the scales they weigh 105g and 179g respectively, so there’s no sense of either model pulling the front of a smartphone down or making it feel unbalanced when they’re attached.
Wi-fi and NFC
The Wi-fi and NFC functionality opens up the opportunity to connect the QX models to a smartphone even when they’re not physically connected, leaving your smartphone to be the viewfinder and the QX module to shoot and record the images. Operating them from up to 10 metres away while still being able to take control from a smartphone opens up numerous opportunities.
If you’d like to setup the camera to shoot a subject without disturbing it you can easily do so, or if you’d like to shoot from angles or positions that don’t lend themselves to a compact or DSLR being used you can do that too – provided of course you’re working within the Wi-fi range.
To help mount the QX cameras to tripods or other mounting devices, Sony has added a tripod bush at the bottom and there’s a diminutive LCD display on the side of the barrel that indicates if a Micro SD memory card is installed and how much battery life remains.
In terms of their build quality, neither the QX10 nor QX100 are as robust as a GoPro Hero 3 or Liquid Image EGO sports camera, but then again these cameras aren’t designed for this purpose, or for the type of photographer who regularly ventures off limits.
Their plastic construction doesn’t offer any form of rubber grip so some careful handling will be required when they’re used handheld and not connected to a smartphone. Although the lenses contract when they’re switched off and feature automatic lens covers, there’s minimal protection if they were accidentally dropped, so users will want to make sure they use the wrist strap that attaches to the lens barrel.
On the barrel of the QX10 and QX100 is a zoom lever and shutter button, both of which are well positioned for operating with the thumb when they’re attached to a smartphone. Alternatively, the shutter and zoom can be controlled by the smartphone, but to do this you’re first required to install Sony’s free Play Memories app that’s available from the iTunes store for iOS devices or from Google Play for Android. It’s worth pointing out though, Windows phones such as the Nokia Lumia 1020, are not supported.
Sony QX10 and QX100 Review – How It Works
1. Out of the box, the Lithium Ion battery needs to be inserted into the rear of the QX unit before being charged via the USB port with the supplied cable.
2. Once fully charged the orange LED will go out. Next you’ll need to insert a Micro SD card into the slot at the side – located beneath the battery on the QX10.
3. On your smartphone you’ll need to download the Sony Play Memories app, which can be found from iTunes or the Google Play store for Android devices.
4. Head to the Wi-fi settings and search for the relevant QX100/QX10 network. Enter the password on the back of the battery cover and it will connect.
5. Ensure the QX10/QX100 is switched on before loading the Sony Play Memories app and you’ll be greeted by a live view display of the camera.
6. Use the settings icon at the bottom left of the app to customise your camera settings. Set the shooting mode from the top left and you’re ready to shoot!
Sony QX10 and QX100 Review – Performance
Unlike a normal camera that you switch on and shoot with a few seconds later, the QX cameras are slower to setup, especially if you’re connecting your smartphone to the device via Wi-fi and not using NFC (Near Field Communication) to pair the devices together by touch.
If your smartphone is NFC enabled you can simply touch the QX against your phone to initiate a connection and launch the Play Memories app, but it still takes between 5-10 seconds until the app is open and synced with the QX before an image can be taken. Of course by this time any spur of the moment shots that you may have wanted to capture could be missed.
Use the QX10 or QX100 with a smartphone that doesn’t support NFC, such as an iPhone for example, and the setup time takes longer. Firstly you’ll need to find the QX’s Wi-fi network and connect to it using the password that’s hidden away behind the battery. This can take up to twenty seconds and even after the connection has been made it takes a further few seconds to load the Sony Play Memories app and reveal the live feed onscreen.
After you’ve entered the Wi-fi password once it’ll be remembered by the smartphone so you won’t need to enter it again, however the fastest time we could shoot an image after connecting and loading the app was still 17seconds. When the Play Memories app loads your smartphone becomes the viewfinder, shutter and centre around which the QX’s settings are changed.
The focus point can be repositioned by tapping any area of the screen, but we did find the QX10’s autofocus performance to be fractionally faster than the QX100’s, which had a tendency to hunt for focus more frequently in low-light conditions.
Whereas QX10 only lets you choose from three automated modes, these being Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto and Program Auto, the QX100 offers all of the above plus an Aperture Priority Shooting mode to allow users to make use of the fast f/1.8 aperture. Regrettably there’s no manual control of ISO, but Exposure compensation is available, with the QX10 offering +/-2EV and the QX100 providing +/-3EV.
The Play Memories app interface couldn’t be easier to navigate. A basic arrangement of icons are positioned around the live feed, and from the main menu you’re given the choice of saving a 2MB image or full resolution version directly to the smartphone. With high-res files automatically being saved to the Micro SD card loaded in the QX, it seems unnecessary to clog up the memory of a smartphone, so we ensured the size of our review image was set to 2MB.
Neither of the QX cameras put in faultless performance on test.
There were the odd occasions where the app would unexpectedly crash, resulting in no other option but to close the app and reload it again before another image could be taken. There’s also a lag between what the camera sees and the translation back to the smartphone’s screen. Slow movements of the QX cameras didn’t have a big affect on what was viewed on the screen, but faster movements resulted in more lag, and in the worst case the app crashing.
The same could be said when recording HD video, leaving you to more or less guess what you’re shooting if the subject moved quickly through the frame. On the subject of HD video, both QX models shoot good movies at 1440×1080 resolution and we were impressed by how well the in-built microphone picked out distant noise.
Sony QX100 and QX10 Review – Image Quality
Colour & White Balance
The colours the QX cameras recorded were faithful to the scenes we photographed, but there is the option to control the White Balance directly from the app if you’d like a warmer or cooler feel.
As well as Auto WB, there’s the option to choose from Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, or alternatively set the colour temperature manually between 2500-9900k.
As to be expected from its larger sensor, the QX100 resolves noticeably more detail than the QX10. Whereas the QX100 manages to resolve a highly impressive 28 lines per millimetre (a similar result to the RX100 II), the QX10 manages to record 22 lines per millimetre.
Regrettably, ISO can’t be manually controlled so it’s automatically setup by both QX cameras. An inspection of low-light images revealed the QX100 put in the best noise performance, with acceptable results from ISO 100-1600.
Sony QX100 and QX10 Review – Value
Both the QX10 and QX100 have the capability of turning a smartphone into a more powerful photographic tool, but whereas the QX10 might seem the more tempting at £179, it’s the QX100’s image quality that impresses most.
The QX100 doesn’t allow you to get as close to distant subjects with its 3x optical zoom, but the exceptional detail and shallow depth of field it produces allows you to shoot more creative images and essentially better photos than those you’d take with a smartphone’s camera. The only drawback is you’ll have to fork out an extra £220 if you choose the QX100 over the QX10.
Sony QX100 and QX10 Review – Verdict
If you enjoy taking photos on your smartphone, these unique QX cameras will offer you more flexibility, however the amount of use they get will come down to how desperate you are for better image quality. If the slow setup speeds, time lag over the Wi-fi network and lack of control of ISO and shutter speed put you off, opting for an advanced compact camera could be the better option.
The Sony RX100II, which the QX100 adopts its lens and sensor from, is a great example. It is £220 more than the QX100, which is a lot, but when you take into consideration it shoots Raw, features a built-in flash, accepts a viewfinder and has a vari-angle screen, you certainly receive a better camera with more advanced features for your money.
That said, we like the concept of the QX system, but being the first of its kind there’s always going to be room for improvement. The main hurdle Sony will have to overcome if the QX is to be a success in the future is the lag between what the QX sees and how quickly the live feed is translated to a smartphone.