One of the mantras we often hear is that the introduction of digital imaging means that cameras don’t have to look like cameras any more. The mechanics, wind-on mechanisms and motors are, of course, obsolete nowadays, and even optical viewfinders and single-lens reflex systems are found less frequently. Yet despite this, the basic design of cameras has remained roughly the same. In fact, most compact system cameras are designed to look like the models of yesteryear, whether they are styled as a rangefinder or an SLR.

That said, alternative designs have appeared recently – the Lytro Light Field Camera was launched earlier this year and now we have new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 and QX100.

If you have missed our coverage of these innovative devices, they are cameras that consist simply of a sensor and a lens. There is no screen or viewfinder with which to compose and view images. Instead, the cameras connect to a smartphone or tablet and utilise the screen of the secondary device. Many people now have a smartphone or tablet with a sophisticated computer and a large, high-definition screen that is often more powerful and of a better quality than that found on a camera. The idea of using a large screen is also appealing, as using a tablet to compose images on a 7-10in screen is similar to using a 5x4in or larger format camera. A tablet has an even greater advantage in that the exposure, colour and contrast can all be previewed live while composing the image.

One of the complaints concerning smartphone cameras is the lack of quality and the absence of a zoom lens. The Sony QX cameras are designed to solve both these issues, providing a larger sensor and an optical zoom. With the market for smartphones and tablets around six times bigger than the digital camera market, and sales of consumer compact cameras declining, Sony’s reasoning behind the new QX range is clear. The concept is certainly innovative, but what are the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 and QX100 like to use?

Image: Taken at sunrise, this image was shot on a new, rather unconventional camera

See Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 sample shots

See Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 sample shots


Image: The QX cameras connect wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet

It would be quite easy to dismiss the QX cameras as novelties, but the technology they employ is borrowed straight from existing Sony cameras. The QX10 has a 10x optical zoom and a 1/2.3in, 18.9-million-pixel, compact camera sensor. The QX100 has an even better specification, boasting a 1in, 20.9-million-pixel CMOS sensor paired with an f/1.8 3.6x Carl Zeiss lens. Effectively, the QX10 and QX100 are the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-WX150 and RX100 II cameras respectively, minus the LCD screens and packed in a different body.

Both cameras have tripod sockets and take Micro SD cards, which plug into small covered sockets on the side of the cameras. At the back is a compartment for a battery, which is charged via an increasingly common micro USB socket. A tiny LCD screen, smaller than a little fingernail, shows the battery life and whether a Micro SD card is installed. Sadly, the display does not show the number of remaining images that can be recorded to the memory card.

There are few physical controls on the QX cameras, with just a zoom toggle, shutter button and power switch on the exterior. All the other controls are accessed via the Sony Play Memories Mobile app for iOS and Android devices. The QX cameras connect via Wi-Fi to a smart device and the Sony app then streams the live view from the cameras.

Each camera provides photographers with a different level of control. The more consumer-targeted QX10 is quite limited, with just auto, intelligent auto and program modes available. Exposure compensation is available in program mode, and it is possible to change the white-balance setting.

The QX100 is more advanced, adding aperture priority and manual focusing. However, it still lacks a few key features that would really make it stand out. On both cameras the ISO sensitivity is set automatically, and images are only saved as JPEG files, with no option to save raw images.

While the point-and-shoot market should be quite happy with the QX10’s automatic ISO setting and shouldn’t miss a raw-shooting mode, those investing in the high-quality 1in sensor and f/1.8-4.9 3.6x Carl Zeiss zoom lens will demand more control.

Larger raw files could easily be saved to the memory card, with a lower 2-million-pixel file saved to the connected device. Currently, there is the option to save a full-resolution JPEG to the QX camera and a 2-million-pixel image to the smart device, then transfer full-resolution images on an individual basis. Working in this way is clearly designed to preserve space on the smart device by not filling it with high-resolution files when most people will simply upload them to Instagram or Facebook. It also saves the confusion of trying to transfer raw images to the device and then finding that these cannot be opened in the most commonly used mobile image-editing software. Of course, the solution would be to save raw and JPEG images to the internal QX camera memory, and a low-resolution image to the connected device, but then things become complicated and the device would potentially slow down. However, I still think that most enthusiast photographers want the option to shoot raw images.

Cameras in use

The cameras connect to a smartphone via a sprung folding grip that sits at the back of the camera. The arms of the grip stretch apart, allowing it to be used with smartphones with a width of 54-75mm and a maximum thickness of 13mm. I found that even with a fairly substantial case around an iPhone 5, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 and QX100 could be attached easily. The grip itself can be easily removed from the camera by pressing a catch and giving the lens a twist, in much the same way as a lens with a bayonet mount fits on a camera body. There is even a case for the Sony Xperia Z smartphone that has the QX bayonet built in to the reverse, so there is no need to use the grip. You just click the lens on to the camera case as if you were mounting the lens.

Connecting the QX cameras electronically to a smart device is surprisingly simple. If you have the Sony Play Memories Mobile app installed on your tablet or smartphone, and you have Near Field Communication, all you have to do is touch the QX camera to the device and the two will connect via Wi-Fi and the app will open automatically. I tested this function using a Sony Xperia Z1 smartphone and it worked flawlessly. I was able to connect and start shooting in seconds.

However, the QX cameras don’t just work with Sony devices. I connected both the QX10 and QX100 to an Apple iPhone 5, although without NFC it does require a little more effort. First you need to go to the phone’s Wi-Fi settings and select the QX camera. You will then be asked for the specific password for that camera, which can be found printed on the inside of the camera’s battery cover. With the camera and phone connected via Wi-Fi, all that is required is the app to be opened. It will take 1-2secs to load, but once the final connection has been made the live view from the camera is streamed to the display.

I was expecting the on-screen display to lag a little behind any movements I made to the QX camera but, generally, the screen is responsive. You are never going to shoot sports or fast-moving subjects with such a device, but for travel images, portraits, documentary and landscape images the streaming is more than fast enough to be classed as ‘in real time’.

Of course, the connectivity works two ways. When I pressed the on-screen shutter button I expected the camera to take a second or so to respond to the command. Again, I was pleasantly surprised by the responsiveness of the on-screen shutter and zoom buttons – there was only a slight lag. However, with zoom controls and a shutter button on the camera itself, this is a far better way of taking an image. The camera reacts as quickly as it would when using any compact camera, so if the timing of a shot is absolutely critical I would recommend using the shutter button rather than the virtual on-screen button.

For me, the real beauty of the QX cameras – particularly the QX100 – is that they don’t have to be tied to the smart device. It takes a while to get used to the idea of holding the camera in one hand and the screen in the other, but once it sinks in it is quite liberating when it comes to composition. Holding the camera at arm’s length, way above my head, and composing an image was easy, and so too was placing the QX100 at ground level and composing.

At one point I was shooting a landscape image and set the QX100 on a tripod, while reviewing the composition on a tablet with a 9in screen. It felt a lot like using a large-format camera, and I was able to really fine-tune the composition as all the key elements were clearly visible on the screen. However, the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to work the opposite way, with the tablet screen static and the camera free. In this way I would have the freedom to move around and compose the images precisely, as well as explore angles that would be difficult for my tripod to achieve, while keeping half an eye on the large view provided by the tablet.

Of course, these features aren’t anything new – Wi-Fi connectivity for live view shooting has been around for a few years – but the lack of viewfinder or screen actively encourages you to remove the camera from the display and explore different compositions.

Image: Shot on the QX100 and edited in Adobe Photoshop Touch, a lot of shadow detail was recoverable from shadow details in this image

Image quality

Image: I was surprised at the quality of images I was able to take with the QX100, although the JPEG compression was a little high

The 20.9-million-pixel, 1in sensor in the QX100 is the same as that found in the RX100 II. Although raw shooting isn’t available, the JPEG resolution is still very high. It is clear that the level of compression has been kept to a fairly moderate level and the QX100 can resolve around 30 on our test chart, which is what we would expect from a 20-million-pixel-plus camera. Noise is also well controlled, with very little colour noise at any sensitivity settings. There is obviously some noise reduction applied as the resolution drops to around 24 at sensitivities above ISO 1600.

With no control available over the ISO sensitivity, it is worth keeping an eye on the shutter speed as it gives an indication of the sensitivity that the camera is using. Obviously, as the shutter speed increases, the QX100 will increase the ISO sensitivity settings – along with the risk of camera shake. If you can use a large aperture without the shallower depth of field becoming detrimental to the image, it is worth doing so to ensure that the lowest sensitivity is used.

Images taken in bright sunshine look great. They are full of detail and I found that I could sharpen the JPEG files to add a little more ‘bite’.

Sadly, there are no different image styles to choose from in the Sony Play Memories mobile app. For instance, I often shoot in black & white, saving a raw file in case I want a colour image. Unfortunately, there is no black & white option. In fact, there are no options to change the image style whatsoever.

I feel this is something of an oversight on Sony’s behalf, although perhaps this omission is due to the processing power that would be required to preview the colour effects live on-screen. Given the number of different devices and screens that the QX100 may be used with, some older or lower specification smart phones may not have the necessary power needed to stream the live view and process the colour of the image.

Generally, images look fairly natural and are not overly saturated. There is a contrast curve applied to images, with shadow areas lifted slightly from how they are presented in the on-screen live image. The result is that the QX100 has an impressive dynamic range. Obviously, we could only test JPEGs, rather than raw files, but our test showed that the QX100 has a dynamic range of around 11.3EV, which is impressive for a camera of this size and type.

Image: The dynamic range of the QX100 could have been a little greater, but with careful exposure it is possible to maintain highlight detail and leave enough detail in shadow areas to reveal when editing

Where the dynamic range is lacking is in the highlight details of skies. I did get some burnt-out white highlights, so I found that underexposing images and pushing the shadow areas when editing is the best tactic, particularly as at lower sensitivities shadows can be lightened without introducing too much noise.

Overall, the images produced by the Cyber-shot DSC-QX100 are as good as those from the Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II. It is just a shame that there isn’t more user customisation available within the Sony Play Memories Mobile app to define their look. It will be interesting to see how other developers use the QX100, with Camera 360 for Android being the first app due to be compatible with both QX cameras. Camera 360 may end up being better than Sony’s app if it allows more shooting and control functions. What is great, though, is that Sony is allowing other developers to work with its code and develop applications that can control the QX cameras. It will be interesting to see how third parties work with the camera’s various functions.

Image: The f/1.8 maximum aperture creates a shallow depth of field, particularly when focusing closely

Editing images

The appeal of mobile-phone photography lies largely in the ability it lends us to shoot an image, edit it and share it with the world within seconds, and the QX cameras are no different. Two-million-pixel, low-resolution images can be opened and edited in Instagram or other applications, then uploaded online or shared via email. However, the QX cameras can also transfer a 20-million-pixel, high-resolution image to the connected device, although this is not really any different from using any other Wi-Fi compatible camera. In fact, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II, which has the same sensor and lens as the QX100, can transfer images via Wi-Fi.

Editing a full-sized image on a mobile phone isn’t ideal. While basic brightness and colour adjustments are fairly straightforward, and adding a gradient to help darken a sky isn’t too tricky, it is difficult to cut out objects and retouch an image.

Editing on a tablet is possible. In fact, most of the images shown in this feature were taken on the QX100 and edited using Adobe Photoshop Touch on a Sony Xperia Tablet S. By using a stylus with the tablet and zooming in on the full-resolution image, I could dodge and burn with some precision, and isolate areas to cut out. Photoshop Touch has a reasonably good set of tools for performing basic image edits, including layers and blending modes.

While images edited on a tablet lacked the finesse of those finished on a computer, they weren’t awful. In fact, for social events and holiday photos the QX100 and photo-editing applications could produce some excellent images.

Image: Some careful editing reveals just how capable the QX100 is, although images needed to be edited carefully and not pushed too far

Our verdict

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 and QX100 are more than just mobile-phone ‘accessories’. The QX10 will appeal to many consumers as a replacement for a compact camera. Being small and light, it is the perfect accompaniment to a smartphone.

Although the QX100 is the superior camera, it is caught in a strange place in the market. Without the ability to change sensitivity or shoot raw images, it lacks two significant features that enthusiast photographers require. Furthermore, neither camera carries a flash, and I would like to see more image and shooting settings. With those features we would end up with the RX100 II – which costs some £250 more.

What you get with the QX100 is a device that offers flexibility and connectivity. It is a fantastic replacement compact camera, but as an alternative to something more advanced, such as the RX100 II, it is restricted – particularly with regard to shooting raw files.

In terms of image quality the QX100 is great, producing the sorts of images we’d expect from the combination of lens and sensor. Also, having a zoom lens and f/1.8 aperture available when shooting on a mobile phone is a significant improvement on the standard smartphone cameras.

It will be interesting to see where the products go from here. All the issues I have raised are software-based, and most could be dealt with via an update to the app. It is also possible that third-party developers may create their own ways to use the QX camera range, as Sony has allowed developers to work with its Application Program Interface (API).

What is clear is that how we use and interact with cameras is changing. The question now is how such products, and photography, will evolve from here.

Specifications: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX100

RRP: £399
Sensor: 20.9-million-pixel, 1in Exmor R CMOS sensor
Lens: Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 (35mm equivalent)
Lens elements: 7 elements in 6 groups
Image size: 5472 x 3648 pixels
ISO sensitivity: 160-6400
Metering: Multi pattern with ±3EV exposure compensation
Focusing: Single-shot AF, manual focus, touch AF, face detection
Images: JPEG (full resolution and 2-million-pixel preview)
Battery: NP-BN Li-Ion
Memory card: Micro SD
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, NFC and Micro USB
Size: 62.5 x 62.5 x 52.2mm
Weight: 179g (including battery and memory card)

Specifications: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10

RRP: £179
Sensor: 18.9-million pixel, 1/2.3in Exmor R CMOS sensor
Lens: 27.5-275mm f/3.3-5.9 (35mm equivalent)
Lens elements: 9 elements in 7 Groups
Image size: 4896 x 3672 pixels
ISO Sensitivity: 100-3200
Metering: Multi pattern with ±2EV exposure compensation
Focusing: Multi-point AF, touch AF. manual focus, face detection
Images: JPEG (full resolution and 2-million-pixel preview)
Battery: NP-BN Li-Ion
Memory Card: Micro SD
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, NFC and Micro USB
Size: 62.4 x 61.8 x 30mm
Weight: 105g (including battery and memory card)

Hands-on review

A pair of digital cameras that come without any way of composing or reviewing images may seem like a truly illogical concept, but the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 and DSC-QX100 instead rely on the high-resolution LCD screens that many of us now carry in our pockets.

By way of a Wi-Fi connection, both QX cameras are able to link directly to a smartphone or tablet running the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app. Using this app, which is available for Apple iOS and Android devices, a live view of the scene can be displayed on the phone’s screen, as well as offering the ability to change various shooting and exposure settings. In effect, the QX camera module and smartphone combine to become a compact camera.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 & QX100 – Features

Before we examine the details of the Sony QX10 and QX100, it is important to understand why these two cameras might appeal to photographers. The Sony QX10 features an 18.2-million-pixel, 1/2.3in, standard compact-camera-sized Sony Exmor R CMOS sensor, with a 10x optical zoom lens equivalent to 25-250mm on a 35mm camera. In effect, it is a reasonably well-specified consumer compact camera. However, the QX100 is even more intriguing. It uses the same 20.2-million-pixel, 1in Exmor R CMOS sensor as the excellent Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II. In fact, the QX100 also has the same 28-100mm (equivalent) f/1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens as the RX100 II. It is these core features that make the RX100 II the highest-scoring compact camera we have tested at AP.

Even more compelling are the prices. The Sony QX10 is set to cost around £180 at launch, and the QX100 around £380, some £250 less than the RX100 II. However, there is one caveat: the QX100 lacks the ability to shoot raw files, which may take a little of the shine off the camera.

In construction, both the Sony QX10 and QX100 are very similar. The lenses of both are optically stabilised and use contrast-detection AF. On the outside of the barrel, each camera has a shutter button and a zoom toggle control on the side, as well as a power switch and a battery indicator. The cameras store images on a Micro SD memory card and are charged via a Micro USB socket, with the battery under a sliding panel at the rear of the unit.

However, it is how the cameras work with a smartphone or tablet that will be the key to their success.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 & QX100- In use

Connecting the devices via Near Field Communication (NFC) is straightforward, and even connecting manually isn’t difficult. Each of the cameras has an attachment at the rear with spring-loaded arms that grip either side of a smartphone. This makes the cameras compatible with more than just Sony devices, in fact any smartphone between 54mm and 75mm wide and up to 13mm thick. We tried the cameras on a number of phones in the AP office and had no problem attaching them, even to phones that were in cases. A case has been specifically for the Sony Experia Z1 phone, which allows the cameras to be twist-locked, just like mounting a lens to a system camera.

When attached via its standard grip, the QX cameras offer a similar experience of holding and shooting with a compact or small system camera. However, the camera doesn’t have to be mounted in order to operate. Since the camera uses Wi-Fi to connect to a smart device, no physical connection is necessary. You can hold the camera in one hand and a phone in the other, or set the camera up and retreat to a distance of up to 10m and shoot remotely, in exactly the same way as you might with the Wi-Fi capabilities we are currently seeing in nearly all cameras.

With the Sony QX10 being the smaller of the two cameras, it feels a little more at home when mounted on a phone. The QX100 doesn’t feel awful, but for confidence I found that I really had to support the Sony QX100 with my left hand, just like when shooting with a system camera.

By biggest concern was with any lag between the camera and the on-screen live view on the phone. While it did lag for a fraction of a second, it wasn’t too bad. Using the shutter button on the camera rather than on the on-screen display also removes any lag when shooting. Once shot, images can either be sent to the phone as 2-million-pixel images with the full-resolution files saved to the camera’s Micro SD card, or full-resolution images can be transferred, although this takes up a lot more space on the phone’s internal memory.

See sample images taken with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10

See sample images taken with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX100

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 & QX100 – First impressions

With most photos being taken on a smartphone these days, Sony has come up with a unique approach that addresses the issues of phones lacking the ability to take really high-quality images and having no zoom. Once the images are on a smartphone, they can then be edited and uploaded using the full variety of apps, and from what I have seen I think the Sony QX10 in particular will be very popular among consumers due to its size and price.

It would be easy to dismiss the two QX cameras as simply devices that will be used by consumers instead of a mobile phone or compact camera, but the QX100, with its high-quality lens and sensor, warrants the attention of enthusiasts too. Its price is also appealing given the cost of the RX100 II, though it isn’t really that much smaller to carry around, and it does lack the ability to shoot raw files.

If the image quality of the Sony QX100 can match that of the RX100 II, and if it handles well in real-world use, then there may be a few photographers opting to put a Sony QX100 in their pocket when they go out for the day. Look out for a full test of the cameras in a forthcoming issue of AP.

See our news story about the Sony QX100 and QX10