There are few things in this world more gratifying to me than snapping a beautiful photo with a smartphone.
I don’t consider myself a photographer, I just like to take pictures of various things for fun. The challenge makes it sort of exciting – how I imagine early film camera adopters felt when snapping photos of the most mundane things and developing the film to see how the shots turned out. And proving naysayers (read: pro photogs) wrong in that smartphones can take amazing pictures is an especially sweet bonus.
As such, for the last two years, camera quality has been a key factor in choosing most of my personal phones. I need at least one daily driver with an above par image sensor. I take a lot of photos and, likewise, share a lot of photos.
And I don’t like to share crappy, dull, muddy pictures for one simple reason: I know mobile OEMs can do better.
And they have. Nokia, in particular, has blown us away two years in a row with its PureView technology. Pictures taken with my iPhone 4S used to blow my mind, and so did photos taken with the iPhone 5 the following year. But neither of those compare to images taken with the 41-megapixel sensor bolted to the back of the Lumia 1020.
Other OEMs have innovated in different ways. HTC, for example, went in the opposite direction and doubled the size of the pixels on the sensor, allowing it to capture more light. Several are now using optical image stabilization. Samsung even made a phone with an optical zoom lens attached to the back.
With each passing moment, more mobile image sensing “breakthroughs” occur.
Today, after weeks of rumors, Sony unveiled its latest innovation. The QX Smart Lens series. The QX10 and QX100, which we’ve seen in renders, leaked images, and an early promo video, are detachable image sensors and lenses that you remotely control with an Android or iOS device.
The premise is … well, awesome. Slap one of these bad boys on the back of your existing phone and you can take some incredibly high quality shots, which are immediately available to share from your smartphone. It’s like the olloclip on every steroid … ever.
The QX10 comes with a f/3.3-5.9 lens fixed to a 1/2.3-inch 18-megapixel sensor. The step up from the QX10, the QX100, has a larger, 1-inch 20.2-megapixel Exmor R sensor with an f/1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss lens. And believe me, just typing that and having that sort of power from your phone sounds incredible. I’m wiping drool off my keyboard as I type.
Of course, there’s one major caveat. There’s always a caveat.
Any camera junkie knows that the price could very well be warranted. Carl Zeiss glass doesn’t come cheap, and the 1-inch 20.2-megapixel Exmor R sensor found on the RX100m2 is known for taking some incredible shots, for a point and shoot – a point an shoot that retails for $750.
The inevitable problem Sony will face is trying to convince the mass populace that these accessories are priced appropriately. Yes, I want one. Yes, it sounds amazing. I’m almost positive the results will be incredible. But is the base model with $250? Not for me. And the QX100, as tempting as it may be, will not be worth $500 for the vast majority of users.
Why? Several, simple reasons.
The first is principle. They aren’t standalone products. They require another device – Android-powered or iOS – to even work. This means they are accessories, which gets me to my next point.
Few people, at least in the US, even understand smartphone pricing. Most think a new, high-end smartphone costs between $200 and $300. The price of the base model QX10 rests exactly in the middle of those two numbers, and the high-end model costs over double what most US smartphone users pay for their smartphone. That’s a tough sell, even for those who understand smartphone pricing.
I can go on. There’s no flash. While you may be able to trigger the flash on your device to supplement, for $250 or $500, you would think Sony would have figured out a simple way to incorporate flash. It didn’t, and that’s confusing to me.
Finally, convenience. How is carrying around an awkwardly shaped lens any more convenient than simply carrying around a separate point and shoot camera (which likely cost less anyway)? You might say that the connectivity and synchronization of photos is where the convenience lies, but that’s a bunch of hogwash. I can pop my Eye-Fi card in my Sony NEX-5N, connect my phone, and sync pictures to my phone as I take them. In fact, I can do that for around the same price. The NEX-5R can be bought for around $550 these days, has the option of interchangeable lenses, a larger sensor, has Wi-Fi sharing built-in, and is no more or less awkward to hold and carry than the QX Smart Lenses. Or add an Eye-Fi card to your existing camera for as little as $30 on Amazon.
In theory, the concept sounds awesome. But everything about Sony’s QX Smart Lenses sort of defeats the purpose. They’re not all that portable, unless you wear a fanny pack or a backpack everywhere. They’re not even remotely affordable. And anyone willing to spend upwards of $250 for taking pictures will likely just opt for a dedicated camera. The rest will continue to take pictures with their smartphone as is and won’t lose an ounce of sleep over it.
For me, I’m still intrigued. And, of course, the QX100 is the only serious option. I reserve my final opinion for when I actually try one out, but something tells me I’ll still prefer my Lumia 1020, purely for its convenience factor.