It is quite common to not own a standalone camera, instead relying on a smartphone to take photos. In fact, the quality of the camera is often a major selling point for a new smartphone. People want to be able to take good quality photos using their phone and share them quickly via apps such as Facebook and Instagram. However, despite how good the photo quality may be with smartphones, one thing that they lack is an optical zoom.
Today we are looking at the Sony Cybershot DSC-QX10 camera lens which is designed to improve the photos you can take with your camera phone.
Specification, contents and description
In the box you find the device, a rechargeable battery pack, micro USB cable, wrist strap, smartphone attachment, and instruction manual.
- Sensor type: 1/2.3" type (7.76mm) Exmor R™ CMOS sensor
- Effective megapixels: 18.2 MP
- Lens type: Sony G lens with 10x optical zoom
- Input /output: Multi/Micro USB Terminal, Hi-Speed USB (USB2.0)
- Dimensions: 6.25cm x 6.25cm x 3.33cm
- Colours available: Black, White/Gold
- Compatible Operating Systems: Android/iOS
The QX10 comprises two main parts, being the lens and the phone attachment which twists and locks on to the lens. The phone attachment is not required if you have a Sony phone with a specific Sony case which allows you to attach the camera lens directly to it, but presumably most users will require the phone attachment. The power button sits on the top of the lens, and when the unit is turned on the LED lights up green. This LED shows orange when the device is charging and red when you record a movie. On the side of the unit lies the shutter button and zoom lever, and the micro-USB socket sits below these underneath a small protective cover. On the other side of the unit is a small display which indicates whether or not a memory card has been inserted, and the level of charge remaining. Should you wish to use the QX10 with a tripod, there is a socket on the bottom of the unit.
To insert a memory card, you simply unlock and twist to remove the smartphone attachment, and beneath the battery cover there is a small slot for your memory card (this is not provided with the device).
Sony QX10 fitted to Sony Z2 Phone
Set-Up and Software
In order to use the QX10, you need the PlayMemories Mobile app on your smartphone (or tablet) which is free to download. The QX10 connects wirelessly to your phone, so you need to ensure WiFi is switched on. Once you have the app you need to connect your phone to the QX10, and the first time you do this you will need to input the wireless password provided with the unit. After this, when you turn on the QX10 and open up the PlayMemories Mobile app your phone should find the device automatically.
To attach the QX10 to a smartphone, you need to make sure the smartphone attachment is locked into place (you hear a little click). The attachment has clamps which open up on the back, and one side is spring loaded so that the device can be attached to different phone sizes. The phone available for comparison testing was the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, which admittedly is rather large and the QX10 did not fit, even with the phone case removed. For the sake of completeness we tested to see whether the QX10 would fit onto any other large smart phones, and we found that fits on to a Sony Z2, however it is a snug fit if a slim case is used. Once it was in place it felt rather secure.
It is not necessary to attach the QX10 to a smartphone, the only reason to do this is for ease of taking photos. Most people would keep their phone either in their pocket or in a handbag, and we found that once the QX10 is attached it is far too bulky to put in most pockets. If you had a roomy handbag it should fit fine. Otherwise, you will need to keep removing the QX10 if you want to put away your phone between taking photos.
Due to the fact that the QX10 would not fit on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone, all photos taken for the purpose of this review were taken with the lens separate from the phone. At times this was quite handy, as it allows you to take photos from angles you may not otherwise have been able to reach, and it certainly made storing the phone a great deal easier.
In terms of photo quality, when compared with photos taken with the Note 3 you can see a slight improvement. Here are some direct comparisons which were taken without using the zoom function on the QX10.
Given that the majority of smartphones only feature a digital zoom, the optical zoom on the QX10 is a useful feature. Here is a good example of the zoom in action compared with a photo taken by the Note 3.
The following shots were taken at sunset, and the QX10 gave some nice results. However, so did the Note 3. The shots from the QX10 were a little overexposed whereas the Note 3 gave a more balanced result (the foreground was nicely silhouetted against the sunset). See the following comparison.
The following shots were taken by the QX10, and we really liked the effect we were able to achieve.
At times it seemed difficult for the QX10 to pick up on items in the foreground to focus on, despite our best efforts.
In addition, sometimes there was an annoying lag between the QX10 and the phone. At first we thought this could be the result of wireless interference, but when we tested it in the middle of the countryside we hit the same problem. There was no clear way to fix this, other than to wait for the problem to resolve.
Let’s take a look at the positive points first. The best thing about the QX10 is that you have the ability to use an optical zoom when taking smartphone photos. The photo quality was good, but not exceptional. When compared with photos taken by the Note 3 (which is widely accepted to have a good quality camera) there seemed to be a small improvement, but not a dramatic improvement. Finally, we quite liked the fact that you can just have the lens in your hand separate to the phone and take photos from hard to reach angles.
Now for the downsides. The initial and obvious problem we encountered was that it didn’t fit on the test phone. This wasn’t unexpected given the size of the phone, but smart phones nowadays are pretty big – we’d be interested to see how it fared with the Samsung S5 for example. The lag between the lens and the phone was really frustrating at times, and it did this when tested with both the Note 3 and the Sony Z2. Sometimes it worked fine, and sometimes you were waiting ages before the screen would unfreeze; it was fairly hit and miss. If you’re waiting to take a photo at just the right moment, this can really cause problems. During testing we found this a real irritation!
The QX10 also lacks a flash and we couldn’t see a way to use the smartphone LED. If you’re trying to take low-light photos then you’ll see plenty of noise and get some poor quality images – it simply isn’t designed for use for situations that would normally require a flash.
In addition, there were times when it didn’t focus correctly. You can select where you want the camera to focus by touching a point on the screen… however, if you are using the lens separate to the phone – as we were forced to do – then you are holding your phone in one hand and the lens in the other, making it difficult to fiddle around with the screen. You would have thought that the centre of the screen would be the target focus area, but it didn’t seem to work like that. Finally, we felt that for what you get, the QX10 does not give good value for money.
Overall the QX10 generated some nice photos under the right conditions, and the zoom was useful to have compared with using a phone on its own. However we struggle to see who would buy this device. The RRP is £179 although at the time of this review much lower prices were available online (for example, Amazon £144). You can get very good compact cameras which feature a 10x optical zoom (and a flash!) for less than £100, and you don’t need to worry about juggling your phone and the lens at the same time. If you’re going to have to carry around the QX10, then why not carry around a camera? It is a clever idea from Sony, but it just isn’t good enough for the money in our opinion.