Last month, Sony announced two unusually shaped Wi-Fi-enabled digital cameras: The 18-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 (with a 10x zoom lens), $250, and the 20-megapixel DSC-QX100 (with a 3.6x zoom lens), $500. The new models, available now, not only have a unique, cylindrical, lens-like shape (they look like SLR lenses), but they also give you the versatility of a digital camera and let you shoot quality photos and video on a smart phone.
This means you can use the phone's display to compose your shots. But these are not just smart-phone lenses, such as Photojojo and Olloclip. These are full-fledged standalone cameras, with sensors, processors, memory card slots, and batteries that work by connecting to a smart phone or tablet via Wi-Fi (or NFC, near-field communication, for Android phones).
Part of the promise of these cameras is that they have optical zoom, which is far superior to the digital zoom found on most smart phones. For example, the DSC-QX10 has a 25mm-250mm zoom, better than those of most phones except the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. It also includes image stabilization, which few smart phones have.
But despite some promising features, Sony doesn't quite hit the mark. For instance, both cameras lack a built-in flash. And the QX10 doesn't have a very wide aperture range, which would provide superior low-light performance (at least in comparison to smart phones.) I had a chance to shoot with the Cyber-shot QX10, and used it with my iPhone 5. Here are my impressions.
The Cyber-shot QX10, was easy to set up and connect wirelessly with a smart phone; I used the iPhone 5. Unlike some cameras, you need to connect the QX10 to a computer via a USB cord to charge it. In the phone's settings, you must input the password that comes with your phone (found in the Quick Start Guide). On your mobile device, download Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app to connect the two devices. When you open the app on your mobile device, you'll be connected to the QX10.
On the back of the Cybershot are two clips that allow you to attach it to the back of your phone. But you can also disconnect the camera, which is helpful for shooting hard-to-reach shots and selfies. Images and video are stored on microSD memory cards, but lower-resolution copies are also stored on your phone.
For more on wireless point-and-shoots, check out our buying guide and Ratings for digital cameras.
Shooting photos and video
Shooting photos and video with the QX10 is as easy as shooting on your smart phone. But I didn’t see a vast improvement in quality either in bright or low light. Still, since the camera has an actual zoom lens, you should get moderately sharper, better quality shots when you use the telephoto side of the zoom than you will when you capture photos using the digital zoom on your smart phone. We'll confirm this in our lab tests.
Also, the wide-angle end of the zoom is broader and displays a more panoramic view of a scene than you would get if you only used a smart phone’s camera. Because the QX10 has an optical image stabilizer, which most smart phones don't have, I found the video to be less jittery, and I shot fewer blurry photos. And the audio has a bit more bass, which gave it a fuller sound.
The QX10 lacks some significant features found on many point-and-shoots, and some smart phones. For example, it doesn’t have a built-in flash, which limits shooting options in low light. It also lacks burst modes, which means you can't fire off images at several frames per second. Both of those features are standard on basic digital cameras.
Using the QX10 obviously adds bulk to your camera, more than you'd get by adding a smart-phone lens such as the Olloclip or Photojojo lenses. But when the QX10 is clipped to the back of your phone, it's pretty secure. (Sony suggests you attach a wrist strap just in case the QX10 accidentally falls off the back of the phone.)
Although I saw some modest improvements in the quality of my test photos and videos (in comparison to what my iPhone 5 captured), I didn't see a dramatic change in my images. This may be because smart phones are doing a better job of capturing photos and video. The QX10 did let me shoot wider angle and more telephoto shots, but not flash photos or images in a burst mode. And $250 is expensive for what more or less amounts to a smart-phone accessory.