PHOTO: MARTYN WILLIAMS. Sony's QX10 lens camera is mounted on a Galaxy Nexus smartphone here.
One of the most intriguing products to appear at this year's IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin is Sony's QX-series of "lens cameras."
At first glance both the QX10 and QX100 look like conventional lenses for an SLR (single lens reflex) camera but there's more to them. They are essentially compact digital still cameras without screens and control buttons.
Behind the lens in each of the devices is a image sensor — the chip found inside every camera that converts light to an electronic image, an image processing chip and a WiFi adapter. Both come with a clip that can be used to mount them to a smartphone and it's software in the smartphone that is used to control them and replace the viewfinder.
The idea is that users get the best of both worlds — compact digital camera quality images with the advantages of smartphone photography, such as the ability to instantly upload or share pictures.
But what's the reality? I took the QX10 out for a test at IFA and here's what I found out.
One of the first things you'll need to do is download Sony's PlayMemories software. It's available for Android and iOS and is used to control the QX10 and QX100. It needs to be paired with the lens using a password that is printed on the manual or inside the battery compartment lid on each lens. The connection is made over WiFi Direct or, if the phone supports it, NFC (near field communication).
Once the software is installed, you're ready to start snapping pictures.
I tried it on my Galaxy Nexus, an Android phone from late 2011. Clipping the lens onto the phone was very easy and at 90 grams, the QX10 didn't end up making the 135-gram phone front heavy. I found it easiest to hold the phone by grabbing the lens body as I walked around taking pictures.
The software shows a live image and has on-screen zoom and shutter controls, but I found it easier to use the physical zoom and shutter buttons on the side of the QX10. The camera can be focused by tapping on any area of the live image, much like the camera software in most smartphones.
It also provides some of the settings you'd normally adjust through a camera's menu including the shooting mode, white balance, picture size and quality, exposure control and ability to automatically transfer a review image (either a 2-megapixel version or the original) to the phone after each picture is taken. The actual images are stored in a microSD card that fits into the QX10 alongside its battery.
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