Happy Days Are Here Again
I received my Sony Cybershot DSC-QX10 camera in the mail yesterday afternoon. I was immediately intrigued by this innovative Sony camera when I first heard about it early in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, nothing (i.e. nothing, AND my current iPhone) will ever replace the delicious sweetness of the release of the Sony TPS-L2 Walkman back in 1979, at the dawn of the “rare Earth” era in tech development.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, even as I slowly approach middle-age, I get an echo of the tingle in my nether regions for this new camera the same as the original Sony Walkman used to inspire in my succulent youth.
Another Something New
Sony has engineered this camera to ride “piggy back” (literally and figuratively) on your existing smartphone. By utilizing the existing screen of your phone as a viewfinder, and the phone itself as the camera ‘body’, Sony has pioneered an entirely new concept in portable consumer photography. It should be noted that when connected with iPhone via the App, there’s no requirement that the lens be attached (mounting bracket included) to your phone.
I know there will be crowded situations where I’ll want to raise the lens over my head with one hand to get a clear shot and it’ll be nice having the camera control and framing views on my iPhone in my other hand. You can easily set the camera on any flat surface since the otherwise cylindrical QX10 has a flat spot on the bottom, where a tripod mount is also provided as an optional method of off-phone mounting.
Sony Does the all the Driving
The manual control options on a QX10 are sparse. Consider you’re locked down to fully auto mode unless the software is upgraded to allow more flexibility to the QX10 in the future. Sony does allow a bit more manual control via the PlayMemories app on the upscale model QX100 (and could probably offer same on QX10 through a simple app upgrade if they desired). On the other hand, all the extra bells, lights, buzzes and whistles translate to more hassle and less simplicity of use. If you enjoy fiddling about with a lot of manual controls, but are in love with this new camera’s form factor, even the fancier QX100 is going to be harsh your mellow in that regard.
Welcome to Tomorrow via Yesterday
When Sony pioneered the Walkman, the earliest version(s) lacked a lot of the features available on the later models, but at the end of the day, if you wanted to be the first to own one, you were forced to make some compromises (no Dolby noise reduction, auto-reverse or solenoid controls, e.g.). And just like the original Sony Walkman, which many of you probably remember as a runaway instant success, Sony had to finesse and grow that market before it eventually exploded so widely you could buy an off-brand Walkman clone at Kmart for twenty bucks. They were so plentiful and cheap by the end of the Walkman era, you’d see them hanging in the checkout lines of grocery stores as impulse purchases, right along with the disposable single-use film cameras of the pre digicam era. I would not be the least bit surprised to see the same kind of product life cycle run it’s course again. There’s still room for improvement, and the built-in camera on smartphones has come a long way. You can decide for yourself from the comparative shots between my iPhone4S and the Sony QX10.
The camera can be used without the phone involved at all, if it’s holding an optional memory card to store pix and video. The lens has physical zoom, power and shutter buttons but you’d be shooting completely blind with no framing reference without involving your iPhone in the process. You would then transfer the photos from the lens directly to your PC via USB cable, just as is required for video retrieval if you lack a separate card reader.
Jumping Right In
Note: All the unboxing photos in this gallery were taken with my iPhone 4S camera.
Non Spontaneous Foreplay
First thing I did after breaking the seal on the QX10 box (kudos to Sony Marketing on the studly packaging) was download the Sony PlayMemories App (free) off iTunes onto my iPhone4S. I knew it was necessary andI would have already installed it earlier, but it isn’t good for anything other than controlling and communicating with the Sony QX10 (and QX100) cameras, so it wouldn’t have been doing anything but taking up space on my phone and mocking me every time I glanced at the icon on my phone while impatiently awaiting the arrival of its material mate to arrive via post. Plus, there’s no waiting in line at the app store and it’s always open. The app downloaded in the background while I took the unboxing photos shown above with the iPhone4S built-in camera.
The App’s Not Crap
If you read any of the reviews about the PlayMemories App you know what a horrible buggy piece of garbage it must have been before the recent (and desperately needed) Sony upgrade. I am happy to report that my initial experience with the app on my iPhone4S has been quite pleasant. In switching back and forth between the iPhone internal camera and the Sony QX10 to take the comparative shots below, the app was quick to re-establish connection with the external lens. The camera and iPhone set up their own ad-hoc wifi network so you don’t have to be on a local wifi network or shared router. It seems like a no brainer, but I’ve seen a lot of people ask about that in other reviews. It’s not a spontaneous connection, nor as smooth an experience in operation as a wholly separate pocket-sized point and shoot of similar cost, but it seems wise to take all those rather dated (in internet time), negative app reviews with a grain of salt, as the software performed up to my expectations. I would imagine the faster processor ratings of the newer iPhones would be even better, but that is not something I have the hardware to test. I’m hoping to ride my iPhone4S until the release of the iPhone12 if providence sees fit.
Time Is On Your Side
I used to say, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it but then Apple dropped iOS7 on us and for me at least, once I got over the demise of my beloved skeuomorphs, iOS7 has been terrific. Expect to see further refinements in the Sony PlayMemories App if you purchase a QX10, or it’s hellishly expensive snobby upscale sibling, the QX100 ($500ish). Sony has already announced more app improvements are on the way. I love how you buy electronic devices nowadays and they keep adding features via software, making them better than they were when you first got them.
A Softspot for the Hardware
The one thing that reviewers were nearly unanimous in lauding, even as many muttered obscenities under their breathe as they struggled with the early beta versions of that buggy app? The camera itself. There’s a lot of praise for the of optics and picture quality of this camera/lens and I concur. The QX10 is basically the rejiggered guts out of one of Sony’s more successful point and shoot pocket cams, which adds some historical provenance to the QX10. The ten power true optical zoom and low light capabilities of this camera put my iPhone to shame, which is good, since there is no way to use the iPhone camera flash with the Sony lens and it doesn’t have one built into itself. If I want a crappy flashed-tout look to my photos, the iPhone has it, but I dislike flash enough to abstain from it altogether. Bottom line is that you can’t approach the picture quality the QX10 offers with your iPhone because, physics. I suspect the early negative app reviews led to the discounted price I paid for this camera, 144 euro ($196 USD), down from the original price of $250 USD, though I’ve still seen it being listed on many US websites at $250, give or take a buck. Waiting for the app to be overhauled resulted in me getting a much better discount on this innovative camera than I did when I jumped in on day one and dropped full retail ($200) on the aforementioned Sony Walkman (I’d have paid more!). It’s good to remember that way back in 1979, a dollar was still worth something. Around sixty seven cents if memory serves me correctly.
Ready Aim Fire
With the app installed and the camera and phone WiFi synced, it was finally time to test out the fancy smazz optical zoom. Here’s a set of three pictures taken from the skylight window in my living room. The sky is overcast limiting illumination somewhat, but I was impressed at the results.
It’s important to note that the three sample zoom pix posted, as well as all other QX10 sample shots through to the end of this review are taken in the LOWER of the two options provided in the PlayMemories app. I have not even explored the larger file output option. Most of the pictures I take are for web posting or social media posting and I don’t want or need a huge file size for a minor improvement in quality. Since the files are being transferred one at a time via wifi from the camera to the iPhone after each shot, it’ll also slow down your shooting since you have to pause between each photo to allow it to transfer back to the iPhone. Once it’s on your phone (QX10 saves to your regular camera roll!) you are then able to move pictures freely onto the social media site or cloud storage service of your choice quickly and easily via your usual photo sharing apps. I believe the PlayMemories app has some sharing functions built in, just like every other camera app seems to be including these days, but I have not tested those yet.