Sony invented the phone-connected-camera category with its lens-style QX series of lens cameras, followed this year by Olympus' similarly designed Air A01 . Those rely on Wi-Fi to connect to a phone or , and essentially perform wireless tethered shooting, using the device as the display. That's essentially the same thing that all modern cameras can do.
Unlike Sony and Olympus' biggish and clunky Wi-Fi models, DxO's hotel-soap-sized camera plugs into a Lightning connector, turning your iPhone or into the display for DxO's 20-megapixel, 1-inch-sensor camera with a fast 33mm f1.8 lens.
It's neat, fun to use and delivers photos comparable to other cameras with similar specs. But it also has some quirks and a relatively high price tag. It costs $600 in the US, and will cost £500 (VAT included), with delivery planned for the end of 2015; the company is still working on shipping in Australia "as soon as possible," but the price converts to about AU$840.
Design and features
The design is clever, but has some annoyances. The system consists of a palm-size rectangular camera and an or app. The front cover slides over the lens. When you slide it down, it turns the camera on; pushing it down again pops an Apple-standard Lightning connector out of the side of the body. I don't like that you have to push it down to get the connector back in, though, because it usually means turning the camera back on in order to do so.
When I initially looked at the One, I thought that you could hold it like a grip when connected. In practice, I found it too small to hold that way without either blocking the lens or wobbling it too much. Instead, I found it more comfortable and stable to hold the same way I'd hold the phone for taking photos: and then using either my right middle finger to operate the physical shutter or a free finger on my left hand to touch the focus area and the app's shutter icon.
The camera has a real two-stage shutter button (for half-press prefocusing), though the camera uses an electronic shutter. I find the button requires more force to fully press than is comfortable; it's not hard to press, but pressing it moves the camera more than I'd like because the Lightning connector has a little too much play.
I find that's an issue: as a safety measure, Apple designed the Lightning connector to pull free of the phone when it's tugged just a little too hard. While it's tight enough that I dangled the phone without losing the camera, it never feels perfectly secure. There's a slot for a wrist strap if you're really worried, though.
The connector mount can rotate 60 degrees forward and backward for up-high or waist-level shooting, or to help prop up the phone when it's sitting on a flat surface -- the is the perfect propping-up size, while it takes some balancing skill to make it work with the Plus.
When you connect the camera in the reverse orientation, it's ready for selfies. And while it works with an , when you tilt it forward the corner of the Air juts into the frame.
Like the Sony and Olympus can-style cameras, you can use it detached from the device. However, since the One doesn't connect wirelessly, there's no viewfinder view and the photos don't transfer until you connect again. Shooting this way is hit-or-miss, though if you set it to manual focus at infinity it's a nice little camera for street shooting this way.
A small touchscreen status LCD on the back switches between still and video modes with a swipe. Below the LCD sits a covered compartment with the microSD slot and USB connector. There's also a pinhole reset switch, which came in handy when the camera froze on me. You can't pull the built-in battery to reset.
The accompanying app offers full manual controls, including the ability to stop down the aperture from f1.8 to f11, though you'll find usual full auto and program scene modes as well. You can set shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/8,000 sec.
DxO is planning a firmware update by the end of November to add a bunch of features it lacks: a burst mode (8fps for 2.5 seconds); an electronic level; video selfies; and an EXIF metadata overlay.
Saying the One's photo quality is significantly better than the Plus' is true, but it's also an unfair comparison: the One's a full-featured camera with a bigger sensor and faster f1.8 lens with a physical aperture that you can vary for real control over sharpness zones. The company says that in good light the photos are about the same, but that's only if you only plan on viewing them on the iPhone screen. Even on an I think they're much better, if only because the higher resolution -- 20 megapixels vs. the iSight camera's 8MP -- provides more detail and the One's color and exposure are tons better.
The better comparison is against other cameras with 1-inch sensors, since you can always connect those to your phone or via Wi-Fi as an alternate solution, and you can use them standalone without shooting blind.
Relative to cameras like the Sony RX100 series or Canon G7 X the One produces somewhat better in-camera JPEGs, most notably because it has much better color reproduction. Its JPEGs look clean, sharp and noise-free up through ISO 800; ISO 1600 looks slightly soft, and by ISO 3200 details degrade and noise grain starts to become noticeable, and photos viewed at full size start to take on that painting-like appearance. In the expanded ISO sensitivity range -- ISO 25600 and ISO 51200 -- in-camera JPEGs look extremely noisy with blotchy color patches. Even shots in good light at those settings look bad.
One thing to keep in mind is that no 1-inch sensor cameras even try to hit those two settings; they stop at ISO 12800. So if you need very low-light shots that will be viewed small, or need the shot more than you need it to be pristine, the One's are okay. But DxO actually stretches up there for use in conjunction with its SuperRaw format.
While you get an in-camera JPEG when shooting in SuperRaw, when you connect the camera to a computer it transfers the proprietary .DXO files then processes them in software, creating another set of JPEGs with higher-quality noise reduction that requires full computing power to run. (Note to the space conscious: the .DXO files are 80MB.)
The low-light results from SuperRaw processing look somewhat better than out-of-camera JPEGs from other cameras, but the default JPEGs look a little worse, as if the One doesn't have enough power to do as good a job as a standalone camera.
The low-light SuperRaw files look too smoothed for my taste, but you can bring them into the bundled version of Optics Pro (DxO's raw-file editor, akin to Adobe Lightroom ) and refine to your preference. But the tonal range in the high ISO sensitivity images isn't great; even the SuperRaw photos have visible contouring (step-like rather than smooth transitions between intensities of a color).
The One does surpass all the others in a couple ways. It uses the phone's flash, but does a much better job with it than the internal camera, and it looks a lot better -- more even coverage and less harsh -- than I've seen with standalone cameras. It uses the
And it produces very nice selfies, especially at night. When you turn the camera on yourself it uses the phone's display to illuminate your face, bathing it in a soft yellow. The result is nice, even illumination, good skin tones and, in low light, catchlights in your eyes. And because you can set the aperture, you can choose whether you want the background to be in focus or out of focus.
The 32mm-equivalent lens, which has a slightly narrower angle of view than the iPhones', is pretty good, with decent edge-to-edge sharpness. The camera has a six-blade aperture -- not round, but not bad -- and the optics consist of six aspherical lenses; most cameras have between one and three. (Normal lenses have simple concave or convex surfaces. Aspherical lenses have more complex, complementary curves to fit into a more compact space.) There's a little barrel distortion in the raw files that is automatically eliminated in the JPEGs at the expense of losing some of the image around the very edges of the frame.
It would benefit from a built-in neutral density filter, since photos can get washed out in very bright light, and like most wide-angle lenses it's quite susceptible to flare when pointed toward a bright light.
The HD video looks fine for viewing on the phone or . It can shoot 1080/30p or 720/120p video with slow motion playback, and though there's no image stabilization for stills, it does have electronic image stabilization for video. However, there's still noticeable shake in the videos, and the files are really compressed (it seems to have a fixed bitrate of roughly 15 megabits per second, which is about a third of what you'll get in a standalone camera).
Given its design, running our performance tests was impractical and ultimately nonrepresentative since it will vary with when attached to different devices. However, operating it feels slower than using a built-in phone camera, and the camera is a bit slower than using a standalone camera.
First, there's a slight delay when starting up the camera and waiting for the app to switch into shooting mode. Then, with autofocus on, there's a noticeable delay between pressing the shutter button and it taking the shot. The low-light autofocus is noticeably slower, as well.
The touch autofocus times out too fast -- 15 seconds -- and the face-detection AF takes over, which results in the focus area moving. And when there aren't any faces in the scene, the face detection frequently invents some. DxO plans to implement a tap-and-hold focus in the next firmware update. Also, if you're working on a tripod shooting multiple photographs, switch to manual focus or it will make you crazy. If you tap to focus and it fails, it automatically switches to face detection AF; that's a bug that the company plans to fix in a firmware upgrade as well.
And its drone-like battery life -- that's way short, for those of you who haven't had the pleasure -- can be frustrating. It's rated for about 150-180 shots, about half of a typical point-and-shoot, but when set to high ISO sensitivities (which require more processing) the battery depletes much faster. You can charge it from a mobile power bank, and it does charge as fast as it drains.
It also seems to run really hot when you're using it continuously for a while.
As long as you don't crave a zoom lens, can stomach the price and would rather put up with some oddities rather than wait until DxO works out the kinks, the DxO One is a fun way to step up your iPhone or photography.