Sony invented the phone-connected-camera category with its lens-style QX series of lens cameras, followed this year by Olympus' similarly designed . Those rely on Wi-Fi to connect to a phone or tablet , 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 iPad 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 iPhone or iPad 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 iPhone 6 is the perfect propping-up size, while it takes some balancing skill to make it work with the iPhone 6 Plus.
When you connect the camera in the reverse orientation, it's ready for selfies. And while it works with an iPad , when you tilt it forward the corner of the iPad 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 iPhone 6 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 iPad 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 tablet 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 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.