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Sony Cyber-shot QX10 review: Sony's camera in a can frustrating to use

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You have to give Sony credit for trying something new to stem declining point-and-shoot sales.

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6.5

Sony Cyber-shot QX10

The Good

The <b>Sony Cyber-shot QX10</b> at its core is a good point-and-shoot camera with photo quality that's better than you'd get with most smartphones. Connects easily with Android devices with NFC. Available platform-agnostic API allows app developers to add support.

The Bad

The camera has a very limited feature set compared with a regular point-and-shoot; Sony's mobile app has few features; extended shooting drains your smartphone's battery; and its shooting performance can be extremely frustrating.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 might be a fresh take on a point-and-shoot camera, but the design ends up being a bit more trouble than it's worth.

The Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 and its higher-end linemate, the QX100, are essentially compact cameras redesigned for people who've forsaken standalone cameras for their smartphone's.

The cameras wirelessly link to your smartphone (or tablet if you want) via a direct Wi-Fi connection and, with the help of Sony's PlayMemories Mobile app (for now, at least), let you use your device as a viewfinder and interface for the camera.

Because of the way they look and physically attach to your smartphone, it would be easy to mistake them for some sort of add-on lens that works with your smartphone's built-in camera, magically combining all the strengths of its shooter with the power of a zoom lens.

There is no magic here, though, and perhaps that's what's most disappointing about the QX10.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Innovative in design, not in features

The need for a screen or viewfinder of some sort pretty much limits what you can do with a camera design. With no screen to deal with, you're just working the design around the lens. By going with the round body, it's not only more comfortable to hold when you're using it, but doesn't look too odd when attached to your smartphone. (If you're curious as to just how everything is stacked inside, here's a teardown video of the QX100.)

Beyond the design, though, it's just a basic ultracompact point-and-shoot. In fact, it's pretty much a lesser version of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150 from 2012, but with Wi-Fi added.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150
Price (MSRP) $249.99 $249.99
Dimensions (WHD) 2.5x2.5x1.2 inches 3.8x2.1x0.9 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 5.8 ounces 4.7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution None 3-inch LCD, 460K dots
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 10x, f3.3-5.9, 25-250mm (35mm equivalent) 10x, f3.3-5.9, 25-250mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,896x3,672 pixels/1,440x1,080 at 30fps (progressive; 12Mbps) 4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (interlaced; 24Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life 200 240
Battery charged in camera Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer
Storage media Memory Stick Micro or microSD/Micro-SDHC Memory Stick Pro Duo or SD/SDHC/SDXC
Built-in Wi-Fi Yes with NFC No

By lesser version, I mean that the controls and features have been streamlined to just the essentials so shooting and sharing is as easy as possible. The camera's physical controls are limited to a power button on top that's flush with the body and a shutter release and zoom rocker on the right side. Once the camera is mounted on your smartphone, the controls can be difficult to find by touch until you get used to their placement.

A removable tension clip twists and locks onto the back of the camera and is what's used to physically attach the QX10 to your smartphone. Beyond the clip, which does strongly grip your device, there is nothing else securing them to each other.

It doesn't matter where you place the camera on the phone, or whether you attach it at all.

Also, there is no flash built into the camera and it doesn't tap into your phone's flash, either. If you do need some extra light, what you can do is turn on your smartphone's LED and then open Sony's app to control the camera.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Android FTW
Again, all communications between your smartphone and the QX10 are wireless, mainly Wi-Fi. The camera does have NFC, but it is only used to pair your device with the camera.

If you have a phone with NFC, you just need to unlock your device and touch the top of the camera to the back of your smartphone. Doing so will automatically turn on the camera, launch Sony's PlayMemories Mobile app (assuming you've installed it already; it will otherwise send you to download it), and begin pairing the two. Note, though, that if you store the two close to each other in a bag or wherever, the camera will turn on.

Using this method, it usually took between 10 and 15 seconds to get it connected and ready to shoot. (You can do it the old-fashioned way and just input the camera's Wi-Fi password found on the camera's battery compartment door.) However, there were several times during testing with a Samsung Galaxy S4 that it would say the two were connected, but the app would fail to bring up the viewfinder screen.

iOS works, too
Using the camera with an iPhone or iPod Touch requires a bit more effort than Android. After turning on the camera, you have to select it from the list of available networks in your device's Wi-Fi settings. Enter the password (again, it's on the battery compartment door) and the two should connect. After that, just go to the PlayMemories Mobile app, open it up, and it should give you a viewfinder for the camera.

Windows Phone a no-go
Sony has no plans to release an app for Windows Phone. Considering how good the camera is in the Nokia Lumia 1020, this probably isn't the end of the world. Sony's API platform is agnostic, though, so there's always a chance that a third-party developer will step up.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Automatic all the way (almost)

Sony's Intelligent Auto is a solid scene-recognition auto mode that picks the best settings according to subject and lighting conditions. Superior Auto builds off of that mode by adding some scene settings that help with hand shake, low-light conditions, and backlit subjects. Because these extra scenes require the camera to take several shots and combine them into one, you should avoid using Superior Auto with moving subjects.

Program Auto gives you control over white balance and exposure compensation, but that's it. If you were hoping for burst modes or ISO control or really anything else, it's not here. On the upside at least one app developer, Camera360 has said it will add support for the QX cameras to its app.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Point and...shoot

Shooting with the camera can be extremely frustrating. There's always a slight lag between the camera and the screen. It gets worse when the camera isn't attached or very close to the phone. It also seemed to struggle whenever I was in an area with a lot of Wi-Fi networks.

While there wasn't much of a delay between hitting the shutter release and capture, there's definitely some downtime between shots as it stores your picture and gets ready to take another. Combine that with the delay between what the camera sees and what's displayed and hitting a moving target is pretty tough.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The camera defaults to giving you a preview of each shot that you either need to tap to clear to continue shooting or tap to share. You can, thankfully, change this to a 2-second preview so you don't need to keep tapping your screen after every shot.

If you're the type to repeatedly take out a camera, take a picture or two, shut down, and move on, this is not the device for you. Once you exit the app or shut down the camera, you lose your connection between the two. This means that when you're ready to take another picture or shoot some video, you'll have to do the whole pairing process again. Also, on several occasions, the live view would just freeze, forcing me to shut down the app.

Keep in mind, too, that leaving your screen on and the Wi-Fi constantly sending a live stream to it, will drain your smartphone's battery quickly. It also means that your phone is completely tied up while you're shooting.

But the pictures are better, right?

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 lens camera sample pictures

See all photos

For a point-and-shoot, it produces very good photos both indoors and out, but you'll still want to have as much light as possible. Perhaps the biggest plus to using the Sony over your smartphone's camera is its optical image stabilization. That, combined with its Superior Auto mode, allows you to get some very good low-light shots of still subjects.

Colors are pleasingly bright and vivid, but like many point-and-shoots, highlights have a tendency to blow out. The lens' center sharpness is very good, but the lens does get softer out to the sides and in the corners.

Video quality is good, but nothing special. The camera records MP4 files for easier playback, editing, and uploading on mobile devices. The resolution is 1,440x1,080p at 30 frames per second, so it's not technically "full HD." It is fine for online sharing and viewing on mobile devices and, as with pictures, video benefits from having the optical image stabilization. If recording in full HD matters to you, you'll have to get one of Sony's other Cyber-shots, but even then you'll be recording in AVCHD (MTS) and not MP4.

Conclusion
The Sony Cyber-shot QX10 makes a bit more sense that its linemate, the QX100. It's smaller, less expensive, and designed more for casual photographers who want some zoom range to supplement their smartphone photography. A regular point-and-shoot with built-in Wi-Fi is a better option, but if you're looking for something different than the standard pocket camera, it's worth at least trying one out.

That said, it's still a second device and if you're already not willing to carry around something in addition to your phone, don't bother.

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6.5

Sony Cyber-shot QX10

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Image quality 7