Smart phone photography has come on in leaps and bounds with ever-increasing camera resolutions and a wealth of editing options available preinstalled, or in apps. The physical size of camera units has to be kept very small though, in order to fit into your slim mobile, and tiny sensors can't take in as much light as their larger counterparts.
The Sony QX100 smart lens hopes to bridge that gap by providing your phone with a 1-inch sensor, together with a large Carl Zeiss lens and a 3.6x optical zoom. The lens has all the components of a normal compact digital camera, except a display. It instead connects to your smart phone over Wi-Fi, letting you compose your shot on screen separately to the lens, and allowing you to instantly edit and share your shots using your data connection.
It works with any Android or Apple device using the Sony PlayMemories app and can be picked up now for £399.
Should I buy the Sony QX100 Smart Lens?
If you absolutely crave top image quality but still want to be able to edit and share snaps immediately from your phone, the QX100 is worth checking out. Its big sensor and high quality glass gives better photos than a normal smart phone can achieve, and its screenless design lets you shoot in more creative ways than you can easily do with a standard camera.
It certainly won't suit everyone. If you want instant-on shooting and better battery life,is a better bet. It has the same sensor and lens as the QX100, but has its own screen. You don't have to tether it to your phone and you can pick it up on Amazon for a little under £400.
If you want good image quality but don't want to spend so much, there's a smaller version available, the QX10. It has a physically smaller sensor, but packs a 10x zoom and costs a more reasonable £180.
In terms of its looks, the QX100 might be the most boring thing you've ever spent 400 quid on. It's simply just a plain black cylinder, looking just like one of the lenses you'd buy for Sony's interchangeable lens NEX cameras. It's 53mm long and 60mm wide -- slightly too big to fit into an average jeans pocket, but easy to drop into a bag -- and its 165g weight won't bog you down.
The body of the lens is metal, and feels well-built and should put up with a few knocks. On the top is the power button, with a shutter button and zoom lever on one side and a battery indicator on the other. A standard tripod screw thread sits underneath. What you won't find is a flash, nor is there a hotshoe mount to use an external flash so you'll need to stay in well-lit areas. The front of the lens is home to a manual focus ring.
Features and usability
The lens connects to your phone over Wi-Fi, which you can set up manually or let it do it automatically using NFC by tapping your NFC-enabled phone to the lens. I tried this on myand it worked well every time. Turning the lens on and connecting it to your phone does take longer than it would take a normal compact to get ready to shoot though -- if you have time to stop and compose your shot it won't be an issue, but for speedy snaps, your phone's camera will be the better option.
A removable back panel lets you clip the lens to your phone like a normal camera, but the Wi-Fi connection means you can simply hold the lens anywhere you want, which I found to be the most enjoyable way of shooting.
It allows you to easily experiment with different angles and low-level shots without having to crouch down on the ground. It's also brilliant for holding high above your head -- to take pictures of crowds perhaps -- but still being able to frame your shot with your phone.
You can use the lens with any Android or iOS device, but you'll need to download the Sony PlayMemories app first. It's this app that gives you control over the camera and its settings -- you can't use your phone's existing camera app or shoot using apps such as Instagram or Snapseed. (At least, not yet.) The app itself is straightforward and lets you switch easily between shooting photos or video, change quality settings or tap to focus.
It'll automatically transfer the images to your phone either in full resolution, or in a reduced size, for quicker sharing. You can then go about applying all kinds of vintage-style filters and posting it to any social network you've ever signed up for.
The app isn't perfect though. For one, the shooting modes available include Program Auto, Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto -- that's three separate automatic modes, each of which sounds like it's the best. It gives no indication as to why you should choose either one, and the guidebook didn't elaborate on what these did either.