If you took Sony’s highly-praised RX100 II digital camera, ripped the lens off the front and glued it to your iPhone, you’d get nothing but an expensive sense of regret. However, that’s just what Sony has done, albeit with a little more finesse and planning.
The result is the QX100, which is a 20 megapixel lens with optical zoom and built in sensor, processor and memory card slot. In particular, the sensor is around 40 times as big as one you’d find in a phone.
The device uses all the professional quality components that are standard in standalone cameras, but usually have to be compromised to fit the space and budget of a phone. The idea is to get all the functionality of a camera, but to strip out the bulky parts such as the preview screen and the controls.
That comes instead from your smartphone, running a dedicated app for Android, Kindle Fire or iOS. Although the lens can clip to your phone with a special case, you don’t have to do so: it communicates through either a Near Field Communication chip or Wi-Fi, though Sony recommends a maximum distance of 10 meters. If you are caught without your phone, for example if the battery has died, you can still use the lens as a (very expensive) point-and-click camera, albeit with no opportunity to preview or review your shots.
The QX100 costs $500. There’s also a $250 model called the QX10 which has a similar pixel count but a smaller sensor and less optical zoom.
The New York Times has a hands-on review and suggests that although the QX10 is something of a false economy, the QX100 produces “truly terrific” photos far beyond what you’d get on a phone.
However, it has some serious limitations: there’s no flash, pictures are JPEG only (limiting your options to edit without compromising on quality), they don’t have full 1080 high definition video recording, and they are missing some of the special features available on the respective Sony cameras on which they are based.