Sony Smart Lens DSC-QX10 review
1/2.3in 18.2-megapixel sensor, 10.0x zoom (25-250mm equivalent), 105g
Sony has torn the photography rulebook in two with the new Sony Smart Lens. Remote shooting via a smartphone app is something that most camera manufacturers now offer, but Sony has gone one step further by producing a device that not only pairs with a smartphone to take pictures, but actually requires one.
There are two Smart Lens models, the QX10 and QX100, we're looking at the cheaper Smart Lens QX10 here but they are identical in concept and operation. It consists of a lens, sensor, image processor and battery; basically an entire camera minus most of the controls and the display.
It really is very compact, though the shape isn't ideal for trouser pockets
This makes them lighter than the digital cameras each is roughly based upon, and is easy to grasp and use one-handed. However, the barrel-like shape is harder to pocket than a slender compact camera.
To use a Smart Lens you connect it to your smartphone via Wi-Fi. Once connected you use the smartphone's display both to frame shots and to control the zoom, shutter and other settings, such as setting the exposure. Photos are saved on the camera's memory card, with options to send a copy to the smartphone to share.
Controlling the Smart Lens is done via the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app - available for Android and iOS. Given that it's working over a wireless connection it's pretty responsive. There's a small delay, around half a second, between pressing the shutter button on your smartphone and the camera actually taking a picture (presuming that it's already focused). Of course, you can always use the shutter release on the Smart Lens when not shooting remotely.
The live view display on the smartphone was fairly smooth and with only a fractional delay, so you don't end up overcompensating for your motions before it caught up. Tapping the screen to focus responds quickly too. A key problem is that after you've taken a picture it all locks up as it processes it and sends a copy to your smartphone. Even if you turn off the post-shooting review and the automatic transfer it still pauses for over a second before letting you take another shot, plus there's no burst shooting or continuous mode either.
Using the Smart Lens you can easily shoot back at yourself
It supports NFC, so you can simply tap the two devices together to turn on the lens and launch the app on your smartphone. Even then it has to set up a wireless network before you can start framing your shot, which took around 7 seconds in our experience. This is a big point against the Smart Lens as it's not ideal when you just want to pull out a camera, take a quick snap, turn it off and put it away again. Without NFC you have to open the app yourself and then press connect, which adds further faff and time to the process.
Leaving the two connected is fine for when you're shooting a lot of pictures in sequence but as soon as you close the app it disconnects the Smart Lens, and then has to reconnect for around five seconds when you start it up again. There's a reason almost every smartphone manufacturer has added a camera shortcut to the lock screen and the QX10 is sailing in the opposite direction.
The battery in the Smart Lens isn't the issue here, it's how well your smartphone will bear up to the extra use
The battery inside the lens stood up well to heavy use and we never found ourselves running low. However our S3's battery did suffer from the heavier use of Wi-Fi and the display. Carrying a camera that only works properly when your smartphone has battery is certainly not ideal and by the evening we thought twice about using the Smart Lens compared to just taking a quick snap on the phone.
GRIPPING IT UP
The Smart Lens has a fold-out grip on its rear, allowing you to clamp it onto your smartphone to create a single device for traditional shooting. There is a physical shutter button and zoom slider on the lens to complete the feel, it all works surprisingly well. More intriguing is the ability to take shots at any angle you please with the Smart Lens in one hand and your phone in the other. You can do a similar thing with a Wi-Fi equipped camera of course, but the Smart Lenses are lighter and so easy to manage one-handed.
The Smart Lens has a detachable mount that grips your smartphone, we preferred to use the lens handheld instead
A wrist strap is provided so you don't drop the Smart Lens. While a tripod screw on the bottom would be a perfect match for a Gorillapod or the like for self portraits. One major omission is a flash, so you won't be able to take photos in very dark conditions.
If you happen to own a Sony Xperia Z1 you can get this clever case with a built-in mount for the Smart Lens
Photos you take are saved at the cameras full resolution to a micro SD card in the Smart Lens. There are also various options for how images are sent to the smartphone as you shoot, so you can have a downscaled image sent (perfect for quick uploads and sharing), a full resolution one, or none at all. You can shoot HD video too, which is then saved to the memory card.