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Sony QX1 review

Tom Morgan
16 Sep 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
250
inc. VAT

We love the Smart Lens concept, but we just can't see who's going to buy a body-only QX1

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Specifications

Sensor resolution: 20.1, Sensor size: APS-C (23.2x15.4mm), Focal length multiplier: 1.52x, Viewfinder: N/A, LCD screen: No, Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths): (24-76mm), 35mm-equivalent aperture: f/5.32-8.51, Lens mount: Sony E Mount, Weight: 216g, Size (HxWxD): 74x69.5x52.5mm

We were seriously impressed when Sony introduced its Smart Lens concept last year. The Sony QX10 and QX100 promised to give your smartphone a significant image quality upgrade, but in practice we found them a little too sluggish for daily use - see our full Sony QX10 review. Sony has tweaked the formula for this year's show, introducing the QX1. It's a refined design that aims to fix the issues we had with the original, plus provide a lot more flexibility thanks to its interchangeable lens mount.

Like its predecessor, the QX1 is essentially the guts of a digital camera (lens, sensor, image processor and battery) squeezed into a unit the size of a lens barrel. While the QX10 was based around a basic compact camera, and the QX100 around the premium RX100, the new QX1 is the little sibling of Sony's brilliant Alpha CSC range - such as the Sony Alpha A6000 and A5000.

Naturally it's larger than its predecessors to accomodate the Sony E Mount interchangeable lens mechanism, but even with a fairly typical 16-50mm power zoom lens attached it's still impressively compact.

DESIGN

Sony has squeezed as many physical buttons and connections onto the QX1 as possible without increasing its physical size. As well as a power button, you get a physical shutter and a button to pop up the built-in flash, plus a tiny LCD display on the side which shows power, Wi-Fi and whether or not you've inserted an SD card.

The fold-out arms on the back of the camera clamp it to your smartphone, so it can be used in a traditional two-handed grip, but because the connection is wireless you can hold the camera in one hand and your phone in the other. That means it's far easier to shoot at more interesting angles - and to get the camera in little nooks and crannies. It has a tripod thread on the bottom of the camera, which is excellent when paired with a Gorillapod or compact tripod, letting you control the camera from a distance with your phone.

A wrist strap is included in the box to make sure you don't drop the camera, but Sony has also introduced two optional grip accessories to make it even easier to hold. The first is a handheld grip that lets you hold it at one end, while the second is a rotating grip that lets you tilt an attached smartphone for shooting above your head or low to the ground.

GET CONNECTED

You have to pair the QX1 with an Android or iOS smartphone using the free PlayMemories app to get started. Android devices can tap to connect with NFC, while iPhone owners have to connect manually, but either way Sony has sped up the pairing process from the QX10. We got connected in around 3 seconds, down from seven in the QX10; it's a big improvement, but still not as quick as simply pulling out your smartphone for a quick snap.

Once a Wi-Fi direct connection is established, you use your smartphone's screen to frame your shots, control exposure settings, zoom and activate the shutter. Photos are saved directly to the memory card inside the camera, but can be automatically uploaded to your smartphone for quick sharing.

Sony QX1 PlayMemories

The Wi-Fi connection is very responsive, with only a small delay between pressing the onscreen shutter button and the camera taking a picture. The Live View display was smooth and has very little visible lag, which makes it easy to frame shots with no danger of overcompensating for your hand movement. If you aren't shooting remotely, you can use the physical shutter and zoom controls on the camera itself for even more responsive shooting. 

The PlayMemories app has been updated significantly since we reviewed the QX10, with plenty of added features that let you control shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity and white balance. Sony has also added RAW shooting and continuous burst with the QX1, expanding its advanced capabilities over the original Smart Lens models.

POWER UP

The QX1 has a rechargeable battery that should be good for up to 440 shots on a single charge, and throughout our testing we never depleted it entirely in a full day of shooting, but the bigger issue is how your smartphone handles the extra use. A heavy day of photography does have a noticeable impact on battery drain, and if you regularly find your phone running out of juice then the QX1 certainly isn't going to help matters. You can still take photos when disconnected, but with no viewfinder you won't know if they were properly framed until you copy the images to your phone or a PC - though you can get surprisingly good at simple snaps (landscape shots particularly) without the guidance of a screen.