Unfortunately, the good idea ended with the concept. By the time the poor QX100 reached the production line, it never really had a chance.
Oh, wait â you want to know what it is?
Itâs the answer to a long-simmering problem. Digital cameras take excellent photos, but arenât good at transmitting them. Cellphones are great at sending pictures â but arenât very good at taking them.
Sonyâs masterstroke: Why not create a weird new half-a-camera that contains exactly the components that a cellphone camera lacks?
It could have a lens that really zooms. It could contain serious, professional âglassâ â a Zeiss f/1.8 lens, with the quality, multiple glass elements and light-passing capacity that cellphones wouldnât have in their wildest dreams. It could have manual controls, optical image stabilization and a tripod mount.
Above all, it could have a huge sensor, the digital âfilm.â This sensor could measure one inch diagonal â over 40 times the size of a cellphoneâs sensor.
A large sensor gives you delicious amounts of detail, true colors and exceptional clarity in low light. A big sensor means less blur, because the shutter doesnât have to stay open long to let in enough light.
Megapixels, on the other hand, arenât a very big deal. Even so, Sonyâs semicamera could offer 18 or 20 megapixels â enough for even giant prints â compared with the 5 or 8 megapixels on your phone.
So thatâs what the QX100 ($500) is. Thereâs a half-priced junior version, too. More on that in a minute.
The QX100 is the craziest-looking camera youâve ever seen. Even on close inspection, youâd swear that itâs just a lens. Not a whole camera â just a lens, like maybe one from somebodyâs S.L.R. camera. Itâs a black cylinder, 2.2 inches long, 2.5 inches across.
Somehow, into that space, Sony has crammed most of a camera. Thereâs a 3X telescoping zoom, with a zoom lever. Thereâs a real shutter button, a battery, stereo microphones and a memory-card slot.
There is not, however, a screen, because your phone already has a huge, really great one. So between this lens thing and your phone, you have all the elements of a top-notch photographic machine.
The QX can snap onto a plate bearing rubber-lined grippers. Theyâre spring-loaded so that they can firmly grip your phone. Thatâs right: You can actually attach a $500, semiprofessional zoom lens to your cellphone and take some truly excellent pictures.
To communicate with your phone, you install the clunkily named app, PlayMemories Mobile.
If you have an Android phone, and it came with an NFC (near-field communication) chip, you now just tap your phone against the QX100. That gestures âpairsâ them and opens the app, ready for shooting.
If you have an iPhone or a non-NFC Android phone, things get trickier. Youâre supposed to connect your phone to the private Wi-Fi hot spot generated by the QX itself â which, in this case, has nothing to do with the Internet.
Once you have everything set up, the phoneâs screen acts as the lensâs viewfinder. Using touch controls on your phone, you can zoom in and out; take a picture by remote control; and adjust the exposure, automatic and program modes, plus aperture priority mode, manual focus and white-balance options. It all works, although the camera takes part of a second to respond to your phone taps; you should not expect pinpoint timing with your zooming or shuttering.
The QX100 is based on the best pocket camera ever made, the Sony RX100 Mark II ($750). (The Mark II is the successor to the previous best pocket camera ever made, the RX100; the Mark II offers a tilting screen, Wi-Fi transmission to your phone and even better lowlight photos.)
In other words, the QXâs pictures are truly terrific. Samples accompany this article online.
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A Whole New Idea: Half a Camera