Sony's rumored Lens Camera range could change the way we look at mobile photography

We often say, that the best camera you have is the one you have with you all the time; your smartphone. In many cases that's true, allowing us to quickly capture those priceless snaps that otherwise may never be. I've been spending a lot of time with mobile cameras in recent days and weeks, particularly the Nokia Lumia 925 – results coming soon – and I'm really starting to believe in that.

But, no matter how good smartphone cameras have become, at least for now, they still aren't the same as a dedicated camera. Some OEM's are looking to change that though, including Nokia and Samsung, and if rumors are to be believed, Sony might just be about to take it one step further. They could change the way we look at mobile photography.

The rumor

The rumor is, that in two weeks time at their IFA 2013 press conference in Berlin, Germany, Sony will be unveiling their 'Lens Camera.' What this is believed to be from leaks thus far, is an Android and iOS compatible mobile camera that hooks onto your smartphone. The phone then becomes a viewfinder and presumably a receptacle for the images from the camera, which is entirely housed within a lens. The high end model is reported to contain the same optics as Sony's class leading compact, the RX100 Mark II.

Why not concentrate on integrating a good camera into a smartphone?

Competing OEM's such as Samsung and Nokia have already taken a different tactic towards trying to produce camera quality photos with a smartphone. Nokia has the colossal 41MP Pureview camera on the Lumia 1020, and Samsung has the somewhat awkwardly designed Galaxy S4 Zoom. Both pack camera quality cameras onto the back of a smartphone, but you're of course limited to that phone.

Sony's offering would take the mobile camera away from the smartphone. Since the rumors have suggested iOS and Android compatibility for this, whatever it may be called, it gives you both portability and flexibility. After all, it's not like you'll be trying to carry a DSLR lens around with you, is it? An actual, physical zoom lens gives you much better performance than digital zoom of course, and no matter how good smartphone camera optics are, they're not going to match those from a high-end compact camera. At least, not yet anyway.

So, we're excited then.

Simply put; yes. There's a whole lot we don't know at this point, like price, availability, battery life, basically any formal details. But if you've thought about investing in a premium compact camera, you should be interested. The idea of a connected camera is a good one, but so far the implementation has always been flawed. Samsung's Android cameras are too expensive, Nikon made a decent camera but sucked at the Android part, and WiFi smart-cameras are OK, but you need to use propriatory apps, and they're not always that great.

Sony appears, at least, to be laying it all on the camera, and leaving your smartphone to do the rest. You'll be connected to use the viewfinder, so importing, manipulating and exporting images should all be at your finger tips. And, without worrying about cellular connectivity, or a honking big touchscreen display on the back, the cost of manufacture can be directed more to where it matters; the optics.

But, Sony. Shouldn't we want this from Apple?

Apple puts good cameras into the iPhone, for sure. But they don't make stand-alone cameras, at least, not anymore. It's a specialized market, and Samsung proved with the first Galaxy Camera that you can't just slap a big screen and a mobile OS on any old camera and call it a good job. Samsung knocked it out of the park with the software side of things but the optics weren't nearly good enough for the price.

So, where now?

We're live at a Sony press conference on September 4 in Berlin at the annual IFA show with Android Central. Besides Android phones, TVs, Laptops and the like, there's also a chance we may see this curious camera attachment. We'll know more then, but it's an exciting proposition that we're keen to get our hands on.

Your thoughts

How does something like this grab you? Would you be interested in a premium grade point-and-shoot camera that clipped onto your iPhone or iPad in this way? What does or doesn't attract you? Sound off in the comments!

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Richard Devine

Senior Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy

More Posts



← Previously

Wacom announces pressure-sensitive Intuos stylus for iPad

Next up →

League of Legends accounts hacked, Riot Games forces password change

Reader comments

Sony's rumored Lens Camera range could change the way we look at mobile photography


It's a much worse idea if it's ridiculously priced.

I'm a cross-platform kinda guy though, so it interests me a lot. As does the quality if it really is housing RX100 class optics. If they announce one in gold, I shall de-tether it from the Sony booth and bring one back for you ;-)

While this is quite interesting idea, I kinda dislike the idea of carrying extra lump at my pocket for good pictures.
Don't get me wrong, I will most likely get this, but I'm fairly certain that after while, I leave it home and very very rarely use it. It's just doesn't seem enough small to comfortably carry around.

I recently purchased an Eye-Fi Mobi SD card and I think it bridges the "pro camera" vs "connectivity" camps perfectly; if you're gonna be lugging around anything besides your phone (Ollo clips or Sony's thing above), you may as well lug a real camera and have the pictures transferred to your phone automatically!

If the best camera is the one with you all the time, then this doesn't's still SOMETHING ELSEA you have to carry along with your phone.

I am sure there are some to which this attachment will appeal to but not me. The best camera I have is not always the one I have with me. Nothing replaces my Cannon DSLR and I certainly don't want to carry a lens attachment for my iPhone when I have a perfectly good, loaded with features, camera at home. It even has a bag I can carry my lens and filters in and a cute little place for my phone.

When I am out I use my iPhone for snapshots but I will always use my camera for photographs.

Next they will be attaching mini camcorders to the phone so you can take "really good" video.

No thanks.

re: "Would you be interested in a premium grade point-and-shoot camera that clipped onto your iPhone or iPad in this way?"

Absolutely not. Turns the iPhone into a Frankenstein's Monster.
And the camera is completely useless when not attached to the iPhone.
The Lens Camera is the answer to a question that nobody asked.

If I really, truly wanted a point-and-shoot with optical zoom, I'd get something
like a Nikon COOLPIX P310. $200 on Amazon. Shoots 1080p video too.
I imagine there are all manner of more-connected point-and-shoots as well.

Why would anyone want this kind of monstrosity when we already have Lumia 1020? This might have been cool a year ago, sort of, but seriously, this whole concept has been out-innovated this summer with superior implementation. Time for Sony to get back to the drawing board -- the same goes for Samsung with their silly Galaxy Zoom.

I have yet to see an objection to this that didn't sound like it completely missed the point of what this is for. If you're saying "why would I want this? the camera in my phone is good enough" you're not the target consumer. "I wouldn't use this therefore no one has a use for it" is an extremely silly line of argument. I know of professional photographers who carry around thousands of dollars worth of equipment and STILL end up taking the shot with their iPhone because it's what they have in their hands at the moment. Something that isn't an entirely separate device but an add-on could hugely improve the quality of shot they get. People who are just interested in better quality holiday pictures might choose to invest in this because it would remain useful even when they upgrade or switch phones. Personally, I can't stand the cheap, ugly user interface of most digital cameras and would love to have the Apple user experience/speedy response/storage capacity/assortment of photo apps combined with a higher quality lens. I'll be looking at this VERY closely when it comes out.

"I have yet to see an objection to this that didn't sound like it completely missed the point of what this is for."

No, it is a perfectly valid point. The proposition of the iPhone is that it's a camera that you already have with you wherever you go. That was helped by the 4s generation using a BSI sensor, which greatly improved image quality over the featurephone era. The "but it's an extra lump to carry" question is valid, not because the proposition of a clip on lens is wrong, but because it bears asking how many people would be willing to carry said clip-on lump? It fills a need, certainly. If you want more zoom than what the iPhone has and you want to upload to Twitter or Facebook right away, this is ostensibly the device for you. But are there enough people in the share-immediately crowd that would care for the extra image quality that this would give? Judging from my own Twitter and Facebook feeds, it's a bi-modal distribution with not much room for in-between, people either use the camera that they have and don't care, or they care enough to use the camera that they want.

"RX100ii optics" is also a rather vague term....Look at the specs on the lens: f/3.3-5.8, 4.45mm-44.5mm In other words, the rumor pic is of an all-in one superzoom device, exactly the kind of lens that enthusiasts *don't* like using because of the compromises on optical quality. Another thing, to get 10x into the size shown on the leaked photo means that the sensor is probably a 1/2.5"-sized or smaller; that's another strike for image quality.

The point is, is there a big enough audience for this thing? If you are carrying an extra lump, most modern compact cameras will give you better image quality for a reasonable amount of space. A lot of DSLR users carry RX100's and LX-5's as vacation cams; nobody complains about the space these cameras take up. The mock up unit of the clip on certainly camera looks fairly small, but it's still something that you have to protect and store carefully; unless your wardrobe consists of skinny hipster jeans, most people are not that hard-up on storage space.

It depends on how it works in day to day use. If you have to pull out your phone, put the clip on, wait for it to initialise / connect etc then chances are the moments gone. Basically it needs to keep the same point and click you get with a phone camera but adding all the features, seems like a bit of a tall order. I suppose the alternative is to leave it on the phone but it doesn't look as though it'll be very pocket friendly going by the size of the thing - you'll end up carrying a camera case therefore might aswell take a proper camera.

I'm more than likely not the target audience for this type of device I admit, I carry a DSLR around with me most of the time so generally I use that. That's not to say I haven't used other devices in a pinch (the camera on my ipad mini has come in handy a few times), but 9 times out of 10 I'll be reaching for the proper camera if I can help it.

Long story short I'll have a look at it once we have more info, could be great if they can get it right, but they'll have a ways to go to get me to open my wallet

Dislike. Reasons.

1. Size. I keep my iphone in my back or front pocket. At no point would I be able to carry this lens around attached. defeats the whole purpose. If I'm going to have to carry it in a separate location, I'd rather carry a Fuji x100s, or and OMD-E5. Both are roughly the same size as this lens attached to an iPhone.

2. Richard, your comment about proprietary apps makes no sense. I highly doubt Apple is going to change their photos app or camera app to incorporate this lens. So you'll still have to have a 3rd party app on your phone to absorb the images. At that point, go back to the cameras up above and use an Eye-Fi card to import on the fly as you shoot.

3. Usability. The iPhone is known to be made to be used with one hand. Anyone want to venture a guess as to how this camera would work tying to edit a pic using one hand? Probably not too well. I just image stretching my index and middle finger around that lens with my thumb wrapping around the front trying to edit a pick without dropping the whole off-balance device.

4. The sizing is all off. I don't see how they'll fit an APS-C size sensor in the bigger one without it being gigantic. The smallest camera that I'm aware of with that sensor is the Fuji XE-1 which is a great size. The lenses for that camera would have to be roughly the same size to be able to fill the sensor, there's a reason the lenses can't get any smaller. Look at the Sony Nex-3-7, those lenses are huge compared to the body, those will be roughly the same size as the bigger one; imagine having one of those attached to your iPhone.

I get the the fear they're feeling as the compact camera market is being cannibalized by smartphones. But they need to stop wasting their time with a stop gap and make a smartphone with a bigger sensor in it and then maybe have an attachment for people who want a zoom, IF they want a zoom.

The iPhone 4 single handedly began the destruction of the compact camera market. It's time to move on and move forward.