Sony Cyber-shot QX10 review

In Berlin, back in early September, Sony gathered members of the press together to introduce its fall range of products. Along side TVs, cameras and Android phones was the Cyber-shot QX10 and QX100. These 'lens cameras' are a unique product, in so much that there is a whole compact camera housed within something which looks just like a lens. The killer feature; the cameras connect to your iPhone or Android phone for that connected camera experience without the added expense of something like the Samsung Galaxy line of cameras. We've had a QX10 for a couple of weeks now, so is Sony onto a winner, or does it solve a problem that no-one really has? Let's find out.

The hardware

When powered off and the lens is retracted the QX10 looks reminiscent of a hockey puck. At just 33mm thick, it's surprisingly compact considering that within this diminuitive form factor is essentially a full compact camera. The QX10 is available in black or white and gold – so perfect for that shiny new gold iPhone 5s you just bought – and the most obvious omission from a regular camera is a flash.

Of course, this is a camera, so the camera specs are where its at. Here's a handy list of what we're looking at

  • Sony G series lens
  • f/3.3 - f/8.0
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Intelligent automatic settings to identify and adjust for macro, low-light, back-lit, motion and more
  • Multi-point auto-focus
  • ISO 100 - 12800
  • BIONZ image processor on-board
  • 10x optical zoom
  • 18MP 1/2.3 inch Exmor R back-lit CMOS sensor
  • 1080p / 30 HD video capture in mp4 format
  • 630mAh battery

The QX10 is a two-piece device. The camera puck itself doesn't attach to the phone directly; it can in fact be operated completely independently. Sony includes a clip-on piece that attaches to the back of the camera, with an extendable arm. You slot the bottom 'foot' over one edge of your iPhone, while pulling the extendable arm up and clipping it over the other edge.

While the camera attaches to a smartphone, one isn't required to operate it. Besides the power button, the QX10 has on-board controls for shutter release and zoom. Charging the removable battery is completed by way of microUSB, and the camera also accepts microSD cards for saving all your images. Down bottom it also has a tripod mount, so you can either mount the combined phone/camera combination or just the camera on its own. The beauty is, you can operate it as a stand alone WiFi camera without it being attached to your phone.

Are there any drawbacks to the hardware then? Well, there's no flash, so if that's important to you it's a none starter. The rechargable battery doesn't last the longest either, around 220 or so shots. If you're going to be using it a lot, order a spare battery.

The Sony Playmemories Mobile app

Because this is a WiFi camera, there are no physical connections between the QX10 and your phone. As such, all interactions are – for now – carried out within the confines of the Sony Playmemories Mobile app. A free download, it essentially acts as a viewfinder and control board for the QX10 – and a bunch of other Sony WiFi cameras. The tl;dr version is; it's pretty horrible. But there's no alternative right now to a horrible experience.

One of the main problems is lag. Despite establishing a WiFi direct connection between the camera and the phone, it's not strictly realtime. Most of the time it's OK, and if you're mounted to a tripod you shouldn't have any issues. But if you move the camera around to frame up another shot, or even zoom in or out, theres often a quite horrible, jerky lag. Strangely, it doesn't seem so bad when shooting video.

Operation of the camera through the app is simple, and will be familiar almost immediately to any smartphone user. Touching the screen will focus at whichever point you desire, touching the shutter release button will take the picture. Due to the lag, I still recommend using the physical controls on the camera, though.

All problems aside, the app itself portrays the appearance and experience you might expect from looking into the display of a digital camera. Changing settings such as image size and aspect ratio is as simple as opening up a settings menu. On the right you get your shutter release button, the top left a choice of modes; intelligent auto and superior auto and program auto. The latter allows you to set the exposure manually, but aperture and shutter speed aren't user changeable. Once taken, images can be transferred from the camera to your phone, while retaining a hard copy on the microSD card within the camera. It's getting the images onto your phone that then opens up a world of sharing and editing possibilities.

It's worth pointing out that videos cannot be copied across in the same way. Probably a good job given the time it takes to transfer a single picture, so videos taken will need to be manually extracted from the cameras memory card.

I don't want to dwell on the quality of the app too much, because Sony will undoubtedly make improvements to it going forward. What's more exciting is third-party support for the QX10 and the QX100. Popular third-party app Camera 360 has already announced future support for the two, and it's here where the benefits of hooking into a smartphone become clearer. In our app dominated world, the possibilities haven't even begun to be realised yet.

Using the QX10

As a camera, the QX10 is pretty easy to classify. It's a point and shoot class camera, nothing more. But using it is a unique experience. From the grip, right down to what you're able to do with the photos once you've taken them.

With one of today's larger Android smartphones, gripping the QX10 isn't a tough ask. With the much smaller iPhone 5 and 5s the camera puck takes up much more real estate on the back of the phone. A few minutes tweaking the position is time well spent, and I've found that positioning the bottom 'foot' just to the right of the volume down button works quite well for me. You should set it up so that you can comfortably reach the physical zoom and shutter controls on the camera. Since the app experience isn't that great, you'll get much better quality images foregoing that entirely, and just using these.

I first got my hands on the QX10 during the IFA 2013 event in Berlin where it was officially announced. For the remainder of that week I was running around the halls of the Messe Berlin using it everywhere, and it was there I instantly bonded with this little pocket sized camera. My needs in working for Mobile Nations may be pretty specific, but having this in a pocket ready to grab a good quality photo at the drop of a hat was convenient, and enjoyable.

Oh, and that 10x optical zoom. You don't realize how useful it is until you're using it. All in all, the QX10 can produce better quality photos more frequently than a phone camera. You have more control, you have a proper zoom, you have access to a camera, not a smartphone camera. And that makes the difference.

The pictures

I'm no photographer, not by a long way. I like to take pictures, though. All in all, the QX10 produced some very good shots, especially in the less than ideal setting of a trade show press conference. So, check out the gallery below for a variety of sample shots. When it's all said and done, most of the time you're not going to get equal quality photos from your iPhone, and certainly not with the relative ease that they can be taken with the QX10. I used it to take some shots worthy enough for use both here on iMore and over on Android Central during IFA, something I've yet to do with my iPhone.

It performs much better in tough lighting that you might think, too. The times the QX10 most surprised me were during the Samsung Electronics press conference in Berlin. In essentially a dark room, the QX10 pulled out some extremely good shots for the circumstances.

Video quality

Video quality is honestly no better than you'd expect to see from your iPhone, perhaps a tad less impressive. The real value is in that 10x optical zoom. It's a tough ask to shoot a really good, non-shaky video though without using a tripod. While the lag between the camera and what you're seeing is often better for video than for photos, it's still present. As you can no doubt tell in the sample above.

The good

  • A better overall end result than a smartphone camera
  • Small enough to be considered truly portable
  • Works with both Android devices and the iPhone
  • Third-party app support in the future
  • 10x optical zoom

The bad

  • Too expensive at $250
  • Sony Playmemories app is pretty horrible
  • No flash
  • Can take a while to connect to the iPhone using WiFi Direct

The bottom line

With a sensible head on, it's easy to write off the QX10. It's too expensive, a janky experience as it stands with the Sony application, and whichever way you look at it, it's a tough sell to average joe public. Yes, it takes good pictures – better in almost all cases than your iPhone or any Android phone you might also strap it to. But, unless you're attracted to the zoom, your phone will possibly be enough for most of the time.

With my geeks head on it's a different story. I absolutely love the QX10. It's a new idea, it's small enough to throw into a bag or a pocket without thinking about it and it's seen more use than I could ever have imagined it would. It's a fun product, one I've had an absolute blast using with my iPhone 5, and now my iPhone 5s. I might not be able to offer it a recommendation for purchase, but I absolutely recommend you check one out if you can. After all, technology is supposed to be enjoyable as well as functional, and the QX10 scores 10 for enjoyment.

Richard Devine

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

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Sony Cyber-shot QX10 review

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imo if i want a quicky picture that i don't really care a whole lot about i use my phone, if i want a great picture that i will cherish for the rest of my life i'll use my DSLR camera that i bought just for that reason. this is a gimmick item that has no real-use value to it and you would be far better off putting the money it costs towards buying a real camera and leaving this borg accessory on the shelf to collect dust.

Gimmick, possibly, slightly. But you can't possibly say it has no real-use value to it. You've obviously not used one. I'm using it all the time (mainly because I enjoy using it) but I'm using it. Even if I'm only one person, it kinda throws your statement out of the window.

If you want to hate something, you will. As I said, I can't necessarily recommend it as a purchase, but I'm enjoying using it. And I value products I enjoy.

Sooo, What real world uses does it have? Mainly attached to the phone, but remember that it can be used solo. My wife came up with this one. I took the best pictures of my classroom tarantula by placing it in her terrarium and using my iPad as the controller (waiting for 5s) Our next plan is to use the video function to record her eating crickets. I was able to focus and zoom from a distance. Pretty cool and the kids loved it (high school). My point is we will come up with uses for a pretty good remote camera.

This implies that you carry your DSLR camera with you everywhere. Which I doubt you do.

I'm not saying you'd carry the QX10 or the QX100 everywhere either. But I have the higher end QX100 which is the higher end version of this Sony lens/camera combination and I keep it in my laptop bag so I at least have it with me to and from work, etc.

I own a Fuji X-E1 with numerous lenses as well as a Fuji X20, neither of which I carry with me unless i'm traveling on vacation or purposely bring it with me. I'm not carrying around my Fuji X-E1 and numerous lenses around with me everywhere I go. The QX100 and QX10, however, can easily be carried within even the smallest laptop bag without adding any heft.

It's far from a gimmick. It's actually very useful while I own the QX100, not the QX10, the still photo quality is fantastic. Far better than the iPhone 5S alone although not necessarily as good as my Fuji X-E1. But considering it's based on Sony's fantastic RX100 the QX100 is packing great glass and a great sensor.

Don't be quick to dismiss something you haven't tried. One camera doesn't fit all. A DSLR + a collection of lenses simply can't be carried around with you all the time. Something like this can be.

I give Sony kudos for trying something new. The only downsides to the QX100/QX10 is the lag AND Sony's app. They had an SDK so I expect additional camera apps to support it soon, I know Camera360 is one of them. As for the lag, I don't shoot action shots so it isn't a concern for me. It takes fantastic photos.

The best camera is the one you have with you. For me that is now the iPhone 5S and after that it means the QX100 is close at hand to grab if I want something even better than the 5S.

From iPhone 4S onwards, the built-in cameras have been great, and are becoming more and more of my primary camera/video-recorder on vacation. In addition, I've been using add-on lenses from Schneider Optics (iPro Lens System), and have been pleased with the results.

I preordered the QX-100 from Amazon, but canceled the order at the last minute after reading reviews of this lens-camera. While I love the concept, the mobility and the f 1.8 lens with a 1" CMOS, I understand that the software and Wi-Fi connection to an iPhone is rather buggy and slow; the NFC on Android phone is pretty quick.

Since you have a QX 100, I'd like to ask you about your experience regarding these shortcomings. I'm set to go on vacation in 10 days and really want to try it.

Thank you in advance.

I'd say it really depends on the type of photography you plan on doing with it.

The 2 primary shortcomings as it related to the iPhone (I have the 5S) are: wifi lag and Sony's PlayMemories app and I'll address both.

First the good. Even though I have the larger QX100 the size is still nice and the build quality is great. The clamp system for attaching to the iPhone works perfectly and should work even with most iPhone cases except maybe the bulkiest ruggedized cases. But a LifeProof ruggedized case should still work fine. I like how it attaches and how you can also use it unattached. It's a great design.

Next is the glass. Not much to say as far as what has already been written about Sony's RX100 which gets great reviews for its Zeiss lens and optical zoom. The QX100 has the same lens. Adding optical zoom to a lens that attaches to the iPhone is incredibly useful.

Then of course there is the sensor and photo quality. It's excellent. 20 megapixels aside, It greatly surpasses the quality of the iPhone's camera due to the fact it has a larger sensor.

It works exactly as I expected. Including th shortcomings I mentioned above and will discuss below.

Lag. It's noticeable whn moving the phone and camera quickly. It's not going to be ideal for action shots. But then again if action shots are your thing then a fast traditional DSLR is always going to be the best solution.

I can live with the lag because the vast majority of the photos that I take are not action shots. They are landscapes, still life, macro shots and photos of my family while on vacation, etc. Plus it's not my only camera so if I need something quicker, I can simply use the iPhone 5S itself in a pinch, or one of my other cameras. So the lag isn't an issue for me. Especially when attaching it to a monopod or tripod for taking landscapes, outdoor shots, etc.

Software. It's nothing fancy. But at the same time it's not horrible or unusable. I saw andnother blog post elsewhere that said it was unusable on ios7 which is a complete lie. I've had no problems with it on my iPhone 5S running iOS7. Could th software be better? Sure. It's pretty basic but it does the job. The good news is they have released an SDK so 3rd party apps can add support with Camera360 due to be one of the first to do so when they release an update sometime in October.

The biggest con for me is the lack of a feature that I've grown to absolutely love on my Fuji X-E1, Fuji X20 and the iPhone itself: motion panorama. Taking panoramas while traveling, which I do frequently, along with macros of plants/insects/sea life is one of my favorite things and Althugh the RX100 supports motion panorama the QX100 does not. But Camera360 does panos so hopefully they support it when they release support for the QX10 and QX100.

Overall I'm happy with it. I love the concept and they did a good job of executing on the concept. For a first gen product I think it turned out good. A lot of people will absolutely hate the lag... but as I mentioned it's not an issue for me.

The QX100 is not, however, my primary camera. My favorite is still my Fuji X-E1 and my Fuji X20. But the X-E1 has an array of lenses and the X20, while a point and shoot, is not a compact point and shoot which means I usually don't have these cameras with me.

I keep the QX100 in my laptop bag and my iPhone 5S in my pocket. So those are what I'd reach for on an average day should I need a camera because they are typically within arms reach and the best camera is the one you have with you.

I'll be keeping mine. I'll be going to Arizona next month and can't wait to try it out while I take a day trip to the Grand Canyon. I'll also be going to Costa Rica in January and will be bringing it with me then also. Because it's the size of a smaller lens it's easy to throw in my camera bag should I bring my X-E1 kit. So it just provides me with more flexibility and tools as a photography enthusiast.

I'd say if the concept interests you and you can work through the lag, which isn't constant and is primarily only when moving the phoned rapidly, give it a shot. Buy it on Amazon and if you hate it, return it.

Interesting review.. Interested in these buthow long does it take to attach and remove it if you want to take a picture of something?

Wireless will never work for this because of limited bandwidth and lag, plus it needs a large battery to keep it all working.

Sony would have a much better product - and a lot more sales - if they did a camera that attached to the Lightning connector.

They're perfectly positioned to make this happen but I suspect the not-invented-here syndrome of using a competitor's port gets in their way.

I am looking for one that: has f.stop adjustablity(to help replace MiniatureCam and other apps), quick connection to iPhone 5s+, and is a good price along with easily removable but steady. I use Camera360 for Pano's.

This thing appears gimmicky but I think it has great potential. I hope a version 2 improves on it.

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