Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 review

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 is an add-on lens for use with smartphones. It's an example of a risky, forward-thinking concept, but some issues prevent us from recommending it.
Photo of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 ($249.99 direct) is one of two lens-style cameras that the company is marketing for use as add-on lenses for Android and iOS phones. There’s no LCD; instead, the 18-megapixel QX10 sends a Live View feed to your phone’s screen via Wi-Fi. It doesn’t match the image quality of the other model in this series, the QX100, but suffers from some of the same usability and performance issues. The add-on lens concept is an intriguing one, but if you are feeling that your phone’s camera isn’t giving you enough image quality, but you don’t want to deal with a D-SLR or mirrorless camera, you are better served with an inexpensive, Wi-Fi-enabled camera like our Editors’ Choice Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS.

Design and Features
The QX10 is remarkably compact. It measures just 1.2 by 2.5 inches (HD) and weighs a mere 3.2 ounces. A removable bayonet mount features clips that attach to a smartphone—there’s a larger accessory available for tablets, if you’re a fan of taking pictures with an iPad. There’s a shutter button and zoom rocker on the side of the lens, but they’re positioned so that it’s more comfortable to use the touch-screen controls that are part of the PlayMemories Mobile app. The module is small enough that you could still slide it into a larger pocket when attached to your phone, but because the electronics and battery pack are all positioned directly behind the lens it’s not quite as slim as pocket camera like the Samsung DV150F (2.2 by 3.7 by 0.8 inches, 3.5 ounces).

Even though it’s slimmer than the QX100, I still had issues with the QX10′s form factor. It doesn’t lend itself well to quick, candid shots. Even if I’m carrying it attached to a phone in a larger pocket, powering up two devices before taking a quick photo is awkward, and there’s long enough of a delay that there’s a good chance that a candid moment is over by the time the combination is ready to shoot. I did like the ability to shoot with the QX10 when not physically attached to the phone; that lends itself to capturing images from angles that would require serious body contortions with a more traditional compact with a fixed rear LCD.

The lens is a 10x design, covering a 25-250mm (35mm equivalent) field of view. The 1/2.3-inch image sensor delivers some size advantage over a typical smartphone, but the real benefit gained is the optical zoom. Even high-resolution phones like the Nokia Lumia 1020 that offer lossless digital zoom can’t match the 10x optical range of the QX10, and they lose resolution when zoomed—the QX10 records 18-megapixel images regardless of the focal length at which the lens is set.

The only controls of note are a zoom rocker and shutter release button, both on the side of the lens barrel. There’s a small monochrome LCD that shows the battery level; all other settings are adjusted via the PlayMemories Mobile smartphone app. If your phone supports NFC, pairing is done via a tap. But for iPhones and other phones that don’t offer that feature will need to connect manually. The QX10 broadcasts a network; the SSID and password are printed on a sticker in the battery compartment.

You’ll want to make sure that you have the latest version of the camera’s firmware and that PlayMemories Mobile is up to date. This promises to improve performance compared to the initial version, and gives you access to ISO control and exposure compensation. It’s possible to tap an area of the Live View feed that shows up on your phone’s screen to select a focus point. The app also replicates the on-camera zoom and shutter controls. The app is available for Android and iOS; there’s no version available for Windows Phone.

When the app works, it works well. But I ran into instances where it required some effort to get things going. Occasionally I’d launch PlayMemories Mobile on my iPhone 5, only to see a “Searching device” indication along with a spinning progress wheel. I was forced to close the app (by double tapping the home button and swiping the window up into the ether in iOS 7); once it was relaunched everything worked as expected.

The Live View feed was generally smooth, but there were occasions when it slowed down. This was especially case when trying to frame up a shot with a lot of detail; bare branches against a blue sky consistently caused a stuttering slowdown. It wasn’t as bad as the choked stop that the QX100 showed with the same shots, but was still a major issue. This happened on two separate days in open-air locations away from Wi-Fi networks, so interference from other networks was not a factor.

Performance and Conclusions
The QX10 suffers from issues with responsiveness, ones related to the lag time introduced by adding a smartphone and wireless communication to the mix. It requires about 3.5 seconds to launch the app and take a photo; you can snap a photo without first waiting for the smartphone app to launch via the QX10′s shutter button, but you’ll be firing blind. The shutter lag is about 0.2-second when shooting via the app, but it’s almost nothing if you use the physical shutter button.

There’s no continuous shooting mode, but you can fire a shot about once every 3 seconds using the app (it takes you to a screen that informs you that the image is being processed that you must back out of), but that rate increases to about once every 0.7-second when using the physical button. The downside to this approach is that you won’t be able to see what you’re shooting after the first shot, as you’ll still have to back out of the processing screen in the app. You’ll need to have a memory card installed in order to achieve these shooting rates; the QX10 can work without one, but that adds the time required to wirelessly transmit each image to your phone between shots.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the QX10′s lens. It scores better than the 1,800 lines per picture height required for an image to be called sharp, notching 2,103 lines. It’s not that far off in sharpness from one of Sony’s smaller compact cameras, the Cyber-shot DSC-WX80, an 8x shooter that scores 2,036 line on the same test. The WX80 has Wi-Fi built in, and also uses PlayMemories Mobile to transfer images to a smartphone.

Imatest also checks photos for noise, which can detract from image quality in low-light situations where the sensitivity to light (measured in ISO) is set to a higher level. The QX10 struggles here; it only keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 200. Close examination of the images on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display shows that image quality holds up at ISO 400, where noise hits just 1.7 percent, but at ISO 800 details start to disappear. At the top ISO 3200 setting photos are a smudgy mess. You’ll get much better image quality in low light with the Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS, which is one of the best inexpensive cameras we’ve seen at higher ISOs; it keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 1600.

Video is recorded in MP4 format at 1080p30 quality. It’s pretty typical quality for a compact camera, which is fine for casual use. The lens can zoom in and out when recording, although the sound is audible on the recording. There’s only one port on the QX10, a micro USB connector that is used for data transfer and to charge the battery via the included AC adapter. The microSD card slot is located in the battery compartment; it also supports microSDHC and microSDXC cards.

Like its sibling, the QX100, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 is an example of ambitious, original design. I applaud Sony for thinking outside the box and bringing something unique to market, but some performance issues, software glitches, and lackluster low-light image quality prevent a recommendation for purchase. There are better cameras out there that are just as pocketable, and include Wi-Fi to transfer images over to your smartphone. The Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS, which is priced well below the QX10, is the best of the bunch, and as such is our Editors’ Choice for inexpensive compact cameras.

Specifications
Shutter Lag 0.2 seconds
Optical Zoom 10 x
Boot time 3.5 seconds
Dimensions 1.2 x 2.5 inches
Weight 3.2 oz
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Lines Per Picture Height 2103
Video Resolution 1080p
Megapixels 18 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 2.7 seconds
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 250 mm
Interface Ports micro USB
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 25 mm
Media Format microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC
Maximum ISO 3200
GPS No
Type Compact
Sensor Size 1/2.3" (6.2 x 4.6mm) mm
Sensor Type CMOS

Verdict
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-QX10 is an add-on lens for use with smartphones. It's an example of a risky, forward-thinking concept, but some issues prevent us from recommending it.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc