How do you combine the ease and connectivity of a smartphone with the quality and control of a camera? It’s basically one of the greatest conundrums of our time. Does DxO have the answer? It wants to transform your iPhone 6 into a full-fledged camera thingy with this quirky attachment.

What Is It?

It’s a 20-megapixel camera attachment for your iPhone 6. Just download an app, plug in the One with a little flip-out Lightning connector, and you’re off to the races. It has a one-inch sensor, similar to the one on the popular and great Sony RX100 cameras. The lens is 32mm—not quite as wide-angle as an iPhone—but with a big f/1.8 aperture to let in more light. It costs $600.

Who’s It For?

It’s for anyone who’s ever been frustrated at the pictures their iPhone takes, particularly in low light. This batch of folks might include actual photographers, but chances are those folks will have some other actual camera to carry around. You really have to have your own reasons for wanting a quirky thing like this.

The Best Part

This thing is basically a little rectangular box. But it’s cool because it’s a full-fledged camera that’s small enough to stuff in your pocket. Similar concepts by Sony and Olympus are chunky and annoying to carry. The One is tiny, unobtrusive, and looks quite nice too. Also, you can use the One completely disconnected from a phone. Sure, you can’t see exactly what you’re shooting, but with a little practice you can get decent shots, and it’s super fast and fun.

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How much better is it? How are my pictures going to be different than my iPhone? Well...the biggest failings of the iPhone camera are muddy images in low light, and lack of dynamic range which leads to blown out highlights. The One’s one-inch sensor handles both scenarios with ease. It also renders detail and color much better in general. As a bonus, you also gain access to those blurry backgrounds everyone loves, plus full manual controls. You also have access to RAW files which are much better quality than JPGs.

So, yes, it’s noticeably better than your iPhone—if you know what to look for.

Here are some comparison shots, first from the iPhone’s camera, then the One. They’re resized to be the same resolution. (Make sure to click the little magnifying glass icons in the upper left hand corner of each picture to blow them up!)

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iPhone 6:

DxO One:

Here are cropped portions of a different image where you can really see the difference in detail.

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iPhone 6:

DxO One:

Look at this selfie. The colors, tonal gradations, and background blur are much better on the One:

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iPhone 6 (rear camera):

DxO One:

In low light, the One is worlds better:

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iPhone 6:

DxO One:

And cropped areas of the previous images:

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iPhone 6:

DxO One:

Of course, I always recommend shooting RAW if you like to edit your photos on the desktop. You can find some examples of RAW conversion in our Flickr gallery here.

The Tragic Flaw

It’s just a bit too awkward to use. The pictures are really nice, yes! But this thing’s reason for being is to challenge your iPhone camera—literally the easiest and most convenient camera ever. But with the One you have to unlock your phone, open the hatch on the lens, pull it down to flip up the plug, then shove it into your iPhone 6 before you can take a single picture. Detaching it is even worse, you have to align some little dots and mess with the hatch before you can fold in the plug. It’s all just way too much fumbling.

Test Notes

  • The DxO One app is actually very well designed, with easy access to typical camera modes and settings. I found it completely intuitive and pretty to look at, which is a feat considering how many insanely bad camera apps are out there.
  • Snap a pic, and it’s not only stored on the One’s microSD card, but also immediately transferred to your iPhone’s camera roll.
  • The images are good but not without flaws. There’s a decent amount of noise at low ISOs and odd color renditions even in RAW files. JPGs have some fairly crappy noise reduction applied. But those technical failings will be largely lost on the tiny screens of social media.
  • If you want to take a selfie, you can’t just rotate the One. You have to remove it, turn it over, then plug it back in again.
  • Battery life isn’t great. I saw it dip worryingly quickly during my photo sessions. It has its own internal battery, so it isn’t draining your phone, but it doesn’t have much endurance.

Should You Buy It?

I can see the One finding a very niche but enthusiastic group of people who itch for a kind of stealth shooting capability and the immediate connectivity and phone provides. But it’s not the greatest camera in the world—if you’re a pixel peeping photo nerd there is a lot to pick apart. For most people seeking high quality images, $600 is going to be much better spent on a standalone camera that’s more capable at doing camera things. Like these:

The One is a valiant and well thought out attempt to make an iPhone a terrific photographic tool, but the limits of mechanics, battery life, and a steep price make it a tough sell.


Contact the author at mhession@gizmodo.com.