Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

It's fascinating to watch traditional camera manufacturers try to adapt their technology to a world in which smartphones can take great photos. Point-and-shoots have never been better, and yet they've never been less useful to the everyman. Which is why Sony packed all of its wonderful pocket-cam technology into its weirdo QX100 "lens-style camera." The concept is wonderful. The execution is not.

What Is It?

A Wi-Fi-enabled camera lens and image sensor combo that you're meant to use with your smartphone, though it can also act as a standalone device. The 20-megapixel, one-inch image sensor and 28-100mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss zoom lens are slightly modified versions of the guts in the totally spectacular RX100 II point-and-shoot released last year.

Who's It For?

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

People who are dissatisfied with their camera phones and are looking for an accessory of some kind to remedy the situation. These people also hate point and shoot cameras for some reason.

Design

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

A plastic cylinder which fits in your palm a bit like a baseball. It has a removable spring-loaded clamp so that you can attach it to your phone. There's no LCD, but the camera does have a shutter button and a zoom lever. It won't comfortably fit in the pocket of your jeans, but it nestles into the pocket of a light fall jacket just fine.

Using it

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

The QX100 connects directly to your Android or iOS device (any will do) via Wi-Fi, after which you control it with Sony's PlayMemories Mobile app. Connecting was usually a breeze, although it struggled occasionally in our office, where we have hundreds of wireless devices all swirling around. On NFC-enabled devices you can also connect by holding the camera to the device. Once the camera is paired with a device, it'll remember it forever; you only have to set it up once.

The app lets you control some basic camera functions like white balance. It makes the most sense to use this thing in automatic modes, and so optional manual controls are limited to an aperture priority mode and a manual focus. It's a little sad that with such a nice image sensor, you don't have much control over shooting settings. The QX100 also can't record RAW, which limits your post-processing options.

It takes about 30 seconds to bust out the camera, connect it to your phone, and actually take a picture. That's actually a very long time to fire up a camera—in many cases, the moment that you were hoping to capture will have come and gone by the time you get it all together. It's also just sort of a pain in the ass.

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

The drawbacks of actually using the camera don't end there. When you're taking pictures using the smartphone app, there's a solid several second lag while the camera transfers the image to your phone. This is probably unavoidable since it needs to wirelessly blast the image over, but it's still a bummer.

Using the camera as designed is a pain, but I actually quite enjoyed the QX100 on its own when it wasn't attached to a smartphone. The thing hides in your palm perfectly, making it almost imperceptible to others around you. Sure, this makes it a great #creepshots cam (yeesh), but it's also a discreet way to get candids about the town. The only trouble is that you're never exactly sure what you're pointing at, or that the camera is level. In other words, these photos can kind of end up looking like a shaky, crooked mess:

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

The good news is that the image quality is fantastic. Enlarge this photo and revel in the beauty.

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

Here's a shot from are darker-than-hades happy hour spot. It's maybe a tad shaky—my fault—but the photo's not remotely noisy despite the 3200 ISO.

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

This bar is even darker. Hi Wagner!

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

And it's a good thing this camera is good in lowlight because flash? You know, the granter of light to images? It's not an option here.

The Best Part

The image quality is really super. We knew this was going to be the case since we're already familiar with the guts and the optics from the RX100 II. Still, it's surprising to see photos this nice pop up on a smartphone display (even if they weren't taken with the smartphone itself).

Tragic Flaw

It's miserably impractical.

Test Notes

  • The PlayMemories Mobile app works way better on Android than iOS. Perhaps it's just the transition to iOS 7, but I had trouble getting consistent performance when it was paired with an iPhone.
  • I didn't drop the QX100, but I fear if I did, it might not end well. The build quality feels on the cheaper side. Very plasticky.
  • We tested the QX100, but there's a cheaper, slimmer model, QX10, which might be more attractive. The image quality won't be nearly as good, though.

Should I Buy It?

Sony QX100 Review: Glorious Photos, Painful Package

No. You could make the argument that the photo quality is really exceptional, and that you're getting the image quality of a more expensive camera for just $450, but the reality is that this camera is very impractical. Even though I respect Sony's creative risk, the QX100's just not simple enough—or space-saving enough—to be a regular shooter.