Towards Amazing Cameras
I was in a Sony Store today browsing accessories for my Xperia Z11 when I saw something really interesting in the unimaginatively named DSC-QX100, more interestingly styled as a compact camera built entirely to work in conjunction with a smartphone.
I’d not seen this sort of thing before, a camera that sheds much of the legacy of “camera”, leaving the lens, sensor, and some electronics to connect to your phone wirelessly. The advantages of this are obvious, a wireless connection to the screen lets me look and shoot in two completely different places, around a corner, and in much more awkward situations than before.
This is cool. I almost bought one.
Sharing my photos is sharing art, sharing my unique view of the world, leaving a touch on those around me. Having a networked lens brings immediacy to that act, but I would rather a good photo I can share later than an acceptable photo now, a desire that demands I carry my GX1. Replicating the workflow of the QX100 would require a WiFi SD card in my GX1, a terrible user experience, and serious compromise.
With the QX100, I could leave the GX1 at home and shoot everything on my phone, share better photos then and there and not fight additional complexity. A larger sensor than my Z1, about 2/3rds the size of a Micro 4/3rds sensor2 means better low-light performance and depth of field control, the superior optics mean better resolution, even zoom capability.
The lens itself is roughly equivalent in size to the lens I already have for my GX1, without the bulk of the body.
The inevitable “but” is that no matter how cool the QX100 is, I don’t think it’s the right equipment for me.
It’s Not Good Enough
Watching the video, there’s a notable delay from “I want to take a photo” to “I am now able to take a photo.” The flow looks like:
- Take out the lens
- Take out the phone
- NFC-pair the lens to the phone
- Load the separate app
- Compose and shoot
Whereas with a dedicated camera or smartphone, the process is:
- Take out camera
- Turn on camera
- Compose and shoot
With the Rapid strap I use for my camera, the taking-out and turning-on stages are considerably accelerated and taking photos has become easy. My Z1 features a shutter button that will summon the camera when the phone is sleeping, and all phones now have the lockscreen quick-camera actions.
The sensor and optics are considerably better than my Z1, but considerably worse than the camera I’m already carrying. Given that I already have the GX1 with me, I’d be hard-pressed to consider taking the QX100 anywhere. Were I using something more meaty like a Fuji X-E1, the QX100 would be even more dire, facing an incomparably better system.
This is still cool, and I think Sony is on the right track with a great first attempt. Nailing a better consumer entry has the potential to change the dialog on what a “good” camera means for the people who currently carry point-and-shoot cameras.
NFC pairing takes Too Long
NFC pairing is the right idea for when I’m sitting at home setting up the device for the first time. After that, the lens should stay tethered in a Bluetooth low-energy mode, until the I flick on the lens and initiate a high-speed connection with my phone (Bluetooth 3+HS). This would considerably reduce the delay from “want to shoot” to “shooting.”
The existing sell of using a smartphone with existing network remains, making it far easier for people to use the sharing they’re already familiar with, just easier.
While power is a concern, that the Pebble lasts a week on a constant Bluetooth connection indicates that this probably won’t be an issue.
The consumer market isn’t everything, and there is much that can be done in the prosumer space and for a truly good prosumer device I’d want the entire “camera” to be the sensor, a Micro SDHC-slot, and a lens mount. I carry a full interchangable system today, and I would love an excuse to replace that with yours as well as have a cool piece of kit. I’d prefer Micro 4/3rds as I’m already invested, but any system would be an amazing addition. The entire “camera” would be no larger than an above-average protector cap for existing lenses, and I would be able to upsold on a dedicated body based on my lens investments now.
I recommend the Micro SDHC slot for saving RAW photos for later editing. I think that capability would be a killer feature that would augment the quick edit and share from where I am.
Here Is My Money, Please Take It
There’s already amazing software for editing photos on our mobile devices, and we are already taking amazing photos with those amazing devices, but I want more. I want better photos, as good as I take with my dedicated camera, made with the amazing smartphone I already know and love.
I think this can happen. I think the technology is already here, as Sony has shown us, just needing that small step further.