(Almost) Actually Better Cameras
Say, who remembers when I wrote about the Sony QX100 NFC-wireless-camera accessory thing? It was a cool piece of tech, but pretty limited, as first generations often are.
I remarked at the time that it would be an amazing piece of HERE IS MY MONEY PLEASE TAKE IT tech if, instead of it being a point-and-shoot system, it offered a real sensor and an interchangable lens mount.
Someone was listening! Sony has released almost what I asked for, and it’s called the (again, unimaginatively named) ILCE-QX1. In all seriousness, whoever is naming these things needs to stop. This is terrible.
I haven’t bought one of these, but I do want to talk about what it is versus what it ought to be.
This is really amazing: Sony has taken an APS-C sensor and jammed it into a tiny cylinder, divorced from much of the legacy that is “camera bodies.” I can replace the lens! I can get really awesome lenses and put them on! I can share the really good photos I take immediately, closing the irritatingly arduous loop of take, go home, upload.
DSLR-quality Instagram, anyone?
The Everything Else!
Of course, there’s always bad parts. It’s the rule number one of shipping technology.
For starters, Sony didn’t improve on the connection process from the QX100. In order to use your phone with the camera, you have to do the NFC dance, adding a considerable delay from want to shoot to shooting. And that’s just on Android! The entire process is considerably worse on iOS, requiring pairing your phone with the camera over WiFi.
On both Android and iOS, you’re required to use the terrible1 “PlayMemories Mobile” app instead of the native camera, rendering any advances the phone makes in Time To Shooting as moot.
Now, this isn’t entirely Sony’s fault. Apple keeps these sorts of things quite tightly locked down, and Android was almost certainly never designed with the idea of a custom Bluetooth lens contraption replacing the native camera.
There’s this interesting other fact in play, which is that Sony also makes a smartphone. A range of them, in fact, that you may have heard of!
I even use one!
So what, you might reply, and justly so. Well, it seems to me that Sony offers this terribly-named, extremely interesting tech gadget with abysmal user experience on most smartphones, and Sony also offers their own smartphone where they maintain full control of the operating system.
But they don’t ship a separate app or any integration for users on their own platform to have a better experience. An Xperia owner is forced to use the same terrible app as the Galaxy S owner or the Moto G owner. Everyone endures the same terrible experience.
But an Xperia owner shouldn’t have to. An Xperia owner could have a device upon which the native camera is overridden by the Sony-branded external camera modules, could have a device where Time To Shoot is considerably faster and more intuitive, enabled by Sony owning their own underlying platform.
Overall, this device which looks so good but isn’t is quite obviously not meant for established photographers. It’s worse than a standalone camera in most ways and lacks the platform integration that would really make it exceptional. For a photographer, it’d be a shallow bauble.
I don’t think it’s aiming at existing photographers, but rather at people wanting considerably better photos with the cellphone they have, a camera that can be upgraded indepentently of their phone, and vice-versa.
Which this is, in spades.
On Sony’s side, this is an excellent mechanism to capture photographers moving into systems with replaceable lenses, as the QX1 uses their proprietary E-mount format. As good glass is one of the most expensive and least likely to be upgraded aspects of a photographers’ arsenal, Sony provides a clean upgrade path for a photographer to move into dedicated camera bodies without losing their investment.
Their use of industry-standard MicroSD cards also makes it more likely to get uptake in camera shops, enabling re-use of existing hardware that a customer may have.
As a photographer with dedicated bodies and an existing investment in lenses, the QX1 isn’t for me. It’s close, and as phones become more powerful and vendors aim for interesting points of differentiation it will get closer.
Hopefully it won’t be long before we see a “camera” body has been designed to work with a phone, a phone that has been designed to work with that camera body, while using micro 4/3rds. A device good enough that a dedicated body is no longer necessary, a device that is, effectively, just carrying the lens by itself.
The QX1 isn’t.
Soon, though. Soon.