You wouldn't be completely alone in thinking that slapping a giant lens onto the backside of a smartphone is a bit comical – just look at the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. But au contraire – Sony's high-res lens duo have been uniquely designed and tailored to work with Sony's smartphones – including the newly announced Z1 – to the level of a true premium compact cam.
Better yet, even if Sony isn't your smartphone of choice Sony's smartphone accessories can transform pretty much any smartphone into a top-notch Cyber-shot camera with the help of an adapter – unless you're still rocking a phone from the '90s that is, and then you can forget it.
A camera minus most of the controls and the display
You're looking at a pair of huge and powerful lenses. The QX10 rocks an 18.2MP sensor, 10x optical zoom, optical image stabilisation and HD video recording support. The pricier and better specced QX100 crams in the same camera smarts as Sony's RX100M2 – so a 1.0-inch 20.1MP sensor and Carl Zeiss lens, which are complemented nicely with 3.6x optical zoom, an ISO range of 160-6400 and a control ring for manual zoom and focus adjustment. It also packs the ability to record HD video. Impressive.
When it comes to controls, both lens-style accessories have their own shutter button and dedicated zoom controls allowing them to work independently. Images are saved to a microSD card rather than the phone's memory, but with no display or general control over shooting settings you'll probably want to hook them up to a smartphone. And while the zoom functionality was generally responsive on both lenses we did experience occasional sluggishness, which was slightly disappointing.
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Both the QX10 and QX100 connect via Wi-Fi or NFC and take their commands from Sony's free PlayMemories companion app to channel into its very useful remote viewfinder and shutter functionally. The bonus of NFC means you can connect both lenses to just about any modern smartphone with a simple tap, and if your smartphone isn't NFC-equipped it will still play nice via Wi-Fi.
This does mean you'll need to connect the lenses manually, but this only takes a few extra seconds. Connecting the devices wasn't always seamless though, so until we get proper review units we'll remain optimistic and just put that down to the hundreds of journalists making use of Sony's free Wi-Fi.
Interestingly, both lenses can be used without needing to be physically attached to your smartphone, which makes it a godsend for ardent selfie fans or capturing those hard to reach shots. Of course, you can do a similar thing with a Wi-Fi equipped camera, but the Smart Lenses are lighter and much easier to manage one-handed.
Is that a big lens or are you just pleased to see me?
While the Sony Z1 and endless amount of high-end smartphones pride themselves on being able to slip into your pocket unnoticed, it goes without saying that attaching a large lens to the back of it chucks all pocketability straight out the window. And despite looking like they're going to make your smartphone tilt over and induce fatigue, both the QX10 and QX10 are deceptively lightweight, making them much lighter and more compact than most digital cameras. Being incredibly simple to use is a bonus too – that's down to the adjustable grips that will clip on to your smartphone pretty swiftly, no faff involved.
The quality of images captured on smartphones has been improving dramatically with each generation of devices, to the point where it's hard to distinguish a snap taken by a basic point-and-shoot and a high -end smartphone. While flagship smartphone cameras continue to impress us, there's only so much a smartphone camera sensor that's been fitted into skinny hardware can do. Sony's lenses want to eradicate these limitations in exchange for high-quality Cyber-shot snaps with minimal effort. It's a bit too early to judge the lenses camera quality, but as far as we could tell during our time with them image quality seemed superb.
We think this new idea from Sony is so crazy it might just work. Together, Sony's lenses have created a completely new breed of smartphone accessory that completely eliminates the barriers associated with smartphones and high-quality imaging.
Of course, at this stage it's hard to ascertain whether these lenses do a good job of bridging the gap between a smartphone and a DSLR, but we're suitably impressed with what we've seen so far. It's got photography enthusiasts squarely in its sights, so if you're thinking about making the purchase for high-quality selfies these probably aren't the accessories for you. But if you're keen to take your smartphone camera skills to the next level, the QX10 and QX100 are a good place to start.