Sony QX100

I’ve been using the Sony QX100 for a couple of weeks now so wanted to write up my thoughts on it.

To set the scene, I’m a hobbyist photographer who holds a full time, non photography related, job. I therefore go out some evenings and weekends, and on the occasional trip away to take photos. My primary DSLR is the Canon 5D Mark II, and I also have the Sony NEX-7 which I use as a ‘carry around’ camera, though I admit to not always carrying it around with me. My only true carry around camera is therefore the one on my smartphone, which at this time is the iPhone 4S. I enjoy Instagram, and so will regularly take images on my phone to upload to that.

I was intrigued by the Sony QX100 when I saw it advertised recently, and looked into what the specs were to see if it was something I would add to my arsenal. My initial ‘good’ points were the megapixel size, the physical size of the camera, the fact it was a Zeiss lens, and the fact you could use it away from the camera live view screen. The ‘bad’ points were really just the inability to shoot RAW. Somewhere in the middle was the price point, at £400 I really had to decide if I would want this or put the cash towards new glass for the NEX-7.

I have been using the NEX-7 a lot more recently, and I’ve started to prefer that over the weight and awkwardness of the Canon. A great feature of it is the fold out live view screen allowing me to get interesting composition with little effort. It’s therefore the fact I would be able to use the QX100 as a detachable lens that made me pull the trigger; I was excited with the prospect of being able to position the camera somewhere without having to rely on looking at an attached viewfinder. I was sure this would allow me to get better angles that with my other cameras.

Plus, I figured this camera would allow me to walk around all the time with something that’s better than the iPhone camera; although I knew it wouldn’t quite replace the NEX-7, I figured it would do me just as well.

So I pre-ordered the lens, and although initial deliver was delayed I got it around 2 weeks ago.

The camera
It’s a very light camera, and the build doesn’t feel like it’s great quality – though in many ways that’s not unlike the other lenses I’ve bought from Sony, which is one of the reasons why they are so light.

It comes with a wrist strap and battery, but no protective case. If you want to save images to a memory card you need to insert a micro SD card. There is a screw hole which will allow you to attach the camera to a tripod.

It also comes with a back plate which allows you to attach the camera to your phone, however with a little bit more thought into the design of this plate I feel it would have been possible to develop something which also acts as a stand, allowing you to position the camera at various angles while sat on a flat surface.

Size wise, here are some images of it beside the iPhone 4S so you can see the height when off/on and also the width in relation to the phone.

When the camera is off, and when it has the plate for attaching it to a device on, it is half the height of an iPhone:

QX100 size comparison - off

When the camera is on, and again when it has the plate for attaching it to a device on, it is about an inch smaller than the height of an iPhone:

QX100 size comparison - on

The camera is a couple of millimeters wider than the iPhone:

QX100 size comparison - width

It does fit in the back pocket of my jeans, but I am very aware that it is there and would not wish to sit down without first relocating it. I can carry it around easily in my jacket pocket however.

Connecting to your smartphone
The camera is Wi-Fi enabled and it’s using this feature that allows you to use the phone as your live viewfinder and also to transfer a copy of the image taken to you phone allowing for immediately upload to your desired social media site. On the iPhone 4S I first had to connect my phone to the Wi-Fi of the camera by entering a password, and my phone now connects to the camera as soon as I open the PlayMemories app (more on this below). The connection isn’t immediate, so don’t expect to be shooting a spur of the moment street scene like you may be able to do with your regular camera.

Other phones, i.e. non Apple, can connect in the same way or – if NFC enabled – by touching the devices together.

The images
Let’s be honest, it’s all about the images so let’s take a look at the quality of them. All of the images shown below are taken straight out of the camera, which is shooting at the highest resolution possible, and uploaded to my Smugmug account. I have done zero processing on them. I think they may also all have been taken in ‘auto’ mode. You can view the images in large format over at my Sony QX100 Smugmug Gallery.

The day images come out well. The first few of St Paul’s were taken in quite bright conditions, the first where the camera was resting on a ledge in the shade, the second where the sun was behind clouds at around the 10 o clock position, and the third was just stood at the base of a building looking up.

I think the first few images could definitely benefit from post processing as the clouds are pretty blown out in the first image, and and the shadows a little too dark in the second. Unfortunately they are JPG files instead of RAW, which makes this task more difficult.

Sony QX100 - St Paul's

Sony QX100 - St Paul's

Sony QX100 - Senate House

I do a lot of my shooting at night so was interested in seeing how this camera can cope in such conditions – better than I thought it would to be honest, helped by a 1.8 lens.

The iPhone camera is terrible at night, and I haven’t had the best of luck in handheld NEX-7 shots at night time, but I guess I don’t shoot in full auto mode with that. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised by the night images that I was getting with this camera.

Sony QX100 - night

Sony QX100 - night

Sony QX100 - night

Sony QX100 - night

I was with a friend who was using his tripod on Nikon when taking the last of these night time images. He was busy speaking to a security guard who was stating he can’t take photos of the buildings, and I was stood alongside them snapping away without the guard noticing I wasn’t actually sending a text message, but was in fact taking images.

This camera has a 3.6x optical zoom. It’s not the greatest range, but it does allow you to get a little bit closer to your subject. You can zoom by using a button on the camera body itself, or you can zoom from within the app.

These images show a statue in the British Museum. I was stood on the same spot for them both, one is at the widest and the other is at the full zoom. The image rotation change is due to a ‘feature’ of the camera, rather than my design.

Sony QX100 - wide angle

Sony QX100  -  full zoom

I love the fact this camera allows you to get close to the ground, especially as you can do so without having to actually get down and dirty in the gutter yourself. This is where the creativity of having a detachable lens really shows…though I’m not sure how creative simply placing it on the ground is, to be honest, it does provide you greater avenue to get unique angles.

Sony QX100 - get low down

Sony QX100 - angles

Sony QX100 - Low angles

Sony QX100 - leave it laying around on the floor

The camera has got some great depth of field, and as a result, some awesome bokeh.

Sony Qx100 - underground (far)Sony QX100 - Underground (near)

Sony QX100 - depth

Sony QX100 - depth

Sony QX100 - depth

Sony QX100 - bokeh

Sony QX100 - double yellow (far)Sony QX100 - Double yellow (near)


Street & Stealth
It’s a good camera to pull out and take a photo of things around and about on the street, and if you have it on as you walk around, then the opportunity to do a little street photography is there for the taking.

Sony QX100 - street

Sony QX100 - street

Sony QX100 - street

Sony QX100 - street

In the last two images taken above, I was sat on a couple of walls, with the camera down beside me and I was playing on the phone, again it looked like I was writing a text message. This gave me a lot of freedom because the subjects were completely unaware that I had a camera, let alone that it was pointing at them.

This get’s me onto my next two points.

First up – spy cam.

It’s amazing how much you can get away with if you are not holding a camera up to your face. I popped into St Paul’s cathedral where photography is not allowed. I didn’t spend much time, or have many attempts at taking photos, but the fact this camera can work without a liveview means you can simply point it at something, click the shutter release button on the side of the body, and hope for the best. Here’s a few images from within the cathedral – I was holding a leaflet in the same hand as the camera, so anyone looking on would have been pretty oblivious to the fact I had a camera.

Sony QX100 - spy cam

Sony QX100 spy cam

My second point is one that was immediately picked up by the women in my office when I had the camera delivered. The fact you can use it well away from the camera means it can remain quite covert…and of course, this means it can be used for purposes that are not too moral. It was quickly labelled a ‘creepy ass perv cam’ with my colleagues stating they would never wear a skirt again.

Of course, I’m not the kind of person who would take images they were alluding to, but you can see from this shot I took on the underground that this camera could easily be used to invade privacy or make the subject feel unconfortable.

Sony QX100 - Pervert camera?

As you can trigger the camera from your phone while standing several meters away this could easily mean this camera, or the misuse of it, will be hitting the headlines for one reason or another.

I also note that it’s very easy to get elements into the shot that you don’t wish to have. I have managed to take numerous images with my feet, elbow or head in without really meaning to. Saying that, it’s a great party cam and will allow you a lot of flexibility when it comes to taking self-portaits.

Sony QX100 - selfies

Check out the large version of these images over at my Sony QX100 Smugmug Gallery.

PlayMemories App
As mentioned above, there is an app to use on your smartphone if you wish to use a live view function. I can only talk to the iPhone 4S version of the app running on iOS7, and so don’t know how well it may work on other phones.

On the iPhone though, it’s pretty poor.

When you open up the app while the camera is on and within range it will connect straight to the camera via the Wi-Fi (note it didn’t do this for the first week or so I used it, but seems to be okay now, unless I’m already connected to a Wi-Fi network in which case I need to manually connect).

You have four shoot modes to choose from; Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, Program Auto (P) or Aperture Priority mode (A). Within P and A modes you can set the white balance to a few different options, P mode allows you to edit the exposure compensation and the A mode additionally allows you to set the aperture. Other options available within the app include self time (off, 2 seconds or 10 seconds), switch between manual or auto focus (if manual you can control this on the camera body), the image size quality, whether you preview images on the live view and also what size of file you copy to your phone, the original size or a 2MB version only. You can also format the memory card from the app. You can also zoom in or out and select the shoot mode from stills or video.

The automatic focus can be a little bit funny at times and the lens can struggle to get something perfectly in focus without manual intervention.

The time it takes for you to open the app, connect to the camera, take a shot and then have the image saved so you are ready to go ahead and take another shot means you are not going to be rapidly shooting away, thus limiting your ability to take purely candid images on the spur of the moment.

The app also has the tendency to freeze – a lot. This results in you waiting for 10 seconds or so for it to find itself and allow you to continue. It will also crash every now and then, meaning you have to reboot it, wasting even more time. I’m really hoping this app improves, or someone else releases a decent and reliable app.

Smirks, quirks and irks
The camera can shoot while upside down. As you move the camera around it will correct itself so that you can view the image the right way round even if you rotate the camera through 360 degrees, I think it does this at the 45 degree angle mark or close to it. This is good to allow you to hold the camera naturally in the hand and have a finger on the trigger release, as well as covering the green LED meaning your stealth images remain stealthy. However, if you’re rotating the camera in an attempt to find the perfect angle for a shot it can be very frustrating to then have the camera ‘correct’ you and make you have to recompose again. Having the ability to lock the orientation would be ideal.

The camera didn’t seem to pick up the date from my phone, and doesn’t know the date, so my images started on the 1st January 2013 and has been going up daily ever since. This means that when I import the images into Lightroom they are at the start of the year and in completely the wrong place. It really should take the date from your phone, or have another way to set it, so that images are cataloged correctly.

Like my other Sony camera, the battery life is pretty poor. The first night I had the camera out for full use and it lasted just a couple of hours. I’ll likely end up getting a second battery for those times when you run out and want to continue shooting, and just like with the NEX-7 I’ve become better at switching it off in between walking from one location to another, but this means you’re not always camera ready as you may want to be. The first time the battery ran out it annoyingly had enough power to open to full zoom, but then not enough power to close which meant I had to carry the camera around in the extended position for the duration of the evening, also leaving the front element exposed and vulnerable to dust and fingerprints. There is a small screen on the device showing you battery life represented by three blocks showing full, half, and nearly out. I think a screen that showed you the actual percentage left would have been more useful.

If you’re releasing a camera for £400 I really expect it to have full manual control, which this camera does not offer. I don’t see why that aspect is missing here.

Final thoughts
I set out hoping to find a ‘carry around’ camera that would replace my Sony NEX-7. I didn’t find that. The biggest barrier to this is the fact this camera does not shoot RAW and so limits my ability to post process. I’ve now taken around 200 images with this camera and only 1 of those has made it onto the daily blog post section – though 13 have currently found their way onto my Instagram account. After using it for the past few weeks I’m not really expecting the images I take with it to appear on my daily blog. Sure, I’ll use a couple here and there, but mostly I’m thinking I will put them towards Instagram and Facebook instead.

I think the size is and weight is okay for what it does, and this element would not detract me from carrying it around, though I still need to carry around the NEX-7 at the least.

For me this lens is sitting smack bang in the middle between my iPhone camera and my dedicated camera. It’s a novelty, which is fun to use and allows for some great perspectives and also the ability to take photos in places you’re not really meant to take photos. It is not a serious camera and I don’t see it as a competitor to anything currently out there.

I will find it interesting to see how much I use it once the initial novelty has worn off.