Last year at the annual IFA electronics expo in Berlin, Sony rolled out the first two models in its unique QX series of "lens style cameras." The QX10 and QX100 each squeezed the zoom lens, image sensor, and other essential electronics of a traditional compact camera into a tiny cylindrical package that could link via WiFi to your smartphone.
From an engineering standpoint it was a neat magic trick, but in terms of usability we found it didn't really add much over existing WiFi-enabled cameras, and actually created more than a few problems of its own. In other words, we admired Sony's ambition, but questioned its methods.
Now Sony is back with the QX30 (MSRP $299.99), an updated take on the concept that extends the QX10's 10x zoom out to an impressive 30x, but offers few other significant updates. We checked it out at Photokina 2014 to see if the company has learned from its past efforts, or if the QX30 is just more of the same.
Okay, so what's new?
You want zoom? We've got zoom.
If you've made it this far, you probably know what the QX cameras can do. (If not, go back and read our in-depth review of the QX10, which should fill you in nicely.) So, let's take a look at what sets the new QX30 apart from the earlier QX models.
The biggest new features (literally and figuratively) aren't actually new at all: The 30x zoom and 20.1-megapixel sensor are both borrowed from Sony's Cyber-shot HX50V travel zoom.
Big is the operative word here, by the way; the QX30 weighs 193g (nearly half a pound), a huge jump over the QX10's 105g. The difference is immediately noticeable when you pick it up, and could make a difference in usability if you're carrying it around all day.
The 24–720mm equivalent lens has an aperture range of f/3.5–6.3 and can focus down to 5cm at its widest focal length, producing very nice close-ups. We liked what we saw from it when we tested the HX50V late last year, and have no reason to expect anything better or worse here.
The 1/2.3-inch sensor, meanwhile, packs a ton of pixels into a very small space, which is both good and bad. On the plus side, you have lots of room to crop; on the downside, that kind of pixel density leads to higher image noise.
If you're mostly sharing your shots through your smartphone, though, you'll probably never notice.
Unlike the QX10, the QX30 gains access to aperture priority and shutter priority shooting modes. This is a nice bonus for more advanced photographers, and brings the QX30 nearly up to the same operational level as similarly specced traditional point-and-shoots. (Sadly, there's still no manual mode.) Video shooters will also enjoy 1080/60p recording in the MP4 format—something the QX10 couldn't do.
This time around, Sony is also offering two add-on grips. These accessories use the same bayonet mount as the included smartphone attachment, but are meant to be used in different ways.
First up is a hand grip that the Sony booth rep helpfully informed me is "great for selfies." It's basically a little doorknob you can snap onto the back of your QX, with the stem section slipping between your fingers. Sony is also offering a "Free Angle Shooting Kit," which is a hinged mount that lets you tilt the QX cameras away from your phone for off-angle shots.
And that's just about it. Ultimately, if you liked the QX10 and don't mind a little extra heft, you'll probably like the QX30. If you found the QX10 confusing and near-useless, like we did, your impressions will probably be just as unfavorable.
More zoom might not be more better.
While the new QX1 broadens the QX series' ambitions and attempts to create an all-new category of mirrorless cameras, the QX30 is a simple, modest spec-bump. If you don't expect miracles, you probably won't be disappointed... Unless you were already disappointed in the QX10, that is.
Adding the lens/sensor combo from the well-received Cyber-shot HX50V is a smart move, since it creates a more well-rounded device, but it also significantly increases the camera's weight and doesn't even begin to address the serious issues at the core of the QX user experience.
What does that mean, you might be asking? (Tsk, tsk... you clearly didn't read our QX10 review!) In short, we're not convinced that the QX cameras significantly improve in any way upon traditional WiFi-enabled compacts or mirrorless models. The ergonomics are awkward, the user interface is far from ideal, and you're still carrying around an extra device on top of your phone.
Why not just carry a device that's not so limited? Like, say, the HX50V?