Sony puts larger sensor, interchangeable lens mount into newest QX lens camera

Sony must be selling a fair amount of its QX line of lens-shaped cameras, which strap on to smartphones and pair with them wirelessly via Wi-Fi. Because they’ve just added two new models – including one with an E-mount for interchangeable lenses – along with an Action Cam Mini that is a third smaller than their existing Action Cam. The cameras make up some of Sony’s newest gear being announced at IFA in Berlin.

The DSC-QX30, as its name implies, has a 30x optical zoom Sony G Lens, or 60x if you include digital zoom abilities; it’s a step up from the QX10’s 10x zoom, and the body size resembles that of last year’s QX100. The QX30 has a faster continuous shooting speed of 10 frames per second, and records Full HD 1080 videos at 60p. When fully extended, the lens camera will stick several inches out the front of your smartphone, and is sure to be at least a little unwieldy. But you’ll certainly be able to get closer photos than you can get with your smartphone (or many point-and-shoots) alone. From a point-and-shoot standpoint, the QX100 remains a better-resolution camera, however that has a much shorter Carl Zeiss zoom lens. (Get a sense of how the QX30 operates by checking out our QX100 review).

Sony says the QX30 will be available this month, for $350.

QX30 extended

An extended, powered-on QX30 in the hand.

If you like the idea of using your smartphone to take shots, but don’t want to be stuck with the limitations of a single lens, Sony has you covered on that front as well, with the upcoming ILCE-QX1. This model uses interchangeable E-mount lenses (which also work with the company’s Alpha DSLR and mirrorless cameras), and it may be Sony’s most ambitious product yet in this camera-lens concept.

Sony didn’t have a demo unit to show off at their pre-IFA press briefing in New York City. But it did say the camera would have a built-in flash and a 20.1-megapixel APS-C sensor, which is a far larger sensor than what’s been used in the QX cameras so far and are used in Sony’s Alpha cameras. It also features Sony’s Bionz X image processor, the same chip used in Sony’s latest high-end cameras.

If we thought the point-and-shoot QX models are unwieldy, imagine attaching a larger, longer lens on the QX1. Sony says that the QX1 will ship without an actual lens in the U.S., which probably indicates they expect this model to appeal to users who have already invested in Sony lenses. Hopefully that means the price will be fairly low. In essence, the QX1 turns your smartphone into a mirrorless camera.

The QX1 also works with Sony’s A-mount lenses, but it’ll require an additional, optional adapter. This model will sell for $400, and will be available in November.

Sony will also be selling a couple accessories for the QX line. There’s a tilt adapter (ADP-FSK1) coming, which will let you mount your QX camera on your phone at different angles (which sounds precarious), and a carrying case (LCS-QXA) for the QX1, which includes a belt loop and shoulder strap.

Like the previous QX cameras, both the QX1 and QX30 utilize your Android or iOS device’s display as a live-view display. Sony says the newest app, PlayMemories Mobile version 5.0, has an updated user interface that has gridlines for framing and a mirror mode for self-portraits (although we aren’t quite sure how the latter makes sense, since you can detach the lens when you want to take a selfie).

Lastly, the Action Cam Mini (HDR-AZ1) is a smaller version of the existing Action Cam, Sony’s answer to GoPro. Sony says it’s 1/3 smaller than the existing model and weighs approximately 2 ounces, which looks about right (see the two models below side by side). The camera looks an awful lot like a wide digital voice recorder. But its 11.9-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor and Zeiss Tessar lens capture up to 170 degrees of your extreme sports action (slightly less with SteadyShot enabled), and can record slow motion in 720p at 120 frames per second. The camcorder supports both the MP4 (for Web uploads) and XAVC S video codecs (XAVC S is a compression format that lets you record at 50 Mbps). Because of the size, it also has a smaller LCD. It’s splashproof, and has a more compact tripod adapter, which Sony says will work with existing accessories. A waterproof case will also be included.

Comparing a Sony Action Cam with the newer, smaller Action Cam Mini.

Comparing a Sony Action Cam with the newer, smaller Action Cam Mini.

The company will bundle the Action Cam Mini with a new GPS-equipped and waterproof Live View Remote (RM-LVR2), which can control up to five Actions Cams, and can lives-tream to the Ustream service, provided you have access to Wi-Fi (or a smartphone signal) where you’re filming your extreme sports or some other activity.

You can, of course, control and view footage and the live feed from your Action Cam via your smartphone (via Wi-Fi, and there’s NFC pairing), as well. So Sony will sell the Action Cam Mini in a bundle with the new Live View Remote for $350, or the camera alone for $250. And while many accessories should be swappable between the Action Cam and the Mini model, the Mini has a smaller battery, so you won’t be able to swap those between devices.

Sony says an extra Action Cam Mini’s battery will sell by itself for $35, or $65 for a charger, battery, and cable. The company says you should get about 75 minutes of use from the battery if you have Wi-Fi switched on, or closer to 200 minutes if you’re shooting directly to a Micro SDXC card.

Expect the Action Cam Mini to go on sale in October.

The wearable Live View Remote that works with the Action Cam Mini and other newer Action Cams.

The wearable Live View Remote that works with the Action Cam Mini and other newer Action Cams.

Since we didn’t get to actually take pictures with the two new cameras Sony had on hand at their press event, we did spend time with both the QX30 and the Action Cam Mini. The Mini seems about what you’d expect: a strong competitor to GoPro’s line of compact Wi-Fi-enabled cameras in a smaller size. The more camera-like form factor and rounded edges also make the device more enjoyable to use without a paired smartphone or remote than GoPro’s square, boxy design.

As for the QX30: As we said, it doesn’t exactly feel natural or safe to have an expensive, extended zoom camera lens dangling off the back of your smartphone. That being said, the clamping mechanism feels fairly sound. And after watching several other journalists attach the camera to various smartphones, it didn’t once look like it was in danger of sliding or falling off onto the floor. But it’s the QX1 that’s most fascinating, as it’s designed to give smartphone users the power of a mirrorless camera, minus the bulk of a camera body. Unfortunately, as we mentioned, it wasn’t available to try during the briefing.

In a world of shrinking point-and-shoot sales and smartphone camera modules that are getting better, but still not great, Sony deserves credit for attempting something new. And considering they’re effectively doubling the size of the QX line by bringing two new models to market, the existing QX100 and QX10 must be selling at least reasonably well.

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