Sony just announced a bombshell: Two new cameras, the QX10 and the QX100. The cameras are – for all intents and purposes – pocket cameras. They are additions to an already flooded (and dying) market. It’s a bold move. But they may have just saved the pocket camera market.
Pocket cameras – known by some as point-and-shoot cameras – have long been the choice of snapshot takers. That is to say that people who want to preserve memories, and little more, have been drawn to the convenient and often cost effective pocket cameras. Even many pro photographers were carrying pocket cameras, albeit more robust than those $150 jobs you can get from Samsung, Nikon and Canon (who between them currently have about 100 pocket cameras on the market right now). But despite the saturation in that segment of the market, the pocket camera generation has been dwindling. On the lower end, it has been replaced by camera phones. Remember when cameras were first put into phones and we all made our jokes? Well, those things are now hovering around 10-12 megapixels (some even larger) and despite their tiny sensors, they can create some impressive photos. The image quality won’t rival my D-SLR. But the D-SLR market is attacking the pocket camera market from the other side. With Nikon, Sony and Canon offering economically priced entry-level SLRs, complete with their super-fast shutters and reasonable kit lenses (all for around $500 or so), some are willing to make the leap, and rarely do they look back. So that pocket camera market has been diminishing over time.
Meanwhile, with hundreds of pocket cameras on the market, they are barely distinguishable from each other. I believe that the saturation is a result of the manufacturers trying to figure out what will work, what will stick and what could have staying power and save an important sector. I think Sony hit the sweet spot when they announced the QX10 and the QX100.
It’s Not About the Sensor or the Lens
The sensors and the lenses on these guys are pretty reputable. The QX10 sports 18.2MP while the QX100 boats a beefy 20.2MP sensor. Each as a Carl Zeis zoom lens, so we know the glass is dependable. The QX100 even has a manual focus ring, but both give you far more control than your typical camera phone. The specifications are decent, but not impressive in and of themselves. Especially with a price tag expected at $250 USD for the QX10 and $500 USD for the QX100. If that were the whole story, this wouldn’t be news. Where I think it will excel is its form factor and usability.
Each of these cameras is designed to be paired with your cell phone, and not a specific cell phone, mind you. They communicate directly with your cell phone (Android or iOS) via WiFi and optionally through Near Field Communication (NFC, where supported). You are given immediate control over the camera through your phone. What’s more is that the camera itself doesn’t need to sport any crazy protocols because it is essentially linked directly through your phone. So you can immediately upload your favorite photos to your favorite attention-garnering network (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and the list goes on. If your phone supports it, so does your camera). It clips to your phone via a spring-loaded clasp (which is something I admit some skepticism about), but they can be used without the phone as well. While the form factor is certainly a bit odd to be using without the elongated shape of a phone or a traditional camera body, it’s a good second option. And let’s face it, just because it’s not clipped directly to your phone doesn’t mean your phone can’t otherwise support it if it’s within range. So I anticipate there will be some creative uses of the technology that even Sony hasn’t yet imagined.
It’s a goofy setup, and I know there are skeptics out there. I’d be lying if I didn’t think there was a chance that this could fail as well. But I think this might be just the right amount of crazy to catch on.
It’s about connectivity and control. So many manufacturers, including Sony, have been trying to implement more phone-like features into their cameras. There’s a good reason for that, social media is where it’s at these days. The iPhones being among the top 5 cameras on Flickr are evidence of that fact. So the trend is already shifting. Sony seems to have gone on a tangent here with this line, but I think it’s a good one. Phones are becoming a commodity and it’s the software-centric market again. So bolt-on hardware is a pretty smart move for a consumer. I hope it pans out for Sony, because this is a pretty smart move.
I do believe the QX cameras could revive the pocket camera scene. Or perhaps it reinvents the market. The QX linefills the gap between a traditional camera phone and the entry level D-SLR. Not through the image quality, but through a feature set that is appealing to that market. Some say the line is simply blurred further by this announcement. I think this is a reinvention of that section of the spectrum. It gives you the control you need, the quality you want and in a form factor that you don’t always have to carry, but when you do it’s as convenient as your phone. There will be a time in the future, possibly not far off, where camera phones will get over their size limitations and they will provide imagry far better than this QX line. But we can expect the QX line to evolve as well.
I think this is a good move for Sony.