Sony’s wild new cameras for your smartphone

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Last year Sony took a bold gamble by introducing its QX line. Strap one of the “lens cameras” onto any Android or iOS device, and you’d get pictures that were far superior to what a smartphone could ordinarily turn out. The idea was novel; these “lenses” were basically cameras themselves  — complete with dedicated SD card slots and batteries. And your phone’s big screen makes for a great viewfinder. It could’ve changed the way we all use Instagram, but Sony’s execution was clumsy and torturously slow. Give the company credit for not giving up: today it’s back with not one, but two new companion lenses for your phone.

First is the 20.4-megapixel QX30, which delivers 30x optical zoom and the sort of reach that smartphone owners can typically only dream about. Just how far can it get you? The 35mm equivalent works out to 24-720mm, so the QX30 opens up all sorts of creative possibilities. Just don’t expect any low-light miracles from its f/3.5-6.3 aperture range. If you thought the prior QX lens cameras looked silly attached to a smartphone, this one’s even more awkward when fully extended. But it’ll still fit in a coat pocket without any trouble when turned off.

 

And since you’re basically carrying around a super zoom, the QX30 could quickly make you the envy of everyone else stuck using their phone’s terrible digital zoom at the zoo, sports games, or any other setting where you’re rarely in control of a photo’s subject. Sony’s included its Optical SteadyShot image stabilization to make capturing faraway subjects a bit easier. That’s useful, since using your phone as a viewfinder can get a bit tricky when zoomed all the way in; even light taps can throw off your framing. The QX30 will be out this month for $350.

Next up is the QX1, which is really meant for people who’ve already invested in Sony’s Alpha / NEX line of interchangeable-lens cameras. There’s no lens in the box; instead, the QX1 is basically a $400 adapter with the brains of Sony’s A5000. It’s got a 20.1-megapixel APS-C sensor, Sony’s BIONZ X image processing, and even a built-in flash. But beyond that, the QX1 is entirely what you make of it; just attach any existing E-mount lens to it, latch both of those onto your phone, and start shooting. At this point, there’s a healthy selection of glass out there compatible with Sony’s system. The company has its own fantastic f/1.8 prime lenses capable of surrounding your images in creamy bokeh that the HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5 can only fake through software effects. There are also good wide-angle options on the market.

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But there’s an obvious question to ask here: why go to all that trouble? Why not just carry your NEX or Alpha camera around in the same bag as your phone? Pulling out a dedicated camera will always be faster than combining the QX1 with a lens, putting it on your camera, and starting up Sony’s PlayMemories app. Sony says it’s made strides on the software side with version 5.0 of PlayMemories, but we’ll need to spend more time with both new QX lenses before making that call. Until then, you’ve got more choices for turning your phone into a semi-pro camera. The QX1 will be available in November for $400, and in some markets you’ll be able to spend more for a bundle that includes the company’s now-standard 16-50mm kit lens.

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