Analysis: DxO ONE - the World's 'First Truly Connected Camera'
The DxO ONE, announced today, is a ground-breaking camera in an extremely small package, one that connects to your iPhone via a Lightning adapter built quite cleverly right into the unit. Weighing in at 3.8 oz (108g) and only 2.65" tall, the DxO ONE is small enough to fit in your pocket (it's only 1.9" wide x 1" deep), yet packs a punch with its 1"-type BSI-CMOS sensor, likely the same one found in the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III. That means great low light sensitivity due to the BSI design, and fantastic Raw dynamic range due to the fact that it's, well, a Sony sensor. Combined with the bright F1.8 lens, you'll get far better image quality than your iPhone's camera, with better low light performance and control over depth-of-field right off the bat. And that's all before the image processing tricks the ONE has up its sleeve.
Despite having the same sensor as the RX100 III, the DxO ONE is less than half the size of the already pocketable Sony premium compact. And while it's designed to connect to your iPhone, it can be used as standalone camera - you just won't get any image preview. Have a look at the size comparison below.
|The DxO ONE is really quite small; here it is next to the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III premium compact from Sony. Turn the DxO ONE 90º, and it still only takes up about half the real estate of the RX100 III. Image courtesy of DxO|
What's so exciting about this product? If we were to sum it up:
- Image quality will far exceed that of the current iPhone models, due to the 1"-type sensor paired with the bright F1.8 lens. On top of that, expert image processing is nothing new to DxO, and the ONE's 'SuperRaw' mode should lead to significantly better low-light performance (more later).
- Its size means there's no energy barrier to you just carrying it with you everywhere you go. Since the display and some of the computing power are off-loaded to the phone and to the desktop software (for processing of Raws, for example), you cut down on the size and weight of the camera, since you've always got a little computer and display in your pocket anyway.
- It's the first truly connected camera. Yes we've seen the likes of the QX-series of cameras from Sony, the Olympus Air, etc., but the fast, physical lightning connection to the iPhone means a very usable live display (there's barely any lag, and certainly no stuttering). Additionally, DxO will push updates to the dedicated app and the camera's firmware as well. We've been waiting a long time for something like this, and DxO promises it already has a roadmap for new features to be added to the camera firmware itself.
Let's look at some of the core features of the DxO ONE.
To realize such an incredibly small size, the DxO ONE has incorporated some marvelous feats of engineering and, naturally, some compromises. The 32mm equivalent, F1.8 aspherical lens features six elements and a 6-blade, variable aperture (F1.8 - F11) iris. Let's get the compromises out of the way: it's not a zoom lens, so the ONE does not provide the flexibility of the 24-70mm equivalent lens attached to the RX100 III or its successor the RX100 IV. Furthermore, a 6-bladed aperture means 6-ray sunbursts, not the 14 you'd get with a 7-blade aperture. But since there are probably only two people in the world who care about this (myself and I'd imagine Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki), we won't linger on this too much.
The lens design itself appears to be a marvel of engineering, with the largest element sitting incredibly close to the sensor. As you can see in the lens element diagram below, the optical components themselves are very small.
|The 6-element lens is held incredibly close to the sensor (shaded in blue), which is essentially what enables its small design. DxO developed technologies to combat some of the problems, particularly color cross-talk, introduced by this design. Image courtesy of DxO|
We had a conversation with DxO Chief Image Scientist and co-founder, Frédéric Guichard, and now have a better understanding of some of the DxO ONE's lens design principles and constraints. According to Guichard, traditional DSLR lens design has been focused on being retrofocal, which allows for the large flange distance typical in DSLRs. But because of this retrofocal design, such lenses have traditionally been fairly large. Many traditional lens designers have stuck to these design principles, even though mirrors are increasingly disappearing. DxO was forced to find a solution to shrink the lens for the ONE.
A small lens demands close placement right up against the image sensor. But playing with such a design, DxO found some significant issues - if you place the lens really close to the sensor, the light rays exiting the rear element can have very steep angles. That is, the exit pupil is really quite close to the sensor. When these rays pass through the color filter array, they may not end up in the right pixel. This can lead to what's known as color cross-talk. Essentially, the spectral response of the sensor will depend heavily on the light angle. DxO developed technology to cope with these problems largely related to color, ensuring proper color information is preserved at the pixel level. It's because of technological developments such as these that the ONE's lens could be placed so close to the sensor and, hence, could be made so small.
On top of this, DxO incorporated many of the same technologies that the company has developed for the optics module in DxO Optics Pro into the ONE. With the fixed lens, we'd expect that after all corrections are applied, lens aberrations will likely be kept to a minimum.
SuperRAW to the Rescue
DxO is a leader in image-processing, utilizing camera and lens profiling to process Raw images better in their Raw converter DxO Optics Pro. Anyone who has tried the software will likely attest to the impressive quality of Raw conversion. Furthermore, DxO sells its expertise in image processing to manufacturers in the form of intellectual property, image signal processors (ISP) and digital signal processing (DSP).
It's no surprise, then, that some of these algorithms go into making Raw output of the ONE better. You'll be able to develop single Raw files from the camera in either DxO Optics Pro or your favorite Raw converter, as standard .DNG output is included.
More interesting, in our opinion, is the ONE's 'SuperRAW' feature. SuperRAW captures four Raw images in rapid succession, then combines these images in the desktop software using spatial and temporal noise reduction algorithms to generate a high quality, lower noise image. Simple image averaging of four images should lead to a 2 EV increase in noise performance due to shot noise considerations alone which, by itself, is impressive. But there's even more going on.
If there's any subject movement, the algorithm intelligently tries to take the sharpest representation of that subject (which, if taken from one shot, may see a lesser noise benefit). This avoids ghosting. Furthermore, the quartet of shots are carefully analyzed for motion blur to attempt some de-blurring of the image, which effectively simulates some degree of image stabilization by compensating for camera motion. Frankly, we wouldn't be surprised if at some point we even saw super-resolution built-in to SuperRAW but, for now, it's not available.
And speaking of stabilization, video (1080/30p, with no line-skipping, thankfully) is incredibly well stabilized via digital image stabilization. You do lose a bit of field of view (which goes from 32mm in stills to 44mm equivalent in video), but our initial impression having used the device briefly are that stabilization is very, very effective. In fact, we'd love an option to sacrifice some FOV for this level of image stabilization in stills. Thankfully, the camera's upgradable, so we wouldn't be too surprised to see such a feature in the future!
Possibly one of the coolest bits about the DxO ONE is its connected philosophy. Connect the camera to your iPhone, and you're instantly taken to the App store to download the camera app. A couple of steps later, and you're on to taking your first photo. After your app is already installed, simply connecting the ONE to your iPhone should launch the app.
And speaking of the app, it looks really nice. The screenshot below shows the basic user interface. Tap on any of the parameters to change it. In addition to P/A/S/M modes, there are scene modes and a fully automatic mode. You can tap to focus wherever you please, and automatic face detection is also available.
|iOS app for the DxO ONE. It's a nice interface, and you can tap any item to adjust it. Expect to see the iOS app, and camera firmware updates periodically and frequently. Even camera firmware updates transfer over automatically via the app, without you having to ever worry or remember to check for an update. Now there's something your DSLR can't do... Image courtesy of DxO|
Much like other apps on your iPhone, you can expect fully automated updating (if you've enabled it). But here's the real kicker, as mentioned above: firmware updates for the camera are rolled into these app updates! And unlike the philosophy we typically see from bigger giants in the camera industry that, upon release of one camera, are likely already hard at work on the next iteration, DxO is committed to a full roadmap of feature upgrades for their camera. In fact, to quote DxO Chief Image Scientist Frédéric Guichard:
"The beauty of our camera is that we can improve it over time. Firmware updates are transferred from the iOS app. We will continue to improve the image and video quality, as well as camera features. Every two months, there’ll be a new release. We have a full roadmap."
Nice. That's the way all cameras should work, in our humble opinion. In fact, we're quite excited to see what the emerging 'connected camera' market brings. One day, we'll look back at our current 'standalone' cameras and think: 'how or why did we ever deal with that?'
For those wondering: 'why DxO?' the answer is pretty clear: DxO's expertise in optical corrections and image processing has led to a core part of its business being the development of ISP and DSP for mobile imaging devices. Another core part of the company's business is the profiling of lenses and cameras to aid their Raw converter, DxO Optics Pro.
With the lens design constraints inherent in this camera's design, a well-integrated correction system had to be embedded into the overall system design, and DxO was well-placed to do so given DxO's expertise in optical testing and corrections.
Furthermore, to compensate for the sensor being somewhat small compared to larger DSLRs (it's still quite large for a compact, and much larger than your phone's camera sensor!), 'SuperRAW' should help attain never-before-seen image quality from a sensor of this size. DxO's expertise in image processing no doubt aids this feature.
We're looking forward to putting the DxO ONE through our lab and real-world tests, so keep your eyes peeled for updates once we get our hands on one. For now, though, the future of mobile photography certainly appears bright.
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