Shooting with the QX100
The QX100 feels just a little slow to start up (it's ready to shoot in about 2.5 seconds), a slight delay that caused me to wonder if I'd pressed the 'on' button firmly enough more than once. You'll need to power it on before it can be identified by a smartphone or tablet.
If your phone has NFC (odds are it doesn't, but the feature is becoming more widespread) your task in connecting the devices for the first time is much easier. If you're an iPhone user or otherwise without NFC, you'll need to find the camera's ad-hoc wireless network on your mobile device, select it and enter a password located on the underside of the battery compartment cover. It's a slightly cumbersome process, but thankfully only needs to be done once per device.
Once a connection is established, you'll open up PlayMemories Mobile and after a moment's delay, you're off and shooting. In shooting mode, your smartphone or tablet essentially becomes the camera's LCD. Focus can be selected via touch, and the QX100's limited menus are all accessed on the shooting screen.
A mode button in the upper right corner of the screen switches between still and video shooting, and an icon in the upper left corner provides access to the camera's four still shooting modes: Program, Aperture Priority, Superior Auto and Intelligent Auto. In Aperture Priority, the aperture can be changed by touching the f/stop number at the bottom of the screen. Exposure compensation is adjusted the same way, though it's only available in P and A modes.
The rest of the QX100's control options are found under a settings menu located at the bottom right of the shooting screen. There (depending on your shooting mode) you'll find white balance, self-timer, AF/MF switch, recorded image size, and beep on/off options among others. ISO is curiously missing - it's handled entirely by the device.
Touch focus or a half-press of the QX100's physical shutter will focus the camera, and zoom can be operated by using on-screen buttons (though they're small and can be fiddly to hit precisely). Manual focus is available via the function ring on the lens, but there's no magnified view available when focusing (and no peaking) so its usefulness is limited.
In testing the QX100 with several smartphones, we found that certain devices showed greater lag in the live view image on the screen. The iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4 both operated with very little lag, but a year-old Android device gave a somewhat 'choppy' experience. Newer handsets with more advanced processing power seemed to perform consistently well with the QX100 but owners of older devices beware, you may be frustrated with QX operation.
By default, after capturing an image it appears on the phone for review, a smaller image is saved to the mobile device and you're prompted to share it or return to the app. Once you're back to the shooting screen there's no way to review images saved to your smartphone gallery without breaking the connection. Images stored on the MicroSD card can be viewed in the 'Copy from Connected Device' menu while (obviously) maintaining the connection.
Images can be copied from the QX100 to the connected smartphone via Wi-Fi, at either VGA, 2 megapixel or original resolution. Images are shown as thumbnails and organized into folders by the day they were captured. Photos can also be transferred to a computer using the included USB cable.
What Sony's engineers have done in the QX100 is certainly bold. Repackaging the guts from a flagship point-and-shoot in a made-for-mobile device is an unprecedented move. It's also a bold approach to the problem of a camera's relative lack of connectivity - rather than fighting the smartphone, the QX100 joins the smartphone. Or rather is conjoined with it.
What still hasn't been solved is the problem of carrying two devices. Carrying a smartphone and a point-and-shoot is more than most people are willing to do, and the QX100 is actually less pocketable than many small compacts, because of its bulky cylindrical shape. Plus the QX100 is too big and heavy to realistically leave it coupled to a smartphone for an extended amount of time.
With its high-end specs and a high price to match, Sony seems to be hoping that the QX100 user is the type of person who doesn't mind carrying two devices if together they'll do something unique - capture great images which are instantly sharable. There's no doubt that the QX100 packs a lot of technology inside it. However, controls are stripped down, there's no option to shoot Raw and basic settings like ISO are unavailable to the user. That's likely going to put off a lot of potential buyers. Raw shooting especially is a feature we think would greatly increase the appeal of the QX100 to an enthusiast crowd, so we hope Sony will consider adding it in a firmware update.
Consider that the QX100 also strips away a flash, AF assist lamp, manual focus aids and manual exposure control (you have aperture priority and exposure compensation but that's all) and it's hard to imagine the enthusiast shooter who would be better served by this camera rather than a full-fledged compact. Still, the achievement stands as one of the most interesting compact camera announcements of the year, and we're curious to see how it is received by consumers.