Sony has confirmed plans to sell two stand-alone lenses that connect to smartphones by wi-fi, allowing them to take higher-quality photos. In a bid to take mobile photography in a new direction Sony has launched the QX-100 and QX-10, claiming they are essentially a new category of consumer product, offering the high quality photography of digital cameras whilst connecting to users' smartphones for adjusting and cropping images, and sharing them via social media.

 

 

The lenses will be compatible with the Android and iOS operating systems and have been announced alongside a new smartphone which features a 20.7 megapixel camera and a larger-than-normal image sensor. The launches should help the firm challenge Nokia's top-end handset.

Sony told the BBC it would target its Z1 handset at a wider audience than what it called the Lumia 1020's "super-premium category".

 

 

The QX-10 will cost around £170 ($270 USD) for a 10x optical zoom and 18.2MP lens. The QX-100 has a small 3.6x zoom but a bigger sensor with a resolution 20.2MP and an aperture that goes as wide as f1.8. It should retail for around £380 ($600 USD).

The QX-10 will be better suited for close-ups of people and shots of distant landmarks (think holiday snaps) whilst the QX-100 seems aimed at a more professional market, offering manual control of the lens and better performance under low lighting or with a very shallow focus.

Once fitted with a battery and memory stick, the QX10 weighs 105g (3.7oz) and the QX100 179g (6.3oz).

Both devices:

  • include technology that compensates for shaky hands
  • activate a link-up to a phone or tablet if it has an NFC (near field communication) chip
  • can attach to different-sized handsets via an extendable clip, or - in the case of the Z1 - using a special case
  • can be operated while a short distance away from the smart device

Neither has a built-in screen.

It remains to be seen whether or not Sony's innovations will be met with enthusiasm by customers. Mobile phones have eroded the sale of digital cameras but mainly because they are simply more convenient. Having to carry around an additional lens, no matter how well designed it is, may not bridge this gap. One analyst suggested the lenses in particular would struggle to find buyers.

Francisco Jeronimo, mobile devices research manager at tech consultancy IDC asks:

The concept is interesting, but when you think about using it, will users want to carry them around?

The problem is that for those wanting top-quality photographs, the experience of having a DSLR [digital single lens reflex] offers a better experience than a phone with an add-on camera.

Meanwhile having the lens attached to a phone makes it feel quite bulky compared to a compact camera or stand-alone handset.

If the lenses were priced under £100, then I could see photography geeks buying it, or operators bundling it with the phone, but these lenses will be quite expensive.

Sony seems to recognise this, with Yosuke Aoki, a digital imaging spokesman for the firm, telling the BBC that the company is still discussing how many units to prepare. "We're waiting for after the Ifa announcement to see what the feedback will be to the models,” said Aoki.