Thursday, June 18, 2015

Comments on the DxO ONE Connected Camera


DXO's webpage for its ONE camera

​Most photography enthusiasts know DxO for their postprocessing software and their sensor and lens tests.  Today DxO announced that they are producing a camera, the DxO ONE.  The DxO ONE is unusual in that it does not have its own LCD but rather is designed to connect with your iPhone (no Android support yet), which it uses for both controlling the camera and displaying images.  Here's our take on it.

STATE OF THE INDUSTRY
Even though there are more digital photos being taken now than ever, everyone knows that overall camera sales have been declining in recent years primarily because many consumers are now relying on their smartphones instead of cameras to take pictures.  One response to this trend is that rather than fight it (e.g. by arguing the advantages of a dedicated camera), companies can ride it.  Sony used this approach in September 2013, by announcing the new QX line of cameras, a new category of camera that promised to improve your smartphone image quality by adding to it a larger sensor and more versatile lens.  The QX concept was met with skepticism but Sony followed it up one year later by expanding the line to include the QX30 (a superzoom), QX100 (effectively the QX version of the RX100), and the QX1 (which allows users to use their existing E-mount lenses).
 
A few other companies followed Sony's approach, such as Olympus' Air and Kodak's SmartLens.  The DxO ONE adopts the same approach.  What makes it different is that instead of relying on a wireless connection to a smartphone, it connects directly to your iPhone's Lightning port.
 
Other key differentiators:
  • Sensor size: 1 inch (similar to the Sony RX100 and QX100). 
  • Effective focal length: 32mm
  • Maximum aperture: f/1.8
  • Has its own SD card slot
  • Can capture images in raw (the QX100 can't).
  • Can pivot (giving it a similar capability as a camera with flip screen).
  • world's smallest 1-inch sensor camera (at the moment)
  • SuperRaw mode: merges four images "using the very latest in spatial and temporal noise reduction"
  • uses DxO's postprocessing technology and DxO's Elite software is included for early buyers
With regard to the last point, some cameras have become respected at least in part for how their straight-out-of-the-camera shots look, such as Fuji's X-series.  Given DxO's postprocessing expertise, I think this last feature may end up as the biggest differentiator to the large part of the consumer market that does not even bother to postprocess their shots.
 
WILL IT SUCCEED?
In my opinion, the concept of the DxO ONE is viable.  But I think there are a few questions and challenges.
 
1. The price: $599.  At this price, the DxO ONE is competing not against entry-level point-and-shoot cameras, but against premium compacts, such as the Sony RX100 and Panasonic LX100.  In that regard, Sony claims that while the overall camera market is shrinking, their sales of premium compacts are rising.  If Sony is right, then it implies that the people who really care about image quality are buying dedicated cameras.  This makes me think that the ONE's integration with smartphones is not a feature sought by its market (premium compact buyers), and may even be a disadvantage.
 
2. How good is the autofocus performance?  DxO hasn't described the autofocus technology.  If DxO is selling this to casual users, I am curious as to whether it can capture moving subjects such as kids, which is one of the most common complaints against point-and-shoot cameras.
 
3. Social media.  I think one way the ONE can get an edge over its competitors is the promise of speed and convenience for social media.  These days, if you take too long to upload a shot to social media, it loses relevance very quickly.  The question for the ONE is: is it easier and faster to plug in their camera, use a smartphone to change controls, then upload the photo to social media?  Compared to a dedicated camera with wireless capabilities, it may take longer to take a shot, but it has an edge in uploading.  The possible advantage that the ONE has is its postprocessing.  Sure, a dedicated camera with wireless capability might be about as fast in uploading a shot to Facebook, but will the shot look as good?  If DxO does its in-camera processing right, the ONE should be able to turn-around a well-edited shot more quickly and easily than any other camera.  In my opinion, that (and not the form factor) might be the ONE's unique selling proposition.
 
I think the ONE makes the most sense for people who are already planning to buy DxO's software.  Since the software is included, the incremental cost of the camera is lower for those people, effectively addressing what might be the most significant objection to the ONE.  For everyone else, I believe the ONE's success will depend largely on its SOOC image quality.