First experiences with the Sony DSC-QX30

I borrowed a RX100 MIII from Sony several weeks ago. A fantastic compact camera, but since this club is all about smartphone cameras I didn't write anything about it. So Sony offered me another device to check out: the DSC-QX30 - a lens with an astonishing 30x optical zoom. In this post you'll read about my first experiences with the device and see a few of my first shots, showing its full zoom potential.

The QX30 has been on the market for quite a while already, but I couldn't get my hands on one earlier. First a few other specs (besides the 30x optical zoom). The Sony Xmor R sensor has 20.4MP and is 1/2.3 inch large - or small (it's the same size as for instance the Samsung Galaxy Camera uses, you may read more interesting stuff about sensor size at GizMag). Pixel size is about 1.19 microns (Galaxy Camera has 1.34μ). ISO values range from 80 to 3200, shutter time from 1/1600 to 30 seconds. Maximum aperture is 3.2. If you need to know more specs, have a look at

Working with the QX30 is something else. It's not a smartcam, but you'll need a smartphone to work with it. It's like a compact camera without the body. In this case, it's like you'll be working with the Sony DSC-HX50V sensor, but you'd still have to attach it to a smartphone for framing, settings, etc. The smartphone however, doesn't have to be a Sony device and you don't even need an Android - there is a Play Memories application for iOS as well. But you'll need a smartphone anyway. Does that make it a smartphone camera? No. But it's not a compact either, so it's an interesting "somewhere in between" concept. Of course you know it's not the first of its kind, and you'll find the complete range of "lens-style" devices here at Sony global.

It's not easy to carry around either - far from the slim smartphones people have learned to appreciate, the QX30 is one bulky device. I'm  sure it will fit the pocket of the average jacket (but I'm not sure if you want it there, with the risk of damaging it when you're on the road). So you'll probably carry it in a bag or something. I carried it in a small bag already attached to my Sony Xperia Z2 since it saves me the trouble of attaching it all the time. 

Connecting the QX30 is very easy after installing the Play Memories application. You use NFC on your phone (make sure it's on) and hold it to the symbol on the QX30 (above the on/off button). They'll pair using WiFi Direct and from that moment the two "know" each other and they will connect everytime you start the sensor and the application. 

As for the different settings, I captured a few screenshots from the Xperia Z2 - something I don't think you can do with any "ordinary" compact or DSLR (another small advantage of using a smartphone :-) I'll just share them with you below, since I think they speak for themselves.

Plenty of settings, as you can see. One of the advantages working with Intelligent Auto+ is you don't really have to think about anything else and it will even make a HDR shot when you're capturing a scene with great contrasts for instance. But after a few tests I do like to work more with the different other settings, like I do on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1 - for some reason those "intelligent" settings don't always appear to be able to capture the best shot. 

Still need quite a bit more practice with that though, and since the combo of both devices is not very "pocketable" it's not something I carry with me every day. In the next shots you'll see what it looks like when attached to the Xperia Z2. First up close and from the top, with the sensor still closed.

Next: sensor active, no zoom yet.

Maximum zoom capacity

You can imagine it's quite a thing to wave around when you are shooting and it's not easy to hold the large sensor steady since you don't have much of a "body" to work with. You'll get used to it after a while however, and you can always screw the QX30 on a tripod. 

The next examples were made during my first day of testing, so most of the shots are captured with the iA+ setting. Most important thing I'd like to test is its maximum zoom performance. You'll see several examples and crops. Like this path in the forest, first without zoom, directly followed with a 640 x 360 crop.

Now it's very hard to recognize, but in the center of the crop above you'll see a dark spot - being a stuffed bird in fact. This is what it looks like from the exact same distance and 30x optical zoom.

You can clearly see how close you can get with 30x optical zoom... - simply compare it to the first shot above. Here´s a crop of the last shot - and you'll see it's quite noisy, but still: a lot of detail considering the distance.

Here's another example, looking the other way - just a path in the forest, followed by a crop.

And here's the same scene from the exact same distance, now with 30x optical zoom. Again, a much brighter result as well, which makes sense of course (but I do think the famous play of sun and clouds in this country have been influencing the first example above)

Again, a 640 x 360 crop from the last shot - again showing quite a noisy result at 100%. But - as you will read further on - ISO is at 800 in this case, so no wonder.

Last example - I'm at the "Old Harbour" in Hilversum again, so this is a scene you might have seen before. Again: the scene as it is followed by a crop from the original shot.

And next: same building but at maximum zoom capacity, followed by a crop of that result.

Pretty impressive, isn't it? Sure, it's not noise free, but there's not much noise (on ISO 80) - and do consider the distance this device is covering... It can even become awkwardly close, as you'll see in the next example, shot a few meters away from where I stood before. 

Seeing details like these, I'm pretty sure some people will need some discipline using the full zoom potential of the DSC-QX30... Now I wrote before the sensor is the same as you'll find on the DSC-HX50V. Costing slightly over €200 It's quite a bit cheaper as the QX30, but it won't "add" the smartphone capacities to your sensor. It does offer flash however, which you will have to live without using the QX30.

To conclude, a few shots I captured at the station - I'll refrain from sharing crops here, I'm sure you've seen how noisy they are. Be that as is may, the zoomed results will give you details you're hardly able to see on the originals (you'll find them all on Flickr, as usual).

I've read a review of the Sony DSC-HX50V's results being "disappointing" at 100% - well, I guess that's what we are seeing in the crops of the zoomed results above. However, I don't want to come to final conclusions just yet - it's interesting to see how in the iA+ setting the QX30 sometimes chooses a much higher ISO (like 500 and 800 in both first forest examples): no wonder there's much noise. Oh what the hell. Let's have a look at the crops from the last two zoomed shots. The first one has ISO 80 - not too bad.

The second one ISO 200 - a lot worse indeed.

Again: you can't expect miracles with the iA+ settings - it certainly can't work miracles and I feel sure I can get better results with minimum ISO (80). Then of course you'll need longer shutter times, which won't be easy holding a device like this. So still quite a few things to figure out, but I think this is enough for this (pretty long) "first impression" after two days.

In general I'm not sure I would choose a device like the QX30 myself at this moment. But I have to admit I've already been missing it very much, unexpectedly visiting another small city in The Netherlands - I'm very sure I could have captured some sensational shots with it there late last evening. Hope you liked my first experiences so far anyway! All the originals are in a dedicated set on Flickr. After this I'm really looking forward to give Sony's DSC-QX100 (with less zoom capacity but a 1 inch sensor and 2.41 microns pixel size) a try as well :-)