2015-12-14

Park Cameras goes hands on with the DxO One Camera

It's impossible to deny that the smartphone has played it's part in causing a shift in direction of the camera market. With the most popular phones possessing a more than passable camera which has the added benefit of always being there for those opportune moments - and those less opportune selfies.

However, whilst the camera market may have had to change tact, it has undoubtedly benefited from the much larger interest in photography created by smartphones. It is becoming apparent that those whose interest has been piqued become soon aware that their smartphone's camera is easily usurped by equipment whose sole goal is to take pictures.

DxO are attempting to bridge the gap between DSLR user and smartphone user with their DxO One camera. Utilising a lightning connector, thus compatible with iPhone's 5 and up, the One adds a 20.2-Megapixel, 1-inch sensor, 32mm equivalent focal length power to your iPhone/iPad.
The diminutive camera packs a 1-inch sensor punch!

For those who don't know of DxO, they have become eponymous to pixel peeping with their DxO mark scoring system. Rating the image quality of thousands of cameras and lenses and later adding post-processing software to their repertoire.

This is a very bold move from a company who make a living from declaring the image quality of other's equipment - meaning the DxO One camera is instantly put on a pedestal - where image quality is key. However hard you try, it's difficult not to keep referring to the fact that this isn't a cheap piece of equipment, it is an entry level DSLR priced attachment for your iPhone or iPad, and therefore needs to stand up to the test of quality.
Unpacking the very Apple-esque box, you cannot deny that this has been built with quality in mind - the 'precision-grade' aluminium build has a nice feel to it, and it is minimalist in design, with a shutter button on top of the unit plus a small LCD 'status' display and microSD port on the back. And that is basically that. Slide the lens cover fully down, and out pops the lightning connector to attach the DxO One to your iPhone. Once connected you then get a prompt to install the DxO One app, unless already installed in which case it simply opens up.

That aforementioned minimalist design is certainly aided by the DxO One app, which is brilliantly user friendly, and those who have operated advanced camera settings in a past life will be pleased to see how truly easy it is to select shooting modes, and operate any of the other camera controls. Whilst the camera can be operated separately from the iPhone, it really doesn't feel like it should be. Firstly there is no viewfinder on board, and the settings are all contained within the iOS App.

Use the iPhone screen to choose a point of focus
Shooting standalone therefore isn't a composition friendly action, it's very much a finger in the wind scenario. It is also worth noting that the DxO one requires a microSD card to be inserted even if connected to the iPhone - with the app allowing you to choose whether you want your pictures saved on the phone and the card, or just the card.

I found it slightly frustrating that it required a card when you can simply store on the phone, but it isn't really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Once in the app it really is a nice experience, you can focus on your iPhone's touch screen just by pointing - a feature present in some of the more modern, touch screen LCD toting cameras, but one that is still satisfyingly simple.

Using Aperture Priority mode was a doddle, simply select and scroll through the variable options!
You can also select a shooting mode (Auto, A, P, S and M modes all present), choose an exposure compensation level, turn flash on/off and control ISO sensitivity. This is where you are made aware that this isn't just a smartphone camera.

Within Aperture priority mode (my favourite) it's a nice sensation to be able to use an f-stop of 1.8, knowing that those flat 2D images on your smartphone are about to be overthrown by something which adds some much loved background blur.

Having an ISO range of 100-12,800 completely changes the conditions you can actually achieve a decent shot in. No longer are your night photos full of that horrible grain that is ever present in the smartphone images of those who think that ISO is probably some acronym to represent a state of hysterical laughter.

Using ISO 3200 shows the quality of this camera in low-light, with little grain to show 
And, most importantly the image quality that is output from the little device is a markable improvement from anything that your iPhone will be able to achieve - making a mockery of those fancy Dan 'shot on iPhone' adverts.

With RAW and Super RAW support, the photographic evangelist is truly catered for. Thanks be to the 1-inch, 20.2 Megapixel sensor contained within this camera's diminutive frame. The size of the sensor being the key part of this. Whilst Megapixel counts can keep on rising, and image quality will see a boost, it really is the sensor size that plays the bigger part in image quality. A larger sensor means that more image information can be captured, and depth of field capabilities are increased.

Top: Shot with iPhone. Bottom: Shot with DxO. Great depth of field apparent.

This isn't just any 1-inch sensor either, it's the same one that was found inside the Sony RX100 III. Sony's sensor game at the moment is at an all time high, and DxO have obviously factored this in when making the decision on what to put inside their first attempt at camera hardware.

One of the key arguments for smartphones possessing such small sensors is portability - which would make you think that perhaps the DxO one is a hefty appendage to your phone. I can assure you that it isn't. In fact, there is a case that this is the most portable camera of this capability available on the market.

The level of detail produced is thanks to that excellent sensor

Take into account that your phone is already in your pocket, all you have to do is attach this 5cm high box to it! It really doesn't take up much pocket space, my only concern would be the ease of losing over £400 worth of camera.

Something I found satisfying about this product is that DxO have been able to think hard about their software with a strong app, and hardware with its minimalist design because they can piggyback on the iPhone's feature set.

Companies are always trying to make their LCD screens better, but none are yet on the level of the iPhone's retina display which adds an extra dimension not just to live view but also to previewing your images.

It was a balmy, out of character November morning when I took the DxO One with me on a trip to the beach. Most noticeable for me was the fun that it added to the photo taking experience. It brings consideration into composition - something you would expect from a DSLR camera, that experience of thinking about your shot.

Left: iPhone. Right: DxO One. Making the iPhone look positively 2D

With smartphone photography, it becomes increasingly easy just to open an app and snap that picture. Even with the more advanced apps, such as VSCO, composition is limited to just focus and exposure and the experience is mainly around what kind of filters you can add in post-production.

I was framing properly, I was softly touching the shutter to find my AF point and I was fiddling with ISO values, aperture and even mucked around a bit with exposure compensation settings - something I usually stay away from.

Left: iPhone. Right: DxO One. 100% crops of the same subject show the DxO One's superiority.
This is where the DxO stands out as an SLR competitor. You get those advanced controls and settings in a tiny little pocket size accompaniment to a piece of equipment you already take with you.

It is a great opportunity to have something that will produce truly impressive images, and something you can keep with you at all times. It definitely bridges that gap that DxO are attempting to bridge.

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