Thursday, September 5, 2013

Launch Review: First Impressions of Sony QX100 and QX10

Sony QX100
Like photography but don't like cameras? That almost seems to be the target audience that Sony had in mind for the new QX series of integrated camera sensor/lenses. I'm not (just) being snarky... a lot of people had some legitimate questions about this category of product, like "Who is this intended for?" and "How is this better than just buying a separate dedicated camera?" The cynical amongst the crowd came to the conclusion that these cameras were for hipsters who are forever wedded to their smartphones, but who would never buy a camera. Think: Instagram/Vine user who doesn't own a dedicated camera and finds DSLR forums stuffed full of incomprehensible camera nerds. Unfortunately, instead of directly answering the more fundamental questions and product usefulness and utility, it looks as like Sony's marketing people went straight for the hipster trope:


Predictable, but hardly inspired advertising. I'm not knocking the the spot per say, as the production value makes for a watchable ad that does nicely illustrate the benefits of the QX cameras without resorting to hyperbole or mumble-jumbo jargon. However, there's a difference between being cool and trying to be cool; thankfully, the protagonist doesn't speak and the copy doesn't do a hard sell, so there isn't anything overtly unlikable from a narrative standpoint. The problem is that the ad itself is trying to be cool so hard that it basically breaks the fourth wall; you can almost overhear the production meeting conversation creeping into the sound track.

Tousled hair? Check. Thick glasses? Check. Facial hair? Check. Slender build? Check. Uses social media? Check. Adorkable love interest? Check.

The problem with so strongly identifying with a sub-group is that you've automatically excluded other groups from the conversation. The hipster-dofus stereotype has long been heaped on Apple users, but one thing you can say about their ads; it's not that they show somebody using their devices, the idea is that they are showing that anybody can use their devices. But enough about advertising critiques; I think the pros and cons of these products have been hashed out quite a bit since the cameras were leaked, but here's a recap:

Pro


  • Less bulk than carrying phone + camera
  • Gives camera to people who otherwise wouldn't buy them separately
  • Can use camera separately from phone
  • Can use with any phone, not just a Sony phone

Con


  • Second device still means extra bulk
  • Realistically, a compact camera isn't going to take up much more space
  • Tethering to phone means that it is using up battery life
  • Attaching and connecting camera to phone is a hassle
  • High price; can buy a full compact for not much more
Sony QX10
All in all, this is a brave product launch, but is it a smart one? Remember, this is Sony; they're not like Apple, so they're (no longer) after that one single iconic product. (Walkman and Trinitron, anybody?) Sony isn't like Nikon in that they are quite willing to position their own products against each other; if the QX100 might steal sales from the RX100, that won't stop Sony from launching it. In many ways, Sony, though weakened after the great Recession of 2008, is still the company that Samsung wants to be. Sony is still Sony, the company for better or worse is still stuck in the era when real men produced hardware and when software was for boys tinkering in garages. So in one way, this is an "interesting for the sake of being interesting" type of a product launch.

Despite the misgivings I have about the hipster-targeting of the QX100 and QX10, I can see why Sony went that route. The truth is, even though we are steeped in technology, we aren't as technology savy as we would liek to image ourselves to be. You're never going to get somebody in Gen-Y to admit this, but let's face it, DSLR's are intimidating. By replacing part of the camera with the more familiar smartphone, Sony might be able to lure some people into buying a "camera" when they would have otherwise stuck with their phone because it was "good enough". I also can't help but feel that the promo video is quite prescient: this is a male-oriented product. The question on a lot of people's minds is "how fiddly is it to attach and tether to your phone?" I think the immediate answer is "awkward at first, but not cumbersome". But I can see an immediate problem: even though it's small and portable, it still has DSLR/m4/3/NEX-like drawbacks. Imaging walking down the street and wanting to take your picture. You have to attach your lens and fire up your phone. Question: in principle, how is that different from keeping your DSLR lens and body separate, and only attaching the two when you are taking a picture? You see the problem don't you? You usually go out with a lens attached to your camera, but you need your phone unencumbered so that it can do phone-like things first.

It's certainly an interesting idea, and I'm glad that somebody tried it. In case you can tell, I don't think it's for me. That could be a weakness with this product, if everybody likes it, but not enough to buy it. Time will tell.

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