DxO One Review | Weaponizing The iPhone Chassis With A Proper Camera
If someone were to ask me what I felt was the most disruptive piece of technology of the past decade, it wouldn’t take me very long to arrive at an answer, because I’d probably be holding it in my hand at that moment anyway. It’s the iPhone. I won’t go into why, but even if you disagree, it’s likely you understand what many of my points would be.
To that end, more pictures are taken on an iPhone than on any other camera in the world. Which is a bit of a shame, because the iPhone camera is actually kind of crap really.
When we speak about how great a phone camera is, what often gets lost in translation is that we’re not ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ about how remarkable the images it takes are, but rather how remarkable they are for a phone camera. That distinction is going to play a major role in the words to come, and frankly, it should for anyone pondering a new small camera purchase. If you realize this, you understand that the reason the iPhone is such a prolific camera has nothing to do with quality, but everything to do with convenience. It’s there, it’s easy, so you use it because it may be good enough for the frivolously shot images you take that you really never plan on looking at again anyway.
But what if ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough? Why can’t the convenient camera that’s with you to capture the great off -the-cuff moments be better? Why can’t it actually be very, very good?
If you’ve asked this question, you’re probably one who sees the value in small but powerful point and shoots. You want to capture those same moments, but you want to do it well, and end up with images to be shared, printed, and even admired, without carrying around a DSLR and a trick kit of lenses. You may be the type to buy an RX100. I am. It’s also why you may be the type to want an alternative, and be very curious about the DxO One.
When we think of DxO, we think of sensor testing, and for most people who don’t think in matrices of zeroes and ones, we’re glad they do it because it means we don’t have to.
DxO is the go-to resource for pixel peepers who want to win arguments over the internets with other pixel peepers that use screen names completely opposite to what they’re like in real life, like ‘Assassin’, or ‘Ladies Man’.
We sort of imagine DxO HQ to be hermetically sealed, entirely the same shade of white, with scientists who are a good mix of German and Asian, who will accept little less than perfection in their work. I mean, you just can’t imagine anyone at DxO putting a whoopie cushion under the boss’ chair.
They take on the challenge and present the technical side of camera sensor testing with metrics we can make sense of, so when they decided to release a camera we all sort of braced and prepared for something exceptional; something better than its peers in every scientific and mathematical measurement, shaped by science and styled by software, but practical. Something with no style for style’s sake, and performance that beggars belief. And here’s what we get:
Still resolution of 20.2 MP (5406 x 3604) resolved from a 1” Format CMOS -BSI sensor, resolved through a 32mm equivalent lens with an aperture range of f/1.8 to f/11. So right off the bat, those specs destroy anything you can say about the iPhone’s camera. Sure, 1.8 isn’t much faster than 2.2 some may say, but paired with the size of the sensor, you get much more depth of field and subject separation. An iPhone is also fixed at f/2.2 so landscapes are, well, not quite as good as you can get at f/11.
That sensor size and aperture also makes it clear who the DxO One is going after in terms of market share, and that’s the long time reigning king of the truly pocketable cameras, the Sony RX100.
Like the RX100, the ONE can shoot in RAW and even something they’ve dubbed SuperRaw, which is an even larger file and has better noise handling properties, especially when processed with DxO’s own software. So you’ve got the option of JPEG, RAW (DNG), SuperRAW (.DXO), and video in .MOV (H.264). For video, you can expect 1080 at 30fps, and 720 at 120 fps for good slow mo.
ISO is nothing much to speak of ranging from 100 to 12800 or expanded to 25600 or 51200 if you’re mad. Shutter speed is 1/8000 to 15 seconds which wasn’t bad, except that’s what it was when it was shipped, but not anymore. You see, one of the benefits to the DxO being attached to an iPhone that’s always online is that software updates can reformulate the camera, and the first update for this has just dropped and clearly shows DxO has been listening to users, as they’ve implemented a host of great changes.
Now shutter speed is upped to 1/20,000 and down to 30 seconds. In addition to those changes, videos are now fully manually controllable, as are selfies. That’s right, this is actually an incredible selfie camera for those so inclined, and it uses the iPhone’s entire screen as a bright and even fill-flash.
The ways in which the DxO manages to function is largely based on the ability of the iPhone, and they really do make the best of that beautiful and responsive screen and iOS. In fact, what you can think of the DxO and iPhone marriage as, is a pairing of car chassis and engine. The iPhone is the chassis and body with the controls, comforts, and interface, and what DxO has done is taken out the weak 500cc iPhone camera, and replaced it with a rip-roaring V6.
It takes a mighty fine picture, of that there is no question. What an achievement to have something shoot like this from such a small form factor. I feel confident enough in the quality to publish images right from my phone. In fact, I can see why some BBC reporters take them in the field now to do just that. I have the RX100 original build, and it almost pains me to say, but the DxO images are crisper, and (even wide open at 1.8) sharper, and more contrasty. Of course, unlike the RX100, there is no optical zoom, and digital zoom is another word for cropping, so it is limited in that way. At 32mm equivalent, it’s actually wide enough for decent landscapes and surprisingly long enough not to make facial features balloon.
The DOF it produces and the quality of the bokeh are also surprisingly good, especially that subject and background separation is very noticeable even when you’re not a breath away. Not that you could get that close anyway, however, as the closest focusing distance is 8 inches, and that’s something iPhone camera users will likely not like. But with the added ability the DxO brings, that’s a small price to pay unless you’re some macro-obsessed “nobody-touch-their-food-until-I-shoot-this’ Instaspammer.
The images you can shoot with this in good light are just brilliant, and with the new shutter speed of 1/20,000 you can shoot wide open all the time for nice portrait-style shots, and in the dark? Well, it does a fine job there also, spare two things to always keep in mind: that one thing this camera doesn’t do that well is autofocus even in bright light, and in the dark, it’s worse.
It’s not horrendous, and you won’t be pulling your hair out, but if it were 20% faster, no one would likely complain.
Second, in low light, should you have auto ISO set, it is ALWAYS going to choose an ISO that’s far beyond what you need just to ensure you get a crisp image. If you have early onset Parkinsons or prone to epileptic fits, leave it. Otherwise, I think the majority would be better choosing ISO manually and going from there.
Shooting with manual mode on this is a joy anyway, because the interface you use to choose your parameters is on the iPhone’s lovely screen; the buttons are big and easy to select, and you can see your exposure meter change as you alter settings, so you always know where you stand. It shows DxO understands that for this market, the high-end point and shoot, the user doesn’t want to fiddle with knobs when it has a perfectly good touch-screen at their disposal. So the DxO One takes advantage of that and fills in the gaps, therefore, quite literally weaponizing the iPhone.
A big surprise for me was just how well this little thing handles shots of the night sky. Typically, I’m never one to be into astrophotography, but I was in Zion and the Grand Canyon for a bit and driving in a drop-top so I couldn’t resist. The SuperRaw paired with the then 15-second shutter proved to be really really good at taking night images, and I imagine would be so much better now at 30 seconds with a dropped ISO. Was there noise? Sure, but you don’t expect this to shoot on par with the D810 anyway.
But where image quality and easy of use shines, battery power does not. You are supposed to be able to get a couple hundred photos out of each charge, but from the little LCD screen on the device itself, that energy depletes quite quickly, especially if you leave the device running. My advice is to use, then close, the lens when you’re not, and in low light, when focus hunting becomes more prevalent and uses more power, just take it off the phone when you’re not.
As I mentioned above, you sort of expect DxO to produce something shaped by science and styled by software, and this has been, but not DxO’s, but Apple’s. When you look at the device, from the box to the actual thing, it is clear they crafted this to be the matching belt to the iPad’s shoes. But then again I guess it would be, being designed between Paris and San Francisco.
It looks nothing like any camera I’ve ever seen, And again its design is purely functional; You have the shutter button on top, a lens cover that slides to turn the device on, a little thumbnail size screen on the back to show you, well, not much really; the lightning connector on swivel, and then a little flap to cover the micro SD slot and micro USB port for transfer and charge.
It’s about the same width as the iPhone 6, one-third the height, and twice the depth, and it weighs about the same. What this adds up to is something you simply can fit in any pocket, even that little watch/condom pocket in jeans (maybe). So it’s something your wife or girlfriend or boyfriend won’t mind carrying around for you – just be careful not to sit on it.
There is, in my opinion, however, one rather large design flaw. It’s the bruised side of this otherwise blemish-free apple, and that’s the lightning connector itself. It’s short. It’s so short that I can pretty much guarantee you that if this were to be used on an iPhone with a case, it couldn’t be. I’ve tried it with cases that were basically a veneer of plastic, and it’s just still a no-go. I understand many people don’t use cases on their iPhones, but that’s not everyone, and it makes the whole set-up feel rather dainty.
To be fair, the ONE’s connector stays put once it’s in, but there’s no operating this device when it’s paired with one hand, ergonomics sort of dictate that, but even if it didn’t, it just doesn’t feel secure, and dropping either one of these gadgets would be tear inducing.
I should also interject here that I have never, and I mean that with serious thought, but never used a camera that has drawn so much attention from men, women, children, dogs, and everything in between. Everywhere I would go and use it, it would turn a great many heads as I walked along even in my cardigan, and I was stopped and asked about it to the point where I created my own 1-minute elevator pitch. Something about its Apple looks and condom-size just has people, especially women, curious. And when they see the images…the questions continue. Honestly, the only thing I own that draws more female attention is my dog. Then again a Morkie is about the only thing that will pull more women than a car with a prancing horse/wings on the front.
Not too much to say here, as it’s meant to look and feel like an Apple product; it does, so it feels good. It’s weighty enough to feel substantial and not like a toy, and light enough not to be a bother. I’ve dropped my unit on a rock in Zion National Park and it survived with hardly a blemish.
You’re getting a quality product here, and you feel that every time you use it. The build is there, and even the shutter button is 2-stage, though it should be said it does sort of make you feel a bit detached because it’s not quite immediate in response. But that’s all really. There’s no part of this device that says ‘cheap’, but then again that couldn’t be the case because one thing this little camera isn’t, is cheap.
This one is tough, and that 3 is only because I know there will be an outcry from some due to price.
When you get the box, you’ll like it. When you open it and hold the device, you’ll like it, and when you take a few portraits with it or astro-shots, you’ll love it because the images really are good. It’s when you get to the price that things start to go a little wonky.
Many a time have I been asked about the camera and how much I like it, and then had the follow-up question be ‘where can I get one?’ and you can tell they’re on a hair trigger to buy it. And then I hit them with the price, and you can literally sense their bowels loosening and brain processes halting. It’s near-as-makes-no-difference $600 and that my friends and confidants, is not a trifle.
It is always beyond me to tell you whether something is good value or not because ‘worth’ is something personal. I think people who buy Justin Beiber tickets for any amount of money to be mad, and I’m sure they think that I would rent my friends and sell my liver to fly in a Tomcat, insanity.
The fact is that if you want a high-end point and shoot camera, this is the ballpark figure you’d be looking at anyway, with the RX100 MKIV coming in at an eye-watering $1,000. But that’s a whole other animal. The DxO is less than half its size and is just meant to function differently.
The fact that it is attached to your phone makes it something those in media reportage can actually use to take publishable images, and the rest of us to take high-quality images anywhere we are, and share them immediately. I just think the price, at this time, is a bit high. From all those polled by me, and we are talking about a broad spread of abilities and interests, the price proved to be higher than expected, but probably 1/3rd said they’d buy it still.
So I don’t know if this is good value or not, and your own usage will dictate it. I do know I want one, and now that my RX100 woke up this morning and decided to die, I’m in the market for something like this. The question is, is it this? I do know that since I’ve had it, I’ve not wanted to be without it, and that means it’s the poster child for the old adage ‘the best camera is the one you have on you.’ And if I have this, the best camera I have on me is going to be damn good.