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Gear & Apps

DxO One Review | Weaponizing The iPhone Chassis With A Proper Camera

By Kishore Sawh on December 13th 2015

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Shot with DxO ONE

Shot with DxO ONE – Selfie

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.

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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.

Processed in-camera/phone with VSCO

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.

Shot with DxO ONE

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.

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100% crop at ISO 100

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

[REWIND: THE D750 REVIEW | IT’S ACHILLES, LESS HIS HEEL]

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.

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Processed only a little in LR CC

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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.

Get yours here

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rob Eis

    I own a DXO One. I’m liking it. I wish i could find better tutorials on using it as i’m not the most skilled photographer.
    Regardless, i have two things i would like feedback on.
    I purchased a lightning port adapter so i can plug my DXO One into my iPhone 6s that i keep in a Griffin Survivor case. I keep the DXO One is a small protective zipper case and the adapter fits inside, too. For taking photos on the fly this is one extra step and always a chore to make sure i don’t drop the small adapter before it’s attached. Once it’s attached, i can’t fold in the DXO One’s lightning port plug until i remove the adapter. Therefore, i can not conveniently put it in or take it out of my carry pouch because the larger piece is sticking out of the side.
    And the 2nd downside i’m experiencing is it has some lag. I try taking action shots in my MMA gym of people sparring and i have to predict moments before a punch or a kick. Otherwise, every time i press the button at the precise time the photo always shows the moment has passed. Overall, it will be nice to take on a trip based on the size and portability…. but i also have a Nikon Mirrorless camera that quickly powers on and takes pictures instantly. I feel like i might miss out on some spontaneous shots or that, while i’m walking around, i’ll have to wear the DXO One on a lanyard around my next because i can’t put it away with the adapter plugged in. I know the latest firmware has wifi. It doesn’t connect quick and doesn’t it drain battery life quicker? Using it without the iPhone, i can (sort of) compose shots from the pixelated LCD screen. Those shots have been hit or miss, often times the subject i wanted isn’t in focus. Any thoughts on these issues or advice. I’d love to know of a really small protective pouch for the DXO One with the new accessory stand. I purchased a stand and now the entire camera it doesn’t fit in my protective case. If i buy a slightly bigger case it defeats the benefits of being able to put in my pocket or clip to my belt. The next size up is like a point and shoot sized bag. I haven’t found anything just slightly bigger than the DXO One’s pouch.

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  2. Liam Douglas

    The DxO one is, like others have said WAY too expensive. Between the add-on camera and your iPhone you have $1,200 tied up anyways. Might as well get a real camera that is smaller like the Air or a NEX from Sony. The one that interests me, even though I think it’s price of $1700 is too high is the new Light16 which is around the size of an iPhone 6S plus but with mutliple lenses built in and can “supposedly” take DSLR quality images. The other big thing that turned me off on the DxO One is not just the price but watching all the issues with using it on DigitalRev. They shoot a lot of review videos and had a LOT of issues with the camera not working correctly or staying paired with the iPhone even when plugged in.

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  3. Peter Nord

    I tell my students that someone will invent a camera that’s a lens holder, shutter, and sensor with associated control stuff and a slot for an iPhone to do everything else. I see the DXO as a first iteration. This is the beginning not the end. You could have one of every sensor size. Imagine a 8×10 view camera with ground glass replaced by an iPhone xx, etc. Everything is programable. I suppose you’d still need the black cloth to cut down on reflections.

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  4. adam sanford

    My only hang ups with the DXO One are:

    * The risk of it falling off the phone in one-hand shooting (pre-production reviews were a bit terrifying — I’m not sure if that’s been sorted)

    * SuperRAW is something akin to H’Blad and Olympus’ super detailed modes, which take numerous exposures to accomplish. Numerous exposures would require a tripod, and honestly, who is shooting an iPhone with a tripod? So for tripod only shooting, it’s a compelling idea, but everyone else should probably avoid buying this rig if the hope was to take walkaround shots at a FF-sensor quality (which DXO absolutely tried to claim when they launched it. This is an RX100 in a smaller package that is hardlined to your phone, but it’s no FF pocket rocket like they’ve been claiming.)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Adam, I actually used a pre-production model and a finished product. The pre-production model was flawed, and would often need to be reset due to the camera not being recognized by the phone, and even a few overheating issues. This was a nuisance. However, I didn’t have that issue with the shelf-ready version at all – it simply worked.

      Could you use one handed shooting? Not the best idea, and also makes me ask why someone would want to.. I mean, what other camera do we really shoot with one hand? None, is my answer, even just my iPhone. Using it with two hands I was never worried about it dropping.

      As far as SuperRaw, I agree it’s not useful for most things and I only used it with the night sky long exposures, for which it was well suited. Is it an FF pocket shooter? No, and you’re right it is like an RX100 in an even smaller form factor. But that’s impressive.

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    • adam sanford

      Great feedback, thanks.

      I would argue that since phones got bigger, two handed use is now needed there as well as with dedicated cameras. But that jewel of a phone — the old iPhone 4 / 4S — was absolutely one hand shootable. I have a 6+ now and love the IS, but it’s absolutely a two hander to shoot with.

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  5. barbara farley

    I love it and want it but can’t justify that price tag. Those are some lovely images, however… I am controlling my lust for this gadget by hoping that the next generation will be an improvement and maybe the price will come down. However, when I visited their booth at the Photoplus Expo, the guy was like, the price is NOT coming down and if you want one, you better get it now because they are moving fast. :( Besides the coolness factor of it, when I look at what it is, I don’t think it should be that much money (but I still want one)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Barbara, I think this is really what most people are going to feel. It’s hard to wrap your head around the $599 price tag, when compared to like a Sony RX100 M2. But IF you were going to get a great small camera, as I said, that’s the price you’re looking at. The justification for me comes with the fact that as a man, I don’t carry a purse, not a camera bag wherever I go, and I don’t always have my RX100 on me even though it does fit in my jeans pockets (I live in Miami mostly so no jackets typically).

      The DXO One, though, just went EVERYWHERE with me. I just kept the USB charger in the car and never worried. This is why it’s great, and hard to explain unless you experience it for yourself. I don’t know if a company like Lumoid may get any in so you can rent one, but if they do, it’s worth it.

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  6. Stephen Glass

    Well if you’re a caveman Android user like myself it’s not an option anyway. If money were no object, or I just had more of it… I’d have an iPhone and one of these. Sounds like a great product.

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  7. Colin Woods

    Agreed its overpriced, there are other great options for that money. I am happy to see DxO in the news though as their software is first rate and I would like to see them get a bit more well known. DxO Optics Pro with Filmpack is an outstanding RAW processing package.

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  8. Paul Nguyen

    The problem with the DxO One is the price, plain and simple.

    It’s not a bad device, but it’s too expensive for what it is. For $600 (how much it retails for), there are plenty of other options that make much more sense. You could get a real camera, or you could get the superior Olympus Air along with some lenses to go with that.

    Compared to the competition, the Olympus Air is a superior product because it has a larger sensor, costs less, has access to a wide variety of lenses and is simply better value for money. Of course, if you’re willing to get a real camera, then all this goes out the window.

    Ultimately, the DxO One is a cool gadget. It’s something that nerds will find cool and hip, but I don’t see it being a product that I would actually want to use in face of the competition.

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    • John Cavan

      I have to back up the sentiment. I really considered the DxO One to augment my iPhone 6 and then went with the Air. Sure, the Air is bigger, but then it can shoot apart from the phone, has interchangeable lenses rather than being fixed to 35mm, bigger sensor, etc. I’m really quite pleased with the IQ of the Air and the electronic kit lens is actually quite decent.

      So, when I weighed the pros and cons, the DxO One didn’t really make as much sense and I didn’t even consider the “iPhone only” angle.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I haven’t used the Air but I’ve used the Sony versions and didn’t like them. In theory they may be nice, but they disconnect often in my experience.And again they are cumbersome, and sorry they aren’t pocketable. You mention the Air’s ‘advantage’ of having a variety of lenses, but hell, that defeats the whole purpose here of having something so small and without fuss. That in mind would suggest you can’t exactly say it’s ‘better value for the money’ because to whom are you speaking and what market, and what parameters are being measured to define it as ‘better’? it’s simply a differently positioned and purposed product.

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    • Paul Nguyen

      I get what you’re saying, but I think ultimately, if you wanted something “small and no fuss”, then you’d just use the camera on the back of the iPhone (which is actually a very competent camera).

      So ultimately, what it comes down to is a size, quality and price trade-off. It’s one of those games where you have to compensate the values for each other. In my mind, the DxO One is small, but it’s expensive and its quality sits somewhere in between a phone camera and a real camera. So you pay a huge premium for it being small.

      It’s unfortunate, but I think we all have to view things in terms of the benefit it provides for the price (and perhaps inconvenience) it costs us. The DxO One is a niche product and an expensive one at that. If it works for you and you’re happy to pay the asking price, then that’s great – I’m sure it has its audience. But I don’t think you can really deny that it’s not good value.

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  9. Lauchlan Toal

    The random Leica water bottle really makes the review. Hopefully you only use OEM water in there.

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  10. Barry Cunningham

    Good article.
    But really lousy copy editing: there are at least three paragraphs which are duplicated or partially duplicated.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Barry, I’m apologetic about this but this is a WordPress issue. It’s been resolved now

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