I have anxiously waited to try out the DxO One since it was first announced. I always look forward to new and groundbreaking technology and the DxO One looked like it may be just that. The question is whether the DxO meets my expectations and fits your needs as well.
Kevin Raber gives a brief overview of the DxO One
I think most photographers are aware of DxO and their sensor, camera and lens ratings. They do extensive testing and rating of photographic products that have become the benchmark by which that these products are measured. In addition DxO has been providing technology for cell phone makers and other imaging segments to produce image-processing technologies for small sensor and lenses. This technology can be found in over 300 million devices.
I know I was surprised when I heard that DxO was entering the camera market and especially so when I saw the type of camera that they were going to manufacture.
This revolutionary new product is designed to be paired to an Apple iPhone through the Lightning connector on the phone. The camera is small, just 2.65 inches tall and it weighs only 108 grams (3.81 oz.). It has a fixed lens with an 11.9 mm f1.8 lens (32mm full frame equivalent) that is adjustable to f/11. Shutter speeds are from 1/8000th sec. to15 seconds, ISO from 100 to 51200 (Hi2). The camera has the same type of settings you are familiar with on DSLRs. You’ll find Aperture and Shutter priority in addition to Programmable and Auto settings. Also, there are two RAW settings as well as JPEG. Images are captured on a 1-inch sensor with 20.2 MP resolution as well as 1080 p HD quality video. An optional 720p at 120 fps is also available. Auto focus is contrast detection with facial recognition, as well as touch AF from the iPhone screen. There is no image stabilization except for electronic in video mode. Frankly for such a small package this camera has amazing specs.
DxO One’s claim is an 85 (super RAW) and 70 (RAW) DXO Mark rating. The DxO One shoots images in RAW or Super RAW format and immediately after exposure does an in camera JPEG conversion that is stored on either your iPhone or internally in the device on a Micro SD card. The super RAW format is a DxO exclusive and is the result of the camera taking 4 separate images in very quick succession and then combining them together when the camera is connected to the computer, using special temporal and noise reduction. That sounds a lot like something out of a Star Trek episode; however in reality it does an amazing job. The Super RAW DxO rating is as high or higher than many DSLRs.
While all these specs as well as final images are great, the real test is how easy is it to arrive at the final image. Although the camera looks cool and feels well built, it does have some quirks.
The DxO One can function as a stand-alone camera albeit without a viewfinder. In this mode it has a rear OLED screen that is touch sensitive and by swiping you can choose the mode you want to shoot in. You activate the camera simply by sliding down the lens cover. The camera itself has an internal battery, and hidden behind a rather hard to open cover, a micro SD card slot as well as a micro USB connector. The USB connector is used for charging and to export images to your main computer. Below the small cover is a wrist strap connector although no wrist strap is provided with the camera. Read on to understand why. To take a picture you just need to press the shutter release button on top of the camera.
Things start to get complicated once this device is hooked up to your iPhone. To connect the DxO One to your iPhone you slide down the lens cover. The Lightning connector pops out and you simply plug the camera into the iPhone. It is best if you have already started the DxO One app on your iPhone. The connection should automatically bring the app to the front. On a few occasions though, especially after a disconnect, this wasn’t the case. The iPhone now serves as the viewfinder plus has a number of touch sensitive selections for camera modes and such. It should be noted that the DxO One will most likely require you to abandon your iPhone case. The Lightning connector is too small to make a connection with the thickness of most iPhone cases.
While the camera looks great, I found it very hard to hold when connected to the iPhone. I ruined a number of images because my right index finger was always getting in the way of the lens. So with my big hands holding the camera, it got to be a challenge. The camera rotates using the lightning connector as a pivot point. This allows for easy shooting at low levels or above your head. Using the shutter release button in the over-the-head or low-level position became a challenge. I ended up using my thumb while shooting low levels and when I wanted to do one-hand shots over my head while just holding the DxO unit, it didn’t go well. It was dangerous because the iPhone tended to come loose when doing this. Essentially, as I found out, this combination as well as normal shooting was really meant to be a two handed operation.
During my last week of testing, my iPhone fell off the DxO unit twice. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. Once it fell onto a concrete floor. Not cool. The problem is the iPhone 6 Plus is a heavy phone and all that is holding it to the DxO One is a lightning connector. While holding the iPhone, the DxO One seems to be connected well. But hold the DxO unit alone and the Phone’s weight immediately begins to start pulling on the connector. A few good shakes and the camera becomes disconnected. (see video at the end of this article) Not acceptable. Perhaps this is why a wrist strap is not included. If you were to carry the iPhone and the DxO One by the wrist strap connected to the DxO, the Phone could fall off with just a few good shakes. To confirm this, I used a wrist strap that came with another camera and tried it. Sure enough this is not a safe way to carry the DxO One and iPhone combination around. The Dxo One with the iPhone 6 Plus is definitely a 2 hand operation. (see video at the end of this review)
The DxO’s own safety feature caused the phone to become disconnected. DxO built in the feature to prevent damaging the Lightning connector. If you angle the phone or stress it in the wrong direction against the Lightning connector it flexes and pushes the connection loose. On the second disconnect I must have angled the phone too far while working with it and it became disconnected and fell off. It slipped out of my hands. Luckily I was on grass and the fall was a soft one. This happened while I was holding the DxO Camera and the iPhone was kind of flat or horizontal. I was thumbing through images to review them and as I tapped on an image I must have tapped too hard and the phone pushed down and popped out of the connector.
Also, for me with my big hands, I was always getting my finger in the way when shooting. Holding this combo becomes a challenge. It was very awkward to hold the DxO and iPhone in a vertical position. As you can see by the photo below, while holding the camera and iPhone in a vertical position, my right hand was up in the air so I could use the shutter release. To prevent the camera from becoming disconnected I would use my palm to hold the bottom. However, my palms would end up hitting the power button and my finger would press the volume button, thus putting the iPhone into stand-by mode.
Also if the phone goes to sleep, waking it up using your touch ID button is impossible. Frankly I was surprised by these handling issues and asked a female friend to try out the DxO One and iPhone. Maybe my hands were just too big. The first thing we noticed is the finger in front of the lens issue and just trying to find a comfortable way to hold the phone and camera. The phone also shook loose after only a short time with her using it. I had also attached a wrist strap and asked her to carry it around by using the strap. It took only a minute and a bump against her leg for the phone to end up on the floor (carpeted for a soft landing).
Even with these issues I persevered and went shooting with the DxO One. I went to a historic reenactment village close by and had fun shooting. I tried out Aperture Priority setting with Super RAW and varied the f/stop and I got nice images. The Auto Focus was slow on occasion and many times the facial recognition focus kicked in even if there was no face present. Once the focus locked in, I got a nice image. There was a noticeable time lag from pushing the shutter button and capturing the image. I missed capturing a couple of good expressions as a result. Plus there is a small delay before the camera is ready to shoot again. After an exposure the screen goes dim and a progress bar shows up and when the image is saved the screen goes bright again showing the unit is ready for a new capture. There is no sequential shooting at this time; I am told it is a planned feature for the next firmware release by the end of the year. Also, there is no audible confirmation when taking a photo.
The DxO One does not have exchangeable batteries. After just over an hour and half of shooting the unit went into standby mode and was out of juice. This was a little disappointing; I wanted to shoot more with the camera. I am told that you can get a battery Juice Pack and hook it up to provide external power for the camera. Frankly, that would defeat the whole purpose of having a camera like this.
The camera’s interface with the iPhone is well designed and allows for a number of settings to be changed in an intuitive way. However, many of the setting icons are small in size and hard to reach while trying to use the camera and maintain a grip. Also, when I tapped the feature, the app was unresponsive a number of times. I had to put the phone to sleep and wake it up for the app to work again. Seeing the iPhone screen to compose an image in bright light is sometimes difficult under normal use. It became harder with the settings for the DxO One.
Many times, because of the way I held the camera and phone, I inadvertently changed from still to movie mode without knowing that I had hit that button in the lower left corner of the screen.
I went home and charged the camera back to 100% and went out for an evening shoot. It took around 90 minutes to come back to full charge, which is about the same time I got out of the camera when shooting. The images from this shoot are below, with comparisons to the iPhone Images made from the same spot. I simply shot a photo with the iPhone and then connected the DxO One and shot the same photo. There are links for downloading full size JPEGs if you care to Pixel Peep. I couldn’t use the photos from the Village as they included people and there were restrictions about using images made there for commercial purposes. It wasn’t worth the hassle and paperwork. It was a good opportunity for seeing the images this camera can produce. The DxO does a better job than the iPhone in these dimly lit areas, such as inside buildings, but not that significantly. The RAW files can really shine when worked in DxO Optics Pro and shadows and highlights as well as contrast and other settings can be tweaked to maximize image quality.
The importing and software information is below. I was really pleased with the image quality. I was amazed that a camera so small could produce the images that it did. The optics and sensor are tops. Shadow detail and highlight detail are very good and the auto exposure feature worked really well. I would like to see a histogram on the screen when shooting. There is a feature in the non-auto modes to do exposure compensation if needed. I hope that DxO considers an HDR Bracketing setting in the future. Also I use the Pano mode on the iPhone a lot and this feature is not present on the DxO.
Getting Images Out Of The DxO One
The DxO One camera comes bundled with DxO Connect and licenses for the DxO OpticsPro and DxO FilmPack. Once installed on my MAC I connected the camera with the USB cable. DxO Connect opened up and gave me a preview of all the images I had taken. I selected Import All, but I could have selected just the images I wanted to import. What comes next was something I hadn’t seen before. Each imported (RAW) image is processed and outputed as a JPEG on import. The software tells you how long the import will be as well as how long the processing will take.
As you can see by the screen shot it will take a while. The RAW format is a DNG format and I presume it is somewhat proprietary. After import was complete, I tried an import into Capture One. The files imported very fast and I was able to use Capture One to make adjustments and do output. While neither company will say the products are compatible I did find the images using C1 were very good. At this time, ACR, LR and C1 most likely can process the DNG RAW files but may not take advantage of proprietary metadata for lens corrections etc..
Once the import was complete you are presented with file folders with RAWS and JEPGS sorted by date (a user selectable option). These files appear by default into the picture folder of your MAC. The JPEGS in the comparisons below are unadjusted JPEGS straight from the import process. I did open the RAWS in DxO OpticsPro and tried some edits there. The program has a familiar feel to it and I was able to make the typical exposure, contrast, white balance, and recovery options quite easily. Also I could export to Tiff and JPEG formats afterwards. DxO tells me they are working with Adobe and others to make DxO files LR and ACR compatible in the near future. Being a DNG RAW I can’t imagine that will be hard. It shouldn’t be long before you can import images into your favorite RAW processor.
The Final Word
The DxO One is a breakthrough product both in size and design but with some flaws that will need to be corrected for the camera to be accepted on a wide scale.
First, let’s talk price. This small package carries a $600 USD price tag. That’s a lot of money for a camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder or even a preview screen. This camera needs to be combined with an already expensive iPhone to take advantage of its features. You’re looking at a combo price of about $1000 USD. For that price there are a lot of other options.
There is no question that the DxO images are really nice, but there is no interchangeable battery and power is used up fast. The lens is also a fixed lens. At this time there is only single capture image, no HDR bracketing and only HD video. The iPhone, even though it has a smaller sensor size, does a damn good job at a number of these missing features. And, from all indications, the new iPhones coming out soon will have even larger sensors and more features, plus 4K video. For a few hundred dollars more you could purchase a very capable Sony DX100 III or IV without all the DxO’s missing bells and whistles.
It is very difficult for me to recommend a product that has the possibility of damaging the iPhone it’s using. We would not please our readers if we did not report things the way they are. Quite simply, while the DxO has many good features and great image quality, the downfall comes with the lightning connector. During my use of the product I communicated my findings to DxO just in case I was doing something wrong or had a faulty product. The Lightning connector is a versatile port and it is cool that is can communicate and function so well with the DxO camera but it is obviously not meant to take the stress it does with this (IPhone 6 Plus) combination. Plus, be aware that I had to remove my protective case to use this device.
Michael and I discussed this and thought a solution like the Mophie Juice pack with a DxO camera attached to it would have been a better fit. With the Mophie, the Phone is encased by the Juice Pack. The DxO attached to a system like this would have more battery power and also a more robust connection point.
During testing I had different people try the combination out and they had the same issues. They were also very surprised at how easily it was for the camera to be disconnected from the iPhone. This is a very serious concern. You do not want your iPhone falling and breaking. Frankly there has to be a better way to make this solution work.
A short video showing the issues we found during our review
Article Update October 18, 2015
DxO saw the video above and thought it would be good that we include a video they made on the proper way to hold the DxO One during use. That video is below.
DxO is an advertiser with LuLa as well as contributor to the Luminous-Endowment and the last thing we want to do is be unnecessarily negative in our reviews. However, LuLa has always made it a point to do the best hands-on assessments of products and report to our readers what we find. Normally we find buttons or dials in the wrong place or an interface that doesn’t make sense. However, in this case we have one product from one manufacturer that depends on a product from another. Using this combination of products based on what we tested could have dire consequences. No one wants an iPhone breaking on a fall because of a disconnect at the connector point. This happened to us on numerous occasions under careful use. Luckily we did not have any breakage but just the sound of the iPhone hitting a concrete floor sent shivers through me. A typical consumer would not be so wary or careful. The results wouldn’t be good.
DxO is a smart company with an excellent reputation. I do hope they refine this concept and in the future will fix the concerns I have pointed out in this review. If you are a pioneer and possibly work with a smaller iPhone then you may find this to be a useful product. The engineering and much of what DxO has done with this product are really well implemented. However, I’ll stick with my iPhone and use my Sony DX100 IV for the camera I carry in my pocket.
Image Comparisons and Downloads
The images below are comparisons of iPhone and DxO One Images. You can also download an image using the link under each image if you desire to see the files on your own computer.