DxO is well known for their Image Quality Evaluation Systems, DxOMark Camera Sensor/Lens Reviews and their imaging software. Now, we can add cameras to their list of offerings. Not just any camera, mind you, but a connected camera which at first glance seems like an accessory for an iPhone; in fact, it’s the iPhone that’s the accessory for the DxO ONE. Unlike similar smartphone companion cameras introduced by Olympus and Sony, the DxO doesn’t use Wi-Fi to connect but uses the high-speed Apple Lightning connector.
The DxO ONE employs a custom 1-inch 20.2-megapixel, backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that’s paired with a precisely matched 11.9mm (32mm full frame equivalent) f/1.8 lens. For still images, the shutter speed range is from 15 to 1/8000 sec. For videos, the ONE records at 1920x1080p30 or 720p video at 120fps. Camera mode selections are quite complete, providing Auto, Sports, Portrait, Landscape, Night, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and full Manual control in addition to an intelligent Selfie mode.
It shoots JPEG, DNG and a new DxO format which is called SuperRAW, which is essentially a rapid burst of four DNG shots which are combined in post processing to provide maximum dynamic range, sharpness and noise reduction. While any of the still image formats can be recorded to both an internal card and the connected device (iPhone or iPad), video is recorded as an MOV file to the card with options for standard speed and 4X slow-motion playback.
All settings can be accessed through a thoughtful arrangement of direct access touch controls on your iPhone. It’s nice to see the effect of real-time adjustments, especially since we’re not accustomed to viewing variable depth of field (aperture closes down to f/11) as well as full manual focus (as close as 8 inches) on an iPhone display. You can also use the camera without an iPhone attached, although there is no viewfinder available for positioning. The small camera screen is touch-capable to the point where it allows you to switch between still and video modes.
The Lightning connector snaps the DxO ONE into place in either direction—lens forward or lens backward; it automatically detects and sets controls to Selfie mode for user convenience (although photos are still recorded upside down). And once connected, the camera can rotate +/- 60-degrees vertically for convenient high angle/low angle shooting. It can even be positioned so that the phone and camera combo will stand up horizontally on its own.
The DxO ONE is an undeniably elegant little package, weighing in at less than 4 ounces. It’s got a premium feel that goes along with the premium price. A slide-down front door acts as both a lens cap and the power switch. It also unlocks and locks the pop out rotating Lightning connector, a praise-worthy engineering accomplishment providing secure movements while maintaining a “break-away” design intended to protect both the camera and the connected device from damage. Although it’s secure, we still felt more comfortable when we held both the DxO ONE and our iPhone together rather than just letting one hang —especially when using an iPad.
To complete the review of the design, one needs to consider the new DxO Connect software which lets you view, download and process the images. It’s worth noting that the DxO SuperRAW file format writes 160MB files and requires about 2 minutes to download and process into a JPEG, depending on your PC. But the resulting files are worth it, especially in difficult lighting conditions. The Connect software also provides distortion correction for the 11.9mm lens when processing the DNG files.
It came as no surprise that a company as deeply involved with image quality testing as DxO is going to provide a camera that makes great images. There’s no smartphone that will touch the ONE’s image quality. In fact, in their testing, DxO determined the image quality in SuperRAW is “on par with many DSLR cameras;” and yes, we did get images good enough to match some DSLR’s from this remarkably small camera. That said, at $599 the lack of a more versatile integral zoom lens may be an issue—you can buy a Canon Powershot G9 X for less and there are other slightly less expensive 1-inch sensor compact cameras that don’t require a smartphone to operate at full capacity.
If you are already comfortable shooting with a mobile device, you’ll find that shooting with the ONE is a similar experience, except it comes with a small handgrip on the right side.
Autofocus will try to go to face detection but you can override that by simply tapping on the screen where you want to focus—or you can take over full manual focus, which provides a slightly enlarged center view. The DxO lens, while quite spectacular, is a bit prone to lens flare.
We did experience shutter lag while the camera was deciding what to do and when it was writing a SuperRAW file. And while nighttime exposures are quite impressive, in low light, video and other camera-intensive actions, the battery drained quickly. DxO acknowledges that to fit everything into this compact design they did have to make some concessions to accommodate the 750mAh non-replaceable lithium-ion battery. It’s not a camera which is ideal for rapid action, and you may find yourself facing a camera display showing little Zs, indicating it has gone to sleep to conserve battery power (you just need to slide the lens cover switch to reactivate). If you were going to travel with this camera, it would probably be worthwhile to grab an external USB battery to recharge both your phone and camera.
This really is the first camera of its kind and DxO has to be commended for a lot of firsts that result in very impressive performance in a very small package. While the price is steep, it is indicative of the ONE’s performance. Plus, DxO has promised firmware updates to enhance the ONE’s capability and operation. In fact, as we were going to press we were provided with a list of ten imminent new features (and some bug fixes) which include: increasing the shutter speed range to 1/20,000 – 30 sec, faster/smarter operation, better selfie experiences and Apple Watch camera triggering.
PROS: Compact 1-inch sensor camera easily fits in a pocket; very high quality images; seamless integration with iPhone 5 and higher; direct sharing with social networks.
CONS: Expensive; short battery life and notable focus/shutter lag delay depending on conditions.