Flattery by imitation? Kodak Smart Lens cameras echo Sony QX-series


posted Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 1:10 PM EST


One of the more surprising product launches at this year's Consumer Electronics Show came from a brand of which most photographers will never have heard -- Los Angeles, California-based JK Imaging. The company's relative anonymity seems likely to disappear with the launch of two products that very closely mimic two of the most instantly-recognizable cameras launched last year, the Sony QX100 and QX10.

A year ago, JK Imaging -- a company which seems to have very close ties to both General Imaging and Taiwanese OEM Asia Optical -- secured a license to sell a variety of products including digital cameras under the Kodak PIXPRO brand. Since then, JK has launched almost a dozen different Kodak-badged cameras. Predominantly, these have been long-zoom models grouped under its Astro Zoom series, although there have also been a few compacts and ruggedized models making up the Friendly Zoom and Active Cam product lines.

The Kodak PIXPRO Smart Lens SL25 (shown) and its sibling, the SL10, are very reminiscent of Sony's QX-series lens style cameras.

Now, JK Imaging and the Kodak brand have branched out into new territory. As well as announcing a new Astro Zoom model, the 65x zoom Kodak AZ651, the company has also revealed development of two new PIXPRO Smart Lens cameras which bear a frankly startling resemblance to Sony's popular lens-style cameras. The PIXPRO SL10 and SL25 are, much like the Sony QX-series models, essentially a lens barrel with no body. On their rear, each sports a bracket allowing them to be attached to a smartphone, just as you'd do with Sony's cameras.

As with their Sony equivalents, most features of the PIXPRO Smart Lens cameras are controlled via a Wi-Fi connection that provides a remote live view feed on an Android or iOS device. Only a zoom rocker, shutter button, and power button are to be found on the Kodak SL10 or SL25's bodies, and the positioning of all three controls is quite similar to those set by Sony. Each camera also includes a MicroSD card slot allowing storage on the device itself, and not just the paired smart device, yet another feature that's shared with Sony's creations. It's simply uncanny just how much these devices share with what were, until now, designs that stood completely alone in the marketplace.

Relatively few specifications are available so far for either model, but here's what we do know. The Kodak PIXPRO SL10 sports a stabilized, 28-280mm equivalent, 10x optical zoom lens with a somewhat dim f/3.2-5.6 maximum aperture across the zoom range. That's very similar to the Sony G-badged, stabilized 10x optical zoom of the Sony QX10. (Sony's optic is a little wider and less bright, though, at 25-250mm and f/3.3-5.9 across the zoom range. Of course, the on-paper figures say nothing of the relative image quality offered by the Sony and JK Imaging designs, either.) The Kodak PIXPRO SL25, meanwhile, has a 25x optical zoom with a 24-600mm equivalent range, and a decidedly dim f/3.7-6.2 maximum aperture.

Like Sony's cameras, the Kodak SL25 (shown) and SL10 are intended to mount on a smartphone.

The only other details that we know so far are that both Kodak Smart Lens cameras are said to offer 1080p video capture -- also offered in Sony's designs -- and come with approximate list prices of US$200 for the Kodak SL10, and US$300 for the Kodak SL25. (Those figures neatly straddle the US$250 list price of the Sony QX10.) A lot is still left to be discovered about JK Imaging's designs, though, most prominently including any details about the sensor size and type used, sensitivity range, and exposure / burst capture capabilities.

There is, of course, a strong chance that all of this may prove to be academic. As we've noted here, these designs appear extremely similar to those already fielded by Sony in almost every aspect in which they can so far be judged. It also seems a safe bet that Sony will have covered itself and its creations with design and other patents, especially given how radically different they are from anything that went before them. Given all that, we wonder what Sony's response will be to this new rival.

It's not just a matter of whether Sony sees the Kodak Smart Lens cameras as offering a realistic challenge to its own products at retail, either. If products like these get past Sony's intellectual-property firewall, their traditional, better-recognized rivals could march through the same gap with their own lens-style cameras. We're not lawyers (we don't even play them on TV), so take our musings here with a shaker full of salt, but we won't be the least surprised if there are legal fireworks when JK Imaging attempts to bring their new designs to retail.

The Kodak SL10 (shown) has very similar zoom and aperture ranges to the Sony QX10.

As for the court's judgment on the matter, there are of course no guarantees. It's perhaps telling, though, that when Sakar recently attempted to enter the interchangeable-lens camera market with a Polaroid-branded design that bore a close resemblance to Nikon's 1-series cameras, the company found itself barred from doing so by the courts -- and that with a design which is much more reminiscent of the typical mirrorless camera than are the Sony QX-series related to... well, anything that has gone before them.

Well-known brand or not, we think the Kodak PIXPRO Smart Lens product launch could provide some interesting theater for aficionados of US ITC proceedings :-)