Will Sony’s next lens-style camera focus on selfie-shooters?


posted Monday, March 14, 2016 at 4:20 PM EST


For the last few years, pretty much everyone in the camera industry has been searching for an answer to the rise of the smartphone. With tiny -- but arguably just about satisfactory -- cameras built into our phones, the average person on the street just doesn't see the need to buy a separate, standalone camera any more. Not only has that proven devastating for the compact camera market, but it's also had an effect on more sophisticated cameras. Connectivity has become a big talking point, with technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC appearing in many new camera launches these days.

It makes a lot of sense: If your camera doesn't help share your photos as soon as they're captured, how can it hope to compete with the one built into in your phone, after all? But in-camera wireless connectivity and smarter, sharing-friendly software hasn't been the only answer to the problem. Some camera makers have gone a step further, paring the standalone camera down to just the basics -- a sensor, processor, lens, storage and battery -- and letting a wirelessly-tethered smartphone do all of the gruntwork.

Perhaps the best-known example of this concept is Sony's QX-series, which consists of four different models which are, in Sony parlance, referred to as "lens-style cameras". The quartet features rather different designs and capabilities, from the small-sensored, long-zoom QX10 and QX30 to the interchangeable-lens QX1, which sports the same APS-C sensor size as used in most DSLR and many mirrorless cameras. (In between, you'll find the QX100, which is closely related to the 1-inch sensor-shod RX100 II pocket compact.)

Sony's most recent lens-style camera is the APS-C sensored, interchangeable-lens Sony QX1.

It's anyone's guess how well these cameras have done for Sony, but the company certainly has to be applauded for thinking outside of the box in its quest for an answer to the cameraphone conundrum. (As does Olympus, for its hacker-friendly, interchangeable-lens Olympus AIR, which shares a similar design concept.) In the past, Sony has told us that the QX-series -- and especially the QX100 -- were proving to be even bigger sellers than it had hoped, but we've heard much the opposite from other quarters.

The fact that we haven't seen a new lens-style model launch since the QX1 reached the market in November 2014 may, perhaps, be seen as a suggestion that the initial demand for the QX-series wasn't sustainable. Be that as it may, though, Sony appears to still to be working on the concept, if a new patent application uncovered by Japanese tech blog Egami is anything to go by.

Sony's patent application shows a lens-style camera which mounts facing the user in landscape orientation, ideal for shooting selfies. That's rather different to current, rear-facing models.

The application, which looks to have been published today, shows a couple of different concepts for a new lens-style camera accessory that would be paired with your smartphone. Unlike current designs, which can optionally attach to the back of the smartphone for a camera-like experience when shooting distant subjects, this new concept aims instead to appeal to the selfie shooter.

In one variant, a strut can be extended from the base of the camera accessory, allowing it to stretch to the full height of a smartphone body in portrait orientation. The camera itself, which looks to be much smaller than existing QX-series models, points towards the photographer for selfie capture, with protrusions on both the base of the lens and the end of the extendable strut helping to hold it in place on your phone. A shutter button, zoom rocker and battery level indication are provided on the rear of the device, allowing it to be used handheld for traditional photos when not mounted on the smartphone.

An alternate variant shown towards the end of the same Japanese patent application attaches the lens-style selfie camera to the smartphone's lower corners instead of the base.

A second variant replaces the long, wide strut with two narrower ones, angled to reach the lower corners of the smartphone body in portrait orientation. This concept looks somewhat reminiscent of a tiny tripod, except with only two legs, causing us to ponder a hybrid of the two concepts which, in effect, can either be used when attached to a phone, handheld, or standing on its own tiny, built-in tripod.

It's an interesting concept, and perhaps gives us an idea of Sony's thinking on the future of the QX-series, should there prove to be another model. It's always important to note, though, that at the current time this is just a patent application. There's no guarantee that Sony will be granted a patent, nor that it will decide to commercialize the concept even if a patent is received on its creation.

Either variant of the concept should also work fine when separated from your smartphone, as physical controls are included on the rear to allow image capture and zoom adjustment.

Would you consider this design to be more interesting than the original lens-style camera models, or are you too attached to your current camera or smartphone to make the leap to such an unusual design? Share your thoughts in the comments below -- we'd love to hear from you!

(via egami)