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Answers to some questions about the DxO ONE



Herewith a few addenda to my Macworld/IDG review of the DxO ONE. If you aren't already familiar with the DxO ONE, you might want to go here first and take a quick look.

Every camera is the result of a lot of compromises, and different compromises generate cameras that have different pros and cons that make them more or less suited to any specific challenge.

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What is the point of the DxO ONE? Its raison d'être?

The DxO ONE is a better camera for your iPhone. That's it in a nutshell.

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Don't you mean "better than the iPhone"?

No, I mean better for. Of course, it's a better camera than the iPhone's camera—much better, in fact. But that's nothing to get excited about. Almost the only cameras that aren't better than the iPhone are other smart phone cameras.

By saying the DxO ONE is a better camera for the iPhone, I'm acknowledging that the DxO ONE has a symbiotic relationship with the iPhone. You plug the DxO ONE into your iPhone via the lightning port. That's how you use it. So it doesn't replace your iPhone. It substitutes for the iPhone's built-in camera, but retains the one thing about the iPhone that is really outstanding: its display.

But "for the iPhone" implies more than just symbiosis. The only reason anybody notices the iPhone as a camera is it's now the camera that you have with you all the time, everywhere. As so the DxO ONE isn't just small and light, it's crazy small and light. But more than that, it's designed in a way—I'm thinking of its shape, its sliding lens cover, etc.—that it practically begs to be dropped into your pocket. I actually stuff the camera into the change pocket in my jeans. Don't try to do that with an Olympus Air, or a Sony RX100, or even your iPhone!

So the DxO ONE gives you a better camera—actually, not just a better camera but a pretty darned good one—and it's truly go-everywhere portable. In this it has no competition.

Shot with the DxO ONE in shutter-priority mode

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No competition? What about the Sony RX100 series cameras?

What about them? In normal or good light and operating within the same parameters, the DxO ONE is technically on a par with the RX100 series cameras. In low light, using the DxO ONE's SuperRAW capture option, you'll get better results from the DxO ONE.

I'm in no way knocking the RX100. I reviewed the original Sony RX100 a couple of years ago. I loved it. The RX100 is certainly more versatile: for example, it has a zoom lens. As compact cameras go, it's very portable. Definitely a compact camera Hall of Fame candidate.

But the RX100 III is about three times bigger (in volume) than the DxO ONE and weighs more than three times as much. And when I owned one, I found myself leaving it at home unless I knew I'd be shooting with it. The DxO ONE, on the other hand, is so small and lightweight, I take it with me every time I leave, without thinking about whether I'll need it or not.

The RX100 can't match a couple of the DxO ONE's advantages: the display on the back of the RX100 is not as good as an iPhone 6's display; and the RX100 isn't connected (has no wifi, no geotagging) the way the DxO ONE is through your phone.

Finally, the more recent versions of the RX100 cost a fair bit more than the DxO ONE. The DxO ONE may look pricey until you shop the comparable alternatives.

But the DxO ONE isn't competition for the RX100. They're different beasts.

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Quick: How many cameras do you see in this photo?


And what about lens-style cameras like the Olympus Air or Sony QX1? They don't have displays either and they're better cameras than the DxO ONE, aren't they?

Let me say this once more: The DxO ONE is a better camera for your iPhone. It's almost unbelievably portable, and it takes really good photos. And—unlike the Olympus Air—it works really well when it's connected to your iPhone.

Yes, the Olympus Air takes really good photos. After all it's a full-blown micro four-thirds camera, like an Olympus E-M10 but without an LED or any external buttons other than the shutter. And it is an interchangeable lens camera, which is also great. It can even be fun to shoot with.

Put a 17mm Olympus lens on the Olympus Air and you've got a very large, round, heavy brick that isn't going to fit into your pocket. In terms of portability—which, remember, is the DxO ONE's greatest strength—the Olympus Air even loses to another micro four-thirds camera, the Panasonic GM1, even though the GM1 is a standalone camera with a very good touch-sensitive LED. Connecting the Olympus Air to your iPhone physically is very awkward. And connecting the iPhone to the camera's ad hoc wifi network is a pain in the neck that you have to go through every time. And when you do, you have to use the Olympus shooting app, which works okay but is ugly. 

But the Air isn't competition for the DxO ONE at all, or vice versa. They're totally different beasts.

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That lightning connector on the DxO ONE looks pretty fragile.

Don't bang on it with a hammer. Best not to shove it in your pocket without retracting the lightning connector. Other than that, in real life use, it's very durable. It's designed to bend rather than break under strong pressure. Every camera I own has various parts that are delicate. I don't throw any of my cameras around. Don't throw the DxO ONE around and it'll be okay.

Painted by my niece Laura

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What if some future iPhone doesn't have a lightning port?

The iPhone 6S was just released, with a lightning port. I have no inside knowledge but my guess is, we're good for several years before Apple decides it want to sell everybody new chargers.

But yeah, the DxO ONE requires an iOS device that has a lightning connector. That means that you cannot use it with an iPhone 4 or earlier. And you may not be able to use it with some future model of iPhone. I'm not sure who this is likely to be a problem for. If your iPhone 5 or 6 continues to work, the DxO ONE will continue to work. If on the other hand you are the sort of person who stands in line outside the Apple Store every year to buy each new version of the iPhone the day it's released, but on the other hand, you also expect a $600 digital camera to last for a decade, well, I totally understand why you'd worry about this. So buy a Sony RX100 IV instead. You'll sleep better.

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What about dropping the DxO ONE?

Try not to do that. Try not to drop your DSLR, either. Or your iPhone.

As I said in the Macworld/IDG review, the lightning port connection that holds the DxO ONE and the iPhone together is not fool-proof, but it is reasonably secure. That said, it should also be noted that the iPhone not only can disconnect from the DxO One when stressed, it’s supposed to, to protect the lightning connector on the DxO One from getting bent.

I actually tested the strength of the lighting connection between the two devices by holding the coupled devices over a thick comforter on my bed and making karate-chop like downward shakes in an effort to shake the lower device off, while I held the upper one. When I held on to the DxO One, the iPhone 5 required a vigorous shake to come off; the much heavier iPhone 6 Plus shook off more easily. But when I turned the equipment the other way, held on to the iPhone and tried to shake off the DxO One, a really vigorous downward shake was required to get the camera to drop—the kind of shake I can’t imagine myself ever doing in normal use.

My conclusion: Be careful during your first few days with the DxO ONE, until you get used to handling it. And if you’re going to hold just one device or the other, hold the iPhone!

"Littles" at home. Just a quick snapshot with the DxO ONE.

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Honestly, how is the DxO ONE's low-light performance? Is "SuperRAW" a gimmick or is it something real?

Maybe it does sound a bit like a gimmick. But it's not. It's a trick. There's a difference.

Exposure bracketing is old news, but exposure stacking is something fairly new. It's one of the early instances of computational photography, i.e., using computer processor to turn multiple images into a single image. Want to know where computational photography is going? Look at the Lytro—or wait for the release next year of the Light L16.

Anyway, back to exposure stacking: The idea is to take multiple exposures very quickly—as close to simultaneously as possible—analyze them for noise, and compute a new image based on the best info from each of the source files. In Sony cameras, it's called "multi-frame noise reduction" (MFNR). But Sony cameras do the processing in the camera and generate a JPEG. The DxO ONE saves the four raw captures (meaning you get a ton of data), and the processing is done on the computer. The SuperRAW file (with the .DXO extension) is really just a package containing four ordinary raw (DNG) files.

Now you could do this yourself, that is, you could use almost any recent camera to take a burst of images, save the raw files, then bring 'em into any of several photo processings apps and run 'em through something like an HDR filter. But the processing involved isn't easy. DxO SuperRAW files are packaged for easy processing by DxO Capture or DxO Optics Pro (and soon, by the extension DxO is about to release for the OS X Photos app). The processing algorithms DxO has developed apply temporal noise reduction (TNR) as well as spatial noise reduction. Temporal noise reduction is especially useful if the camera was not on a tripod when the shots were taken; it involves analyzing the changes over time that occur in the originals, rather than simply comparing individual pixel addresses in the images.

And having that SuperRAW package of four raw files means that you can tweak the output file yourself. I played around with this a fair bit when I first started working with the DxO ONE. Having the raw source data means you can decide for yourself what balance you'd like to strike between chrominance noise and luminance noise, as well as the usual balance between detail and noise.

When I reviewed several Sony cameras for Macworld and TechHive, I never felt that MFNR produced a better result than I could get myself by taking a single raw capture and then processing it intelligently. In other words, Sony never sold me on MFNR. But the DxO ONE has persuaded me that the SuperRAW capture can get pretty impressive results in extremely low-light when I have to shoot at extremely high ISOs.

Nevertheless, I shoot normal raw (DNG) most of the time. SuperRAW is there for special challenges, not for routine shooting.

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Shot hand-held at ISO 12,800 (!!) with the DxO ONE in 'SuperRAW' mode, then processed in DxO Optics Pro. In addition to the fact that the camera handled the horrible light remarkably well, this shot was made possible by the fact that I didn't have to get down on the ground to take it. I simply reached down, tilted the DxO ONEs display (i.e. the iPhone) and took the shot.

If you like it so much, why didn't you give the DxO ONE a five-mouse/five-star rating?

I hate that question. I hate assigning those ratings, just as I always hated giving students grades when I was a university professor. For me personally, the DxO ONE is a five-star product. But, as my editors keep reminding me, my published reviews are aimed at an imaginary group of people known as General Readers. For General Readers, the DxO ONE's main drawbacks are that it's pricey, that it's a (small) hassle to use, and (slightly) awkward to work with. For most readers, the DxO ONE really is going to be competing with the iPhone more than anything else, and the DxO ONE's v1.0 firmware lacks some features that the iPhone has, like sweep panorama or burst shooting. I am confident that some of these defects will be remedied in a firmware update before the end of the year, but I have to review the product that's available for purchase now. I also was aware that the technical superiority of the DxO ONE's images simply isn't going to matter to a lot of mobile photographers, whether they're General Readers or not. As I suggest in the review, if all your doing with your photos is posting them on social media, you don't need to spend $600 on a DxO ONE.

The DxO ONE is certainly novel, but I don't believe it will remain a novelty. I've found it to be a genuinely useful camera. Still, no camera is right for every shooter. And no camera is right for every situation.

One place where I wish I'd had the DxO ONE

In August of this year, my wife and I made an epic journey from Texas up to Nova Scotia, pulling our little Casita RV behind our truck. It was a fabulous vacation. I took four cameras: my Olympus E-M1 (and a selection of excellent lenses), the Panasonic GM1 (which can use the same lenses as the E-M1 but most of the time had its kit zoom lens attached), a fixed-lens Panasonic LX7, and my iPhone 6 Plus. In the end, I used the Panasonic GM1 and the iPhone 6 the most, and I used the two of them just about equally. The GM1 is a better camera, by far, but the touch screen is a bit fussy; so I used the phone a lot because it was with me always, and because it's large screen makes it easier to use. I'm rather pleased with the way a number of the iPhone photos turned out. But in retrospect, I really wish I'd had the DxO ONE with me. I might not have shot the entire vacation with it, but I'd never have used my iPhone if I'd had the DxO ONE; and I really wish I had the DxO ONE with me on that hike on Cape Breton National Park's Sunset Trail when we encountered a moose.


Well, I got a photo of a moose during my vacation in Canada last August. I was really close and I had my Olympus E-M1 with me. Unfortunately it was really dark and I had no choice but to crank the ISO up to 12,800. I think this shot would prove to a jury that I actually saw a live moose, should that proof ever be needed. But I wish, for this one photo more than any other, that I'd had the DxO ONE with me. Compare this to the DxO ONE picture immediately above of my dog, taken at the same ISO. Now ISO isn't all that matters, ever. The backyard light from the side for the photo of my dog was indeed much less bad than the backlighting from the sunset in the moose photo. Still, my experience with both cameras tells me the DxO ONE would have handled this challenge better than the E-M1 did. And remember: taking the DxO ONE with me would not have meant that I'd leave the E-M1 behind. I'd have had one in my bag and one in my pocket, and for this shot, I'd have reached into my pocket and pulled out the DxO ONE. If I'd had it with me....





Comments

  1. I too was surprised how good Super RAW was @ high ISO even handheld. Unlike my Coolpix A the DxO One is truly pocketable and the IQ is equal to or better.

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