DxO One review: Taking iPhone photography to another level

Price when reviewed

Smartphone cameras have come on in leaps and bounds over the past two or three years, with Samsung and Apple leading the way. However, DxO thinks that you can do better –  much better – which is why it’s created the DxO One.

In simple terms, the DxO One is a camera add-on for your iPhone. It can be used in two ways: physically attached to your handset via the Lightning connector, with the screen of your phone doubling as a giant viewfinder; or on its own, like an action cam.

You might wonder what the point is when the iPhone’s camera is already so good, especially on the most recent iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. But no matter how good the iPhone 6s’ camera is (and, make no mistake, it is mighty fine), there are certain factors that limit its potential.

DxO One review: The Lightning connector rotates, allowing you to angle the screen for low-level shots

Its small sensor and tiny lens simply can’t produce the shallow depth of field that you get with a larger camera, at least not without software trickery. Its small sensor also limits low light performance, and since Apple doesn’t provide access to the raw data, you’re restricted in terms of what you can do with your images once you’ve captured them.

The DxO One offers all of these things in a neat, pocketable package small enough to slip into a shirt pocket. It captures 20.3-megapixel images with its much larger 1in sensor – the same sensor found in the £570 Sony RX100 MKIII compact camera, which is nearly double the size of those found in most modern smartphones.

It also has an adjustable aperture – another rare feature in smartphones – starting at a wide f/1.8 and running all the way up to f/11. And it can spit out RAW files that can be edited and meticulously adjusted on a laptop later, giving you far greater scope for rescuing poor shots.

DxO One review: To switch on the DxO One, slide the lens cover down

DxO One: Design and handling

For a company more used to building software, the DxO is remarkably well-designed. It’s palm sized, measuring 49mm deep, 26mm wide and 67mm tall, and its two-tone metal and plastic body has been engineered to feel like a serious, high-end product.

On the rear is a monochrome OLED touch display, which displays basic status information and allows you to switch between video and still modes with a swipe. Beneath that, a flip-down door conceals the camera’s microSD slot and micro-USB port, and on the top of the device is a large, two-stage shutter button.

Operating the camera is simple: pull down the sliding lens cover at the front and a stubby Lightning connector springs out from the side. Plug the camera into the port on your iPhone and, assuming you’ve already download the DxO app, you’re good to go.

DxO One review: A touchscreen at the back and two-stage shutter button up top means you can use the camera standalone

It’s a clever piece of design, and the Lightning connector even rotates, allowing you to shoot from the hip, low to the ground or above your head while still being able to effectively frame your shots. It’s also possible to reverse the connection to capture selfies at full resolution. No smartphone can match the 20-megapixel selfies this little camera can produce.

It even mimics the iPhone’s screen flash technology, providing a flattering fill-in flash by illuminating the screen when you’re snapping selfies in low light.

The app, meanwhile, hosts all the controls you’d expect to see on a top-end compact camera or DSLR. There’s an automatic mode, of course, but DxO also supplements this with four preset scene modes for sport, portraits, landscapes and night photography, as well as the traditional, program, manual, shutter priority and aperture priority modes. There’s a nifty manual focus facility, and you can adjust ISO, white balance and exposure compensation up and down.  

The DxO One isn’t the most comfortable camera in the world to shoot with. One problem is that you have to hold the whole ensemble in two hands. Waggle it while holding onto the phone or camera in one hand, and it jiggles loose – a sure-fire route to a broken screen or cracked camera lens.

DxO One review: An integrated Lightning connector connects the camera with your iPhone

The process of connecting, disconnecting and stowing the the camera could be more elegant, too. Although it’s small enough to be conveniently stowed in a pocket, it feels more fiddly than it needs to be to flip down the lens cover, plug in and then launch the app.

And when the time comes to pop the DxO One back in your pocket, the process of folding the Lightning connector back away is a real exercise in contortion: you have to hold the lens cover down to release the lock, push it back in with your thumb, and then hold it there while releasing the lens cover to lock the connector in place. Every time I do this, it feels like one slip, one small mistake will send the camera, phone or both tumbling catastrophically to earth. Attaching the included wrist lanyard is heartily recommended.

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