Who says Lego bricks are only good for causing foot and back injuries?
Welcome to the world’s crudest 3D camera: four Duplo bricks, two DxO One cameras, and about half a meter of packing tape. With a stereo separation of about 120mm, forget about taking pictures of anything closer than 15 feet. But oh, the scary places you will go.
Surprisingly, with the OLED-frame-assist function on, the cameras don’t have much trouble focusing on exactly the same subject, which solves one weird technical hangup.
My first DxO One (version 1, $125 new on clearance) bricked when I upgraded the firmware. Left with an inert toy while Amazon dug up another one to send me, I could not help but play with the dead one. I flew it up to the water/ice dispenser on the refrigerator. “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.” Nothing. The DxO One rotated 180 degrees so that it could eject the micro SD card into the…
“Dad, what are you doing?”
But seriously, the DxO One is one of strangest and most wonderful cameras to come out of France, or anywhere. Here’s why.
Sensor. The camera uses a 20Mp, 1″ Backside Illuminated (BSI) sensor (3x or so crop factor) made by Sony, the same one as on the RX100III. Two things make this a standout here: first, BSI sensors are quite good – meaning this returns results almost on par with the Sony a6300’s copper-wire conventional sensor. Second, almost all sensors perform equally at base ISO. In the software design, DxO biases the camera toward lower ISOs and wider apertures (which makes sense, since a 1″ sensor starts diffracting at f/5.6).
How does this compare to an iPhone XS sensor? Well, it’s almost 70% more resolution and 6.7x times the surface area (116mm² x 17.30mm²). Do the math. All the computations in the Apple world can’t make up for this type of difference in displacement. This does expose the genius of portrait mode, though – because not even a 1″ sensor is big enough to have easy-to-achieve subject isolation.
The sensor is used for contrast-detect AF (with face priority).
Lens. 32mm equivalent, f/1.8-11 aperture, six groups, six elements, with some of the weirdest aspherical shapes imaginable. It’s very tough to find a lens on a compact camera that approximates a 35/1.8. But here you are.
Far from being telecentric with an expected “folded optics” path, the DxO One uses the cellphone method with almost zero distance between the rearmost element and the sensor. The rearmost element looks like a brassiere. Like this:
The lens is happiest at larger apertures (f/2-f/4).
Storage. The DxO One accepts standard MicroSD cards. I was able to test up to 128Gb cards (Samsung EVO Plus), and it is able to read and write to them with no issues.
Power. Power comes from an internal battery but can also be fed directly from a micro USB cable. The battery takes about two hours to charge and does about 200 shots. Version 2 of the camera has a removable back door to accommodate an external battery pack DxO no longer sells. You also lose the free software (see below).
Viewfinder. Your choice of two. You can plug the camera into your iPhone, where you can use the DxO One application and the phone screen as a viewfinder. Alternatively, version 3.3 of the camera firmware turns the little OLED screen on the back into a square contour viewfinder, good enough at least to frame the middle square of the picture – and surprisingly good at estimating a level angle for the camera. You could also split the difference with a Lightning extension cord.
Connectivity. The camera was originally designed to connect via the Lightning port, but DxO enabled the onboard WiFi so that now you can use the application on the phone and control the camera (including view-finding) without a physical connection. The DxO One can also connect to your phone via your home wireless network. WiFi operation – no matter what the camera or phone – is not as much fun as it first sounds – which is why the DxO product is more flexible than Sony’s wireless-only solutions.
Software. In terms of the camera’s software, all the magic is under the hood. The camera switches on by sliding open the front cover (slide it all the way, and the Lightning connector will erect itself). There is a two-stage shutter button on the top and you can swipe up and down on the OLED to switch between controls and viewfinder and left and right to toggle photo and video. The camera stays on the exposure mode last selected from the DxO software on the iPhone.
The DxO One phone app is well-done and responsive. You can use it to frame, shoot the picture, and control what you want. Features include:
- JPG, Raw, and Super Raw (stacked) exposure modes.
- Single-shot, timer, and time-lapse settings
- Flash settings
- Subject modes and the usual PSAM modes.
- Program shift (between equivalent exposures with different shutter speeds or apertures).
- Single AF, Continuous AF, On-Demand AF, and Manual focus (manual includes an automatic hyperfocal calculation if desired).
- Matrix, centerweighted, or spot metering.
- Grid compositional overlay.
- “Lighting,” which is like a mini HDR compressor for JPGs.
You can also look through the exposures on the camera/card and move them to your phone as desired. As noted above, though, you do need to initiate wireless connections with the camera connected.
If you get a version 1 camera, new, it also comes with DxO Optics Pro 10 Elite (now Photo Lab 1 Elite) and DxO Filmpack Elite. But you have to be able to document that you are the original owner of the camera. Both of these can run as standalones or can be external editors for Lightroom. Photo Lab 1 is also capable of replacing Lightroom.
If you get version 2, you’re out of luck. But you do get a 4gb SD card and the detachable back door for that battery pack.
And either way, you do get DxO OpticsPro 10 for DxO One, which gives you a nice imaging/digital asset manager that can composite SuperRaw files. SuperRaw is a stack of four successive (and extremely rapid) exposures that cancel out high ISO noise.
And if you don’t like any of that, the DxO One outputs normal DNG files that you can simply edit to taste in Lightroom. There is a Lightroom profile for the camera’s minimal residual distortion.
Ergonomics. This is the one place where things are sketchy. It’s hard to hold onto a small ovoid object, especially one with a button on the top. I would highly recommend a wrist strap.
Upshot. Maybe not the most compelling camera at $700 plus when it came out, but now that it is a sixth of that and still a lot of fun to shoot, go for it!