Out of the blue, Xiaomi presented a prototype version of its flagship 12S Ultra smartphone with an outlandish M-Mount fitted to a $,6000 Leica lens. The Chinese brand is not the first to try the concept, which seems like a great idea at first, but failed on more than one occasion as we will seein this article.
Eureka moment (or not)
Back when smartphones were still kinda new, and most smartphones still had sub-10 megapixels sensors—and very small ones at that—without all the AI that we find nowadays. A couple of camera brands decided that the best way to improve mobile photography was to slap a regular camera system lens into a smartphone.
Although it is (VERY) niche, probably the best-known example of this brief fad was the Sony Alpha QX1. As the name implied, it was part of the Japanese brand Alpha line of cameras with interchangeable lenses. In QX1’s case, it was the E-mount system, still used today on both APS-C and full-frame camera bodies.
In fact, the QX1 camera could even be used with old A-mount (Minolta) lenses with an adapter, and probably could use a huge assortment of other lenses with unofficial adapters. For those without a compatible lens, Sony offered a kit with the SELP1650 compact power zoom lens, still sold with some cameras these days.
Released in September 2014, the ILCE-QX1 could be potentially used as a stand-alone camera, as it included a battery (the same NP-FW50 model used in dozens of Sony cameras), shutter button, memory card slot (microSD and Memory Stick Micro compatible), and tripod thread.
Since it didn’t feature a screen, however, users would use the included clip-on accessory to mount the QX1 to an iPhone or Android device and control it using the PlayMemories/Imaging Edge app. Communication duties were handled by a Wi-Fi connection that could be established using NFC.
Anyone who has used Imaging Edge with any supported Sony camera may already see why it didn’t survive for too long, despite initial sales surpassing expectations. The pairing process is not always seamless, and the connection was still unreliable. Even so, the fixed-lens models DSC-QX managed to last a while longer in the market.
A new challenger appears
Sony’s main rival in the early mirrorless cameras days, Olympus, did not wait to see if the QX concept would catch and soon released its Air 01. Launched in February 2015, Olympus clip-on camera followed the same overall design as the Sony Alpha camera lens, with a battery, microSD slot, shutter, and tripod thread.
The main differences between the Air 01 and the QX1 are how the Olympus model uses the micro four-thirds lens system—at the time with a bigger variety of lenses— instead of the E-mount, and that it also included Bluetooth for quicker pairing.
Back to the similarities, just like the Sony QX1, the Olympus Air line didn’t see a second model. But the Japanese companies’ lack of success didn’t stop other companies from toying with the idea.
The attack of the living dead
A couple of other similar models were announced but apparently stayed in the vaporware category. One was the Yongnuo YN43, which as the name suggests, has a four-thirds-sized sensor, but paired to what looks like to be a Canon SLR mount.
The other one was a vaporware combo from Sakar International, which involved not one, but two historical “zombie brands”. After failing to launch the proprietary mount iM1836 camera under the Polaroid brand due to striking similarities to the Nikon 1 J1 model which led to a lawsuit, the company announced the IU680 clip-on camera system under the Vivitar brand using the same lens mount (and flash module).
As with the Polaroid camera, the Vivicam IU680 quietly disappeared after being shown off at trade conferences…