DxO ONE $499

Camera enhances iPhone technology

Thanks to advances in smartphone camera technology, anyone can take a decent photo. But is decent good enough? A San Francisco company is banking on the answer to that question being “no.”

DxO, which started out as an image-processing software company, has developed a gadget called the DxO One that essentially replaces the camera built into the iPhone.

With an image sensor as large as those typically found in high-end DSLR cameras but in a body that’s smaller than a point-and-shoot, the One promises the best of all worlds — a miniature camera that’s tied to a smartphone but offers much better pictures.

The One is only slightly trickier than using the iPhone camera because you need to plug it into the phone using the built-in Lightning connector (and it’s a bit touchy).

The One has a 1-inch image sensor, significantly larger than the iPhone’s and equal in size to those in many pricier digital cameras.

The size is important because the larger the image sensor, the more light it can gather at once and, typically, the sharper the images it can produce.

With nearly three times the megapixels of the iPhone 6 and nearly double those of the iPhone 7, it also delivers images better able to maintain detail when greatly enlarged, or when the image is cropped to a relatively small area.

In the product test, the One did a good job of keeping a woman on a bike ride in focus and also showed brighter, bolder colors than the iPhone in wide-angle shots. In very low light, the iPhone 7 excelled over the One.

While the One performed very well, it wasn’t perfect. You are supposed to be able to use the One as a stand-alone camera as well, but that seemed impractical because the viewfinder screen on the device is the size of a postage stamp and shows a black and white view. Using the smartphone display makes taking photos much easier.

Another concern, beyond cost, is that DxO’s customer support needs some work.

Even setting those aside, DxO has a tough row to hoe, because sales of nonsmartphone cameras have collapsed. For DxO’s gamble to pay off, consumers must be willing to shell out $500 for improved photo powers and also be willing to tote around another gadget at a time when many have come to appreciate one device that, more or less, does it all.