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DxO One Turns Your iPhone into High-End Camera for $600

A new accessory could turn your iPhone into a DSLR. DxO Labs, the company behind camera benchmark DxOMark, today (June 18) announced its very first consumer-oriented shooter, which attaches to iPhones for improved smartphone photography. The DxO One is available for pre-order today, starting at $600, and will ship in September. 

I had a chance to play with an early version of the One and came away impressed by its handsome build, compact size and convenient connection to the iPhone, but couldn't help balking at the price.

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On its own, the DxO One is a 20.1-megapixel camera with a 1-inch backside illuminated sensor and a high-quality f/1.8 lens. A two-step button at the top lets you focus when half-depressed, and snaps a shot when pushed all the way down. Slide down the cover on the front to switch on the One, and pull it all the way down to pop out its built-in Lightning jack. 

The Lightning jack is certified by Apple's Made For iPhone (MFI) program, enabling the DxO One to plug into your iPhone 5, 5s, 6, 6 Plus or iPad. The sturdy attachment swivels 60 degrees in every direction to let you take pictures in any angle, and you can turn it to face you for high- quality selfies. No matter how I twisted it, the One stayed securely attached to the phone. It took deliberate action and force to separate the two.

The first time you connect a One to your iOS device, you will be directed to the App Store to download the free companion app. Through this app, you can snap pictures in Scene modes (Sport, Night etc) and Advanced modes (Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Program and Manual). Controls slide in on a translucent panel from the left side, and you get functions such as a 10-second timer and exposure meter. DxO told us that it will continually work on updating its software to bring more features. 

Although it weighs just 3.8 ounces, the DxO One felt like a chunky growth when attached to an iPhone (less so when added to an iPad mini). On its own, the One is pocket-friendly at just 2.65 inches tall.

On the One's back is a 1-inch touch screen that lets you switch between photo and video recording (in auto mode) by swiping left and right. To change other settings, you'll have to be connected to a phone and use the app. DxO told us that the camera's lithium ion battery is rated for up to 180 shots (in DNG RAW format) by CIPA standards. The One can record images in JPG or DNG, and shoots 1080p clips at 30 fps and 720p at 120 fps (for smoother slow-mo capture).

DxO also came up with something it's calling the Super RAW format, which stitches together 4 RAW images into one to improve noise reduction and picture quality, especially in low light. Each of these files will have a .dxo extension, and can be opened with the company's image processing programs, including DxO OpticsPro.

Why would you want something like the DxO One? The biggest advantage is much better pictures, thanks to a sharper, larger sensor and better lens than on most smartphone cameras. Images are recorded to both your phone and the One's memory card, while videos are stored just on the One, letting you shoot on the go without having to worry about running out of space on your phone.

DxO told us one of the biggest advantages of the One being a smartphone attachment is how easy it makes sharing and uploading to social networks. But uploading pictures to Facebook and Twitter often results in a loss of quality due to file compression, so your pictures may nott look that much different from those shot on your iPhone's native camera.

Camera attachments to make your phone take DSLR-like pictures, such as the Sony ILC-QX1 and the Kodak Pixpro SL5, have been on the market for a while now but these have taken the form of barrel-shaped devices that look like just the lens of a higher-end camera. The Sony and the Kodak both latch onto the back of your smartphone with built-in clamps, and connect to the OS via Bluetooth or NFC. The DxO One is unique in its direct connection via the Lightning port and its shape.

However, at $600, the DxO device is more expensive than some bridge cameras, such as the Sony A5100 ($550) or even DSLRs such as the Nikon D3300 ($500). We'll have to conduct a full review to see if the DxO One is worth the money.

Staff writer Cherlynn Low loves taking photos on her iPhone 5s and Canon Rebel T2i. Follow her @cherlynnlow. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide and on Facebook.