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Digital still cameras must share or die

Posted by David Marsden on Jan 08, 2013

Kodak cameraFollowing my last blog on the redefinition of the traditional albums, I’ve been thinking increasingly about how we access and share images. I’ve been a user of SLR cameras since I was 10; I’ve owned so many cameras it’s untrue and I realised over Christmas that I still have a cupboard full of film cameras – but none of that stops me wanting more gear.

For my last five years of analogue photography I had all my images on film and prints but also paid to have CDs produced – this paved the way to pure digital photography for me – the benefits of being able to share photos instantly with friends and family were just too good to resist.

Today there are people arguing the camera phone is killing the need for standalone digital still cameras (DSCs) – including the suggestion from VRZone in its article on Toshiba’s new smartphone camera module with half-a-million lenses to remove the need to focus (similar to Lytro).

Whilst I disagree this is going to happen outside of the very low end DSC market, at least in the immediate future, I firmly believe that widespread embedded wireless tech for image sharing from a DSC is long overdue, and is essential to prevent the industry’s premature death.

Sharing: what photography has always been about

Sharing - cat and cockatooApplying scientific processes to make a permanent visual record and then sharing an image is what has driven the development of photography even before the days of Daguerre, Fox-Talbot and Herschel who made the process of ‘writing with light’ (photos + graphe) much easier 170 years ago.

Today, the communities we share with are no longer restricted to our towns and villages; geography is largely irrelevant in online communities and patience is most definitely wafer-thin.

This need to share drives digital photography in the same way, but digital still cameras need to catch up with the instant-gratification expectations of an online global community.

Being able to instantly upload a photo to a sharing site, or to broadcast it via social media, no matter where you are, can no longer be considered an optional high-end feature of a digital camera. This need is fulfilled (inadequately in my opinion) by smartphones with cellular and Wi-Fi connections.

What’s on the market?

In addition to using a range of DSLRs, I used a Canon G3 from 2003, I upgraded that to the G10 in 2009….over Christmas I decided to look at what’s new on the market – see if anything whets my appetite.

Top of my features wishlist was still lens quality, exposure control, a decent image sensor and image processor, but wireless connectivity is now a must-have feature. Am I alone on that last point…?

It turns out wireless DSCs are still not that easy to find. There are some on the market, but I was left feeling underwhelmed and left thinking DSC makers are too slow to jump on this market opportunity. It’s not far off 30 years since the ISM band was freed for 802.11 wireless comms; Wi-Fi has been embedded into battery-powered mobile phones for at least 8 years when camera phones were only VGA ‘quality’. Yet, in 2013, Wi-Fi (or Bluetooth, which is capable) is still far from being a standard or even common feature in DSCs.

Samsung has been designing Wi-Fi into some of its DSCs for some time – but from what I can tell, it links into Facebook, YouTube and Picasa or its own bespoke sharing site. Great options, but a PC or even a phone allows you to access any online sharing site.

From my own perspective, I have over 3000 photos and videos stored on Flickr with a LOT more still to upload and I’d like to make full use of my paid subscription.

Samsung is also dabbling with a nifty new idea with its Galaxy camera: a 3G/4G connected DSC. It may have something there.

Nikon is also onto a good idea with its Android-enabled S800c – making possible the use of apps – and a Wi-Fi connection to access points or via smartphones. Canon’s very nice new S110 also gives a Wi-Fi connection to a phone which provides the gateway to cellular.

The camera that does interest me is the Sony RX100: almost pocketable; 1″ CMOS sensor delivering image resolution comparable to a reasonable DSLR, with excellent Carl Zeiss optics to boot. But sadly, no Wi-Fi.

The RX100 made it into the Time top 25 inventions of 2012, I’d argue it lacks the one vital ingredient that would make it a true invention, and a killer: connected DSC.

So amongst the connected DSCs, there are a lot of good efforts but I’m convinced the tech is out there waiting to make connected DSCs mainstream – and I’ll be first in the queue when it happens.

DSC makers, many of whom were dealt a serious blow when the digital camera market attracted fresh competition from the consumer electronics industry, risk leaving it too late to jump on connected DSC market. If Apple decides to launch the iCamera it could be game-over.

PS: I’ve just decided to invent the term DiSC to describe a connected DSC, it’s also in memory of the failed 1980s innovation. DiSC: will it catch on? You read it here first…

photo credit: kevin dooley cc
photo credit: Ack Ook cc