1.23.2014

Stupid camera tricks. This is the future of camera tech?


By Austin Photographer, Kirk Tuck ©2014

Suddenly every camera I own (hyperbole alert: statement does not include mechanical film cameras, the august Pentax K-01 or any camera purchased more than a year ago...) has some sort of "connectivity" included. You can wi-fi stuff or you can NFC stuff and, if you want to you can drag my Galaxy NX camera out, put in a SIMM card, pay for a data plan, and even cellular data transfer your stuff. Each one of the protocols, in some way, has the promise of being able to move the image you just took, off the camera and, through some circuitous route, onto your favorite social image sharing site.

Let me put aside the buzz words for a second and explain this for someone like my non-technical older brother:  I can snap a picture and it will be automatically sent to my iPad or iPhone. I can look at the picture and even "fix" it and then send it to Facebook."

At which point I'd probably be asked, "Couldn't you always take a picture and send it to Facebook? Isn't the only different now that you don't need a wire?"  Well.  Yes. There is no wire.

But I would quickly jump in and tell him that I could control the camera remotely by using this new technology. He might ask, "So you can change exposures and colors and sizes and sharpness and all that on your camera just from your phone?"  And I'd have to tell him that no, I could zoom the lens and tell the camera when to take the photograph. That's about it.

"But didn't you buy a fancy camera with a nice finder so you could make careful compositions and quick setting changes?"  Well, yes, that is the reason I spent over a thousand dollars on a camera. I wanted to compose through a nice viewfinder and make quick changes to things like exposure and color balance but....isn't it cool that you can tell your camera to shoot NOW! and it will do it? From your phone!!!

And then he might ask, "So, if you can't control everything you could when you have the camera in your hands is the real advantage that the transfer of the images is so much faster than the old way you did it? Like, faster than when you used to stick the little card in the slot on your laptop and transferred files directly. Does this new, remote method save you a lot of time and work?"

Then I'd have to explain to him that it really is a LOT slower to transfer big Jpeg files over a wi-fi connection but I can do this just about anywhere and I can even use my phone! I can make the files smaller to compensate...

"Wait a second!" He'd no doubt reply. "A couple of weeks ago you gave me a big lecture about shooting pictures onto something called "RAW files" so you could get the highest quality. Are you able to transfer these RAW files to your phone or your iPad and send them right away?"

Well, no. Maybe I could with the Samsung GNX, after I pay for a separate cellular data plan. But none of the social sharing sites accept RAW files....

Then, being an academic, I'm sure he'd start to drill down... "Well, it seems to me that if you are shooting your art or for a client you'd probably be using RAW files which you couldn't really use with the connectivity in your new cameras. Is that right? And it seems to me that you'd probably want to make your Jpegs smaller and more compressed so they transfer over (camera) wi-fi a bit faster and then upload to the sites a bit faster, right?"

Being honest I would have to admit that he was right.

"So, if you can't send files that you'd use on a job for one of your clients, and you can't control all the camera controls on a phone or pad that you could if you had the camera in your hands, and everything takes longer to transfer and you can't even use the raw files, then why don't you just shoot the stuff you want to put on Facebook with your iPhone? Didn't you tell me the camera in your phone was pretty good?"

Then he might add: "You know, you spent all that money buying a camera that would do your mysterious RAW files and I've heard you talk (too ) many times about how nice the new electronic finders are on the mirror less cameras, and you can transfer more files more quickly and even do better processing with them on your laptop.  So why did you waste all that money?"

Anyway, I noticed that Sony has an app called Play Memories that you can load onto your iPhone (or Android phone) or a tablet and it will show you on the device screen what the camera sees. It will allow you to zoom and it will allow you to trip the shutter. Once you trip the shutter it will send the resulting Jpeg file to your device. I downloaded the app last night. It worked as I described it. The files transferred pretty quickly. I was able to work on them in the tablet version of SnapSeed and then send them along to a sharing site. I e-mailed myself one of the photos to use on the top of this blog post.

The only reasonable application I can see for such a sparsely featured transfer program is to check composition on a remote camera that's positioned in a place that's hard to get to. That place is not my tripod. The only other added benefit I can see is to allow a client to review or preview the image the camera sees on a bigger screen. That is not a new feature. In the ancient days we could do this via an arcane process called, "tethering."  It even worked with my circa 2002 Kodak DCS 760 camera via Firewire. But when I tethered I had a lot more control over camera parameters.

So, explain to me, exactly, what is the benefit of having wi-fi or NFC in my camera?  I really want to know. Maybe I'm missing something golden.