Are camera makers clueless?

Are the camera makers clueless?
If memory serves, it was January 2007 when Steve Jobs invented the 21st century (in the way that Henry Ford invented/shaped the 20th) when he pulled the first iPhone out of his pocket – and later the iPod Touch.
Sure, the idea of a pocket computer/phone that had the internet on board, as well as a jukebox, video player, and games machine was astounding. Oh, and there was a camera there too.
But to me, one of the more intriguing concepts was that it allowed the idea of “apps” – small downloadable programs that could expand its versatility. Most were inexpensive. Many were free.
Want to know the moon phases? There’s an app for that. Want a list of hundreds of mixed drink recipes at your fingertips? Ditto. Want to turn the screen into a flashlight? Right.
It didn’t take me long to look at the screen on the back of my DSLR and see where things would be going.
Obviously, the camera designers would clue into this great idea of mini applications to expand the usefulness of the DSLR. It was only a matter of time.
And yet, here we are, seven years on.
It has been said that Japanese technology giants are only really comfortable with designing, building, and marketing hardware and electronics. Software, they don’t really get.
Which is why the iPod pocket jukebox was designed in California, not Tokyo, apparently.
You might wonder what purpose we might have for “apps” for our cameras. Well, let’s take a look into the future that didn’t happen.
First off, I hear many, many complaints about the ridiculous complexity of current digital cameras. Because it’s easy to load firmware into a camera, there are pages and pages of menu items and customizable options that only the truly insane would find use for them all. But heaven forbid a camera be brought to market missing some small option or feature – the howls of indignation all over the internet forums will bury its sales (even if very, very few photographers will ever need it).
So let’s imagine a basic model DSLR that ships without exposure bracketing, or an HDR mode, or, ahem, white balance bracketing (hands up anyone who has used that feature in the last decade), and a whole bunch of other techie stuff that beginners don’t understand or use.
In fact, as it comes out of the box, it might only shoot JPEGs.
But that’s okay, because you plug it into your desktop, laptop, or tablet and log onto the company’s website. Some of the apps are free, like RAW capability. Maybe a basic bracketing app costs $1.99. Maybe a fancy one costs $5.99.
If you don’t download the 15 “scene” programs, then you never have to trip over them in the menus. If you never want to bother with multi exposures, or interval timers, then don’t download the apps – simple as that.
Higher end bodies might allow more powerful apps. If the built-in noise reduction is inadequate, then maybe you don’t mind a sophisticated NR app that takes 20 seconds to process each image. Video fanatics might download a package with level meters for audio, and other goodies. The sky’s the limit.
I can even imagine a “hairshirt” app that disables every goofy feature and function on the camera body, leaving you with manual exposure, spot metering, and manual ISO selection. I can see photography teachers setting up a whole classroom of cameras that way. Plug your camera back into your computer to get back all the hidden features.
I know camera manufacturers tried something similar in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Minolta had their “program cards” that added functions to some of their 35mm SLR bodies. Canon had a barcode reader that copied a code from a book of subject programs and transferred it to your camera. As I recall, there were at least two programs to photograph stained glass windows, maybe three for fireworks. Sheesh.
Of course, those were a bit of a cheat. The barcode wasn’t actual software, and I don’t think Minolta’s cards were any more than codes to activate functions the camera already had on board. The feature was short-lived, in any case. Point and shoot cameras lured away those who didn’t understand shutter speeds and apertures, and serious photographers didn’t use subject programs anyway.
But today, one can make a real case for the camera “app”. Firstly, they could be real software to work within the camera’s operating system and firmware. Others might be simply keys to unlock or hide built-in features. And secondly, today’s cameras really are burdened with far too many seldom used features. I mean, really, when’s the last time you plugged your DSLR directly into your printer?
And if you don’t ever play around with the “filters” to mess around colours and textures on your photos, then you don’t have to download that package either.
Then there’s also the aftermarket. Clever software guys would jump at the chance to invent features that would expand our cameras beyond their current purposes.
Camera manufacturers would perhaps also be able to keep older models “fresh” for a while longer. If a model seems like yesterday’s news, but the replacement is still a year away, maybe a couple of clever new apps might light a new fire under it.
If an app doesn’t live up to its promise, or runs too slowly to please everyone – then the app gets the blame, not the camera. And the update is on its way.
It all makes perfect sense to me. And yet, seven years on, no one has really tried such a concept. Sure Nikon and Samsung have a couple of compacts that run on Android, and can make use of photography specific apps. But really, they are intended to try and keep the compact camera relevant in a smartphone world. You know, where people take snapshots and need to upload them to their social media right away.
So what am I missing here? Why hasn’t it happened? I suppose one possibility is the potential sluggishness of an operating system that might take a while to boot, and loads the apps later. So the camera would have to be left in “sleep” mode to avoid a three-minute restart, I guess.
You know darn well the camera designers have been debating these very points. It can’t not have occurred to them, ever.
No, I think they’re still stuck on the business model where they design optics, mechanics, and electronics, and it all comes in the box. If you want more, you have to buy the next box.
And they’re all still trying to party like it’s 1999.


~ by windsorphotooutfitters on June 26, 2014.

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