Is it time for a cloud camera?
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I found out via one of my sources -- yes, I still have some! -- that Sony is quietly working on a digital camera with built-in 3G. I know what you're thinking: isn't that just a cameraphone? Well, from what I'm hearing this wouldn't be something you could use for making calls. Instead it'd be something like a regular Cyber-shot camera, just with a built-in wireless modem for uploading and sharing photos and videos with various services (probably YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, if I had to guess). Some level of free data service would come with purchase, probably enough to upload a couple of dozen photos per month, with the option to sign up for a larger plan if you need it.
I'm not totally sure when, or even if, this specific product will see the light of day, but it does raise the question of whether connecting to the cloud would be enough to stem the decline in sales of point-and-shoot cameras. (None of the most popular cameras on Flickr are point-and-shoots, for example.) The cameras in smartphones have been getting steadily better over the years, and are finally at a point where they're good enough for most casual photography. Or at least they're good enough now that most people don't feel the need to carry a dedicated camera with them unless they're on vacation or it's some other special occasion. It's not that dedicated digital cameras are simply going to disappear or anything like that -- I like to think that even Steve Jobs wouldn't want his wedding shot on an iPhone -- but I do think digital cameras need to become connected devices if they're going to have much of a future outside of professionals and prosumers.
Smartphones have shown how much people love to share their photos and there are now tons of apps that make it dead easy to take a photo and share it online. Adding wireless capability to a point-and-shoot would mean adding that same convenience and ease of photo sharing that the lower-quality cameras in smartphones have had for years. Not everyone would care -- and I expect to hear that from a fair number of you -- but I'm sure connecting it to the cloud would make carrying a dedicated camera much more attractive for a lot of people. I'd know I'd love it if I could more easily share the higher quality pictures I'm taking on my Canon S95 on Flickr or Twitter or Instagram, and it's hard to imagine there aren't plenty of others like me. There aren't really any technical reasons why this couldn't happen, I bet it'd be relatively simple to use Android to build a wireless-enabled point-and-shoot that'd have the flexibility to work with all sorts of different apps and online services.
Sure, a growing number of digital cameras are coming with built-in WiFi, and you can add that functionality to plenty of others via an Eye-Fi card, but for wireless to be truly useful on a portable device it needs to be ubiquitous, and for that you need built-in 3G or 4G, not just WiFi (would your smartphone be all that useful if it could only do data over WiFi?). Given how inexpensive it's becoming to add a 3G modem to a gadget, sooner or later we'll probably reach a point where the price difference is small enough to make choosing between a connected camera and a non-connected camera a no-brainer for anyone in the market. The difference in price between the 3G Kindle and the WiFi-only Kindle is already just fifty bucks -- and that includes data service (although of course uploading photos is more bandwidth intensive than downloading ebooks). In two years that could easily be twenty bucks.
Would hooking a dedicated camera into online services turn sales of point-and-shoots around? I don't know if that in and of itself would be enough, but I think there's a growing expectation that our electronics -- whether it's our phone, ebook reader, game console, television, etc. -- be able to connect to the web. There's no reason why our cameras should be any different.
Anyway, would love to get your thoughts!
Knowing Sony, I have a feeling they'll have great hardware, but do a mediocre job on the software. I don't want to just be able to send pictures into the cloud, I want to be able to add titles, descriptions, tags, etc... My expectations are low in software department if Sony actually brings these to market.
The biggest benefit I see is stopping people who have been caught doing something they shouldn't on camera from taking the device to stop the publication of pictures. While a good thing, not all that common a requirement.
But I think another real challenge would be the data cost on a non-wifi connection. With a decent camera, you could come up against a 2 or 4 GB data cap pretty quickly.
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I have a Canon Rebel T2i. I don't want to use a microSD card with an adapter since anything above a class 2 would be expensive (and I already have a 32 GB class 6 SD card in it). Does Android 3.0 even support external hdd/usb storage other than the built in microSD slot (that has yet to be activated via software)?
Yeah, I know you can use an eye-fi, but I don't think they have memory cards above 8 GB. And don't you need a network/router to do that? Would it even work on a cell phone using it as a hot spot?
So yes, I DEFINITELY think DSLRs should have some type of wireless connection or capability. At least the ability to tether to a phone or something, so I can store the massive photos on my Google account since I pay for more storage. Only problem is, upload times would be a bitch for RAW files!
Anyone have any suggestions for me in order to get rid of my MacBook for mobile computing and just using the Xoom and my Evo?
now, yes, you do need a pc, or a server, or a linux box built into an altoids tin.. whatever.. the eyefi helper service has to run on a server of some kind... and even the cheapest oldest xp machine will do.. i use a pc that's always on in my basement.. and i have the pics going to a nas box where i can look at /edit / upload them to services from any pc in the house.. and i can also look at them from an xbox or any dlna connected device..
but it's only 4 gigs you say.... its plenty! even for my brand new nikon dslr... because i dont take more than 500 pictures a day! and whenever im home and the camera is on, it's creating folders (configurable naming system!) and dropping the pics in them and THEN it cleans the card off by itself!... you can choose for it not to, but i've never lost a picture OR movie yet.. for $40, you really cant go wrong with this awesome gadget!
as for the topic, i can see using a camera that would upload to fb while out in the field if it had an interface that let me choose which pictures to upload and which albums they go in... otherwise, i can usually wait to get home and edit/upload them from a laptop... my G2 works perfectly for the spur of the moment picture sharing kodak moments...
by the way, im jealous of your xoom.. cant wait for the cheaper wifi-only version! played with it at costco last night.. really excited.. been waiting for a great android alternative to the ipad for months now..
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I'm thinking more along the lines of an "epic traveler." Someone who might not be able to carry a computer around or get to one all the time, but might be around a wireless network that could implement the Xoom's wifi. Like when I went around Europe for 18 days/17 nights, I had one large hiking backpack filled with my clothes and stuff I needed. it weighed around 45-50 lbs. I didn't stay in one city for more than 2 nights and was constantly on the move so I can see and photograph as much as possible. At the end of the day I was too tired sometimes to get out the netbook and upload all of my pics and back them up since I usually had to plug in the power adapter since it has as horrible battery.
For example, when I went on my trip to Europe, even if I could fit all the pictures I wanted on a single 32 GB card (or even two of them for that matter), I run the risk of losing my files in case the SD card gets damaged or lost/stolen. I want a direct way to connect a DSLR memory card to a phone or tablet. I suppose I could use a netbook, but those weigh a little more than a tablet and have a power brick that's larger than the one a tablet uses.
For my DSLR, well, I would never upload straight from the camera. Photos are too large and I like to work with them on a computer first.
Then factor in the cost of ANOTHER monthly data bill if the data that comes with it is only enough for a small amount of photos. I just can't take more monthly bills.
A nice idea, but not a game-changer.
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I can see a case for travelers although most places you'd travel to would probably have limited or non-existent 3G coverage. I live in Hong Kong where it's blanketed with wi-fi and 3G but, in places like Nepal or Bhutan, and so on, it would be pointless and even if they do have it, the roaming charges would be crippling even @ $5/Mb.
It this stage I'd say it's definitely a limited use case.
I'd say Eye-Fi or a variant of that kind of tech, or built into the camera, would be a much more suitable arrangement. For a wider base of users (hence more sales of the camera) wi-fi of sorts would do better. Even in countries with no 3G, there is often wi-fi at an airport or hotel. And for non-travelers, there's coffee shops, etc.
A lot of tech is U.S. or Asia-centric but the world is a big place and a lot of markets just don't support 3G networks at this stage. 3G in a camera, at this point, would limit the market for the camera too severely to make it viable, in my opinion.
So, time for a cloud camera? Yes, definitely. Time for a 3G cloud camera? No.
I believe Microsoft are experimenting in this with Windows Azure and their WP7 phones
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If users only want to carry one device, then put a damn phone in the camera, but make it connect!
Even if you have to plug your mobile phone into the USB port of the camera and share it's connection, it still makes sense. Imagine the pro or advanced amateur carrying his DSLR on a job or a trip, being able share data and to communicate with his clients, his agent, his office, his producer, or his family while shooting.
The point is, my point-and-shoot is still way better at imaging than my phone; you don't get good photos through a device the size of a contact lens. But I always have my phone on me; my camera, not so much. And when I'm finished shooting, I balk at transferring the shots to my computer in order to share them.
I love how you can buy a decent 10MP point and shoot for less than $100. Companies like Sony want to charge more for their products so taking something expensive, a 3G connection, and attaching it to hardware they already make to market an intangible situation could motivate people to buy expensive cameras with this ability. Great business idea. I often applaud Sony for trying to stuff the best specs into their products and letting the customer deal with the "customer experience." Often their software sucks and thus the "experience" is lacking, but that's a different argument.
From the customer standpoint I don't like more contracts, more $$ for the similar experience plus the initial "new product" cost, and I am always torn on market segmentation. More doesn't always equal better. Looking at all the Android devices on the market you would say that Android is successful, yet few devices get the newest software, leaving customers scratching their head, while every time Apple has a software update, all iPhones are able to be updated. Of course, many disagree with me, and there are certainly some things like bigger screens, keyboards, NFC, etc. that I wish I had on my iPhone sometimes.
How is making a camera more like a cellphone a good thing? For the people who are closet photographers on a budget it's a great idea. Similar to Sony's Experia Play for people who don't want to buy a PSP but would love to game on the go more (and like myself, hate touchscreen gaming). Apple making a tablet more like a cellphone (crossing fingers) is next and when iPads get powerful /durable enough, they will replace cellphones and everyday, light use, (cheap) laptops with the right peripherals (keyboard, earpiece, etc) for some people.
IMO Sony is just experimenting with crossing mobile platforms. They looked at cellphones and said 1-What do ppl like to do with their smartphones? Play games, take pictures, GPS, play music, etc. 2-What if we incorporated some aspects of cellphones into our cameras? We're Sony, let's give it a try.
Again, I don't see it being successful, but I like the direction. Sony loves to try new things, sometimes they hit home runs like Playstation and sometimes they don't. Would I buy one? No, Eye-Fi is cheaper, period. I don't like things having a 3G connection(except for phone), but Sony also realizes that people don't want a 22MP camera, so this is a new way to sell their cameras as better than last year's model and worth the extra $$.
But just a camera with added data plan and 3G? No. Not interested at all. Mostly because I'm not very interested in P&S, and especially with my DSLR I only shoot RAW. And why wouldn't one, if you have to pay for a data plan anyway, just get a phone with a better camera anyway? The N8 is somewhat compelling, especially when Nokia brings such hardware to WP7. And 12 MP is enough to zoom by cropping when you post on Facebook, so a zoom lens isn't that important anyway for such purposes. At least with such a phone you could surf the web too.
A big problem I see with something like this taking off is the interface. Camera interfaces are notoriously clumsy. And that's ok (kinda) because that's not their main function. But imagine tagging a picture via even the best large screen camera? The beauty of things like Instagram and Camera+ is that the phone already has a built in UI you're probably already familiar with for post image tagging, commenting, etc. Even if it's automated (i.e. set it up and then just hit the upload button after an image) it's still probably not as good as a smartphone where you can crop, adjust the image, annotate, etc. before you upload.
I love photography and I own an N90. And I've owned several Canon SD models -- most recently an SD1400 that I use to just kinda keep in my bag. But over time I just find using the mobile phone so much more opportunistic and "good enough" for the situation.
The biggest issue I have is if this will be sold with some sort of monthly contract or fee. If that's the case, forget it. The beauty of the Kindle is that books are so small that they could strike a deal with Sprint and build the cost of the data into the device. Unless it's $4.95 a month, I can't see it.
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