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6 things camera makers need to learn from mobile phones

Andrew Williams

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6 things camera makers need to learn from mobile phones

We love cameras at TrustedReviews. We don't think an iPhone 5S can replace SLRs, and we know you can't replace a good chunk of glass with the tiny lens of a phone camera.

However, the companies that make 'real' cameras – Nikon, Canon, Olympus and the rest - need to learn a thing or two from phones in order to catch up with the way people want to use their cameras these days. Updating processing engines and fiddling with the megapixel count year-to-year isn't good enough anymore.

Here are the lessons cameras need to take on board from the mobile brigade.

Lesson #1: How to do Wi-Fi

Camera lessons 1Trying to send a photo to your computer or tablet from most cameras with Wi-Fi feels a bit like trying to program a VCR. It's clumsy, it's awkward, and it often simply doesn't work. Just adding NFC to convince us it's easy isn't enough - especially when iPhones don't even support NFC.

With a phone you can transfer your photos without even realising it. You don't need a dedicated app, and you have a whole bunch of options to get your photos from your phone to a laptop wirelessly – email, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct are just a few.

This is the most important thing camera makers need to improve.

Lesson #2: How to do HDR

Camera lessons 2HDR – or high dynamic range – is something that's sneered at by some photo purists. It's understandable, because a true HDR shot is not a single photo, but a composite of several exposures.

The HDR modes of 'proper' cameras generally aren't anywhere near as good as those of the latest mobile phones. They tend to be much slower, making them far trickier to use handheld, are much less subtle and generally less effective.

What 'proper' cameras often fail to understand is that modern HDR isn't about making every object look like it has an angelic halo. It's about making your photos look more vibrant, and letting you take photos of people with the sun in the background without them looking like silhouettes.

Heck, some cameras don't even have HDR modes.

Lesson #3: There's nothing wrong with microUSB charging

Camera lessons 3Most serious cameras user their own chargers – plastic docking doodads that you slot the battery into. There's nothing wrong with these as they let you charge one battery while using another. And many of the keener photographers we know carry two or three batteries when they're out for a shooting day.

However, more cameras need to adopt microUSB charging as a standard. Not only would this mean you could use your phone charger to juice-up your camera (as long as you don't have an iPhone), it would also let you use external batteries like the Mophie Juice Pack Universal Powerstation with your camera.

These sorts of larger batteries are designed to charge up tablets, which generally have much, much larger batteries than even the highest-end cameras. The £5k Canon EOS 1D X has a 2,450mAh battery, the £150-odd Nexus 7 a 3,950mAh battery.

Some cameras are starting to use microUSB charging as an option. But not enough.

Lesson #4: How to do touchscreens

Camera lessons 4Some camera touchcreens are so bad, so unpopular, that we've seen some of the latest models ditch the feature when the previous models had touch displays. Most camera makers just don't know how to properly implement touchscreens because camera operation has always been rooted in physical controls.

It's not as simple as apeing a phone, though, as cameras need to compensate for the way they're held. However, things do need to improve. Selecting a focus point with a touchscreen is much faster than doing so with a cursor.

As far as we're concerned, this is one of the few things the camera touchscreen has to nail. We don't want to flick between menus. We don't want a touch shutter button. The camera pros only need to take a little bit of what goes into a mobile phone on this one. Is it really that hard?

Lesson #5: Social Matters

Camera lessons 5The tendency for people to Instagram and Facebook their life as series of stream of consciousness style photos is pretty noxious. But it is something lots of people do.

There seems to be a belief that somehow 'proper' camera users are different. But they aren't really. Loads of people with SLRs use full auto mode 90 per cent of the time, and don't actually know their aperture from their ISO.

People who don't want to spend hours in photo editing programs often end up switching between their camera and an iPhone, to let them upload the shot of a scene with their phone, and save another to keep with their dedicated camera. We've seen it happen.

There's nothing wrong with that, and there's also little reason why a camera shouldn't let you upload straight to Instagram when you're in range of a Wi-Fi zone. It'd take a bit of work, but we need to get there – and not just for Instagram, but Twitter, Facebook and the rest too.

Lesson #6: Online backup is a good idea

Camera lessons 6Have you ever lost an SD card full of photos that you hadn't got around to backing up? Ever stashed a memory card in your wallet to find it magicked into several pieces of memory card a few weeks later? Human foibles like these mean automatic online backup of photos is a pretty good idea.

Windows Phone does it, iPhones do it, and there are several ways to do it with an Android phone. What about if your camera automatically uploaded all your photos – full-res – to cloud storage as soon as you got back to your home Wi-Fi network? OK, maybe it'd be best to leave out those massive RAW files, but a few hundred JPEGs every now and then would not break the internet.

We can hardly imagine Canon, Nikon et al plumping up for a few dozen gigabytes of free storage for all its buyers – or implementing this idea properly. But if they did a deal with one of the big onlines storage guys it'd take a lot of the pain out of keeping your photos safe.

What would you like to see in your next camera? Let us know in the comments.

Next, check out our best cameras round-up

BogBeast

February 15, 2014, 12:13 pm

Dropbox integration is a must. Take a picture, go back to my PC, its there (and backed up). No messing around with Eye-Fi cards (which I have used), SD Cards or cables.

I would not consider bothering with wireless on a camera unless it had direct to Dropbox (or GDrive) integration.

APedantWrites

February 16, 2014, 2:23 pm

The energy stored in a Canon 1D X battery (11.1V, 2450mAh, 27J) is about twice as much in the Nexus 7 battery (3.7V, 3950mAh, 14J), so the battery in the Nexus 7 isn't "much, much larger" as stated above. It's about half the size.

Andrew_TR

February 16, 2014, 9:31 pm

A fair point - it was a comparison made a little too hastily ;) However, the actual point stands, though. My Fuji X-M1 has a 8.7Wh battery, the iPad Air has a 32Wh one!

godafoss

February 16, 2014, 11:02 pm

Exactly how does the camera communicate to the servers if not over 3G/4G. WiFi is less than useless out in the field. Also I'd like to see how long it'd take to upload a 32GB card full of images even via 4G assuming of course you had some incredibly generous data plan.

chaosdefinesorder

February 17, 2014, 10:05 am

Ideally it would upload each file individually as they are taken, thus spreading the load rather than uploading a full card at the end of a session. This is how Dropbox and Google+ Photos auto-backup work...

Still falls foul of data caps for sure, but should be a much more streamline method?

Certainly agree with your "WiFi is less than useless out in the field" comment, though! It might work in the US where free and open WiFi points seem to be everywhere (if you believe the subtext of most articles about US public WiFi) but in the UK you have to register and/or log on to every single public hotspot you come across (thank the Digital Economy Act for the hotspot owner responsibility bit) which would make it difficult to connect a camera seamlessly...

Jim Andrews

February 17, 2014, 11:50 am

The single thing camera manufacturers need to learn is the value of a common operating system. It seems to me that camera OS are very much like mobile phones were before iOS and Android.

I would like my next camera to be able to run apps so that I can tailor it to do what I want, and get hold of the software that makes the most of the hardware; just like my phone does.

(I know that Samsung are moving in this direction before anyone points that out!)

Kieron Taylor

February 17, 2014, 7:00 pm

Nikon *do* provide 20GB of free online storage for camera owners (nikonimagespace.com). Yes it's not as tightly integrated with the hardware as an Android phone, but I want to remove the duff shots from my collection before I back up. Otherwise my photo collection would be 80GB instead of 8GB.

danial

February 18, 2014, 3:47 am

I love my ipad air and it is the beast America tablet in the world.

Carnex

February 18, 2014, 9:04 am

Most of suggestion mentioned here are important if you actually need only phone camera.

Photo camera is not meant to be utility for social sites. Even when they try to make it, it's awkward. Size of screen, shape and need for additional hardware kills that idea.

HDR out of camera is, and will always be quick patch job, not really satisfactory by any standard. It's for quick shooters and most quick shooters today use phones.

USB charging? As and option, yes. But that will never replace the key convenience of using one battery while charging another.

Touch to focus is only applicable part here. Otherwise, touch controls just cant replace physical ones. you cant use them blind and that makes them inconvenience. Even with touch to focus, it's only aplicable to camera's without viewfinder.

Again, use phone, camera will always be awkward for online social interaction. Unless we are talking about Galaxy S Zoom or some similar jumped up phone.

Online storage is somewhat useful idea, but given that I generate at least 2GB per shooting day, it's not remotely viable for any people for whom loss of photos made recently would make significant difference. On a quickshooter like Fujifilm F series it makes sense with it's small, compressed files, but it doesn't make sense when fingle file goes up to 40mb per picture

Nick G

February 18, 2014, 9:15 am

Lesson 3 is simply wrong. Why would I want to charge my camera in 4 hours over microUSB when I could charge it on a dock or with a proprietary cable in 1 hour? Unless you've got dozens of batteries, Micro USB is far to slow to charge a battery as large as one in a digital camera.

Andrew_TR

February 18, 2014, 12:36 pm

Hi Nick, I wasn't thinking of micro USB replacing the separate chargers, but being an extra option. It wouldn't be too bad with a 2A charger/power source!

Nick G

February 18, 2014, 1:45 pm

Fair enough... Personally I hate the microUSB connector. It's the most unreliable and fragile connector commonly in use today.

Zimon

February 20, 2014, 10:32 am

I disagree. The current used to charge the battery is not limited due to that a Micro USB connector is used. Sure, the USB standard limits the used current to 500 mA, but let me give you an example. I just bought a Toshiba tablet, which is using a Micro USB to charge it. The charger has an output of 2 A (how would you otherwise be able to charge this huge battery in a reasonable time), but since it has a Micro USB connector, I can also use a computers USB connector or my mobile charger to charge the device. Also, most mobile chargers today also have a high output, since todays smartphones have at least as large batteries as a digital camera would.

BogBeast

February 28, 2014, 7:16 pm

I would expect my camera to communicate with my wireless at home (or work, or wherever I had access) as soon as I walked through the door, yes It *might* need turning on, but I see no reason why it shouldn't have a standby mode. That way I know all my shots would be immediately backed up and available at my PC as soon as I sat down. I imagine in a studio setting it would be very useful as well.

As Hotspot 2.0/Passpoint support improves on public networks, its more and more likely that a wifi enabled camera could backup photos whilst on the move.

I might decide to connect it via hotspot via 3/4g, but as
chaosdefinesorder says, it would only transfer newer files.

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