With the difference between a smartphone and a tablet becoming virtually nonexistent, manufacturers have also begun attempts at blurring the line between the smartphone and the digital camera. The rise of cameras with wireless capabilities and mobile operating systems is a sign that manufacturers recognize the effect of the mobile revolution on photography. while pros and advanced amateurs are still keen on quality when looking for a camera to buy, for today’s casual shooter, sensor size and quality are secondary to portability and convenience.
The big idea behind a smart camera is the ability to communicate picture-worthy events to the world as they occur. In its best use, you’ll be able to take a picture of an emergency, newsworthy events, an occurring fi re or a thunderstorm, and even traffic photos, and alert your social media contacts about it. You also get to share life’s milestones—your baby’s first steps, for instance—as they happen.
As a bonus, you’re also able to share less urgent and less momentous things from daily undertakings, such as your lunch, your outfit for the day, and how awesome you look with #NoFilter.
With the help of tags, you can increase the visibility of your photo and make sure people see them right away.
All you need is a Wi-Fi connection to make these things happen on a smart camera.
POTENTIAL IN THE OS WAVE
For some manufacturers, providing cameras with wireless capabilities hasn’t been enough. The Wi-Fi camera was a great idea, but casual users still picked convenience over quality. The smartphone enabled them to do more than just take pictures and share them to the web; they had communication features, apps, and so much more. And so they thought, “Hey. Why don’t we just take the useful characteristics of smartphones and plant them into our cameras?”
Thus, the Nikon S800c. The Polaroid iM1836. The Galaxy Camera.
By equipping a camera with a mobile OS like Android, users not only have the ability to use a camera as a communication tool; they also get full access to a library of apps that they can use to expand sharing options, to facilitate cloud storage, or to enhance the camera experience.
CURRENT MOBILE OS CAMERAS: THE INBETWEENERS?
The problem with the current roster of cameras with the Android operating system is that they’re neither as powerful as DSLRs, nor as portable as smartphones, so when it comes to purchasing decisions, the middle might not be a good place to stand.
Because of their compact bodies and, in effect, smaller sensors, and because DSLRs are becoming wirelessly capable, lighter, and more compact, pros and advanced amateurs have steered clear from the mobile OS cameras we have today.
Just because a smartphone says it has a 16-megapixel camera doesn’t necessarily mean it produces better pictures than a 12-megapixel DSLR. Megapixel count isn’t all there is to it. What one has to remember is that these devices are compact, which means they have to make the sensors smaller. Smaller sensors tend to produce grainy photos that aren’t that suitable for medium-to-large scale printing, passable low-light performance, and slower AF.
For casual shooters who do not scrutinize quality as much as the pros, Android cameras are also not the weapons of choice because smartphones are much more convenient to lug around than the chunky camera since they are slimmer, lighter, and capable of producing images that have good enough quality for web posting.
MORE CAMERA THAN SMARTPHONE
It’s true that smartphones, too, have cameras and they let you take pictures and share them to the world, but nothing beats the look, feel, and experience of a genuine digital camera. You’ll have manual control over parameters, and you may even have an electronic viewfinder.
FINDING THE PERFECT FOCUS
So whom exactly are these hybrid devices for?
What manufacturers need to understand is that the Android OS is merely a bonus feature that expands the capabilities of the camera. Yes, it increases the device’s value for consumers, but because there is a trade-off, that value really depends on two things: the user and the purpose.
Current Android cameras have a long way to go before they become first-body options for photography enthusiasts. However, they can be marketed as second-body cameras since they can be used alternately with main bodies depending on the photographer’s needs.
If he were to shoot a wedding or a studio setup, then he would use the DSLR because of its capability to produce optimum-quality images. If he were to go roaming the streets of Manila, shooting passersby, random happenings and whatnot, the second-body Android camera would be perfect because of its size and added functionality of being wirelessly capable. He would have the functionality of his DSLR, the convenience of his smartphone, and the quality of whatever’s in between.
For mobile users, the big upgrade in quality without the complexity of the high-end camera interface is definitely a good reason to get the Android camera. Convenience is not sacrificed because they don’t have to bring it all the time, save for the instances they want to record moments in better quality, but that’s entirely up to the user.
Accurate positioning is key to attracting potential users. They need to know that Android cameras are not all-in-one devices—just additional gadgets that they might want to try out.
At an average price range that overlaps mid-range global-brand smartphones, it’s not that difficult to consider getting an Android camera. Yes, the laudable image quality and the experience of using an actual camera while retaining the salient features of a phone give you a lot of value for a gadget within that price gamut.
One thing that Android cameras will surely explore in the near future is the creation of a solid lens ecosystem for such devices. Currently, the Polaroid iM1836 and the Galaxy NX are the only interchangeable lens cameras that have an Android OS.
We have yet to see a DSLR with a mobile OS, but with the pace of innovation and the sophistication of technology over time, it’s not hard to imagine that we may be seeing one as early as next year.
Words by Racine Anne Castro
First published in Gadgets Magazine, September 2013