Catching Up on News

A few odds and ends came up this week that warrant some comment, so I’ve decided to put together an article with my comments on each of these things.

For a mere US$99 a month sometime in the future (probably  2018) you can get what currently appears to be a disguised and reconfigured Samsung Galaxy NX (20mp APS-C) with a prime lens that has only one control, the shutter release. There’s also no LCD on the back. All you have to do to take pictures is look through the viewfinder and press the button.

Okay, so what happens then? Well, the image you take goes automagically up via a 4G cellular connection to the Relonch server, where some sort of unspecified artificial intelligence then manipulates your images to make them look good. These images are made available to you the next day via a mobile app. 


Someone funded this?

Well, as it turns out this is a pivot from a company that originally was going to make APS-C camera cases for the iPhone (shown in prototype at the 2014 Photokina). I think they’ll be pivoting again. 

Thing is, US$99/month is basically US$1200 a year. For a basic camera with delayed image production that makes you wish for the old days of one-hour photo processing, that ain’t going to fly. But I think this is a bit of a Trojan Horse. Relonch has set up a showroom in Palo Alto (441 University Ave, just five blocks from where I used to live) where you can rent a camera for three days. 

I strongly suspect that what they’re really trying to do is perfect their artificial intelligence for image processing. That’s a salable asset to a lot of tech companies right now if they can perfect it. But a one-button camera? We already have that, it’s called a smartphone.

Encryption Now!
You may remember that I wrote an article just last month about who’s lobbying the camera companies. One of my assertions was that the camera companies don’t listen to individuals, but they sometimes listen to lobbying efforts from key customers grouped together. 

Well, the Freedom of the Press Foundation has done just that, getting over 150 photojournalists, filmmakers, and media professionals to sign an open letter to the major camera companies asking for files to be stored as encrypted on their cameras. 

I won’t go into the details about why encryption is needed. If you want to learn more about that, go to the Freedom of the Press Foundation Web site and read their explanation and letter. It’s clear and compelling. I can attest to the fact that the types of incidents they describe happen, and I would have added my name to the letter had I been asked.

Not that I think that encryption will actually fix the full problem here. Indeed, just having a still or video camera with you in some situations puts a journalist at risk, even if there aren’t any images taken on it or the images that have been taken aren’t the types the harasser is looking for. Despotic regimes consider a camera a type of weapon. 

It’s really incidental and sidelong exposure that’s the issue. If I take a picture of an anti-government activist, it’s not so much me that’s at risk when my camera is confiscated, it’s the person I took the photo of. This gets even more problematic when you do video interviews with people and they say things authorities don’t want said. You’re essentially exposing them if your data gets confiscated, and this is the reason why I support the request. 

I’ve also noticed a lot of mistakes in the technology discussion associated with this article. One thing that I keep hearing is that it will slow down the camera or require too fast a CPU to implement. No. Certainly you would need to have the encryption encoded into hardware (e.g. the Imaging ASIC), but the processing time is not likely the critical path element in terms of a camera’s card writing performance, it’s the card writing mechanism itself. 

I’ll also point something else out: this is one of the things (encryption) that really should be in the DCF standards, or else we’ll get a jumble of proprietary implementations. Of course, those standards haven’t really changed much for decades; you have to wonder whether the standards board can even tackle a major addition/change at this point in time.

Copyright Overhaul
Professional Photographers of America reports that there has been progress on updating the Copyright law in a manner that would be useful to photographers. Two different proposals are now actively working their way through Congress.

I’m not 100% convinced of that. I suspect there would be considerable unintended consequences in the changes that are being proposed. In particular, the ease at which a photographer can bring action against a potential infringer also means that it’s easier to be sued. We’re very likely to end up with legal dogfights over intentional or unintentional images that look alike.  

That said, there’s long been a logjam of inaction in bringing the Copyright laws and the Copyright Office into the 21st Century. I welcome any debate on how we do that. 

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