A Shift or a Dud?

The attempt to link cameras with the Internet has produced a long line of dead bodies: Samsung Galaxy and Nikon Android Coolpix to name just two that had a lot of early hype along the lines we're hearing today. 

Now we've got another player trying their hand: Zeiss with the just announced but available-in-early-2019 ZX1. (Irony: the name probably should have been Z1, but Nikon got in there and took the Z names first.)

In terms of "camera", the ZX1 is minimal. It's a fixed lens, 37.4mp, full frame camera with an aperture ring, a shutter speed dial, an ISO dial, and a shutter release. There's an EVF in the rangefinder position (upper left on back) and a hot shoe. But that's about it for the traditional camera things. Pretty much everything else about the ZX1 revolves around a sort of embedded smartphone type implementation: large rear touch screen (4.3"), a 512GB SSD, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/USB-C connectivity, and a bunch of digital horsepower of unknown origin at the moment.

As I've already noted in my Photokina Odds and Ends, the ZX1 seems to be emphasizing the C in my CPM idea expressed over ten years ago (that would be "communicating, programmable, modular").

The idea here is that you have a highly capable imager (37.4mp full frame with a Zeiss lens) with an Internet-based workflow. The large internal SSD gives you plenty of local storage until the point where you can get things up safely into the cloud (or connect via USB-C to your desktop for offload). The large multi-touch display is where you rate, process, and control the flow of images out to where you want them on the Internet (though that means you need to have Wi-Fi access). 

The devil is in the details. Zeiss is already well known for higher-priced products. Here they're adding a lot of high-priced components together to make a final product. This isn't going to be a US$2000 camera, would be my guess. 

You also need a big battery for all that horsepower, which the ZX1 seems to have (3800+mAh), but there's a huge engineering balancing act that needs to be done here: performance versus staying live. The smartphone makers have been playing this delicate game for quite some time; either Zeiss is piggy-backing off them—e.g. using Qualcomm components and patents—of it's done some remarkable engineering, or there will be perceived performance issues with the product when it ships. Hard to know which of those will apply at this point.

But I actually have a bigger question: why are we reinventing the wheel? Marrying what's basically a smartphone without the phone with a dedicated camera internally never struck me as being the right approach. 

Just as lenses now need to be in fast and complete communication with a camera body, camera bodies need to be in fast and complete communication with the Internet. As much as I malign Nikon SnapBridge from time to time, the problem with SnapBridge isn't in the idea, it's in the implementation. 

Which brings me to the other late arrival at Photokina, the PIXII. This approach appears to strip a Leica M-mount compatible camera down to the basics, to the point of not even having a rear LCD. Photos simply end up over on your smartphone. 

The implications here are that the camera can be simpler in all aspects, both in terms of external controls (there's one dial; apertures are controlled on M-mount lenses), as well as internal (no power sucking EVF or rear LCD—the camera has an optical finder—no card storage, etc. Whether this approach will work depends upon how securely the camera finds and holds onto your smartphone connection. Plus, obviously, it's going to put storage burden on the smartphone.

I like that new approaches are being considered. I was sad when the DxO One camera went away, as it was the approach I originally outlined back in 2009, and, I believe, still a valid one. To some degree the PIXII is the same thing, only without the physical connection. 

Which brings me back to something I wrote about many moons ago in A Snappier Bridge: the camera makers really just need to give us true connectivity and reasonable programmability. I'm perfectly fine with mounting my iPhone in the hot shoe and running a short cable between it and my DSLR (or mirrorless or compact) camera. Perfectly fine with that. 

What I'm not fine with is how that connection currently works, and what I can do with it quickly and conveniently. 

Consider this really simple workflow: connect the phone and camera via wire. Shoot. As you review, use the already-available star rating capabilities in the camera to rate things. In the background, the stars you assign tell the camera/phone combination what to do with the image. Done. 

My five star images get posted to Twitter via a template I created on the phone. My four star images get moved over as large JPEGs to the phone and transmitted to my publication as time permits. My three star images get moved over to the phone as JPEGs, but aren't sent out yet. 

Coupled with a more robust IPTC entry system—we need to be able to bring up and edit the IPTC caption field while reviewing an image on the camera—I can now be getting images out from the sidelines in near real time, not scrambling to do so at half time.

The failure of imagination in solving real user problems with the existing technologies we have boggles my mind. I'm not sure what my mind thinks about these new approaches to make some hybrid camera; I'll need to actually use them to see if they actually come close to solving real user problems.

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