Misconceptions on Camera Communication

I’ve been accumulating these complaints for quite some time, pretty much ever since I first proposed that cameras join the 21st century and allow programability coupled with modern communication. Basically, every time I write that cameras need to share images better, I get someone pushing back with a “no, because…” type of answer.

So today let’s look at those communications complaints and address them:

  • You can’t put a cellular system in a camera because the camera is metal and will interfere with the communications. Right, and Apple doesn’t use any metal in the housing of their iPhone. Antennae are the issue here, and position and interference are two things that are definitely critical to making them work correctly. But this notion that you can’t put a proper and useful cellular antenna on a metal framed camera is almost certainly wrong, especially considering that we already have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas on our cameras. The big phone companies built expensive testing chambers so they can work through different designs to find the one antenna strategy that works best (and then later say “you’re holding it wrong” ;~). The camera makers probably use third party testing chambers to verify designs. But I refuse to believe that you can’t add cellular communications to cameras with a metal chassis.
  • A cellular system would cost me many dollars a month. It costs you nothing each month if you don’t turn it on! The usual complaint I hear here is “I don’t want another monthly payment.” And yet some of those same people telling me that have an Apple watch with cellular on their wrist and an iPad Pro with cellular in their backpack. Or they pay for Wi-Fi at their hotels. Or they subscribe to the Adobe CC Photography Plan. The list goes on. Hmm. They’ve indicated through their actions that they’re perfectly fine paying a monthly fee, as long as its for something they use. This kind of complaint is dismissive to those of us who would actually use and pay for such an ability. If you really aren’t going to use any built-in cellular capability, your only legitimate complaint is that some extra parts were added to your camera that you don’t use, thus you paid more for it than if it didn’t have those parts. So it cost you US$100, once. And can be actually used any time you change your mind. But if that cost still puts you off, there’s also nothing that wouldn’t stop a camera company from doing what I suggested back in 2008: make the communications modular. In other words, cellular would be an option, not built-in.
  • I’d exceed my data plan. Yes, you might if you were trying to get every image you took up into some cloud service (plus you’d have the cost of the cloud service). Yet you might also exceed your data plan because you streamed too many Netflix shows this week, so I’m not sure what the point of this complaint really is. You have no ability to moderate yourself, perhaps? 
  • I don’t need better communications because I don’t share images. Another dismissive complaint. Some of us do need to share images, and many others would like to do so more easily. I have to wonder what this complaining camera user is actually doing, though. Who sees their images, when, and how? I think the answer here is actually that the person making this complaint doesn’t generate many images they want anyone else to see (or has low self esteem). They probably shoot thousands of images and then cherry pick, crop, and process one that looks good and only show that in some way, well after it was taken. This person has a different problem than “camera can’t do that.” But they want to inflict their problem on others. 
  • If I want to share an image, the existing apps and communications facilities are fine. No, they’re not. I’ve used every makers’ version, and they all have (different) issues/problems. Moreover, most are using slow, outdated communication technology, so any big image or multiple image usage gets painful very quickly. I would say that these apps are usable in a pinch for an image or two, but anything approaching using them regularly will quickly reveal warts you don’t want to look at.
  • The images are too big. This complaint is actually another complaint in disguise. When your camera is using the 2.4Ghz waveband and forcing it down to 600Mbps transfer speeds, then yes, a 45mp file might take some time to transfer. And that’s usually the complaint I get: the images are too big and transfer too slowly. But there are subcomponents to this complaint (see also “exceed my data plan,” above). The biggest one is that Twitter, Facebook, or whatever other sharing service you want to use doesn’t like big files, and will downsize them. The complaint here is misdirected: either the speed of communication was crippled by the camera maker or the service you’re using is putting restrictions on you (because they don’t want to save big images). Let’s fix both those things ;~). Note that this was actually one of the things that Nikon got right about SnapBridge: the ability to send a 2mp version of your image to the mobile device instead of the full image stored on the card in the camera. (Okay, technically, Nikon got it wrong at first, as SnapBridge precluded shooting raw this way, but they eventually fixed that.)
  • Any new communication ability would require another OS and lots of code writing, which won’t happen. This complaint amuses me. Apparently the people writing this aren’t aware that camera companies have been fiddling with sibling OS’s in cameras for some time. Sony tried it with PlayMemories. The Nikon D5 has a separate little computer system in it running a lightweight Linux so that they can run an in-camera server that manages the FTP capabilities via Ethernet connections. In other words, it has happened, and while I can’t say that the results were particularly great, this approach can be made to work. Yes, it increases complexity for sure, and it may increase cost depending upon how you decide to implement it. Still, it can be done, has been done, and can’t be used as an excuse for not doing it. The only reason to not do it would be to decide that the extra work didn’t add a clear benefit to the camera. 
  • Good communications won’t save the camera market. When I first stated my concerns about poor communications in cameras back in 2008, I made a partial linkage that everyone seems to have mistaken as an absolute assertion. My linkage was this: if you’re not designing products that solve user problems, including problems the user doesn’t yet know they have, your sales will go down. After peak camera happened in 2012 I have reiterated that several times, but note I was writing this publicly as far back as 2009. Of course camera sales will go down if you ignore user problems. I also wrote that camera companies needed to find the “next thing” that would cause people to say “my current camera doesn’t have that, so I need to upgrade,” and that better communications with the mobile world was probably part of that. At this point in 2019, though, fixing camera communications isn’t going to reverse the now severe contraction of the market. Yet it might very well slow it. As I've pointed out more than once, if you could do something and that would increase your sales by 5%, why would you not do that? The real problem is that you have corporate bean counters running around shouting “Save Costs! Save Costs!” and most actual solutions that engineers could come up with that might improve sales volume today actually involves new costs. The engineers are not winning the ensuing argument. Which means that we get nothing that might slow the trend, let alone reverse it.

Finally, every time I write about the fact that sharing of images is the new norm and cameras aren’t good at it, I get lots of pushback from those on Medicare that “sharing is not for me.”  Maybe not, but at the other end of the age spectrum, we have people in their late twenties marrying, buying their first home, and having their first child. Those folk have been sharing images for ten years or so, and the generation after them will have only known a world where images are shared via the Internet. 

I stand by what I’ve written for over a decade: the camera companies missed significant changes in how most photos are taken, manipulated, shared, and stored. Oh, they gave some half-hearted lip service to the new 21st century world that smartphones lit on fire, but the camera companies still failed to see the future they have to live in. One wonders if they ever will.

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