Stupid camera tricks. This is the future of camera tech?

By Austin Photographer, Kirk Tuck ©2014

Suddenly every camera I own (hyperbole alert: statement does not include mechanical film cameras, the august Pentax K-01 or any camera purchased more than a year ago...) has some sort of "connectivity" included. You can wi-fi stuff or you can NFC stuff and, if you want to you can drag my Galaxy NX camera out, put in a SIMM card, pay for a data plan, and even cellular data transfer your stuff. Each one of the protocols, in some way, has the promise of being able to move the image you just took, off the camera and, through some circuitous route, onto your favorite social image sharing site.

Let me put aside the buzz words for a second and explain this for someone like my non-technical older brother:  I can snap a picture and it will be automatically sent to my iPad or iPhone. I can look at the picture and even "fix" it and then send it to Facebook."

At which point I'd probably be asked, "Couldn't you always take a picture and send it to Facebook? Isn't the only different now that you don't need a wire?"  Well.  Yes. There is no wire.

But I would quickly jump in and tell him that I could control the camera remotely by using this new technology. He might ask, "So you can change exposures and colors and sizes and sharpness and all that on your camera just from your phone?"  And I'd have to tell him that no, I could zoom the lens and tell the camera when to take the photograph. That's about it.

"But didn't you buy a fancy camera with a nice finder so you could make careful compositions and quick setting changes?"  Well, yes, that is the reason I spent over a thousand dollars on a camera. I wanted to compose through a nice viewfinder and make quick changes to things like exposure and color balance but....isn't it cool that you can tell your camera to shoot NOW! and it will do it? From your phone!!!

And then he might ask, "So, if you can't control everything you could when you have the camera in your hands is the real advantage that the transfer of the images is so much faster than the old way you did it? Like, faster than when you used to stick the little card in the slot on your laptop and transferred files directly. Does this new, remote method save you a lot of time and work?"

Then I'd have to explain to him that it really is a LOT slower to transfer big Jpeg files over a wi-fi connection but I can do this just about anywhere and I can even use my phone! I can make the files smaller to compensate...

"Wait a second!" He'd no doubt reply. "A couple of weeks ago you gave me a big lecture about shooting pictures onto something called "RAW files" so you could get the highest quality. Are you able to transfer these RAW files to your phone or your iPad and send them right away?"

Well, no. Maybe I could with the Samsung GNX, after I pay for a separate cellular data plan. But none of the social sharing sites accept RAW files....

Then, being an academic, I'm sure he'd start to drill down... "Well, it seems to me that if you are shooting your art or for a client you'd probably be using RAW files which you couldn't really use with the connectivity in your new cameras. Is that right? And it seems to me that you'd probably want to make your Jpegs smaller and more compressed so they transfer over (camera) wi-fi a bit faster and then upload to the sites a bit faster, right?"

Being honest I would have to admit that he was right.

"So, if you can't send files that you'd use on a job for one of your clients, and you can't control all the camera controls on a phone or pad that you could if you had the camera in your hands, and everything takes longer to transfer and you can't even use the raw files, then why don't you just shoot the stuff you want to put on Facebook with your iPhone? Didn't you tell me the camera in your phone was pretty good?"

Then he might add: "You know, you spent all that money buying a camera that would do your mysterious RAW files and I've heard you talk (too ) many times about how nice the new electronic finders are on the mirror less cameras, and you can transfer more files more quickly and even do better processing with them on your laptop.  So why did you waste all that money?"

Anyway, I noticed that Sony has an app called Play Memories that you can load onto your iPhone (or Android phone) or a tablet and it will show you on the device screen what the camera sees. It will allow you to zoom and it will allow you to trip the shutter. Once you trip the shutter it will send the resulting Jpeg file to your device. I downloaded the app last night. It worked as I described it. The files transferred pretty quickly. I was able to work on them in the tablet version of SnapSeed and then send them along to a sharing site. I e-mailed myself one of the photos to use on the top of this blog post.

The only reasonable application I can see for such a sparsely featured transfer program is to check composition on a remote camera that's positioned in a place that's hard to get to. That place is not my tripod. The only other added benefit I can see is to allow a client to review or preview the image the camera sees on a bigger screen. That is not a new feature. In the ancient days we could do this via an arcane process called, "tethering."  It even worked with my circa 2002 Kodak DCS 760 camera via Firewire. But when I tethered I had a lot more control over camera parameters.

So, explain to me, exactly, what is the benefit of having wi-fi or NFC in my camera?  I really want to know. Maybe I'm missing something golden.


Ryan Stinn said...

I use it when testing lighting setups alone. I snap a picture with my phone, look at the result, adjust, snap, adjust, etc. Without having to have another person involved then when I get what I like I can bring my subject in.

Anonymous said...

I'm a hobbyist, and I know nothing about professional photography and lighting, but.... If you can see what your camera sees on your iPad, wouldn't you be able to make adjustments to your lighting and see the results while you are standing next to the lights, instead of going back to the camera?

Kirk Tuck said...

Really? What kinds of adjustments are we making to those lights? I don't buy it. I think that's a solution that's trying to hard...to be relevant.

Anonymous said...

I believe all this "connectivity" is more for the P&S users. Oh, I forgot they are already using the camera built into their phones (or tablets)for the same purpose.

Until the apps get more sophisticated they serve little purpose for someone shooting raw or need full size jpg's.

One purpose would be the wirelss coupling of the cameras viewfinder and the large high res screen of a tablet. Only useful indoors, studio etc.

Coming to think about it...just forget the entire process...I must be too old to "get" it!

WookieeGunner said...

Panasonic has a version that works with the G6:


I think this will allow you to set more than just snap the picture and should give you a live view image, so should let you show a preview the pic with the client before you ever take it.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about adjusting the position or intensity of the lights and seeing the results on the iPad screen. Although, you have been doing this long enough, you can probably make theses adjustments with your eyes closed.

Mark Davidson said...

I have to agree with you Kirk. The bilk of these features are aimed at a user employing the camera as a toy or FB upload device.
For me, I am shooting a fair amount of commercial work and I acquired an iPad and an Eye_Fi card to transfer medium JPGs from my camera while keeping the RAWs on the camera. This is for clients who wish to approve shots/setups before moving on to the next one. It also has the positive effect of making your clients think you are cool.

The bad part is the sketchy Eye-Fi connection and the fact you have to uninstall the app to delete the images that are hidden in the app despite being deleted from the iPad.

Ron Nabity said...

The EM1 doesn't tether so the OI Share steps in as a substitute.

Like Ryan said above, it's a great way to take self shots for light checks. And the app lets me adjust exposure settings, focus point.

The other half is showing sample shots on a 7" screen to a client.

I don't use it much for social media.

Brook Thompson said...

I recently bought an RX100II which has the wifi feature. I shoot RAW+jpg with it so if I take a photo and want to show my friends what I am doing right now I'll put it on the tablet do some snapseed, and upload it to Facebook or Instagram. The quality is a step up from the camera phone although I am not above using that. I treat it as a kind of fun thing but as a professional tool I would agree the technology just isn't there. Just as an aside. One day I went on a bike ride, went to take a photo with the camera and realized the memory card was still stuck in the computer at home. So I used the Playmemories to control the camera,took the photo and the camera sent the photo straight to the phone. Probably a useless little bit of information but thought I'd mention it.

Anonymous said...

I've tried out the remote control apps from Sony and Panasonic and, thus far, they seem mostly to be solutions in search of a problem. IIRC the Sony app wouldn't give me the option to *not* download the photo to my phone when I just wanted to use the phone as a remote shutter release. That's annoying.

The technology could lead to useful things in the future. If the apps are allowed to control all settings on a camera, then you'd be able to store any number of presets on your phone. There are already some phone apps that let you use a phone as an incident light meter -- with phone/camera communication, the phone could report the light reading directly to the camera.

So this technology might lead to interesting things, but the early attempts have mostly fallen flat.

Kirk Tuck said...

Okay. I'll admit it would be useful in set ups when you are flying solo on location or in the studio. You guys win points there. And I'll grudgingly admit utility with clients (actually a pretty good idea) but as a sharing tool to the web I think it's silly.

Unknown said...

One major benefit of the remote apps is that if your camera doesn't have a fully articulated screen then the app allows you to take odd angled photos. I prefer my camera display to articulate like the Olympus OMD'S do but sometimes you could use more articulation. The remote apps provide that.

The Olympus and Panasonic apps give quite a bit of control of the camera over wifi. They also can be used to pull focus during video.

Try it on your Panasonic camera's, I think you'll like it.

Must I point out that the whole raison d'etre for the Galaxy Nx is the connectivity overload? Your promotion of it then might be seen as odd.

Anonymous said...

"So, explain to me, exactly, what is the benefit of having wi-fi or NFC in my camera? I really want to know. Maybe I'm missing something golden. "

Or maybe not. Welcome to the disillusioned GAS survivor club, Kirk. :)

The wifi & NFC are mostly gimmicks for the millenials and older cellphone and social media addicts who want to involve their precious pocket gadget in any activity, and (over)share everything online.
In many serious shooting situations the features are still less practical, as your metaphoric big bro pointed out. Maybe nice to play with at times, but not essential for RAW and video shooters.

I've been playing with the wifi features of the RX10 recently and apart from the wireless tethering, (well, sort of), the only practical solution I've found for it is remote controlled shooting of wildlife or other shy targets, or shooting from difficult angles.

Got to admit, it may be handy at times in such situations. If only I didn't have to get the jpeg into my iPhone/iPad after each shot, as one of the other 'Anonymouses' mentioned.

I was testing the wifi shooting the other day at my bird feeder out in the yard. I put the camera on a tripod, aimed it at the bird feeder, set the exposure and then went back inside. The wifi signal was strong enough to work through the window/wall and for a few metres (10-ish ft) at least. I could swipe for zoom and tap for focus and snap the shot, without having to be in the view of the shy subjects. Neat.

Although I don't know how well that would work if I had to wait for much longer and the camera went to sleep... Got to figure that out, too, some day.

Another practical task would be to shoot stills or a video clip from an unusual or hard to reach angle without having to resort to the self timer and/or trying to see the screen for framing from an extremely high/low/awkward angle. But under normal studio conditions, meh.

I think I should try the reach of the wifi signal some day, and figure out how far away I can shoot via the wifi connection.

But other than those two uses, let's face it, it's just selling point, another gimmick for the gadget geeks and smartphone addicts. For now at least.

Tarjei T. Jensen said...

The Canon EOS remote app for Canon 6D and 70D make it possible to change everything including choosing focus point.

This is the reason I want a 6D or actually a 5D4 with the remote features of the 6D.


That should be remoting that makes sense to your brother.

It certainly makes a lot of sense as far as my bird photography is concerned.

Olaf Hoyer said...

Thom Hogan also had some valuable points about wireless transfer made simple, and why it also belongs in a Pro Body.
why? because there are in say journalism tight deadlines, where Images are usually shot in JPG and are time critical- and all that stuff that moves the pictures away to the laptop etc. has top be bought extra, is bulky, is not in the camera bag when needed...

What we see here, is the playground and testing environment, before Wifi gets implanted in newer Bodies like D5 or 1D/5D Mark whatsoever.

We should not forget that the users of a say Nikon D5300 is Joe average User with a small family at hand who wants better images than from his iPhone...

And, as stated also in some posts: Communication has changed- nowadys, if you want to "tell" somebody something, you simply press a button and click "share".

(Yes, philosophical question about honest, earnest communication and not getting the important messages due to overflow may be another topic for long winter nights...)

Rufus said...

You are over thinking things, IMO, Kirk.

I think it depends on why you are shooting images. Are they for you? Are you shooting recreationally because it is for you, not for others?

Or are you shooting because for you AND others, like your family ( immediate or extended ) or friends?

If you are shooting for YOU , Wi-Fi matters less. If you are shooting for others as well, that is when photomasking changes and it is all about the sharing.

My friends and family have a blast looking at the images taken at a family gathering, or an adventure away somewhere, where the pictures of the day are on an iPad and everyone is handing it around and enjoying them. And they can mail them, copy them and keep their own.

Wi-fi makes it so easy.

I think the only reason to want Wi-Fi is if you want to share easily. Some of the images most enjoyed by my loved ones are those which were on the iPad within minutes of taking them, optimised in snapseed on the train, car or bus, and then enjoyed over dinner the same day.

Chester A. Arthur said...

The problem is that you're thinking of this feature as a professional photographer. You need to think of mainstream consumer usage.

The biggest reason most people use their phones as their primary camera is because its the camera they always have on them.

Another big reason is that a lot of people love to share photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. And they use their phone instead of their camera because they can upload immediately and don't have to have an intermediary computer or remove the memory card from their camera and hook it up to their phone.

Built in WiFi, especially with NFC, makes it almost as easy to immediately share a photo from a real camera as it is from a phone.

So if sharing a photo on Facebook et al is important to you, and you don't mind spending an extra 20 seconds to beam it from camera to phone because your camera takes much better pictures than your phone, then this is a Big Deal of a feature.

John Krumm said...

I played with the Olympus app to control my EM1 a bit. Can change modes, aperture,shutter speed and some other things, plus touch to focus and shoot. One guy set up his camera by a hummingbird nest and took shots in his kitchen with it, kind of neat. But still needs a generation or two of improvements to be useful for me.

Now an invisible camera that flies remotely while I see what it sees on my iphone, that might have potential (though with a high creep factor).

Anonymous said...

Kirk, if you shoot sports on a tight time schedule then wirelessly uploading JPGs can save time and keep you shooting. It can at least shorten editing time somewhat when you get back to the media tent.
Now, for most, this is simply a way of moving traditional cameras into serving the purpose of modern electronic communications rather than as a source of fine art images - facilitating immediate dialog rather than the monologue that is traditional photography. Frankly, a smartphone or maybe-maybe- something like a Samsung Android camera might work better. But frankly it's tough to get people to see the point of writing photos to card then walking the card over to a computer, then...photography as craft can be too time-consuming for most folks wanting somewhat better quality images for their Facebook feeds.

Vadym Graifer said...

As a sharing tool, agree, this is a gimmick. However, E-M1's implementation of remote control can do more than just press the shutter. Switching between modes, adjusting both A and S, changing focus point - all that makes it more usable. Put a camera near hummingbird feeder and control it from distance, for example. Shoot long exposure from your car on a chilly night, as another.

That said, I wish they wouldn't take out simple infrared remote control either :)

Dave Vargo said...

I'm not sure why the expensive sports and PJ DSLRs don't all have slots for 4G capable communication cards in them. It would be great for emailing jpegs to editors when there is a tight deadline.

Also, sometimes PJs lose images when their memory cards are seized by the authorities. Think about how cool it would be for those folks to be able to email images and short videos right from the field.

I hope that Apple or Google teams up with a camera manufacturer to create a camera/phone combo. I want a camera that is also a phone instead of a phone that also has a camera.

Imagine a Ricoh GR/Nikon CPA type camera that is also an iphone. You could actually take night pictures that don't turn to noisy mush!

Paul Dymond said...

I found the wi-fi capabilities on my 6D really handy on a trip to Europe in December. Basically it meant I could shoot all day with the 'work' camera and not have to worry about taking back-up shots with the iPod Touch to send to friends and family. At the end of the day, over a red wine or two, I could just connect the iPad to the camera, browse through the pictures, pick the best and send those straight off as emails or post them to Facebook or whatever. It saved me having to download the cards to my netbook, process the RAW files in Lightroom and then export them as small Jpegs etc to be uploaded. Saved a lot of time and was a great thing.

ODL Designs said...

Have to agree with a few of the points here Kirk, I do a lot of product photography and when you are by yourself it can be very time consuming to adjust lights and modifiers, even the product itself and keep walking back to the camera to check. This is so much easier.

Also, when I am travelling I go with my camera, 1 lens and my cellphone. I generally dont use roaming when abroad, but most coffee shops have wifi these days. So after a long walk I would sit down with a tea and sandwhich, transfer a few of my favorite images to my phone, maybe tweak in snapseed and email to family and friends to let them know what I am up to.

During this I shoot medium Jpeg and RAW, the keepers get special treatment on the computer at home.

Anonymous said...

Because i have no idea where my wire is.

RayC said...

Family portraits when you are part of the family. Far better than the ten second self timer run...

Robert said...

One time at band camp I decided not to take a shot I really wanted, because I don't have an articulated display on my camera,and couldn't compose it without laying in the mud.

atmtx said...

Sony can hardly make a good camera interface, at least on the old NEX line. How are they supposed to make good smartphone apps?

Sony is not known for good software and user interfaces.

steve said...

I'm a photojournalist, so I can take photos in JPEG/RAW with a Sony RX-100ii and transfer them to my iPad and then file them.

I made the mistake of just shooting RAW once, but the jpegs which are created and transferred are too low res (they do transfer fast, but it isn't too bad with full resolution photos. You can review the photos, so you only transfer the ones you might file).

There also is a nice feature where you can find your best photo (or a good photo while you are shooting), choose select image on camera, then select this image and send it to my iPhone (one full res JPEG transfers fast), and then post to flickr/twitter.

It lets people know I am covering a news story and can lead to sales since the photo is better than an iPhone photo and might not even be possible to capture with a phone.

The Play Memories app isn't very good.

Sony would be smart to buy one of the companies which makes some of the better iPhone photo apps to help them improve it.

Kurt Holter said...

There will come a time when a client would like you to move a few pictures during (for example) something like a corporate event, and they will want them as they're being shot.

They will want them emailed to somebody in their marketing dept., so that they can Facebook them, or perhaps send them out with a news release.

If this has not happened to you yet, it will happen, and sooner than you think.

This is arguably possible without WiFi in the camera, but it's faster and easier with it.

Brad Calkins said...

I think it is a little over the top to dismiss it as a 'stupid' camera trick just because you don't find it useful. I find it surprising that you don't see the benefit of being able to upload online from your camera on a device that is more capable that you enjoy using. Everyone complains about the vast quantity of meaningless and boring images online - why dismiss technology that finally allows you to easily upload your carefully considered images? I shoot in RAW on my EM-1, and use the built in RAW editing to create a couple of JPGs to upload online from time to time. So the point about not being able to shoot in RAW, or having to use large jpgs isn't true. I agree that people share way too much on Facebook, but I love to be able to quickly send a snap of my son at a swim meet to my wife that I've taken with a telephoto, rather than a wide area iPhone shot.

Further, I find it quite liberating on a family vacation - I don't have to get out a laptop or find WIFI to send a occasional shot to the kids grandparents. This gets me much closer to really being able to have 'one' camera I use for everything.

Phones are OK, but I'm not getting this shot with one :) http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-pTmlpL5nwZ4/Ub6I9_Y_z8I/AAAAAAAALFo/fve1JjdeVww/s1600/20130616-135137-EM560270.jpg

I'm also interested in the remote control for family group shots when there is no-one extra to hit the button. Nice to be able to see that the dog is still in the shot, etc. without running back and forth!

Wifi isn't an earth shattering feature, and I can live without it, but I do see some practical uses for it...

Kirk Tuck said...

Carefully considered images? On the little screen on the back of your camera in broad daylight? Hmmmm. Maybe not. I think the schism that I'm seeing in this discussion (not just you Brad, but everyone) is that this blog reflects my opinions as a professional photographer doing studio work and the primary use for camera wi-fi seems to be sending personal images to sharing sites and people's e-mail. Jpegs for Grandmothers are one thing but paid work for advertising agencies is another. And I can say that instant "send" isn't anything professional designers and art directors (outside of news editorial) are calling for. Ever.

Yes, it's nice to hand an art director an iPad and discuss an image you just shot but so many times were in the studio and the image looks tons better on a big, calibrated monitor attached to a computer.

The Samsung Galaxy camera which I tested for half a year had built in wi-fi as well as built in cellular data. It was set up to constantly stream images to my Dropbox folder. All I ended up with was a stuffed and overflowing Dropbox folder from which I downloaded relevant files and edited....you guessed it....on the desktop. With PhotoShop.

I know that family appreciates shared images of other family members but the other 95% of what gets "streamed" is "streamed" in my opinion, just because it's possible. It doesn't move the bulk of photography forward by any means. Unless you believe what I wrote about photography transitioning from a artifact based art form to a consumable like a Big Mac. But I did want to start this dialogue because......ashamed to admit.....I'm not always right.

James Shackleton said...

Hi Kirk,
I haven't trawled through all your readers comments - but still I'll have a go.
In-camera wifi is handy when you are travelling light and want to post to your blog (or send a quick pic to a relative) without using a laptop. My iPhone can suck the image off my camera and then post it using cellular or wifi. Strangely this is almost painless with my Powershot N.
Just a suggestion...

Anonymous said...

My son and I recently watched a cheap quadcopter drone video that was highlighted on a news web site. We also watched a promo video by Perspective Aerials which specializes in quadcopter aerial professional video production. coincidence, but we did end up talking about wifi, quadcopters, and potential "creep factor" especially in relation to loss of privacy and what unscrupulous people ("Paparazzi)might use this technology for.

Michael R

Kirk Tuck said...

We are so in love with technology. We are relentlessly giving away our rights of privacy and autonomy in return for mindless convenience. Just wait till GPS dots are ubiquitous and we can monitor everyone's location at all time.

And what about GPS spoofers that can be used to send false location information to airlines, boats, weapons systems, etc. How long before our relentless thirst for location services makes us a prime target for a more advanced type of terrorism?

Contrast in outlook. Some see all technology as good I see that it all has two sides, the marketing/control side and the frightening destructive side. Never forget that GPS was invented for military use first.

Kirk Tuck said...

To all of my readers who are so enamored with the "ease of sharing." Sharing is already to easy. The thing we need an "app" for is more editing. Tighter editing and less noise.

Your octogenarian grandmother won't mind waiting a couple of hours to see the photos of your family trip to Disney World. Believe me, she's probably got better things to do.

Have you ever thought that the use of sharing might just be a desire to control content for other people? Hmmm. Interesting topic for future discussion. Sharing as mind control or as top of mind familial power struggle politics.

Andrea said...

Using the E-M1 thetered via wifi to my 10" Android tablet is a neat way to take studio shots...

AtomicP said...

The whole idea of Wi-Fi equipped devices is a sign (to me) that the camera manufacturers are in a race to catch up with the proliferation of smartphones and the habits that go with them.

Imagine the new camera buyer who currently uses a Wi-Fi/3G/4G connected smartphone and is used to uploading their photographs instantly to InstaFaceTwit. Buying a "proper" camera without at least one of these connectivity features is going to be a stretch for some people. They might have to learn a new workflow (Lightroom-->export-->upload). In other words, barriers.

Manufacturers are trying to remove barriers and smooth the upgrade move from smartphone to DSLR/Mirrorless.