I laughed my ass off when I saw the camera Zeiss was proposing at Photokina. Don't these manufacturers ever learn from each other?

The Samsung Galaxy NX. How many hundreds sold worldwide?

I laughed and laughed when I saw what Zeiss was proposing the build. It's a camera with a fixed lens, a huge screen on the back and the ability to run apps like mobile Adobe Lightroom right on the back screen of the camera. If I read the promo material correctly it's based on the Android operating system...

Can you say, "Deja Vu?"
I sure can because I was part of the crew that tested and shot with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera. It featured a big and bold screen on the back. It ran Android's Jelly Bean implementation. It could run many apps. It was the most connected camera of all time and included: Bluetooth, Wi-fi, and full on Cellular connectivity. It even did the Zeiss pipe dream one better by providing an interchangeable lens system that could take advantage of some really well made and impressive lenses. But it was one of  the biggest camera failures in recent history and, in my opinion, was a strong component in Samsung's decision to exit the camera making market altogether. Be careful Zeiss. Be very careful.

Why did it fail? I'm sure there were as many reasons as their are photographers with opinions but for me it was all about actual usuability. Since the camera ran a consumer operating system with many installed apps (feature or sabotage?) it took a long time to start up once you hit the power switch. On the first samples we're talking as much as thirty seconds from switch flick to useable. If you had cellular enabled and you didn't change the default which asked the camera to look for software updates upon resuscitation you could doom yourself to longer waiting periods (with little or no recourse) as the camera downloaded and installed the usual patches and crap. Nuts to you if you saw a scene with Lady GaGa and the Pope making out on main stream with UFOs landing in the background ---- you weren't going to have a camera that would take photographs until your Galaxy NX finished downloading and installing the latest rev. of Angry Birds. 

So, if you have a camera in which the controls are apps and they are embedded with communication apps and gaming apps you just got yourself a menu that makes the Olympus OMD menus look like, "See Jane run. Run Jane run." I made notes. They hardly helped. And I guess I should have expected it because every software update meant new application icon positions and permissions. 

And while the IDEA of a really big screen sounds enticing (yes, you could probably watch a movie on Netflix on your flight home from wherever) it's a shitty idea on many levels; or at least in the levels that have anything do to with taking photographs. 

I'll admit that the screen was nice when shooting stuff in the studio but only until you experienced one of the (regular and frequent) OS crashes and had to restart. Again. And Again.

But shooting out in the streets you quickly realize that the screen is for shit in bright sunlight ( and will be equally or nearly as bad on the Zeiss --- no matter what the sales brochure says.... One Million Nits....!!!!!) and all the money spent on the big rear screen meant scrimping and saving on the low res and slow refreshing EVF. You may think you love doing everything on the rear screen because you are young and stupid and don't know any better, having cut your teeth holding a phone out in front of yourself like a dolt, but when you start photographing with intention you discover how important and enabling a good eye level finder can be.... That's why we don't use twin lens reflexes or view cameras anymore. 

I hope Zeiss doesn't scrimp on the EVF, it will kill the camera before it hits the local Hermes shop. Perhaps they'll stock them at Gucci as well....

Thom Hogan and some small handful of tech-y photographers constantly pine for massive interconnectivity but I'm betting that when they get a bad taste of the distraction and cumbersome nature of their phone, laptop and camera having sex and giving birth to a Frankenstein-ish all purpose appliance they'll want to go back and edit out everything they ever wrote about wanting to process images on their cameras and then uploading them to the millions and millions of buyers who are, in their imaginations, just waiting for their photographic produce to come banging over the bandwidth to their (tiny phone) screens. Multi-Tasking is just another conglomeration of words that essentially means, "I like the gimmicks more than the art. I can't concentrate on one task for more than a few seconds. And, everyone wants to see my stuff RIGHT NOW. Even surgeons pause their procedures just to take a gander on their phones of someone's latest ferret foto)

I can see it now. Legions of people misled by false technology messiahs spending Frustration Fridays uploading a new version of Lightroom to their camera. Uploading new versions of Android to their...camera. Playing Angry Birds and  Candy Crush on their cameras.  Waiting for their cameras to reboot so they can catch the last few moments of the asteroid that is about to decimate the planet. 

Me? I'll laugh and photograph them slamming their new interactive, interconnected cameras down on the hard concrete in frustration as they come to understand that real creativity requires real, undiluted attention and focus. Yeah. A one tool per job mentality. It's why we don't have Sporks in Michelin star restaurants. Multi-tool camera clutter is why Zeiss's latest grasp for the gold plated ring will result in abject failure. 

I'd go the other way and make a camera with three controls: Aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Everything else we'd handle in post. It's true. If you don't believe me go find a Samsung Galaxy NX and give it a whirl. Yes, I can write this because I used one for a year. And yes, I'd never buy another camera like that again. Even with YOUR money. 

Most photos above: Berlin 2013. The launch.


ODL Designs said...

Wow. Harsh words Kirk, but innovation has players who are too early to the game.

Let me ask three simple questions:
1. If the system didn't take 30 seconds to start up, or if we could 'sleep' cameras like we sleep phones would start-up time be an issue?

2. If the screen was large, but the evf was better would it be a problem?

In other words, if the problems on the model you used were not on the Zeiss would it be bad?

Personally I love the idea of being in KSA (I am going in a couple of weeks) buying an inexpensive pay as you go sim while I am there and being able to share images with friends and family all from the same device...

Having said that, I think this would work better as an entry level style camera at a $600 pricepoint that all phone users would have no learning curve at all... I think to that market this is a good idea, but to the existing market, maybe not.

Gato said...

I am pretty much with ODL -- seems to me the problems you list are specific to the Samsung effort, not a reason to write off the whole idea. There are many times I'd like to have a camera with cell connection -- travel, walking around, even sometimes on real jobs to post or share behind the scenes or work in progress photos.

I am skeptical about serious photo editing on any size screen I'd want to carry around -- Snapseed pretty much does what I want in that regard -- but maybe it will work.

The question is will the camera makers do it, or will they wait until Apple steps in and takes another chunk out of their market?

Tom Barry said...

Kirk, I agree entirely with your suggestion in the last paragraph.

John Krumm said...

I don't mind the big screen, but I'm with you on the over connectivity and consumer operating system. If cameras have a brain-dead simple way of automatically transferring shots taken to a phone or iPad or computer, that's the only connectivity I need. As for menus on big screens, I like the way the Hasselblad menu looks on their new mirrorless.

Ilya said...

And there is more. They aim for connectivity and sharing. 40 Mp (or how much?) files? Who needs that if it's only for the Web? And who, out of those leading that "constantly sharing" life, that is, the younger population, is going to afford that particular camera?

Kurt Friis Hansen said...

I’m with ODL and Gato. If it connects to an iPhone (mine has 256GB) it will also connect to my iPad Pro 10.5 (512GB, both with a reproducible transfer speed of mixed video and images around 60+MB/sec on average for 40+GB data set over 802.11ac WiFi).

The screen quality is really, really good, and processing power is surprisingly robust. I use Affinity Photo and Designer on both iOS and Windows 10 Pro machines, and after a few days adjusting, I actually prefer to use my iPad Pro with pen instead of my Surface Pro 4 with pen. I can use the same files on all platforms (I haven’t bought licenses for my Mac, so I can only assume, it will work on a Mac too).

Now, that Microsoft has entered the cleaning business, it’s nice to have a solid alternative ;-)

I pre-edit UHD (“4K”) 100 MBit/25fps video and record/mix up to 96kHz/24bit audio on the iPad Pro. Often using my old and trusted iPhone 6 as recorder connected to “real microphones“ via USB output from mixer or digital front end. No analogue audio connections to my „iPhone 6 recorder“ in years.

It’s far less of a hazzle, than doing the same on my Windows gear while traveling. I’m amazed how much sheer muscle my iPad Pro can muster while editing, cutting etc. It takes a bit of adjusting, but suddenly you forget, that you’re actually doing serious pre-POST grooming or selection work on a not so lowly iPad Pro virtually anywhere for as long as your power(bank) will allow. With finger(s) and pen instead of keyboard (I tend to name files ;-), mouse and pen.

If you add App’s like FileBrowser Biz you can also use targeted sync from albums/folders on your iPad to any cloud service or local/remote SMB/WebDAV/FTP server anywhere in the world or at home. Or a travel router with connected SSD or HDD for an extra backup generation or two.

When I connect my camera SD card (via SD adapter) or my iPhone (even via USB 3 adapter and standard charge cable) to my iPad, I can transfer any image (raw, jpg etc) and video sequence I have encountered into a targeted album on my iPad. 500GB or thereabouts also goes a long way for backup during travel. And should I need to use a cabled Ethernet connection, I use my trusted Gigabit to USB3 adapter (same as used with Surface Pro 4). It works with any iOS gear since my iPhone 6 still going strong after around four years and just recently updated to the brand new iOS 12.0.1.

If a "real camera" will play along, why not? And Zeiss seems to be the only option currently. It may not be for everyone, especially price-wise, but it certainly is a nice fresh wind in the “miffed” (?) and not-invented-by-us traditional digital camera circles.

Just to limit the worst excesses from the Android fanbois: I’ve used Android since the original Samsung Glaxy Note until HTC 10, but… ahem… I like security and other updates, that are more than rare in the Android scene. In addition to most Android devices “lack of sheer power” ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk, thanks for posting your experience with a similar camera. I see this more as a concept camera. Lots of interesting design changes, maybe not so well fleshed out.

Couple of thoughts:
- memory: is it an improvement to have internal memory & fast transfer, than to have to faff around with memory cards, readers etc?
- relating to that is buffer limit. I don’t have enough experience with a range of cameras or shooting styles to assess whether current digital cameras are limited by buffer due to file size & write speed, and if internal memory solves a problem. Presumably scenarios such as sports shooting might be, but then this model doesn’t have the right lens :-)
- segue into focal length. If Zeiss made a few cameras with fixed primes & zooms, wouldn’t that mirror the way people shoot - multiple bodies with a particular lens attached, rather than stuffing around with one body & multiple lenses?
- having an OS in a camera. Your point about software updates is easily remedied by having the user choose when to take OS or app updates, as smart phones currently do. However, it is another device that requires ‘managing’, in terms of; regular back-ups in case of technical problems, needing to create restore points prior to applying updates etc. Also, as it is connected, it’ll need security to prevent it being a back door risk for malicious software.
- customer support, if there’s a software problem, who to go to to fix it. I doubt that camera vendors would be keen on that? And risk of finger pointing between camera maker, OS owner & app owner.
- redundancy by software - seeing it with Apple now. Latest iOS doesn’t support older models, so can expect the same with a camera using smart phone OS. The software will likely make the camera redundant before the hardware gives out.

As I said, some interesting design changes, but I think the design thinking needs to be more fully fleshed out.
Not THAT Ross Cameron

Nigli said...

This is something that I really wish I could like more. We have a small business and of course we advertise on social media: Facebook and Instagram, mostly. It would be great if there was a simple solution for us to use our non-phone cameras (my wife and I both have Fujis) for well, whatever shot we chose to take, for any number of reasons: better control of white balance, depth of focus, angle of view, dynamic range, whatever.
On another note, and this is not what I'd need: I just don't feel the connectivity is there yet, in the broader environment, for transferring huge files ex camera at speed. I might be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Samsung in their NX line did few things ahead of its time e.g. touch operation (best I've seen so far) or button on lens to change sxposure settings.
Sooner or later these innovation, initifally laughed upon photo community, made its way everywhere.
I believe connectivity will make it too.
Do I need it? Not at all. But some do, more in time. This is a convergence of mobile phone and camera, unavoidable trend. Give it 10 years and you may find yourself strolling with mobile phone with evf, selecting lens from user menu (now 50mm with bokeh like canon 1.2, next 35mm sony zeiss).