When Olympus announced its intention to sell its camera division last month, a lot of people were quick to blame smartphones. Specifically, the fact that people thought that phones were “good enough” in terms of being able to produce a photograph.
But what makes me scratch my head even more is why no camera company to date has actually embraced the smartphone era. Instead of playing against them, it’s time for them to play with companies like Apple, Google, Samsung and others.
Olympus had the right idea
You might remember the Olympus AIR. This was, as the company described it, “a new concept, open platform camera that pairs the sophistication of digital interchangeable lens cameras with the intelligence of a smartphone for SLR quality photographs.”
Imagine taking a camera lens and controlling it completely from your smartphone. It was perfect to travel with — as the setup was very small — and you were able to achieve high-quality photographs right from your smartphone. You could take advantage of advanced shooting modes like Manual (which, in my opinion, no smartphone has gotten right, yet) a better autofocus system, RAW capture and more.
The best part? Your phone didn’t have to be physically connected to the AIR (though you had the option for it to be). This meant you could literally get any angle you wanted with it.
But Olympus was before its time. When the AIR was developed in 2015, smartphones were just starting to make a dent into traditional camera sales. It was difficult to market for, and photographers balked at the product. Worse yet, the device suffered from connection issues. Olympus also didn’t have the amazing lens lineup that it has today.
Had this come out two years later and been perfected, I honestly think this would have been a game-changer in the market.
Is the Pixii the answer?
Recently announced, the Pixii is an APS-C rangefinder-style camera that connects directly to your phone. It sports a modern-looking body with a Leica M mount, meaning there’s already lenses out there that can be used with it.
Like the Olympus AIR, the Pixii gets rid of the rear LCD screen so you can control it completely from your phone.
But there are a few things that will undoubtedly hold this back. For one, it ditches memory cards and instead relies on an internal storage system. Two, it only has 11.1 megapixels, and is limited to 8GB of internal storage. For something that costs $3200, I’d expect much higher specs.
Camera companies need to bridge the gap
In today’s world, everyone from a tween to Grandma has a smartphone. They already have a camera in their pocket. So traditional cameras need to evolve with this, and start working better with smartphones. Here are a few things I’d like to see:
Better camera apps
This is a no-brainer. In every single one of the camera apps I’ve tried that are made by manufacturers, not a single one of them gets it. The apps are difficult and cumbersome to use, and super unreliable in terms of connecting to cameras. The apps represent their in-camera software — clunky, outdated and confusing.
Make an app that just works. Make it clear how to control your camera for stills and video, and offer all of the same functionality that the camera has. If the camera supports RAW, your app should support RAW transfer — period. There’s no reason why some companies still hold back from this.
If you’re not willing to better your apps, team up with a company that can. Imagine being able to control your camera with the Lightroom app on your phone — a kind of mobile tethering, if you will. That would be genius, especially because it’d be added to your Lightroom catalog across your devices at the same time.
Today, everyone wants to share images faster than ever. Make it so that it’s easy to do so. There should be a quick and easy way for my camera to connect to my phone’s internet connection. Then, make it easy to share images to Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and others.
This is one of the features Tony and Chelsea Northrup have said would be in their “dream camera.” While Olympus users especially love to hate Tony and Chelsea, they make a good point here. As technology evolves, so should cameras.
Make camera interfaces as easy to use as smartphones
There’s a reason iPhones have been so successful. They just work. It’s clear where to find common settings, and the interface is intuitive. Camera menu systems need to start following this lead. As much as I love my Olympus cameras, the menu system is one of the biggest pain points for the everyday user. The same can be said for menus from Sony and others.
Make it easier on your users. As camera makers you should want to encourage creativity, not have photographers spend time digging through menus trying to find that one setting that’s called something in one camera system, and something completely different on another. Smartphones are popular as cameras for a reason — they just work. And that’s what camera makers need to start embracing.