A Call for Connected Cameras

Posted in Photography by Nathan Lee Bush on November 30, 2010
A Perfect World: Web-Connected Cameras

A Perfect World: Web-Connected Cameras

Imagine you’re a photojournalist shooting a big concert.  The band has great showmanship, the lighting is perfect, and you’re happily snapping away. In the back of your mind, you’re imagining how good these will look on your website or blog. Suddenly your camera locks up and the screen informs you that the Compact Flash card is corrupted. You continue shooting with a new card, hoping your card reader will at least be able to salvage what you’ve got.. but your work is gone.

Or imagine you’re on vacation traveling around the UK and France. Everything you see is new, and you’re hoarding each moment for later sharing. Except the later never comes. When you get home a few weeks later, you’re too busy to share your images and video on your blog or Facebook or Vimeo, and besides, where would you start? You took thousands of shots. Eventually, a year has passed, and it just seems weird to post something that felt relevant a year ago, but now feels after-the-fact.

I speak from experience. Both of these unfortunate scenarios have happened to me.

Now imagine things were different. While shooting the concert, you take comfort in the knowledge that your camera is silently sending your images to the cloud over wifi or 3G as you shoot. When your card fails, you shrug and enjoy the rest of the show, knowing that you’ve got gold waiting for you on your FTP. Or, while on vacation, you can beam your best photos to Facebook or your Tumblr as soon as you take them, with a description explaining the moment as it happens. Sure beats sifting through a few thousand pics when you get home, doesn’t it?

Right now photography is following the anachronistic model of a two-stage process. You take the photo and then at another point you develop it. Photographers generally produce body of work slowly, in this two stage process. In the New Yorker review of The Met’s recent show of Robert Frank’s The Americans, they describe his process:

It had been a year, more or less, since he embarked, and there was much to reflect upon. Luckily, he’d taken a few photographs along the way.

In fact, he took around twenty-seven thousand. There were more than seven hundred and sixty rolls of film to develop: an impressive tally, even to snap-happy profligates of the digital age. Then there were contact sheets to print and mark up; from those, he made a thousand work prints, which were tacked to the walls of his apartment on Third Avenue, near Tenth Street, or laid flat on the floor for closer inspection, before being whittled down to a hundred. The final count, from all those months on the road, was eighty-three pictures: enough for a slim book, which was published in November, 1958…”

Eighty-three pictures out of twenty-seven thousand! Surely a few more were worthy. Gary Winogrand left almost 300,000 unedited images, and more than 2,500 undeveloped rolls of film when he died, a tragic mass of unseen work. All of this because the second part of the equation was so much work. Would that have happened if he could upload to his Photoshelter or DripBook, or made a Facebook album, “other work”?

Still, as TechCrunch recently pointed out, while basic cameraphones have been wired for years to share images (ensuring that the number one camera on Flickr is the iPhone 3G), not even standard consumer compacts have any sharing built-in (a few cameras are designed with this, and seemingly only this, in mind).

Cameras are such a legacy technology, and photographers such habitual creatures, that the industry drags it’s heels when adjusting to paradigm-shifts. We remain trapped in the two-stage production mindset, where the image shot and then “made” in post, when most images not worthy of the portfolio can be shared immediately, without retouching.

Lightroom and Aperture have replaced the darkroom, and certainly the process from shot to print is streamlined, but the next logical step is to make sharing your images more immediate, more social and ultimately, more fun.


Nathan Lee Bush is a photo and video artist in New York City. His pictures are on his blog and site, and his videos are on Vimeo.


7 Responses

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  1. martel said, on November 30, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    I was just thinking about this very same thing a few weeks ago but I thought it needed to go further. I think that in addition to a wireless connection (wifi/3g) cameras could possibly be improved by a kind of basic api that could allow developers to add additional capabilities. (not the best example) Imagine if you could load hipstamatic on your next dslr or point and shoot and snap away instead of adding the effect in post. It seems strange to me that only the cameras in modern smartphones have this kind of extensibility and access to the myriad of creative software developers out there.

    • Anonymous said, on December 1, 2010 at 1:05 am

      You do realize that adding these type of capabilities to an SLR means more (and more powerful) chips, worse battery performance, and significant weight? And where is your data connection going to come from? Will you need a SIM reader (more weight) along with the radio? Will you need a monthly contract for this ‘feature’?

  2. jjd said, on March 23, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    The way to do this is not to put a SIM card and a 3G radio in your DSLR. You certainly don’t want an additional monthly wireless charge for each of your cameras.

    The way to do this is via either bluetooth or wifi. Many modern phones can allow other devices to connect to the internet via the phones’ bluetooth or wifi.

    Some DSLRs already have bluetooth or wifi radios.

    Make (say) wifi standard in DSLRs and use the wifi tethering option to post the photos via the user’s existing phone’s data connection.

  3. jamesr0012 said, on March 23, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I’ve wondered this for a while and am currently working on a job that will require instant relaying of images from camera to screen, which is currently a clunky process when compared to the ease which smart phones can perform such tasks. I’m sure dslr’s will eventually have the capability, it’s just a matter of when I suppose, and who does it first.

  4. […] have become subject to Moore’s Law as well. In this spirit, last year I made an impassioned plea for wirelessly connected cameras, so we don’t have to rely on our inferior iPhones and Androids to post a quick snap to […]

  5. […] representing Adorama Rentals, a f…Good question. We asked a similar one a while back on our blog:…I think it comes down to 1. why are high tech cameras largely bereft of wireless connectivity in an […]

  6. […] The GH3 joins the list of cameras that have Wi-Fi built in, allowing external control from iOS and Android devices. This is quickly becoming a standard feature in the prosumer market (we called for it a couple years back). […]

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