Is This Nine-Year-Old Camera Actually the Camera of the Future?

Is This Nine-Year-Old Camera Actually the Camera of the Future?

Many camera companies have tried and failed to introduce new, innovative technology to the camera market, but since the jump to mirrorless, have they finally figured out where things are heading?

Back when digital cameras first started coming out, the battle was based largely on image resolution. The bigger the number of megapixels, the better it sold, so no wonder camera manufacturers were cramming as many photosites on their image sensors as possible. The same holds true for phone cameras. Before things went smart, mobile phones were being sold on their camera resolution as much as their capabilities as a phone. It's not a surprise then that Samsung, a manufacturer of both cameras and phones, would put two and two together and produce one of the world's first mass-produced Android-powered cameras.

The Samsung Galaxy Camera had a 23mm lens with 21x optical zoom and in-built optical stabilization.

The Samsung Galaxy Camera was released in 2012 and on the face of it, offered nothing particularly stand-out from the rest of the crowd. The 16-megapixel resolution for stills was good but not the highest and it offered 1080p video, which other companies had been doing for a while, but the real magic came in how it was powered, by an Android operating system.

Android OS

Android OS meant it could be used much like a smartphone by allowing apps to be installed and used in conjunction with its camera features.

By combining the phone technology they had become accustomed to with the cameras they also released, the Samsung Galaxy Camera opened up a world of possibilities. Apps could be installed on the camera, making it a powerhouse when it came to editing. There was no need to connect up to another device with the Galaxy Camera because you could both take and edit shots together. But it didn't stop there.

You could connect to the internet through both Wi-Fi and cellular 3G connectivity for publishing content online in a matter of seconds. The only downside was you couldn't use it as a phone.

The Galaxy Camera also had a 3G cellular link-up and Wi-Fi connectivity, meaning you could also publish straight from the device, should you want to. That meant no going home, connecting up to the laptop or desktop computer, downloading images, editing, then reuploading to a site, as you could do it right there and then with the same device.

Disappointing Technology

While on the face of it, this camera was perfect for those on the go who wanted to remove a step or two when it came to getting images online and was well received among users, it wasn't exactly ideal for those more advanced in the photography game.It had no interchangeable lens system, a tiny image sensor, and limited on-board storage topping out at 8 GB with expandable memory limited to 64 GB with an additional microSD card.

While the Galaxy Camera had great aesthetics and functioned well, it didn't quite match competition when it came to tech specs when it was released nine years ago.

The camera captured 1080p video, which was good, but the rear screen was only capable of displaying 720p, so if you were trying to work on footage you had shot on the camera itself, you wouldn't be getting the full picture (no pun intended). Compare that to the resolution of an iPhone screen these days, with the iPhone 12 displaying at 2,532 x 1,170, and suddenly, the device that's specifically designed to capture photographs of high quality falls down.

In fact, many people were more impressed with the Galaxy Camera's phone-like features than the camera itself, despite looking and operating just like a camera. Just take a quick read of what Joshua Goldman from CNET thought when reviewing it back in 2013:

Much like the photo quality, for $500, you might expect shooting performance to be faster than an average point-and-shoot with a CMOS sensor. It is not.

Assuming you did an initial startup of the camera, it sits in standby until you're ready to use it. From standby to first capture takes about 3.2 seconds, mostly because of the lens unfolding.

Overall, the Galaxy Camera was a defining moment (alongside the worse example of the Nikon S800c), which looked to be the next move in digital camera trends. However, it was let down by the fact that despite having Android-powered insides and cellular link-up, it still couldn't make phone calls. Pair that with the fact it was in a clunky compact camera body, and you were looking at something that wasn't as convenient as today's smartphones. Every time, I would choose a smartphone over a camera with these capabilities, but as a photographer, I yearn for something that produces the image quality I expect from my camera at home with the convenience of a smartphone that can find the nearest coffee shop in a matter of seconds.

What Needs to Change?

Since 2012, there have only been a handful of attempts to revive this area in the camera market. Zeiss threw their hat in the ring with the ZX1, which aimed to address the issues concerned above, namely: an Android-powered camera that was aimed at professionals. It even had Lightroom Mobile so that you could edit to a high degree on the device. Yongnuo has also tried two or three times to get things right with the YN450, 450M, and their latest iteration, the YN455. But each camera has had its own problems. The ZX1 still had a fixed lens system and was expensive ($6,000). The YN450 line was also a good and more recent punch at the market, but with limited availability outside of China and an oddly paired EF mount in its first iteration, it never resonated with photographers around the globe.

Camera manufacturers are pushing in the right direction with mirrorless camera systems, opening up lots of exciting new avenues such as ultra portability and incredibly sharp optics, combined with responsive and blistering fast autofocus capabilities. However, the obvious next step is to mirror what the Galaxy Camera did back nine years ago and incorporate Android OS into the cameras, making it easier to shoot, edit, and publish on the fly. This, plus synchronizing up to a central image library through Lightroom (or your favorite image editing app) would make it much more useful, as you could then just pull up a few images on the laptop for a better view to make edits without having to download from a memory card. Also, an option to back up all images automatically in an Apple Time Machine style would be all you'd need to keep your images safe should something happen between camera and cloud.

Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

Jason is an internationally award-winning photographer with more than 10 years of experience. A qualified teacher and Master’s graduate, he has been widely published in both print and online. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014.

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These Android-powered cameras may provide some nice advantages for those who don't need to do a lot to their images, or those who just share and publish casually.

I just don't think that much high-end, fine art imagery is being edited and processed on tiny little devices like phones and camera playback screens. The real hard-core fine art photographers, who prepare their images for high level gallery showings, or for submission to very nit-picky, pixel-peeping agencies, I just can't see where the advantage would lie. I mean, if someone spends 2 to 5 hours editing each image on a 5K 27" monitor, then how in the world are they ever going to be able to do all of that intricate editing on a screen with a tiny little device? That just doesn't make sense.

There are far more people editing their pictures on phones than those spending 2 to 5 hours editing each image on a 5K 27" monitor. The former one are the target customers of Samsung.

Quite true. So this sure may become the best selling camera of the future .... but it sure won't be the best camera of the future. Not. Even. Close.

I agree. I think that what we need is:

1) better LCDs - higher resolution, higher nit brightness, great color gamut, great touch screen features, etc. The iPhone SE (smallest smartphone screen) is a great example: 1334x756 resolution (326ppi), IPS, P3 color gamut, 625 nits, true tone, fingerprint resistance, haptic touch, 1400:1 contrast. It's 4.7" which is way too big because the camera would have to be much larger, but I bet they could increase from the 3.2" currently in cameras like the Nikon Z6/Z7, Panasonic S1, etc. to maybe 3.5-3.8" without much size increase. The Zeiss ZX1 has a 4.34" screen.

That would help every photographer, not just those who edit in-camera.

2) Seamlessly connection via Bluetooth or something else to your smartphone with the ability to upload directly to Facebook/Instagram/Twitter etc. from the camera. Or at the very least to begin with, seamless ability to automatically send photos from your camera to phone without hassling with slow and clunky manufacturer apps.

3) Better in-camera editing tools and better JPEG options (like Fuji and Olympus). Fuji has their great film sims, Olympus has the best JPEG options like curve controls - put the HSL controls from the Olympus PEN-F in every camera. Then add features like shadow/highlight options (that can be done via curves too), clarity, vibrance, texture, vignetting, etc. Basically, the options you get in Adobe ACR or Lightroom, or Capture One. This way people can set up their own custom JPEGs to taste for SOOC uploads.

Fully agree on this, the LCD screens camera companies are using are embarrassing when you consider the cost of the average ILC camera when compared to a modestly priced smartphone and the screen it offers. There is also an argument for the processing power, although admittedly smart phones and tablets don't have the file sizes to deal with or the complex AF performance.

Yeah there's no reason we can't have nice high resolution, high nit, high contrast, good color gamut screens in cameras these days. The Zeiss ZX1 has one. The Blackmagic Pocket 4K/6K has an amazing screen, the best I've ever seen on a mirrorless size camera.

It's a big thing that needs to be fixed ASAP.

The bottom of the range Fujis has excellent screens too, the top end ones don't which is weird.

Hasn't this problem been solved by wireless transfer from camera to a smartphone or tablet? Once the image is transfered, it can be emailed, texted, edited, backed up on the cloud etc. You can use the phone for minor edits to share quickly, or access the photos from the cloud by computer for more serious work.

I wouldn't say that the problem has been solved, because the problem is that there is an extra, unnecessary step in the process that you describe.

Cutting out one step is freaking huge in today's mainstream tech culture, where most people want to do things as quickly, easily, and seamlessly as possible.

For those who want to do things rapidly and easily, why would they settle for transferring photos from the camera to the phone, and then using the phone to share and upload ..... when they could just share and upload directly from the camera itself?

Exactly (see my above comment).

And to add to the above comment, you could also have options in the phone app to not just receive the files, but automatically upload them. Or it could be done straight from the camera, though I'm not sure how Facebook/Instagram/Twitter etc integration options like that can be done in-camera without a more sophisticated (meaning slower, bloated, battery hungry like the Zeiss ZX1) operating system on the camera.

Yes, and instead of building this functionality into the camera, build it into an attachment (like a battery grip) that screws into the bottom of the camera body. The is a real profit opportunity for the camera manufactures and if a photographer doesn't want the functionality, no problem, just don't buy the grip and save several hundred dollars. Photographers with multiple similar bodies could move the grip from body to body.

I'm not sure what extra step is so "freaking huge". I have a Fuji x100v and a Pixel 4a phone. Once paired, you can choose to auto-transfer either full size or a 3M version to Google Photos, or choose to manually select which photos you want to transfer after the fact. Once the images are on Google photos, which can be done completely automatically, you can edit, share etc. to your hearts content on the phone or whatever device you deem necessary. The only extra step required is the initial pairing of camera to phone.

The camera shortcut on my Galaxy S21+ lock screen (lower right corner) opens the camera almost instantly... just slide left.

There is a similar shortcut on the iPhone, bottom right, press the 'button' down and it opens the camera in a fraction of a second.

As an owner of the Samsung Galaxy camera I can assure you it is not the future. No photographer wants a slow start up time, rapid battery drain, and lack of physical controls.

You literally had to navigate menus on a touch screen to change shutter speed, apertures, and ISO.

Samsung even made an Android powered version of their NX mirrorless camera and it flopped.

Let's not forget the lack of updates, can't even install Facebook on those cameras anymore.

I’m a retired amateur. I love making images and editing/improving them on 24” computer screen. Increasingly I find my iPhone is there when I need it, is reliably quick to capture a fleeting scene and delivers large enough prints. My future camera would be more like what Sony is doing with its Experia. I can live with a fatter phone as long as it’s pocketable.

Its idiotic that that Cellular connection is not built in to Pro Level cameras. I was hoping one of the big 3 would just do it and the rest would follow.

I just want a Fuji X100 type camera (for travel/casual use) with literally no screen or buttons that your phone clips into and runs everything. People already invest a lot in phones with incredible screens and processing power. All you need is the camera element. Software updates could continually improve the experience and maybe even tap into the power of AI like the iPhone’s built in camera does.

DxO built such a camera. The DxO One. It bankrupted the company. Strangely the camera itself is pretty good, I have one bought from remainder stock. Of course it didn't fit that well on the end of an iPhone (makes me worry about my Lightning port) and there were battery issues (instead of using the iPhone battery it had its own battery which is also what made it too heavy). Could be done better, but people were not exactly jumping on an APS-C sensor added to their cameras.

You don't want something instable (from security prospective) into your camera. You could get hacked by North Korea - or worse.

What makes you think an android-based camera would be any more susceptible to security hacks than android-based phones?

If people are okay with the level of security on their phones, then they should and would be okay with the same level of security on their cameras.

Cameras actually have LESS sensitive data on them than our phones do. Our phones have all of our photos, plus a whole lot more, whereas our cameras have our photos, and not much more.

I think the future of novice to mid-level consumer cameras is a modular solution with a lens mount and sensor module that wirelessly communicates with its connected smartphone. That module acts as the front end while the smartphone acts as the image processor and monitor. Designs would allow both to be physically snap together to connect and act and feel like a real camera but with the large and bright monitors seen on contemporary smartphones. The pieces could be unsnapped and the user could choose to shoot photos with the phone alone.

Don't mistake this for the auxiliary lenses that simply clip over the phone's lens. The user could select from a variety of lenses. I think the micro four thirds would be a perfect format because it's small and, more importantly, it already exists and is proven.

This design already manifested itself five years ago in the Olympus Air but contained too many flaws to gain a following. I think in 2021, the tech exists to make this viable.