In-Camera Wi-Fi: Illustrious Future and Some Minor Flaws Today

Mon, Jun 30, 2014   02:39 PM

As cameras with built-in Wi-Fi units are not available in big quantities until recently, the technology of wireless transfer itself was existed a long time before, through external modules or  Eye-Ficards. But in modern times a camera with Wi-Fi looks not like a strategic marketing move, too. It seems strange as mobile phones equipped by Wi-Fi modules, for example, were true hit of a time when these units appeared. Ten years ago, a phrase like “Not to mention about this cell phone but IT HAS WI-FI!” can agitate a lot of users. But photographers dreaming about their perfect cameras are somewhat proof to this syndrome. By what?!

The answer is obvious; as a smartphone or laptop are devices designed primarily for receiving information, any camera is a tool for creating it (or, more precisely, for changing the information collected from a world around to more packed and refined abstract form). As we want to eat more frequently than to raise food, we want to see this refined information more frequently and with much more comfort than to create it. Devices assigned to deliver sensory impressions for us must be more independent from situation and extra units than devices assigned to work (and somewhat hardly) for us. So the module making a tablet or laptop a paragon of comfortable usage likes not a much necessity for a tool in our workshop. (For those people who like cameras as “gadgets”, not tools, Wi-Fi modules are still a very nice addition for daily life with photo, right!)

But over time in-camera Wi-Fi goes to user needs step by step. The roots of this move are ever-growing extension of wireless networks, new touchscreen-type applications having more control over the camera using Wi-Fi, public conscience rating adequately the role of backup and increasing popularity of social networks. The abundance of CSCs and enthusiast-level compact cameras, designed more as computers than as classical mechanical cameras produces a few more demand for Wi-Fi, as the wireless interface is one of key features for any modern portable digital device.

This article is my humble opinion about modern Wi-Fi in-camera functions and tendencies. I want to know why all we are not entangled or charmed when a new camera equipped with Wi-Fi released; why three of four customer are shutting down the existing Wi-Fi… and, to be honest, why for us the photographers a mechanical “Leica” and C-41 process are much more “photographic-like” than modern digital technologies? What we are thinking about Wi-Fi, and why we are thinking so and not any other way?!

The Path of Remote Control

Idea of using touchscreen-powered devices for controlling modern cameras remotely seems amusing. But any typical human has no more than two arms and hands, and both hands are necessary for working with sensor-screen units. As a result, the camera controlled must be fixed on a tripod, on a gorillapod, or lie on something, or, for example, be in hands of photographer’s buddy (and, of course, the importance of shooting session is equal to the stupidity of this particular buddy in this particular time). You may have a little bit of fantasy to observe results and, sometimes, casualties of this approach!

The pro or semi-pro videography is a completely another matter, anyway. For the videographer, camera and all the devices connected to it are more or less firmly fixed in space on a special platform or, for mobility, on a specialized body-strapped gear. It is a cool, stable solution. But the usefulness of Wi-Fi in such constructions is at least dubious, as all the devices are placed tightly and can be connected with more reliable and fast wired interfaces without a problem.

The next type of remote control often used for shooting in a military style: from the ambush or concealment, from the distance using the closed position for photographers and so on. But the efficiency (I don’t speak about morale or legal norms, though!) of this method can reach a peak only when the camera mount is controlled from the same device as the camera itself. In a brave and bright future when cameras will be mounted on a gear of Mk.15 Phalanx, the Wi-Fi control seems to be more successful method than traditional wired scheme.

Another specialized area of using Wi-Fi to control the drones equipped with cameras completely misses the goal of artistic (and, in most cases, documentarily) photo. I will not to analyze such methods due to the obvious moral and legal dubiousness of this form of photography. If you drink Martini with vodka, mixed but not shaken, if your friends have names from just one letter and if your car is a newest Aston Martin, let your neighbor the Q explain the features of remote Wi-Fi control of photo drones for you!

Backing Up from the Distance

Some years ago a wild buffalo eats my friend’s compact camera when we’re hiking in Southeast Asia with an ichthyologic expedition. The she-buffalo was unaggressive, silly and radiates benevolence, but the Nikon P5000 forgotten on a grass near the camp was transported to the buffalo’s belly. It seems like a joke and feels like a tragedy! The unique collection of photos taken in a heart of Sphaerichtys osfromenoides biotope was lost forever in a damned buffalo’s paunch!

Nowadays when I remembering this cause I thinking all the time that if we were have Wi-Fi, we were be able to retrieve these data from the belly of the beast! So more, we were be able to back up these photos more often than we can do, surrounded by the hordes of mosquitoes and having only mud-covered wired interfaces on hands. Any time after that I think about a water-proof camera equipped with Wi-Fi when I stay amidst the wet and misty, Dagobah-like jungles. (Yes, Canon 6D. It is a great cam. But my Nikon D800 and a backpack full of Nikkor lenses will protest against any my attempt of treason!)

But in a most sterlie and comfortable urban conditions the ability to backup photos using Wi-Fi is a cool thing, too! Firstly, the card can go to malfunction any time (this is a cause justifying using of two slots in a sort of RAID1 mode in most pro-level cameras). Secondly, it is a great option to take a shot and process it immediately. The third thing to be mentioned… oh, well. Any user can find one or two methods for using Wi-Fi modules everyday. You can, too.

So the possibility of quick backup is a major advantage provided by in-cam Wi-Fi. If the crew of Handy Backup will made their Android client in the nearest future, for example, then the wireless link between a smartphone and camera will be a most useful option for me. Delivering and saving shoots remotely is a sweet dream for everyone having at least one day of shooting in action!

Social Networks and Publications

Publication of photos can be a sort of backing up, but as much important is a second type of this process, the quick sharing of information.

I’m not a pro shooter but I have heard many, many stories about the journalist’s life when a second or two is crucial for delivering a hottest news to readers. The World‘s Greatest Photo of This Hour can’t wait! A momentarily taken shoot of a piece of Armani’s future season model or a picture with a victorious fly of last ball passed from Brasilian forward to the empty gate of Argentina must be delivered to the agency or posted to the blog as quick as possible. And the photographer lives literally on a point of sweep-second hand; shoot – unplug the card – drop to laptop – processing (if any) – call to editor – publication – copyright… The Wi-Fi module can’t stop all the terror of this process but allows optimizing it (as, say, can optimize it a good in-camera JPEG algorithm, too).

Publications in social networks is not as much demanding for speed as commercial or stringer sites, but many users are have need to place their photos quickly in their diaries. It can be very alluring to organize a barbecue and send invitations for all your friends expanding these bids with photos of meat on a grill. (The GPS module in-camera can be useful in a later case, too, for all your friends can find your exact location.) Some manufacturers, e.g. Samsung, are produced in-cam links with popular networks such as Facebook or Instagram, or with cloud storages for keeping and sharing photos. The next step is a development of infrastructure allowing the cheap and reliable keeping of very, very big volumes of phot content…

And What to be Done with In-Camera Wi-Fi?

To be honest, the functionality of Wi-Fi depends much more from the software services than from the fact of availability of in-camera wireless module only. The computing giants are much faster than the monsters of traditional photo industry on this way. As Canon и Nikon just only entered the field, in spite of a prolonged availability of Wi-Fi external modules in these systems, the might of Sony and Samsung seems not allowed now the mind-rigged control over the camera only.

But nonetheless, Wi-Fi is still unpopular feature among us the photographers. And what we are wait from in-camera Wi-Fi to invite this technology into our daily life as we invited media players, smartphones or gaming consoles before?

Firstly, cameras must learn how to save battery life when Wi-Fi is active. Modern compact-sized cameras have only about 300-400 shots per battery cycle using CIPA testing; the Wi-Fi turned on this modest amount can easily be decreased for 10-30% at least. Canon 6D, for example, has Wi-Fi and GPS modules not shutted down automatically when the camera power turns off; these modules can deplete the battery of «idle» camera for one week or so.

Another point of dreaming is the refined controlling apps for operating cams remotely via sensor-type devices. Ideal is a turret or tripod head linked to the camera and remote control device via Wi-Fi that can be completely positioned and controlled for using the tablet or smartphone as a big remote rear touchscreen. Oh, this brave future new world of cyber-linked paparazzi…

And nowadays, in-camera Wi-Fi is a bit more toy than the serious feature for all-day shooting. But many other things were look like so, from 35-mm film cameras to autofocus by contrast; somehow these things were toys, and now it is a mainstay of photographer’s life. I think in-camera Wi-Fi goes the same way, as any modern digital camera is a computer and our computers becomes more and more wireless. Now, the time will tell what the true is!

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