We all use apps (small applications) these days, whether it's on our laptops, tablets or phones. So why don’t cameras have them?
At the present time all cameras are closed systems. Their software is cut off from development or enhancement by anyone except the camera companies themselves. Many cameras have a serious number of processors and even more when you consider that many lenses include a processor or two as well. While many Canon cameras can be hacked with alternative firmware, all others are closed to us.
Imagine if you could install apps on your camera and there was a nice market of camera apps from which you could choose. How great could that be? Not only could third-party developers produce and sell camera-enhancing apps, but many photographers themselves would also have the opportunity to produce apps to do the things that they wanted to do.
I could think of many things to do with a camera app. How about developing an app that would really support HDR (high dynamic range) with seven to nine bracketed shots? What about focus bracketing for a depth-of-field increase? Want a histogram that reflects the RAW data, rather than the JPEG version? Want better black-and-white options in camera? And so it goes.
It would be best if it used an existing operating system, such as Android or Windows 7 Mobile, because existing experience with the software development kit could be used as a starting point. New frameworks (to use the language from iOS app development) would provide the API (applications programming interface) for the camera features,such as access to the AF sensor, exposure functions and more.
The result would be a touch-interface camera with a rich ecosystem of apps to enhance the functionality of the camera in interesting ways.
Once you start to view the camera as only one part of the equation, a small part of the whole workflow that includes computers, software, networks, printers and so on, the possibilities start to really develop.
Considering that many photographers already travel with a laptop or tablet, why not also consider a camera body that contains the absolute minimum of capabilities that Wi-Fi links to your other devices where the more serious work is done anyway?
As photographers, we are accustomed to thinking about a camera as a self-contained, fully functional device, capable of being used for extended periods away from any other equipment. Sometimes that is perfectly appropriate, but often it is not how we work in practice. Give photographers options and they will find new and exciting ways to take images.
At the moment, cameras are usually closed black boxes that do their magic but don’t allow us to influence how they work other than through the controls that the manufacturer has chosen to provide.
Let’s change this. Because we already mix and match other parts of the equipment and software in our workflow, why not do that within the camera itself?
The extreme realisation could be a camera that is just lens mount, sensor, viewfinder, battery and some buttons and dials. Inside is a Wi-Fi link to your tablet or laptop where the images are processed and stored. Taken to this extreme, the camera becomes just a terminal, and your interactions with the buttons are really just communication with other devices.
Depending on each photographer’s needs, such control devices could be a belt-mounted unit, fixed to the tripod, something stored out of the way in a weatherproof backpack, or a computer in the studio. If the camera is simply a terminal that communicates with other devices, it would be easy to extend the set-up to include multiple cameras, either at different locations, for different points of view, or to capture a higher volume of images.
Our experiences with smartphones have taught people that the device that holds the camera can do as much or as little as they want. They can just use it for capture, then play with their images later on their computers. Or they can use custom software to do as much of the whole process as they want in the device. Why can’t bigger, interchangeable lens cameras offer the same flexibility and power?
What are your thoughts on this subject? What types of apps or flexibility could you envision if cameras themselves were more open to modification?