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Dallas

Why aren't camera makers thinking out of their boxes?

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Yesterday in one of the conversations here on Fotozones Dave (webco) brought up the question of cellphones and how they are not only killing the compact camera market, but also posing a threat to serious photography equipment. This, together with a brief scan of the ongoing and contentious Nikon D4s thread over on Nikongear.com has got me thinking a bit about how cellphones might be able to play a bigger role in serious photography as we forge into the future.

 

This morning I was out on a cycle ride along the beachfront here in Durban and I had my iPhone 4 with me (as I always do). It’s a glorious day here and I was seeing some interesting scenes that I snapped using this 3 year old cellphone. They’re not bad, but they’re far from being as good as the stuff I am seeing come out of the new cellphone cameras. The ones with 40+ megapixels and full manual controls, etc. When I snap these images I love to share them with my Facebook friends and it’s really easy using the Facebook app on the iPhone.

 

Anyway, the thing is no matter how big they make the sensor in the cellphone, or how much control they give you over the process of making the image, as a photographer I don’t think I would ever be completely satisfied with using just the cellphone. I want to try different lenses and different angles. Sometimes I want to look at a scene through a viewfinder, other times I want to use the Live View. There’s no way a cellphone is going to be able to give me that kind of versatility.

 

Or is there?

 

In reading some of the comments over on that D4s thread about how users avoided upgrading from the D3s to the D4 because of the XQD and SD/CF card issue, or the fact that it doesn’t have enough pixels for their needs, I thought to myself, how stupid are these camera manufacturers to not see the glaringly obvious path forward? Why aren’t they offering the option for users to customise their cameras in exactly the specification they want? If you can build a PC with different components, or spec out your own Mac with different video cards and quantities of RAM, why the hell can’t a camera be customised the same way?

 

If I wanted a camera with a D4 chassis, but with dual SD card slots, a built-in flash and wifi why can’t they make it for me? Why can’t the camera system be modularised in such a way that I can swap out parts myself? If I want a tilting LCD, or an optical view finder, what’s the problem? In the days of old we could change focusing screens, finders and even film backs on our cameras, but nowadays we’re forced to accept whatever model the manufacturer puts on the market. And that’s that. Trying to find the right camera for your needs is like a hit and miss affair.

 

Wouldn’t it be cool if somebody made a mirrorless camera that has an interchangeable sensor on it that could accept your smartphone as its “brain”? You simply dock the phone to the camera body and viola, you can now use whatever lens you want on that mirrorless body and let the phone do the processing. You can share your images on social media, or you can wifi them to your editing machine. Maybe even edit them on the smartphone itself. Why not? If they can put a 40MP camera into a cellphone now, why can’t they put Photoshop on the thing too? Instead of looking at the image on the phone screen you could use its built in wizardry and transmit the image to your nearest smart TV with a 4k screen and see your edits on there.

 

These technologies are already with us, but instead of thinking about modularity, and focusing on their strengths (optics and design), most camera makers seem to be trying to re-invert the wheel around their own legacy. Nikon are especially guilty of this. They stick to engineering around the F mount like to do otherwise would be heresy. It’s crazy.

 

If I’m honest the thing that attracted me to camera culture in the first place was the coolness of its modularity back in the day. Being able to change lenses, put on other things like finders and focusing screens, accessorise and in a small way almost make your version of the camera unique, was the cool thing that pulled me into this culture of photography. I only started to see photographically a few years after owning my first dozen or so SLR’s. True story.

 

So while the camera industry is going through its biggest challenges, I wonder if there are any executives left in the world who actually think beyond what the accountants are telling them? Are they thinking in a visionary manner the way Steve Jobs used to about products, or are they only searching for survival and being reactionary in the way they develop products? Shouldn’t the likes of Olympus and Nikon and Sony (to a lesser extent maybe) be thinking about building photography systems around smartphones? Why not build their own smartphones that work with their superior photographic solutions?

 

I’m picturing the day when I can create my own camera with whatever technology or optical solutions I want in it. I want to be able to choose my own sensor, my own skin colours, my own storage and processing solution, my own sharing apps built into it.

Why can’t I do this yet when all the technology already exists?

 


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An equally sensible alternative being the production of set form in the individual camera model, but many models of different spec and design, and pricing that doesn't require membership of the Top 100 Rich List to engage in.


A bit like Fuji are doing at the moment, or Olympus in a slightly different approach, with fewer models but more comprehensive spec. Or a balance between the two.

 

Using Fuji has meant that I can keep up again with the rate of technology change, whereas a D* Nikon body just about broke my back financially to update. Nearly AUD$7,000 every 18 months just for a body takes the fun out of it, just for the sheer amount of work you have to do just to pay for the camera body (let alone the lenses).

Edited by Alan

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I think Nikon and Canon don't innovate is because they really don't need to.  There are plenty of buyers of old technology because it's been ordained as being "professional."  They've monopolized that market which has created opportunity for fringe development (Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus).  There are so many myths in product marketing.  One of the oldest and most successful, especially in the United States, is that "bigger is better."  Also, people generally eschew change.  I'm definitely not an economist but the subject is very interesting.  I believe that part of staying youthful in mind is to embrace new ideas and change.

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I've read that Nikon has patented an interchangeable sensor. Not sure if it is true or not but I am sure there are a lot of ideas like this that just haven't seen the light of day yet. Unfortunately life revolves around economics today. Monetary gain is placed much higher than social well being and needs. So until a modular camera becomes economically viable I doubt we will get our wish.

 

I used to manufacture bicycles and that really opened my eyes to a side of industry I never knew existed.

 

As long as a camera can continue to give me control over shutter speed, f/stop, ISO, and Strobe sync I am a happy camper. 

Edited by timtodd

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What did you like about the phone-camera other than you were carrying it????

It's actually a poor camera.

Best one in your pocket -- but nothing to brag about.

 

And how did YOU get to customize that iPhone???

Clip on lens?  Instagram?   I suspect none.  

How does that satisfy your "modular camera" ideal?

 

Because it has connectivity you are willing to give up a ton of features.

Is this progress?   Really?

 

You compare HW from a company who can't do SW to a SW company that can't do [FLEXIBLE] HW.

Your iPhone is very static....same HW for its lifetime.   No upgrade possible.

Your DSLR gets new HW (lenses, faster & bigger memory) every year - and sometimes new SW.

 

Compare the HW SYSTEM the major DSLR vendors put out.

Dozens of lenses, multiple bodies, extra toys like filters, cable releases, tripod mounts, teleconverters and macro tools.

Nothing like this exists in the cell-phone world - where you get whatever imager and lens they want and don't tell you a thing about how bad they really are.

Would you buy a DSLR lens with >10% distortion?    Doubt it....but somehow that's OK with a cell-phone camera.

 

Because you can post a snapshot to facebook while out on the beach is no reason to call it a good camera.

 

You can wrap all the fancy SW you want around a $20 imager & lens .... it still preforms like a $20 camera.

I'm not buying.....

Edited by FredAzinger

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You can now mount Nikon and Canon lenses to iPhones. Sony is making  a QX lens for them now. Just visit Photojojo and you will see some amazing HW Systems for smartphones. At the speed technology is traveling I doubt it will be long before smartphones begin to equal DSLR's not only in accessories but image quality as well.

 

Smartphones are already being used to control cameras. I use a Triggertrap system for time-lapse and cable release on my X-E2. And I can send photos taken on my X-E2 to my phone.

 

Like it or not, smartphone companies are beginning to push the boundaries of photography.

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Ah...so what you want is an open system....

So OTHERS can add to the system.

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Hmmm. An open system wouldn't be a bad idea.

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You're misreading the article, Fred.

The smart phone is basically a computer. All cameras now have computers in them. Why not be able to dock your phone onto what is basically a shell that contains a larger sensor that will feed the data from the sensor to the phone? Once the phone has the data it can do what it needs to with it.

How much cheaper would it be for a manufacturer to make a camera without a brain in it? Want to upgrade? Just get the latest phone that docks onto that camera.

Why aren't the camera makers making those dockable, modular parts while the cellphone makers are stealing their customers?

That's the point of the article.

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I saw something like that in a kickstarter email recently - they were looking to develop a basic chassis that could have any amount of modules plugged onto it to provide phone, camera - whatever - all upgradeable by simply unplugging the relevant old module and plugging in the new one. Was about palm-sized to look at, about as thick as three phones with modules plugged in. Looked a bit like Lego, actually.

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Anybody here remember a little focus problem with a certain D800 camera?

 

The mechanical tolerances needed to get a good image is not going to happen in a "user configurable" situation.

The focus light path is shimmed on the production line to very demanding specs.

 

Look at how we now need to fine tune our AF to get rid of current variations.

 

User-Assembled (user configured) cameras are not coming soon - we can't attain the required accuracy.

Especially while pushing for higher pixel density.

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These problems may indeed afflict a DSLR, but the modern way will be no mirrors, no mechanical linkages, all-electronic couplings, so the tolerances will be tight in the manufacture of the connection interfaces, but once connected there is no reason that everything should not work perfectly. Electrons don't go out of alignment with repeated use.

Edited by Alan

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Anybody here remember a little focus problem with a certain D800 camera?

 

The mechanical tolerances needed to get a good image is not going to happen in a "user configurable" situation.

The focus light path is shimmed on the production line to very demanding specs.

 

Look at how we now need to fine tune our AF to get rid of current variations.

 

User-Assembled (user configured) cameras are not coming soon - we can't attain the required accuracy.

Especially while pushing for higher pixel density.

 

That's a Nikon DSLR problem that we see nothing of in mirrorless cameras with reasonable amounts of pixels in them. :D 

 

If they can manufacture a docking station to work with your phone they can manufacture one into a camera that has no LCD screen or  image processor on it. We used to put a cartridge of film in a camera, attach it to a pickup spool and we had no alignment issues with autofocus. Why would an interchangeable sensor be any different? 

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The engineers probably are escaping the box, but the accountants keep pushing them back in.

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Film and Digital are two different animals.

Can't compare the two in many ways.

Film was much more forgiving in mechanics....much worse in DR....

 

Pixel sizes are already at 2X the wavelength they are trying to capture.

Are your alignments good to ~2um?

 

That D800 focus problem is there in ANY system that uses a different focus mechanism/sensor that is NOT embedded in the imager.

There's a lot to be said for in-imager focus, but that's a Live-Vue only mode....something I'm not ready to goto 100%...something we don't have the battery capacity for.....

 

So your M4/3's are also assembled to demanding specs....

 

DO I want to carry DOCK's and such...no....DSLR's are very compact for what's inside.

Dock's and such don't make it smaller....

Dock's and such compromise the weather seals.

Modular systems are ALWAYS more expensive, heavier and bulkier.

Look at the "modular grips" we all buy.

If you integrate the grip, you save two metal surfaces, two connectors and the attach mechanisms.

None of these help your photos....all add weight, cost and bulk.

But -- we want to remove the grip sometimes, so we make the tradeoff.

Do I want the whole camera built this way --- if even possible -- no thanks.

Edited by FredAzinger

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Spoken like a true Nikon man, Fred! :) 

 

I have zero issues with the AF on the E-M1. It's been built around new technology, not around a 50+ year old mount and flappy mirror box. Sorry, can't resist!  :lol:

 

Imagine that there is no LCD at the back of your camera. Then imagine sliding your phone into that space. There's no added bulk because the other original bulk from the camera is missing. 

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Dallas,

I'm pretty sure your EM-1 has a focus sensor separate from the imager -- if so, it has the same alignment issues.

 

That LCD on the back of your camera weighs under 100g and is less than 3mm thick.

When your phone hits those spec's, I might be interested in your idea.......

Edited by FredAzinger

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Dallas,

I'm pretty sure your EM-1 has a focus sensor separate from the imager -- if so, it has the same alignment issues.

 

That LCD on the back of your camera weighs under 100g and is less than 3mm thick.

When your phone hits those spec's, I might be interested in your idea.......

The phase detect AF is integrated into the sensor on the Olympus OM-D E-M1, just as it is on the Fuji X-T1 and on the sensor of the new Canon 70D, which happens to have phase detect AF in the live view mode.

So, Fred, you statement about the AF in the E-M1 is false. Btw. I own the E-M1, so should know.

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OK - I stand corrected.

Does it have a shutter or not -- my guess is NOT.

Otherwise, you can't focus unless the shutter is open.

 

What generates the exposure timing then????   All electronic?  Then there's a rolling shutter issue (unless they spent big coin on their sensor and implemented global shutter, which I've yet to see in any big sensor)

I shoot enough fast moving objects (rockets) -- I need a real shutter.

 

In-sensor focus ONLY works in live-vue mode.

Constantly running the sensor...sucking power...heating it up....

Not good for your battery life.

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There are three ways of controlling the exposure on a mirrorless camera. 

 

1. Fully electronically, which means that there is no mechanical shutter. Supported my Nikon 1 and some Panasonic.

2. Electronic first curtain. The mechanical shutter only ends the exposure, which means that the readout is started on the imager and ended when the mechanical shutter covers the imager line by line. Supported by Sony Nex-7, A7. Also used in Nikon D70, D40

3. The shutter is cocked when you press the shutter release, and then the exposure is done the traditional way. This gives a little lag.

 

1. and 2. are the preferred methods for a tripod mounted lens, and in particular telephoto lenses, since the vibration problem is solved fully this way.

 

An EVF or liveview provides more means of accurate manual focusing than an optical finder does, through acuity, focus peaking and magnifier functions. So for the top notch Zeiss and Leica glass you want an EVF and alternative 1 or 2 from the shutter types, to fully exploit what these lenses can do. Same for many MF Nikkors.

 

Regarding battery life, get a couple of extra batteries and that problem is solved.  ;)

Edited by bjornthun

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I returned two Nikon D7000 bodies due to focus issues - one of them was even calibrated along with my lenses. I was told the high pixel count required better shooting skills.. maybe true, but the cameras was mounted on tripod during most of my testing. Then it could be focus shift.. I gave up.

 

Haven't had any of those issues with my X-E1 despite same high pixel count. I get nice sharp handheld results and AF is reliable - also fast enough for my use.

Edited by Lars
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I remember returning a brand new D7100 to the store I bought it from for the same reason: could not get sharp focus. I tried several lenses, tripods, you name it, it just couldn't produce what I would call an acceptable image. They said somebody else tried the camera and it was fine. I bought an OM-D and that was the beginning of the end of Nikon in my life. Yesterday I sold the last of my remaining AF lenses. I only have manual focus classics left now.

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Nikon also intimated that the mess on my D600 sensor was expected as dust built up in normal use. I covered well enough what ensued in earlier posts.

I mention this because they sent me an email today asking for my feedback on the service my camera received when returned to them, something that simply confirms that they don't read customer emails.

They wouldn't have sent this if they had, I think.... :wacko:

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Going back to some of Dallas' initial questions:

 

I’m picturing the day when I can create my own camera with whatever technology or optical solutions I want in it.

 

My initial thought is that manufactures might view this concept as a recipe for nightmare support scenarios. So whilst Dallas quotes the Wintel and Apple PC's as an example, this glosses over the fact that Apple rigidly control the degree of flexibility they allow for both h/w and s/w (compared to Wintel). I think this is primarily to ensure the user experience more predictable and support more manageable.

 

But maybe the goal that Dallas suggests could be delivered by a new entrant that doesn't have the baggage of the incumbents?

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If you can change a lens on the front of the camera, why can't you change the LCD screen at the back and clip in a smart phone there? If a smart phone can dock to something like a Bose sound dock, why can't it dock to something like a mirrorless camera? 

 

If you can swap out a graphics card and even a CPU in a PC why can't you swap out an imaging sensor in a camera? 

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