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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.