Compact Cameras Go Android

September 12, 2012
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Convergence is a way of life in electronic gadgets. For example, still and video cameras have merged in the past 5 years. Another example, video cameras at the high-end may provide the next step up with 4000K movie images to draw upon for stills. But the real movement on the gadget highway has been from PDA to PDA+Phone=smartphone to smartphone+great single lens camera+apps. iOS  and Android phones and tablets  have become the all purpose consumer media gadget . This means supporting not just music  and   conversations in all forms [messaging, email, phoning] but also   picture taking +viewing, video taking +watching . The final magic ingredient is  programmed apps that assist  all of these activities.

The Smartphone/Tablet Advantages

Smartphone and tablets have made a real dent in compact camera sales with declines in both video and compact camera sales of 21% and 10% on tap. This is a deliberate smartphone and tablet strategy to improve camera performance and take share from other gadgets as seen in rapid camera improvements led by iPhone and seen in Nokia Pureview camera phone. The resulting camera capable improvements include:
1)top end smartphone and tablet cameras are more than good enough – with 8Mpixel, superior single lens performance, image stabilization, quick bracketing exposures, and wider ISO range;
2)top end smartphones/tablets do improved videography  with HD 1920 x 1280, 24-30fps, and 762×480 100fps slow motion video with image stabilization;
3)top end smartphone/tablets deliver improvements over compact cameras with bigger and easier to view AMOLED or hires LCD  screens, direct delivery to Cloud based storage or a variety of social media and on board apps to edit and refine images and video with intuitive touch screen operations ;
4)top endsmartphone/tablets offer the convenience of one device to carry and learn how to use with the ease of touchscreen operations and voice commands;
5)top end smartphone/smartphones have the benefit of telecom carrier offering much lower entry price for smartphones and tablets;

 

However, compact cameras have some natural picture and video taking advantages themselves. Taking the new  Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 as an example, here are some compelling specs:
1)Zoom lens with 28-100mm optical zoom vs no optical zoom for smartphones/tablets cameras;
2)faster fstop f/1.8  lens vs f/2.4 to f/2.8 range for  smartphones tablets means better low light and depth of field performance;
3)wider ISO range of 80-2560mm using multiframe noise reduction for better overall image quality;
4)larger 1″ image sensor using BIS-CMOS which produce larger [20Mpixels],  sharper, more color faithful, and less noisy images;
5)much wider photo imaging presets with 15 specialty shooting modes and 13 special image effects available;
6)face recognition and registration capabilities for portraits and social media sharing;
In addition many  compact cameras  now sport smartphone matching features such as GPS, WiFi, in-camera photo viewing and editing, stereo microphones,  and longer battery life.

Nonetheless, for compact camera makers smartphone’s picture and video taking/viewing has resulted in a serious encroachment on their territory. On Flickr, the iPhone 4 and 4s are the most frequently used cameras. The Nokia 808 Pureview is more a camera-phone with its 41Mpixel magic . So this reviewer has been recommending that compact camera vendors invade the phone space by providing touchscreen, WiFi  and 3G/4G connections.

Compact Camera Phones

Compact cameras have to go with smartphone featuress to prevent their products from becoming GPS gadget victims like Garmin and Tomtom which survive but with severly diminished prospects. Phone connectivity and apps smarts  provides compact cameras with full image/video delivery capabilities. This includes new camera controls, image/video taking extensions and new delivery options with social media or cloud uploading convenience to couple with their superior image/video taking features. Compact cameras would take away the current smartphone/tablet image delivery advantage. Also  apps could add serious photo-taking controls like bracketing, time-lapse imaging, noise reduction, and region/patch of light sensitivity. These apps extensions would accentuate the compact cameras image/video taking advantages.

To provide WiFi and/or phone connectivity the logical avenue would be to use the free and open Android operating system coupled with  powerful processors that have more than enough computing power while still providing good battery life. Compact camera makers will have to do this or get pasted by some phonemaker that adds a serious zoom lens accessory to their current phone.

Here is what this reviewer  would like to se in an  Android powered compact camera:
1)Latest Android OS [currently it is 4.1 Jelly Bean];
2)Support for both WiFi as well as 3g/4g online connections;
3)Smartphone screen size  with full multi-touch operations on Gorilla glass;
4)Use apps to enable special photo and video taking features – say time lapse photography, hdr image taking,, video slowdown or speedup, motor driven camera panning+swiveling, etc;
5)Use apps to enable special post processing features – video editing, panorama stitching in 2 directions; basic photo editing[cropping, exposure correction, sharpening,  color adjustments - all without layers and masks] coupled  with framing, multiple image compositions including contact sheet creation.
Well two compact camera vendors have finally gone Android and here is a summary of what they have on offer. One delivers on latest Android and support for  3G/4G. Both provide multitouch screen on Gorilla glass as big if not bigger than most smartphones  in total screen size. It is a welcome start – however, both have mixed entries in apps for advanced photo/video-taking and photo/video editing features.

The table belows details how much  compact camera users come out winners with the new Android Camera Phones.

Android Compact Cameras

Feature Samsung Galaxy Camera Nikon Coolpics S800c
 
Smartphone Features
Dimensions  128.7 x 70.8 x 19.1 mm 111.8 x  58.2 x 27.94
Weight 305g  184.3g
Operating System  Android 4.1 Jelly Bean latest  Android 2.3
WiFi Support Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band, Wi-Fi hotspot EEE 802.11b/g/n,
Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
WiFi Speed HSDPA, 21 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps or 4G LTE No phone connection
Messaging SMS(threaded view), MMS, Email, Push Mail, IM, RSS No
Connections BlueRay, microUSB, HDMI microUSB, HDMI
Display 4.8″ diagonal multitouch  3.5″ diagonal multitouch
UI suport multitouch with UI Wizard multitouch
Apps support Full Android, 500,000+ apps Full Android, 500,000+ apps
Processor 1.4GHz quad core ExyNos ARMv7 + Nikon Expeed C2 for graphics
RAMemory 1GB 512MB
Storage Sizes 8GB 2GB
Added Storage micro SD/micro SDHC/micro SDXC to 32GB micro SD/micro SDHC
Sensors Accelerometer, gyro, compass, GPS, GPS/GLONASS Accelerometer, gyro, compass, GPS, GPS/GLONASS
Battery 1650mAh Li-ion 1050mAh Li-ion
Compact Camera Features
Camera Sensor 1/2.3″, BIS-CMOS 16.3 MPixels 1/2.3″, BIS-CMOS 16.3 MPixels
Camera Features geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection, optical image stabilization geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection, optical image stabilization
ISO Range 100 – 3200 ISO 125 – 3200 ISO
Image Stabilization Yes Lens shift and electronic VR
Raw Image Support No No
Lens Mount No No
Lens Range 20.9X optical zoom, 23-481mm 10x optical zoom, 25-250mm
Lens f/stop f/2.8-5.9 f/3.2-5.8
Autofocus face and smile detection, autofocus light 9 point, face priority, subject tracking
Macro-mode Yes 4″ to infinity
Burst exposures 7 fps burst mode 3 shots at 8 fps
Self-timer Yes 2, 10 seconds
Flash Popup Xenon flash, AF light Yes, TTL auto flash with AF light
Screen size 4.8″ diagonal, 720 x 1280 Pixels 3.5″ diagonal
Screen Type 308 ppi, HD Super Clear MultiTouch Display 150ppi OLED with antireflection coating
Screen 2 Gorilla Glass 2, 16M Colors Stayhard Glass
Articulating screen No No
Multi-touchscreen Yes Yes
ViewFinder No No
Photo Modes 10 17 photo modes, 8 photo effects
Video 1920 x 1080 (30fps), 720 x 480 (120 fps) 1920 x 1080 (30fps), 720 x 480 (120 fps)
Video Formats MPEG_4, H.264 MPEG_4, H.264
Microphone stereo stereo
Speaker mono yes
Featured Apps SmartNight, Panorama, Video Edits, huge 3rd party Host of special apps, huge 3rd party set of apps
Price $ 633 ?? $399.95US MSRP
Available  4Q2012  Sep 10, 2012

First consider how the two cameras match against our 5 Android camera “wish fors”. The Samsung delivers the latest Android and full WiFi and 3G/4G connectivity while the Nikon has a much older version, 2.3, of Android.  Both cameras provide multi-touchscreens with Gorilla glass but the Samsung has a much bigger screen at  4.8″ diagonal  versus 3.5″ – the Samsung tops the best smartphones here.  Both Android cameras take advantage  of apps with more post-processing photo/video editing apps. Nikon appears to lead their special apps for camera control with added   photo/video taking features. But both Android cameras are able to draw upon a huge library of  Android album, display, editing and other photo/video apps.

But the bottomline is that for photo-taking and video taking capabilities the Nikon leads the parade. But neither camera has the range of features some would expect given the app opportunity afforded by the Android OS and the huge computing power available in both cameras.

However if we look at the leader in either  smartphone or camera features, then the Samsung Camera Phone has the most  green highlights indicating  that Samsung leads in a lot of key areas. More memory, much bigger screen, better optical zoom, and better f/stop rating. among others But perhaps the most important lead is in battery power at 1650mAh versus 1050mAh for the Nikon. However, given that  top of the line smartphones  have battery power ranging from a low of 1450 to as high as 3300mAh [and averaginga lofty 2150mAh rating]- these first edition Android cameras may be underpowered.

There are two areas where the Nikon clearly out does the Samsung. Lighter weight by a significant amount and lighter touch on the wallet. I am seeing a consistent $350 store price for the Nikon Coolpics S800C versus a conjectured $600++ price for the Samsung Galaxy Camera. These savings creates an attraction for the  Nikon which is hard to ignore.

However, there is no doubting the enthusiasm for the new Android Cameras. See theVerge and  Gizmodo reviews in the Resources below. Since this photo-bug takes a compact camera everywhere and all the time, let me echo my enthusiam – having apps available for my compact camera and instant connectivity for image delivery are big pluses before you even consider the multi gigabyte free Cloud storage being offered by both vendors. The move to Android powered compact cameras is such a winner in delivering useful features to the customer, expect this trend to continue for both compact and top-end SLR cameras.

Resources:
Engadget – Android Cameras :Could Samsungs gamble save the point and click camera industry
Gizmodo – Oh, please, please bring this Android camera to America
GSMArena
– Samsung Galaxy Camera detailed specifications
Major comparison of Samsung with Nokia 808 Pureview Camera   Phone
theverge – Android, apps, and Wi-Fi: why your next phone may be a camera

Final Remark: With this win in compact cameras, Google Android is rapidly becoming the gadget OS of choice. And it is a welcome trend. Because Android is Open Source it prevents the Windows or  iOS proprietary trick  or controlled upgrade  for monopoly purposes or delayed update in the case of bugs and security fixes  from being used by proprietary OS vendors  in the recent past. For example, just look at what Samsung has done with TouchWiz which is something that would be impossible in Windows or iOS. Now Android may be subject to some fragmentation (the price of Open, but it often re-assembles in the next version) or becoming more closed. However Android  is still well ahead of Windows and iOS+MacOS in terms of openness that is invaluable to end users.

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