An iCamera?


An exercise often taught to young designers to break their mind block, or to think "out of the box", is to envision their design problem being solved by masters of design. "How would your creative director do it? How would one of the legendary designers do it?" Just imagining someone solve one's design problem with his/her expertise or style is often enough to fill one's mind with ideas.

Coming to cameras or compacts specifically, one can't help but wonder if the camera manufacturers are currently going through a mind block. The variety and freshness of both form and function that one saw in compacts just a few years ago seems to have dried out (Thom Hogan's article at Thom Hogan's Compact Camera Challenge illustrates the point beautifully), and most compacts look and feel more or less the same; it's like you've seen one, you've seen them all. Upgrades seem a mere formality. Stereotypically speaking, 2006: More zoom + 1 more megapixel; 2007: face recognition + 1 more megapixel; 2008: wide angle + 1 more megapixel (if you know what I mean :). Sigma DP1, for now, seems to be an exception.

Coming to the point, do camera manufacturers or designers need to think out of the box today and get out of their mould? I believe yes. And a very simple thing they could do is envision an "iCamera"! If Apple were to make a camera, how would they do it? Knowing that Apple rethinks from scratch every product they make, a few things immediately come to one's mind:

- An extremely simple exterior design, very sturdy yet stylish

- ONLY TWO models to begin with: Say one with 24-120mm and the other with 35-300mm 'manually controlled' and image stabilized zooms with manual focus rings, followed by a camera that kills: a compact with a fixed 500mm f2.8 image stabilized lens :). All with edge-to-edge sharpness. (Some of this technology exists today) So in all, just 3 models! Yaay!

- 8gb of internal memory + slot for flash memory card, 12gb of internal memory for the 500mm model (This technology already exists)

- RAW (.DNG), JPEG and PNG image image formats (This technology already exists)

- iPod like control wheel driven UI (This technology already exists)

- Large, wide screen, hi-rez touch-screen display with very quick, simple and customizable access to menus, which—together with the control wheel—would provide lightning fast access to controls. (This technology already exists in the iPhone and many other cellphones)

- Large (4/3 perhaps or larger), class-leading sensor technology

- ISO 25-1600, no high ISO noise till 1600 but 'extra' noise could be added through a filter for those fond of "old world high ISO digicam or film look" (This would also reduce dramatically the number of "high ISO noise" arguments on camera forums... just kidding :)

- 10 megapixel (and not one more)

- SLR style viewfinder (and not EVF) + Live view

- 6 frames per second RAW capture in case of the 500mm model with extra-large memory buffer. 2 frames per second for the other two models. (this technology exists)

- Durable shutter with 100,000 shutter cycle (This technology already exists)

- The camera software would be coupled with Photoshop-like filters, which may include:
a) Automatic correction of lens distortions
b) Polariser
c) Hard and soft neutral density and graduated filters of varying intensity
d) Extra dymamic range, which would stitch two exposures of same shot into a high DR photo
e) Bokeh enhancement

- Lightning fast start-up and response time (This technology already exists in SLRs)

- Class leading battery life, say 600 shots with live view. (This technology already exists)

- A comfortable, rubberized grip. (This technology already exists)

- Weather sealed metal body and built-in lens (This technology already exists in SLRs)

- Built-in speedlight in the two lower models that would work with camera software to yield near-perfect flash photographs.

- Downloadable plugins and even softwares to enhance / add camera features. Developer tools to enable third parties to develop camera plugins. Here, the possibilities could be endless.... Eg: IR effect plugin, soft-focus portrait plugin, macro plugin and so forth

- Sync and updates with iPhoto through USB or Wi-Fi (just like iPod and iTunes)
Price: $999, $1199 for the 500mm model Yes, the above would be "Compact" or "Bridge" cameras. Please don't raise your eyebrows, just trying to think out of the box and into an iCamera! And no, this camera would NOT play music :).


Mayank Bhatnagar is a New Delhi and Jaipur (India) based Fine Art Photographer, Graphic Designer, and Illustrator.


Featured Comment by Bruce Mcl:
I think the camera business right now is very similar to the cell phone business. There is a herd mentality to the manufacturers. They introduce new features slowly and as a group. Each company is allowed to have a little edge in one area of performance. Nobody would dare make a camera that is all around better then competitors, that would break the gentleman's agreement.

Apple would take a hard look at two things: form and purpose.

Purpose: What is digital photography supposed to do? What is being done well, what is being done badly, and what is not being done at all? Certainly keeping track of photos is not being done well. Apple would have built-in GPS and wireless. The camera would be continually uploading photos to a server that organizes and cross references the images by date and location. The charging dock would have faster connections available, and perhaps have a hard disk built into it for photo storage. Think of a Time Capsule that's photography oriented and Internet capable.

The photo sharing web site and the photo editing and organizing software would be a big part of the Apple camera experience. Imagine a very tightly coupled Photoshop Elements and Photoshop Express, with tightly coupled Lightroom as the Pro option.

The form factor would be unique. The sensor and LCD would be horizontal at the top of the camera, which means a mirror or prism is involved. It would be held like a pair of binoculars, with very good gripping for both hands. To take a photo you would peer through the EVF. Optionallly you could hold at waist level and look through the LCD. I think high grade white plastic would be used for the case.

One thing the camera would do well is photograph people indoors. A dual direct and bounce flash would be involved. Apple would find a way to make the flash give a lower color temperature than the typical blue tungsten flash so that the flash lighting would match the existing interior lighting, instead of clashing with at like every other camera in the world.

As far as lens size goes, I think 30-300 would just about do it. I like a wider angle but let's face it, if you don't know what you are doing, wide angle photos can look goofy. Apple will not make a camera that makes the user look like a poor photographer. And even with IS, you are going to get a lot of blurry photos at greater than 300 mm. Unless you have a 50 pound lens of course.

Obviously Apple would include very good video capability, but I don't think that was part of the question so I won't go there.​
Originally published on the old Serious Compacts blog. Older comments can be found here: An iCamera?
Last edited by a moderator: