Most any digital camera takes a decent picture under ideal conditions, bright light and no zoom. It's when the light is dim and the zoom long when cameras buckle under my demands.
This is the situation in which I take photos at conferences to illustrate my live blogging. Room lighting is dimmed to let the slides stand out, the presenters are moving about, dozens of feet away. And I want a great action pic, close up.
Earlier in Three reasons I can't stand my new Canon camera; three reasons why I love it, I wrote that a year ago I bought Samsung's EX2f camera with its incredible light-gathering f1.4 lens -- but then I found it did a poor job. Then last summer I snapped up Canon's SX500is as it was being discontinued, because it gave me a 30x zoom in a relatively compact package. I do love my zoom.
At last week's Bricsys International Conference, I finally had the chance to put the new camera and its dim f3.4 lens to work. The photo below is typical of the results I obtained:
Pretty amazing, eh? According to the picture's EXIF data...
So, now I love the SX500, despite its other drawbacks.
My new Samsung EX2F point-and-shoot camera has seven ways it can communicate over WiFi. Some are direct WiFi links, some are indirect:
Direct WiFi means that the camera communicates directly with another device, like an Android tablet or a smart tv. It's as if there were a USB cable or Bluetooth connection between them.
Indirect WiFi means that the camera communicates with the Internet via an WiFi hotspot, just like a laptop computer or Android tablet.
Since this camera does not run Android, it cannot be be enhanced with new apps. (Samsung has another camera that uses full Android, complete with touchscreen.) This means its indirect WiFi modes are extremely limited.
For instance, the Social Sharing mode works only with Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, and PhotoBucket. I cannot add Twitter, TypePad, or another social service I might prefer. (I don't use any of the four provided by Samsung.)
The same problem occurs with Cloud, where SkyDrive is the only option. (This is puzzling, because Samsung in January signed a deal with Dropbox.) I use Dropbox, but if forced to I can access SkyDrive through my wife's Hotmail account.
Users of the EX2F are at the mercy of the whims of Samsung's camera group. This sort of statement would have been unthinkable two years ago, complaining that "my camera can't access Dropbox." But that's how the technology scene changes, and how slowly camera design departments catch on.
Samsung's EX2F offers many WiFi modes, but none of them work on the camera while taking pictures. (There is one exception.) It won't transmit photos to my nearby laptop computer as I take photos at a seminar, for instance. I wish it would, and maybe a future update to the firmware will allow this. Or maybe the camera's computer architecture makes this function impossible.
Samsung EX2F WiFi Modes
Here is a summary of the modes available when the camera's Selector dial is set to WiFi:
WiFi modes displayed by the screen;
I reach a mode by pressing the camera's control wheel.
MobileLink - camera sends via WiFi selected photographs to an Android or iOS device running the MobileLink app
RemoteViewfinder - allows an Android or iOS device running RemoteViewfinder app to control the camera via WiFi; low-resolution versions of photos taken by camera are saved on the phone/tablet
Social Sharing - camera sends selected photos via WiFi to your Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, or PhotoBucket account
Email - camera sends selected photos to anyone by email through WiFi; it has simple built-in email software
Cloud - camera sends selected photos through WiFi to Microsoft's SkyDrive; it has a rudimentary built-in Web browser
Auto Backup - camera sends photos not yet copied to a computer running the Auto Backup software over WiFi; this function is also available when the camera is connected to the computer with a USB cable
TV Link - camera displays via WiFi up to 1,000 photographs on DLNA devices, such as smart tvs
In addition, I can assign one of these functions to the dedicated WiFi button as a shortcut.
Those are the options. I've used some of them, and so let me give you an summary of my experiences of (a) connecting to the WiFi, (b) using MobileLink and (c) using Remote Viewfinder.
Connecting the Camera to WiFi
Before the camera can do any of these functions, it needs to connect to a WiFi network. If I have not yet connected it to a WiFi netowrk, it displays a screen automatically from which I can pick from the networks available around me. See figure below, at left.
If the network is secure, I need to enter the password, which on this camera is as painful as using a remote control to enter text in a smart tv: pushing the cursor keys and then selecting individual characters from the on-screen keyboard. It is at this point I start desiring a touch screen model!
Left: Choosing a WiFi network from the camera's screen
Right: Entering the password, painfully (image credits: Samsung Ex2F user manual)
Fortunately, the camera remembers passwords. The next time I need to use WiFi, the camera attempts to connect to the most-recently accessed network. I find it is a bit slower than an Android in connecting to WiFi, about 10-15 seconds.
Using MobileLink and Remote Viewfinder
Here is how useful/useless I found the first two of the camera's WiFi modes:
MobileLink. After installing the MobileLink app on my Android devices, I start put the camera into MobileLink mode, and then start the MobileLink app on the Android. (The app refuses to run if the camera is not already in MobileLink mode.) After a half-minute or so, the two devices find each other.
The camera prompts me to select the photos I wish to send to the Android, or I can send previews of all photos and then select them on the tablet's touch screen. The files are saved in the MobileLink folder. A recent update to the app means that images are saved in full resolution, fortunately.
This system works alright, except that on tablets the software insists on running in portrait mode, which is annoying, because I always use tablets in landscape mode.
MobileLink software running on Android, as I view it
(I've blurred the faces of people)
WARNING The limitation to WiFi on most devices is that it can handle just one connection at a time. When MobileLink sets up the WiFi connection between the Android and the camera, the Android's other WiFi connection (to the Internet) is disabled.
This means, for example, that I cannot use Dropbox to upload photos via WiFi while the Android is connected to the camera. iOS devices suffer from the same WiFi limitation.
RemoteViewfinder. This app sets up a WiFi connection between camera and mobile device, just like MobileLink. While waiting for the two to connect, the following screen appears on the Android, and a similar one on the camera:
After the connection is made, the app lets me control the following functions on the camera (see figure below). From top to bottom, left to right:
Remote Viewfinder app running on Android
I could use this system to have pictures appear on my tablet as they are taken with the camera, but there is a serious flaw: the photos saved on the tablet are of low resolution, just 640x3o0! Even 800x375 would be acceptable for blog use. I would need to use MobileLink to move full resolution photos, and so I might as well use it instead of Remote Viewfinder.
Another flaw is that Samsung has not adapted the software to tablets, and so RemoteViewfinder appears in a small area in the center of my tablet. I can switch to Zoom mode which fills the screen, but then the app looks blurry. iPad users know what I am talking about.
Below is the interface of this app's View mode:
In part iii: communicating photos via SkyDrive
(I've merged the content from my Gizmos Grabowski blog into this one, and this is the first Gizmos Grabowski-style posting.)
I've been spoiled by how well Dropbox integrates with my Android phone and tablet. I take any number of pictures, and the next time I am at my desktop or laptop computer, the pictures I took with the Android devices are already there. Very slick.
(DropBox running on the Android device automatically uploads the image files to the DropBox servers, which then download them to my computers. This works best when preset WiFi connections are present.)
Late last year I bought a new digital camera, Samsung top-of-the-line EX2F compact point-and-shoot. I bought this handsome camera primarily because it has the largest lens among all point-and-shoots on the market, an astounding F1.4. A lens this bright is rare even among DSLRs. I bought it, because I don't use a flash; the bigger the opening in the lens, the easier it is to take shake-free photos in low-light situations.
The camera also has WiFi, and so I was eager to try it out. In brief: it is disappointing. Here is what I was hoping for: as I take pictures, they are automatically transferred to my nearby laptop. I gained that expectation from the Android-Dropbox combination. But the EX2F doesn't.
Now, Samsung over the last half-year has slowly improved the camera's software through a series of updates, and so it is not quite so awful. But it still isn't Android-Dropbox slick, a surprise, given that my Android phone (Google Nexus) is made by Samsung. They should know how these things ought to work.
Next in part ii: the many WiFi functions of the EX2F
CNET's Stephen Shankland describes an experimental camera lens for taking 3D pictures.
Fife's 3-megapixel sensor prototype breaks the scene up into many small, slightly overlapping 16x16-pixel patches called subarrays... After a photo is taken, image-processing software then analyzes the slight location differences for the same element appearing in different patches--for example, where a spot on a subject's shirt is relative to the wallpaper behind it. These differences from one subarray to the next can be used to deduce the distance of the shirt and the wall.
Olympus now has a digital camera with 20x zoom, which works out to a 26 - 520mm range. Remember, though, that 20x is not as nice as it sounds, because part of the range goes down to wideangle.
The reference point is 50mm: this is the normal view, no zoom, no wide angle.
* Wideangle -- from 50mm to 26mm.
* Zoom -- from 50mm to 520mm.
Thus, the actual magnification is 10.4x (= 520 / 50).
Still, that's pretty good. All those common cameras with their 3x "zooms" provide just 2x, because of the wideangle factor.
Many binoculars enlarge the image by 7x, so this camera dispenses with the need for binocs, and has the added benefit of recording what you see closeup. With one exception: binoculars provide stereoscopic vision, not done by digital cameras.
But this new Olympus is still not as good as camcorders, which now have optical zooms of 35x. How can camcorders do what still cameras cannot? Smaller lens and image size allows for larger zoom ratios.
You can read more about the Olympus SP-570 UltraZoom digital camera at The Imaging Resource. It's just $500; the primary drawback, however, is that it uses xD memory cards, instead of today's standard SD memory cards. Since xD is smaller than SD, you can't even use an adapter to reuse your existing collection of SD cards.
When I helped my mother-in-law buy her first digital camera last Christmas, I also got her the de-rigueur 2GB memory card. "How many pictures can I take," she wondered. 1,500.
Her camera, a Canon SD100, also supports SDHC (secure digital high capacity) cards, which can now be purchased in 8GB capacities locally for just over $100.
One of those 8GB cards would hold six thousand photographs. With the large LCD screen, I suddenly realized that her greatest worry (how to get the photos from the camera onto the computer) was rendered moot. She didn't need to deal with her computer and its mysterious ways.
The computer is no longer required:
-- keep all photos you've ever taken on the camera's memory card(s).
-- print direct from the camera to a 4"x6" printer, which are now under $100.
-- backup the photos by getting a dedicated device that combines a portable hard drive with a card reader.
Now I read that Samsung has shipped a CompactFlash memory card that holds 40GB. That's 30,000 photographs. Or twenty hours of high-definition video.
How much does that represent? I've been taking digital pictures since the summer of 1999. I now have 60,000 photographs taking up 56GB of disk space. But then I typically take 100 photos on days when I am active in picture taking, like on vacation. My mother-in-law tends to take a few photos at a time.
Sony now has a camera with 4GB memory built in. Maybe 40GB will be the future.