11 software features that could be add the old and new cameras
Like major consumer electronics, today’s cameras are made by the union of two worlds: hardware and firmware.
Camera’s hardware is the part that usually can’t be changed or upgraded after its manufacture; it’s the part that determines the ISO capability, sensor’s resolution, noise, dynamic range, card’s transfer rate and so on.
Firmware, on the other hand, is the software running inside the camera that interprets all user inputs, controls the camera outputs and manages the internal hardware; so the buttons working, menus on display, connectivity, focus mechanisms, etc. are managed by the firmware.
The firmware’s great advantage is that it can be changed in field, adding features or correcting bugs or even working around hardware failures, defects or bugs. However, since camera manufacturers sells the hardware, they usually only change the firmware to address bugs and not to add new features. So if you need a new feature, you have to buy a new camera.
Initiatives to overcome this already exist; Sony sells apps to add more features to its cameras and Magic Lantern is bringing back older Canon cameras from the retirement; Therefore it’s difficult to see major manufacturers adding more functions to existing cameras.
The cellphone cameras are the opposite side of this scenario: to overcome the ultra-compact camera hardware limitation, their industry develops a series of functions that most DSLR doesn’t have like time lapses, built-in timers, panoramas, etc. Now, people already get used with these features and market is demanding it, so that, a giant has made a move: with the launch of the D850, the first feature announced by Nikon is a software feature, in camera 8k time lapse. That is nothing that a 2015-high-megapixel camera couldn’t do with appropriate firmware. Maybe it can signalize a strategy change or be just a point to differentiate among competitors.
Inspired on all that, I listed some major features I think the camera manufactures should add to their line, including old models; but not to stop their costumers of buying new models (we always want a better hardware capable camera) but to assure them to stay with the brand because they will be assisted and listened through the years.
This is already almost present on cameras when we use the mirror flip-up function or the live view shooting, the change in the firmware would be keeping the mirror and shutter opened after the image capture.
The downside is the possible the rolling shutter effect or flickering, however photographers are already trained to overcome camera limitations and they’ll use this feature where the effects are not relevant.
It’s ridiculously simple, but many cameras need an external device to periodically trigger the shutter.
The more advance feature should be to allow the using of electronic shutter to save the shutter’s and mirror mechanisms’ lifespan.
The intervalometer’s complementary function is the long exposure, it should be very helpful to have a user set-up time between 30s exposure and Bulb mode, there is no hardware limitation for this and It’d be very useful when ND filters are attached to the lens.
Multiple exposures averaging
This function is already present in an app for Sony cameras; it consists of taking a series of pictures in any shutter speed and averaging them in camera to eliminate moving objects from the images. Of course we expect a raw file as output.
For many, the intervalometer function would be enough, but there are those who prefer to have a video file as output file instead or at same time with the raw files, so that is the function of time lapse feature: to use the internal video codec to generate an output file with user configurable dimensions and frame-rate.
Not only giving point-and shoot cameras the support for writing raw files, but giving DSLR cameras the support to write in a more standardized format giving to the photographer advantages like: a step less in the image ingestion process and the no need of constantly upgrading or waiting for computer software upgrades to support newer camera models, i.e. new raw formats.
Nikon did it in the D850, but there are no limitations to implement it in other models, since the camera controls lenses’ focus distance. To expand, it could be combined with bracketing and intervalometer allowing the creation of HDR time lapses with high depth of field with less effort.
Micro focus and automated adjust
Entry level DSLRs doesn’t have any micro focus adjustment, so if your 50mm 1.8 lens produces always autofocus images in the T3 camera, it’s worthless. Adding a function to tell de camera to move the measured focus distance further or backwards after the focus sensor inform the image is in focus doesn’t requires e new hardware.
The second step is to use and automated method to calibrate the micro focus adjust. This can be done with the expanded Dotfocus process, where the camera uses the contrast detection to find the right focus distance (or even the user can manually focus) and tries the micro focus adjust until find the range were the phase focus sensor detect the image is in focus. This could make lens calibration be done in seconds instead of minutes.
Allow camera to focus even if no lens is detected
This feature means if you put a fully manual lens, the camera will beep when focus is achieved, and also, the camera would allow do manually inform the focal length and aperture used in order to record in the EXIF data.
With this resource, many photographers could make use of third party lenses that doesn’t compete with the lenses lines from the camera manufacturer and it could attract new customers.
The expansion of this feature is the focus trap: The camera would trigger the shutter only when the subject is in focus allowing the use of manual lenses with moving objects.
Better Wi-Fi capability
Setting-up Wi-Fi connection on cameras is not hard, however many things could be made easier: The pairing process could involve the use of a connection QR code, so, instead of defining all Wi-Fi parameters before, camera could create a random network name and password, generate a QR code in the display and, with this information, a cellphone could read it and connect, instantaneously.
Other feature would be in the image transfer method: in general, photographers need one or two pictures be transferred to the cellphone in order to post in a social network, but, to transfer images, they have to load all previews in the cellphone and then choose the ones that will be transferred. It’d be far easy if during image review in camera there were an icon or button to queue the image transfer, so when the phone connects the images would be automatically transferred.
The last item is the double buffer: It’d need a dual card camera and works by writing images alternating the cards and after synchronizing them. With this feature, the buffer would be cleared much faster even with a card being slower than other. Exemplifying: Suppose a burst of 20 images is captured to the buffer, and it takes 10 seconds to be written in the card; with the double buffer, while camera is writing the first image to the first card, the second image is being written to the second card, so in 5 seconds the buffer would be empty. After that, when the camera was not using the cards, it’d synchronize them in order to both have a complete set of images. Even the second card being slower (unless 20 times slower) the time to clear the buffer would be faster than using a single card, what represent less missed pictures.
These changes can potentially be made in the current line and previous ones; it involves software, testing and support effort in a broad range of models. The short term results are not easily tangible for the manufacturer, but, in the other hand, the companies are huge and this effort is not so high compared to the size of their staff.
My hope is that the cellphone market pushes the companies at least to add these features to newer models bringing a comparable experience but without losing the basics of photography, the speed and the reliability.