Who wants a Wi-Fi digital camera when you've got a mobile phone?

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stu-column.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

This post started life as a rant about how cool Wi-Fi digital cameras are, spurred by news that Nikon is launching two new models, the Coolpix S50 and S50c.

After all, it’s about time there were more Wi-Fi cams available for those of us who’ve been longing for the next generation to follow up Kodak’s EasyShare-One, Canon’s PowerShot SD430 and Nikon’s own Coolpix P1 and P2.

Yet the more I wrote about the potential uses for a connected digital camera, the more I realised that mobile phones are already doing pretty much all of it, and what’s more are more likely to soon include technologies like GPS that’ll take wireless photo-sharing to the next level.

COOLPIX_S50.JPGAt a basic level, the benefits of a Wi-Fi-enabled digital camera are clear, if a little prosaic. You take a bunch of shots, then when you get home, you don’t need a USB cable to transfer them to your computer – or even print them if you’ve got a Wi-Fi printer sitting around. This is useful stuff, even if reducing my USB cable count by one still means there’s about 74 lying about the house.

But the coolest stuff that could be done with a Wi-Fi cam – or so I thought – was the sharing aspects while out on the go. Check Nikon’s press release for the new S50 and S50c: “Users can share pictures with friends and family from just about anywhere by emailing images directly from the camera through open-access wireless hotspots”.

Okay, so the lack of open-access hotspots is a bit of a barrier, but I’m sure that’s surmountable if the camera manufacturers can do similar deals with Wi-Fi hotspot networks as that done by Nintendo for the DS.

In theory, Wi-Fi cams could cross the chasm between shooting and sharing. Imagine: you’re out and about taking photos, and whenever you’re in range of a friendly Wi-Fi network, the camera automatically uploads them to whatever photo-sharing service you’re using (ideally you’d get a choice, although I’m guessing the camera firms would prefer to restrict you to their own proprietary online services).

shozu-g.gifPoint, click, and share without even thinking about it. It’d be great. More Wi-Fi cameras, I say! But hang on a minute. My mobile phone already does this, having downloaded the nifty ShoZu application (pictured) a few months ago. Whenever I take a photo, it asks me if I want to send it to Flickr. Say yes, and off it goes.

The quality of mobile phone cameras is improving all the time. Once we reach five megapixels in mass-market handsets, that’ll be enough for most people’s needs – and certainly enough for online sharing. There are obstacles – such as crazy data charges from your operator if you upload too many images – but if you’re yearning for a world where you can share your daily snaps without even thinking about it, it’s doable right now if you’re on a suitable tariff.

There are some great professional uses for Wi-Fi digital cameras (think news and sports photographers, for example), but when it comes to consumer uses, phones will surely trump them – not least because for the near future, you’re far more likely to be in reach of a 3G network than a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Even once we have city-wide WiMAX networks and suchlike, there’s no reason phones won’t be able to use those too. In fact, it seems logical to assume that mobiles will also steal some of the useful ideas from Wi-Fi cameras, such as automatic photo synching when in range of your home network.

Plus there’s that GPS. I for one can’t wait until my phone can automatically associate geotagging data with my snaps, which can then be plotted against a Google Map or whatever once uploaded to the Web. If I allow it to be, of course. There’s probably some privacy issues I should think more about before sharing location-enabled pics willy-nilly. But anyway, GPS will be in more phones sooner than it’ll be in digital cameras.

The upshot of all this. If we’re talking about connected photography devices, surely it’s got to be phones if you’re not a pro snapper? Wi-Fi cameras excite the gadgety geek inside me, but when it comes to thinking about what I’d actually get more use out of, the mobile wins every time.

Stuart Dredge

One thought on “Who wants a Wi-Fi digital camera when you've got a mobile phone?

  • Megapixels don’t matter. A Canon 3.2 mp camera from 2+ years ago will blow and 3.2 or even 5 mp cam out now.

    I for one want to know why Camera’s dont have bluetooth so we can hook them up to any mobile phone and then upload them like that.

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