Are We Approaching Connectivity Wrong?

I've spent way more time thinking about the problem of getting images off my camera to where they need to go than I want to. ;~)

Back in 2008 I first began writing about the camera/mobile device connection and all that it implied, plus all the ways we might benefit. By 2011 I had an elaborate presentation that I gave a subset of in Japan, which defined how cameras should link up with the rest of the world. I've outlined my ideas and workarounds ever since. I've unfortunately ending up panning most of the camera makers' approach to dealing with the issue. They get the general idea just fine, but they often have trouble with the details.

At this point the standard approach goes like this:

  1. Create a basic mobile device app (means iOS, iPadOS, and Android these days).
  2. Use Bluetooth to establish communication between the camera and the mobile device app.
  3. For anything that requires "heavy lifting," have the devices switch to a Wi-Fi linkage (possibly breaking the mobile device's Wi-Fi link if it has one established). 
  4. Add minor "workflow" shortcuts on the camera (ratings, send markers, etc.).
  5. For images, move the image from camera to mobile device app, often doing automatic things that the user doesn't want or doesn't notice (ever wake up with a dead battery and a phone full of 2mp images?). 
  6. Done.

Not so fast. I'm never done at Step 6 ;~). What comes after that is actually most of the work. 

Sony started to understand that a bit with their Transfer & Tagging app for the A1, but it's a hot mess, as is Nikon's similar NX Mobile Air, which seems to be a hot mess copy of a hot mess. 

Over the years I've documented multiple ways I've attempted to establish connectivity between camera and mobile device, and talked to quite a few working pros about how they're doing it. I've come to the conclusion that, despite Transfer & Tagging and NX Mobile Air being hot messes, they're the closest thing to what we actually need. 

First, we now have image marking capabilities that are well-defined and useful, particularly on the Nikon Z9 and Sony A1. I could still suggest a few workflow changes at the camera for these two models, but I'm comfortable with photographing and marking in real time using what I've been supplied these days. I just need to be consistent in how I mark. 

But here's the thing: do I need the camera and mobile device to communicate wirelessly, and to do things automatically? Probably not. It's a battery suck, it takes my mobile device off the Wi-Fi network I'm using, it doesn't work reliably in some "noisy" venues, and it's relatively slow when it does work.

Some of you may remember my Snappier Bridge article. I still use a variation of that today. But wouldn't it be nice if instead of Apple Photos as the download platform we had a real camera maker app that just did the things we need doing? 

If you want to use NX Mobile Air with your Z9 as an alternative to my Snappier Bridge approach, make sure that you have the right cable (Anker 514 [Amazon link]), and you've set the camera to NETWORK > USB > iPHONE. Also, you need to figure out if you want images imported only "on connection" or "when taken." It's a hot mess, but it can be workable for some.

The funny thing is that every one of the camera makers is struggling with keeping their iOS, iPadOS, and Android apps up to date with the wireless protocols. The "pairing" part of those apps, particularly when something goes wrong and you have to re-pair, is overly complex and difficult to understand, despite the now ubiquitous "help" messages provided at both ends of the conversation. On top of that, these mobile apps from camera makers are dead simple and devoid of features, nuance, or needed customization. I suspect they're farming them out to lowest bid.

I did notice that Sony definitely improved their first connection process on the A7 Mark IV model. Excellent. Then I had to re-pair because of a bunch of other things I was doing, and yep, fell into the usual Bluetooth hell. When that happens at a venue for an event I'm covering, I'm basically hosed, which is why I prefer a cabled approach.

Thus, it seems to me that a direct USB connection is the correct answer, and for a lot of reasons. First, it isn't subject to all the wireless activity going on around me. Second, it's fast and should allow me to move the entire image over to the smartphone, rather than some 2mp version. Third, the camera makers would be in full control of what they can/can't do (as long as they understand the mobile platform's file capabilities reasonably well). 

However, such a wired app as I suggest would need, at a minimum:

  • A good DCIM browser on the mobile device. All the ones I've seen so far in mobile apps suck, including Apple Photos. 
  • Batch and individual image annotation. By annotation I mean IPTC data. Both Nikon and Sony are trying to allow this in their latest apps, but they both get caught up in the "all" fields versus "some" fields problem. Generally, I only need to enter two or three fields for any given client, so why can't I just tell the app which fields those are and only see and edit those? Not rocket science here, guys. And apparently no one in mobile apps has ever seen the kinds of shorthands we use in Photo Mechanic to speed up data entry. Sometimes geeky stuff is better than no stuff ;~). 
  • Batch and individual image processing. Some things I need to do might be individual, such as cropping. Some things might be batch, such as a color/exposure adjustment. (I'd really love to send raw files over and use one of the tools on my mobile device to process and convert to JPEGs for export, but that's really advanced rocket science for the mobile app groups at the camera companies, apparently. Even Adobe doesn't have this one down cold.)
  • Batch and individual image sharing. Depending upon the client I'm working with, the sharing can be email, cloud, FTP, or even something like Twitter in an emergency. I'm not a particularly social kind of guy—both literally and on the Internet—so I don't necessarily need share to Instagram, et.al., but many of my pro buddies would need that, too. 
  • Backup and delete. When done with the above, push all the images to my cloud server and delete them on the smart device. Why do I need this? Because I don't want to carry a 2TB phone with me and then have to deal with getting rid of a day's worth of images that have all been pushed to my client when I get back to the office. I'm not overly worried about the "delete" part here, as I've still got all those images on a card. In other words, my mobile device is just a temporary buffer to get photos off my camera, dealt with, and moved to the client. 

All of the above is do-able and needs to be done. In an app that's looking at the USB-C port and communicating with the camera through that. Basically my Snappier Bridge, only with the perfect app at the mobile device end.


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