Saturday, January 05, 2008

How Wireless Innovation Can Pass Whole Industries By

Scanning through the MobHappy 2008 predictions, I remembered that it has been a long time since I actually managed to post to the blog, something I shall endeavour to fix as my new year's resolution. More specifically, Carlo's point 8 reminded me of the launch of the otherwise rather fine Canon EOS 40D late last year.

Many argue the finer points of whether Nikon or Canon make better lenses, bodies or sensors, but in general as a layman I think they're both pretty damn good and there's nothing I can really suggest to make their optics any better; this is a field where they are the leaders.

However Canon has recently been innovating in the wireless space, something I was very intruiged by when I saw the initial release. Simply plug in the WFT-E3 Wireless File Transmitter, and you can remote control the camera through a browser, auto-upload to remote storage over WiFi as you take a picture and even automatically geotag your photos using a 3rd party GPS device. All pretty cool stuff, and finally accessible to serious amateur photographers (pros with thousands to burn on kit have been able to do the WiFi stuff on the 1D for a while I think).

The WiFi features do seem like they would only be useful to high-end users - I can't see why I'd pay any money to have them personally. Auto-geotagging, however, is potentially a killer feature that would definitely make me go out and buy one - and I suspect many amateur photographers who do some travelling would agree, because geotagging hundreds of photos by hand some weeks after you took them is a serious pain in the arse. So how does it work?

It transpires that to get this feature to work do this:
  1. Buy the WFT-E3 Wireless Grip add-on for about $800 (for context, the camera body only costs $1200)
  2. Plug all 680g of it (that's a lot to carry in one hand all day) into the bottom of the camera as an extra grip (useful for some people, but not something I've ever felt the need for)
  3. Plug your GPS unit's USB CABLE into the unit. That's right, USB. You have to carry the GPS and a wire connecting it to the camera the whole time you're shooting.
An instant cold bucket of water over pretty much everyone who might want this feature, leaving far fewer potential customers for what is basically a very very expensive wireless webcam. Canon think this is breakthrough stuff though.

As someone with some involvement in the wireless industry, my immediate thought was that they should just drop a $1 Bluetooth chip into the camera body itself which supported the GPS profile. This could be a huge commercial advantage against the competition, who are currently selling higher spec cameras at these amateur / serious amateur pricepoints.

It's difficult to say why they didn't do this. Possibly it's on the drawing board, possibly they would rather sell expensive add-ons to a few users, or possibly they just never realised it was an option. I am hoping that Carlo is right, and in 2008 we will start to see this kind of technology become so mainstream it's impossible not to offer it; roll on the 50D.


Blogger Gustaf Erikson said...

Higher-end Nikons can use a GPS that interfaces with the remote-control port (D200 and up). See Another option (used by Sony) is to have a separate GPS and match EXIF timestamps to that unit in post processing.

I find it weird that Canon doesn't have this capability. Score one for Nikon!

(yes I am a Nikonista)

3:53 pm

Blogger raddedas said...

There's definitely a flash-mount GPS option which will sync timestamps for Canons as well, but sadly no manufacturer has actually implemented GPS properly - Nikon are definitely a step ahead, but wired GPS is at best a niche curiousity...

9:16 am


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