You’d think the proliferation of smartphone photography would have sparked a revolution in digital cameras. Not so much. Sure, cameras are more connected now than ever, and mirrorless technology has helped make them smaller and lighter. But the basics — shoot as much as you want to a memory card and access the photos when and wherever — have remained. So new ideas are welcome, however bizarre they might be.
Enter Relonch, a startup that wants to upend the way we use digital cameras. Relonch’s take on photography is a subscription model where you pay $99 a month for cloud services and the camera.
The camera, which Relonch showed off to a few outlets last week, is wrapped in leather. The only parts that are exposed are the viewfinder, the shutter button, the power button, and the lens. You can’t change the settings, and you can’t even review the photos you take save for a quick flash inside the viewfinder.
It gets weirder. From there, the camera beams the photos over LTE to Relonch’s cloud service, where artificial intelligence picks the best shots and edits them for you. You get those final photos back the next day. Photographers who own cameras might scoff at the idea, but the idea could appeal to people who want a camera that’s capable of more than the one on their smartphone.
That approach is purposely antithetical to the instant gratification we’re now used to. It’s also not far off from the way things were a little more than a decade ago, where your shooting was limited to the amount of frames in a roll of film and you had to wait an hour, a day, or maybe a few days until you got the printed pictures back.
While that process was a bit arduous and expensive, there was a magic to it. The rush of rifling through a batch of your photos for the first time, and the accompanying disappointment when they didn’t turn out how you hoped, is something that’s almost totally disappeared from modern photography. Relonch is trying to usher in a sort of return to this more methodical way of taking pictures.
What really interests me about Relonch is how they plan to employ artificial intelligence. It’s an idea that’s starting to bubble up in a few different corners of the photography world. Our phones are already capable of helping us find the best frames in a pile of similar photos — iPhones do this natively in the camera roll, as does the Google Photos app.
Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus also uses AI, or what the company refers to as a “machine learning-enhanced image signal processor,” to simulate the background blur in portrait mode, among other things. Google took a computational approach to photography with its new Pixel phones, leveraging the onboard intelligence to improve things like low light performance. We’re sure to see more AI-assisted photography in the coming years, so in that sense Relonch is a camera company that’s ahead of the curve.
There’s also plenty reason to be skeptical that Relonch will pull this off, and not just because the core idea is likely to press people’s patience. Relonch doesn’t plan to roll any of this out until 2018, and as CNET points out, Relonch’s first idea was an iPhone camera attachment that they never shipped.
But when you consider how the biggest camera companies are just focused on optimizing the current approach to digital photography, as opposed to upending it, ideas like the one from Relonch are inspiring. If photography is staring down another revolution, the spark is apparently going to come from the startups and the smartphone companies.