⌘ July 27, 2021

Stuff I Love

Dreaming of an Apple Camera

I’ll say this upfront: I’m not a photographer by nature. Sure, I use my iPhone’s camera almost every day and love many of the shots that come off it. But honest-to-goodness, compose-the-shot, consider-the-lighting, sweat-the-perspective — you know, real photography — isn’t a hobby that I’ve explored. Not for lack of interest, mind you, because I’m astounded and inspired at some of the shots that I see everyday hobbyists producing. No, I think my avoidance is for two primary reasons:

  1. The times that I want great photos are when I least want to be taken out of the moment to capture them.
  2. The complexity of camera settings. Learning about ISO, f-stop, RAW, and other photography jargon feels like a huge barrier.

I should also mention that I recently sold our hand-me-down Canon DSLR after not touching it for years. So why am I now dreaming of a standalone (and likely exorbitantly expensive) Apple-designed camera? Let’s dig in.

A traditional DSLR.
(Image: Luis Quintero)

Staying in the Moment

On trips into the backcountry, while enjoying a dinner date with my wife, and during social events with friends are the times I’m most interested in capturing terrific photos. But those moments are also when I’m most self-conscious about whipping out my phone to snap a pic. Even though the iPhone has long produced fantastic photos despite its constraints as a pocketable device with minuscule lenses, I’m loathed to get sucked into my phone/widescreen iPod/internet communicator. Although being glued to our devices is both commonplace and accepted, I don’t feel great about getting my phone out in those situations. My college friends and I used to have dinners with our phones stacked in the center of the table so that we’d stay focused on each other. If you reached for it before the end of the meal, you paid the tab.

Instead, what I’d prefer for those occasions when I know I’d like to take stellar photos but not risk getting distracted (or be perceived as distracted) is to use something akin to a Kindle. The Kindle is excellent for reading because it does one thing, and one thing only, really well: let you read books. I want that, but for taking pictures. I envision a device that includes all the photo smarts Apple has built into iPhones, like Smart HDR 3, Night Mode, panoramas, slow-mo, and time-lapse, but without the infinity pools of web browsing and the App Store.

It’s the pinnacle of first-world problems to long for a second device to save us from the issues that the first device created, I know. But the same reason I prefer to run with only an Apple Watch or read books on a Kindle applies here. I don’t want to be yanked out of the moment by an ill-timed notification or my inability to ignore emails. In an always-connected world, it’s the disconnected bits that center us and remind us of our roots.

Leveraging Apple’s Strengths

Okay, so a dedicated, prosumer camera. That order shouldn’t be too hard to fill, right? Sony and Canon have incredible handheld cameras these days. So why not just use one of them? In short, because of the ecosystem.

Software

While I’ve thought that Apple should introduce a DSLR-type camera for a while, it was a recent ATP episode that rekindled my curiosity about what this piece of hardware could be. Marco, too, advocated for a camera that married Apple’s software stack to hardware that would provide the best image data for that pipeline to process from the start.

Marco voiced what I felt was critical to the whole reason for taking high-quality photos: we want to do something with them. We want to revisit and reflect on them years later. We want to post them on social media to show off the beautiful bits of our lives. We want to share them with the people who were part of the moment. And we don’t want to have to muddy up the way we already know how to do those things. So pictures taken with this Apple Camera should just show up in the place we already go for all our photos, which is our iCloud Photo Library in the Photos app.

I said that I don’t want to be able to check my Instagram feed on this camera. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have to ability to seamlessly post the photos to Instagram when the time is right. However, hooking the camera up to an iPhone or Mac, or, hell, even moving pictures with an SD card, already feels antiquated in our increasingly wireless world. Instead, I think this camera should be internet-connected insofar that it could upload things directly to your iCloud Photo Library over a cellular connection. Both for safekeeping and ease of sharing, I think a dedicated hotline to iCloud is essential for this device. I envision snapping a picture with the camera and, only seconds later, pulling it up on my iPhone to send in Messages or post online.

Hardware

As discussed by the boys on ATP, Apple could be considered the biggest camera company in the world. The entire time that Apple has been advancing in the world of photography, however, they’ve made cameras in an oxygen-scarce” environment. So far, primary goals for their cameras have been to fit within bare millimeters and have the least impact on battery life. I don’t see everyday users clamoring for an iPhone with inches worth of lens poking out from the back. And yet, Apple has been able to produce cameras that can take genuinely incredible photos. Just scroll through #ShotOniPhone for examples of what can be done despite minuscule glass and image sensors. Can you even imagine what would be possible with large traditional lenses and a full-sized image sensor, combined with Apple’s processing stack?

Of course, an Apple-designed camera would feel great in hand and cater to the less technical among us. I’m not looking for the camera with the most buttons and dials. I’m seeking one that helps me to take tack-sharp photos, with natural bokeh, without a ton of fiddling. Advanced controls could be present but perhaps accessible within the software interface. It would have a flip-around screen for taking selfies. It would have point-and-shoot capability with instant auto-focus. It would be made of high-quality materials shaped into a timeless design. I have immense faith in Apple’s design team here.

An area where I’d like to see some Apple innovation is with zoom lenses. Besides being an accessory category that I’m sure Apple would love to enter, I could see them improving how lenses attach to the camera. Perhaps the camera body would be compact enough to slip into a pocket or purse and function without an extra lens attached. Then you’d put an interchangeable lens over the standard one. I don’t know if that’s possible, but perhaps Apple can do something special like they did with Apple Watch band connections.

The point of this device is to take great photos, to do it quickly and without distraction, and to look good while doing it.

A Dream That Could Become Reality?

Will this product ever exist? Of course, I have no idea. Apple famously enters only product categories that it believes it can significantly impact and that will sell well. But there are enough photography nerds at Apple, including Apple Fellow Phil Schiller, that I’d be surprised if a prototype didn’t already exist somewhere within Apple Park.

As a reference point, check out the Leica camera designed by Jony Ive, Apple’s previous Chief Design Officer, back in 2013.

The Jony Ive Leica camera.
The Leica camera designed by Jony Ive and Marc Newson. (Image: Wired)

To sum up this long, meandering wish-cast, these are the fundamental elements I propose for an Apple Camera:

  • Dedicated device with traditional, disconnected camera sensibilities
  • Deep integration with Apple’s ecosystem (i.e., the iCloud Photo Library)
  • Apple silicon for image signal processing
  • Iconic Apple industrial design

I would be very interested in such a device. I see myself slipping it into my bag or slinging it over my shoulder on outings. I could leave my phone behind and still capture, without breaking, the moment.

Written from Brunswick, OH 🗺
On a 2020 11-inch iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard ⌨️
While enjoying a Gin & Coke 🥃 by a campfire 🔥


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