Camera Makers Are Risking Irrelevance by Not Improving Their Software

Om Malik:

Mobile phone processors are becoming more powerful, and computer vision algorithms continue to advance. These innovations will minimize image noise, auto-correct imperfections, and optimize images for screen displays. The software’s capacity to merge data from multiple lenses signifies another leap. AI platforms such as MidJourney and Stable Diffusion will enable the transformation of captured images into unique stories. The hefty investments in software, chips, and algorithms present a significant challenge to traditional camera entities.

As this transformation continues, many camera companies grapple with even the most rudimentary software features. While these companies excel in hardware, they stumble in software development. Brands like Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fuji, and Leica pride themselves on their lens craftsmanship. Yet, when the topic shifts to software, their offerings seem lacking in polish and sophistication, almost as if they’re an afterthought.

This feels true to me. As much as I love my dedicated camera, its software is pretty frustrating. When I am in image playback mode, for example, navigating between images will often lag and, after freezing for a couple of seconds, the photo will jump to one nowhere close in the sequence of images I shot. That is without getting into some of the more advanced qualities increasingly expected of today’s cameras — could you imagine if the best full-frame sensor and high-quality lens were paired with some of the computational techniques from smartphones?

At the same time, I have to wonder if the effort and rethinking that it would take for these established camera makers to become great at software would be a significant distraction for them individually. How many businesses can you think of without a flawed product? If you can, chances are pretty good they are a smaller and more focused organization.

This is only a little bit related: I have noticed a withdrawal of how much I have used my phone camera in the past year or so. I have always been a big fan and supporter of smartphone photography as a creative medium, and Instagram as a fairly natural “exhibition” space. The changes to that platform’s priorities have made it much less attractive to me, to the extent that my most recent post is almost a year old. This is entirely personal and I am sure it is not reflective of any broader trend, so do not read anything more into this than what I am explicitly saying. However, it is a new phone year for me, and I am questioning my default choice of the Pro model more now than I have before, especially since posting on Glass is encouraging me to carry my proper full-frame camera more often than ever.