Smartphone cameras are getting always better, but it is obvious there will be for (more than) a while DSLR and hybrid interchangeable lenses cameras as many kinds of images kind cannot be shot with smartphones. However, one of the major very well-known limitation of these “non-smartphone cameras” is the lack of connectivity with the internet. I am not even speaking about the unmatched experience of a smartphone. Even with the latest cameras released by the major manufacturers, it is still really challenging to just save your data on your cloud provider in real time. Something you can do flawlessly since several years with your smartphone. So, basically, these “non-smartphone cameras” look like old-fashioned devices that need SD or other kind of cards and the user must download manually the data to whatever device (tablet, desktop, laptop).
However, over the last years, manufacturers have release IOS/Android apps to facilitate the communication between the camera and the smartphone. In this post, I will explain why I believe that the added value is real, but it will not fix the main problem: RAW or full-size Jpg Files can’t be automatically saved to a cloud provider. And why, therefore, every camera should nowadays be capable to have 5G capabilities to transfer these data without the need of a smartphone.
I have only been focusing on Nikon, but I don’t see why the situation would be different for Canon and Sony. I am not aware they are more advanced on this topic by the way, but I will investigate further and will monitor what will be released soon.
What we get with Nikon
In 2016 – so 5 years ago, that sounds like an eternity, Nikon has released its great app Snapbridge that let you transfer your images from your Nikon camera to your smartphone. In my case, it will be a Z50 to an Android Samsung S20 FE, but I believe the below rationale will make sense for most of the Nikon cameras and at least Android’s smartphones, and as you will see whereas I did not check, I don’t see reasons to believe it can be significantly better with IOS anyway as the bottleneck is much more on the Nikon’s side.
This post is based on the analysis of the v2.8.1 of Snapbridge.
So, with Snapbridge, you can connect the camera to the smartphone and use the latter as a remote control or as a storage device (much more than that as it is a smartphone and as soon as you get the data on it, you can do whatever you want with the images/videos like those shot with the smartphone cameras).
My two cents about Snapbridge
What has been confusing at first glance is the fact that the app is using either Bluetooth or both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
There is a reason for that, and I needed time to get it whereas it is very straightforward: Bluetooth only is great for having Snapbridge as either a remote control on your smartphone or to transfer low resolution JPG to your smartphone.
If you want to transfer RAW or full-size JPG, you will need the Wi-Fi mode. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are complementary technologies and Snapbridge needs both depending on the way you use it.
The overall app is easy to use and whereas the Nikon Image Space (Nikon’s free cloud storage of low-resolution files) is nice, it is adding complexity to the app due to its tight integration whereas you can perfectly use Snapbridge without it.
So, discard the message telling you to install it, you can do that later: if you already have your cloud provider that is delivering what you need for your images – something not rare nowadays with AWS, Google Photo, Adobe cloud and Microsoft OneDrive – this Nikon cloud will be probably totally useless.
But it was clearer to understand the overall behavior of Snapbridge after having installed and connected the app with Snapbridge.
Now, you really need to know what you want to do with Snapbridge. You have 3 main scenarios:
- Use your smartphone as a remote control,
- Share low-resolution JPG instantly on social networks,
- Transfer to your cloud provider through your smartphone RAW files or JPG full-size
The 2 first scenarios will work fine and flawlessly with Bluetooth only. Low consumption of Bluetooth allows continuous communication between the two devices. The experience is positive, and I like to use Snapbridge for these scenarios.
I can’t be as positive for the 3rd scenario…
What needs to improve significantly
Transfer of RAW files or full-size JPG demands to activate the Wi-Fi mode on both camera and Snapbridge app. This is understandable as Bluetooth bandwidth is much lower and these full-size images transfer is no match to this technology. That’s the purpose of Wi-Fi.
And you must activate manually the download, you cannot transfer images as soon as there are shot like you can do with the Bluetooth mode and the low-resolution JPG . On Z50, I need almost 20s per image. The good news: I can still use the camera during the transfer.
The bad news: Wi-Fi is a high-energy consuming technology, and the battery of the camera is drained quickly if you keep the Wi-Fi mode active. If we could have an automated mode to transfer RAW/Full-size JPG on the file, it will make the camera much more like what you can get with a smartphone when it comes to cloud services. However, during the download of these images, you can’t use your smartphone (at least from a data perspective as Wi-Fi needed between both devices prevent you from doing something else than maybe just giving a phone call). But at least it might be activated, provided you still have batteries after a few hours on Wi-Fi with your camera. Knowing that battery life on hybrid cameras is already known to be very limited, it does not seem to be such an exciting feature !
Don’t get me wrong again, it can be useful, this feature is not stupid by any mean. But it somewhat similar, but potentially slower, to a transfer through USB to your desktop/laptop, so why not. But it does not fix the problem to have at last data automatically transferred to the cloud provider “on the fly” from your camera, like what your smartphone can do.
Last, and not least for many enthusiasts, you can only sync one camera at a time with Snapbridge even if you can change camera. Even if you are using Bluetooth only. It means it is not possible to sync real-time low-resolution files when you shoot with more than one camera.
Modern app like Snapbridge v2.8.1 is really providing value, don’t get me wrong. But I am not optimistic this kind of application can fix the main limitation of Cameras: the lack of automated transfer to a cloud provider of the images shot (RAW or Full-size Jpg).
I will deep-dive in what Sony and Canon propose but after haveing analyzed what Nikon can do, I tend to believe the future is more to embark 5G capability directly into the camera and connect it to different services rather than using a smartphone for this purpose, due to Wi-Fi constraints.
This would be a similar approach to what 5G tablets are proposing for those who want a big screen when they travel with no access to Wi-Fi. Well, if you want to automatically transfer your data to your cloud provider to save them, keep them safe or analyse them (for instance with Futura Photo!), you are likely to need this 5G approach. Time will say whether manufacturers will propose it to their customers, but I think they certainly should.
Snapbridge by the Verge, 2016:
Snapbridge deep dive technical:
Nikon Image Space :