BitDepth#928 - March 18

Putting an Android powered camera, Samsung's EK-GC100, to the test on Carnival Tuesday.
Is this the ultimate camera?
Reigning Miss Trinidad and Tobago candidate for Miss Universe, Catherine Miller poses for a distinctly unthreatening camera on Carnival Tuesday at the Socadrome. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

“I’d like a SIM card for my camera, please.”
I have to say; the lady behind the counter didn’t bat an eye.
In fact, she batted the statement back with considerable aplomb, catching me by surprise.
“Does it have a keypad?”

I'd misunderstood the question, of course. The device had a digital keyboard, but what was needed was the capacity to dial into the company’s digital services to activate the SIM. I eventually solved the problem by following her advice and putting the SIM in my phone to activate it then putting it in the camera.

The Samsung EK-GC100 is many things, far more than you’d expect in a device that looks like a standard point and shoot (P&S) camera, but it isn’t a phone.
What it is, though, is likely the herald of more advancements in digital cameras that advance the merging of phones, computing devices and image capture into one package that does everything with minimal compromise.
The rather clumsily named
EK-GC100 is part of a line of devices from Samsung which graft the brain of an Android tablet into the standard form factor of a P&S.

On boot, it declares itself to be a Samsung Galaxy Camera, so that seems as good a way to refer to it as any.
After the rather lengthy startup process that’s typical of Galaxy devices, the camera switches directly into P&S mode, filling the screen with an image of whatever the lens happens to be pointing at.

Overlaid on the live view are a few buttons at right, to go quickly from video to stills and a mode view that allows manual control as well as the camera presets that appear on all Galaxy camera phones.
At top left though, is a little home button that drops you into Samsung’s standard Android interface, where you can browse the web, collect e-mail, download apps and most usefully, transfer files you’ve captured on the camera.

As an upgrade to a camera phone, you get a true zoom, roughly equivalent to a 28mm - 105mm lens on a DSLR that’s quite crisp and sharp. You do lose the ability to make calls unless you fire up Skype.

As a sidegrade from a P&S, you get the full Android experience, with most apps available for version 4 of the OS running well on the system. You can also transmit files using a mobile data plan or WiFi without having to rely on a custom built transmission card like the Eye-Fi SD card with the convenience of choosing your transmission software.

As a downgrade to a DSLR, you get less of a camera but more of a computer, which begins to hover in the direction of a sweet spot where the camera and computer merge into one peerless device.
I’ve got a camera, the Canon 6D, which has built-in WiFi capability but no way to manage files on the card before transmission. To consider it in a fast transmission workflow, I’d have to pair it up with a laptop, which immediately takes us from an additional camera weighing less than half a pound to a major commitment to live transmission.

The EK-GC100 promises a world in which such considerations aren’t divided into separate devices. We aren’t there yet, but the Galaxy Camera takes us along one interesting road to that halcyon goal.
The camera arrived for testing just a few days before Carnival. I couldn’t confirm WiFi connectivity where I planned to road test it at the SocaDrome, so I bought a seven day, 1GB plan and accompanying micro-SIM card for roughly TT$100 as a backup and set up the software for the project on the device.

Unfortunately, my image editing software of choice for Android, Adobe’s capable, albeit stripped down Photoshop Touch, wasn’t compatible with the device, so I went with a combination of Snapseed and QuickPic as an image editing suite.
Here’s how that worked during the four and a half hours of activity at the Socadrome.

The screen on the back of the camera is almost useless in direct sunlight. I could do basic framing, but eventually fell back on my experience using a wide-angle lens close-up as a technique for capturing images.
The camera was quick at capture, rattling of brisk sequences of 8MP JPEG files but proved hesitant to display and edit them. The device uses a Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9, but felt much slower than its specs when taxed with detailed Carnival photos (most were 4-6MB).

Jumping between two apps to tone and resize images probably didn’t help matters much either.
Doing quick edits and transmitting to the T&T Guardian (via e-mail and lochoing off of CarnivalTV’s WiFi) sounds like a good idea, but the process takes long enough and viewing images on the screen even in shade was so taxing that ultimately the whole process proved too much effort for too little return.

Two images ended up in the next day’s Guardian and three in that Friday’s edition of Metro, so in that specific space managing that particular challenge, the Galaxy camera delivered what it promised and I count the experience a success.

It remains, however, like many early standards bearers for fundamental change in photography (I am put to mind of Apple’s QuickTake camera here, the first truly affordable digital camera), too little camera for the size of the expectations that it must bear.
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