A new wave of wirelessly-connected cameras is expected to be one of the major camera trends at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and we may have already seen the first ripples in that wave.
Two early, unrelated announcements from Eye-Fi and Samsung at CES 2011 aim to create wireless peer-to-peer connections between cameras and mobile phones. They're undoubtedly a direct response to the smartphone's steady creep on the point-and-shoot camera's market share, and while neither product eliminates the hassle of carrying both a camera and a phone along with you, both foster collaboration between the now-competing devices.
Eye-Fi Direct Mode
Wi-Fi connectivity has long been the drawing point of Eye-Fi's storage cards, but the just-announced Eye-Fi Direct Mode feature adds a smartphone-centric twist to the company's Eye-Fi X2 cards. The new mode establishes a peer-to-peer connection between an Eye-Fi-compatible camera to a mobile device without the need for a hotspot, beaming photos from the camera to the phone instantly.
Eye-Fi says that once a Direct Mode-enabled card is inserted into a camera, the phone should see the card as a wireless access point and allow you to connect. Once photos are transferred to the mobile device, they can be shared via the phone's cellular connection, retouched by photography apps installed on the device, and otherwise treated like any picture taken by the device's own camera.
On the phone side of the equation, you need to download a free app in order for Eye-Fi Direct Mode to work properly. Eye-Fi says the Direct Mode feature will be offered as a free upgrade for existing Eye-Fi X2 owners in the coming months.
From the sound of it, Eye-Fi Direct Mode looks like an intriguing middle man between a camera and a smartphone for a few reasons: it's a free, software-based solution if you've already got an Eye-Fi X2 card; it should be compatible with higher-end cameras and a wide range of phones; and it doesn't require a hotspot to make the camera-to-phone connection.
Samsung is also no stranger to the wireless-connected camera game, but the Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung SH100 camera is the first to connect directly with the company's Galaxy S line of Android phones. While the new SH100's mobile peer-to-peer connectivity is limited to Galaxy S phones, it also connects directly to the Web via Wi-Fi and to DLNA-compliant home devices.
The SH100's smartphone-connectivity options are quite different from Eye-Fi Direct Mode, as they let you use Samsung's Android phones as a remote control, remote viewfinder, and geotagging device for the camera's photos. The SH100's ability to use a phone as a remote control and viewfinder might come in handy for odd-angle shots, self-portraits, and situations where you'd leave the camera unattended when snapping a shot (for example, photographing a skittish animal or a dangerous beast).
Video: Samsung SH100's Wireless Remote App
We've seen this sort of functionality before in the DSLR Camera Remote app for Apple's iOS devices, but that requires a USB connection from a Canon or Nikon DSLR to a computer with installed software. The new Samsung offering offers a direct wireless connection from the camera to a phone, eliminating some cumbersome steps.
Also cut from the smartphone cloth is the SH100's touchscreen interface, which Samsung says eases wireless sharing directly from the camera by employing a phone-like UI and "app-style icons."
The $200 price is nice for the Samsung SH100, which is due out in March, but its specs are a bit ho-hum for a camera built to be used as a higher-end alternative to a camera phone. It has a 14-megapixel CCD sensor, a wide-angle 5x optical zoom lens (26mm to 130mm), digital image stabilization, and 720p video recording. To go along with the camera, Samsung is also offering a free subscription to Boingo's public Wi-Fi hotspots for on-the-go uploads.
Unfortunately, it's unknown at this point whether the camera's peer-to-peer skills are compatible with Samsung's Galaxy Tab and whether it needs a Wi-Fi hotspot to connect with a phone. As soon as we get some hands-on time with the SH100, we'll update this story with that info. As it is, the SH100 looks like a limited option for bridging the smartphone-camera divide, given the fact that it only syncs up with Samsung's Android phones.