Thursday, July 3, 2014

RAW support announced for Android 5.0

It is official, Google will include a new set of APIs that will allow devices to save DNG (digital negatives) files directly to storage in the next iteration of Android—codenamed "L".

For sometime now, mobile photographers have been wondering when such a support would come  after Nokia made this possible on their Lumia 1020. I have previously written about this possibility but Android 4.4 seems to have missed this part totally. Now that it is official, we can effectively leave that spiffy compact camera at home while we travel.

And why shouldn't you dump that DSLR altogether? Bokeh can now be artificially dialed in using Google's KitKat camera app. This was one of the last bastions of the DSLR as 'bokeh' looked so delicious. All a sudden, that new full frame camera doesn't make much sense anymore. The reality of the issue is that people's needs are changing and with social sharing on the go, there is no need to upload photos after your journey is over. Everything happens instantly and with the smartphone, it makes showing off so much easier.

How RAW will Change your Digital Workflow

In the past, hobbyist photographers would carry everything just to maximize the opportunity of the moment. For example, carrying half a dozen lenses along with their muscle building DSLRs just to capture everything that can be shot and regretting it later as the weight of the equipment wears you down. And with that much gear, how could a holiday be enjoyable when you heave that load up the London Bridge?

This is how the prosumer camera was born and even then, it became a hassle to carry because you also needed a computer with an internet connection to edit and upload pictures of your journey.

Today, the humble smartphone is the prosumer camera of choice. Nokia's 1020 was the perfect embodiment of that concept as the 40 megapixel image also gave you the option to digitally zoom and crop the image with ample left over pixels for use on social sharing sites. For an image to look good on the Internet, you only need between 3 to 5 megapixels.

With the new RAW file API announcement, mobile photographers can expect to claw back up to 2 stops in dynamic range captured on Android 5 camera API. Pro image editing software can also be used to process your enhancements (be in on the cloud or in a app) and there is suddenly so much more reasons to junk that PC when you travel.

RAW editing comes with a Cost

So let's talk about the downside of RAW image capture and editing and it's not pretty. First, you need more RAM. Think of 4GB and above. By the end of the year, 4GB is going to be standard if you want your investment to last 18 months into the future.

Camera sensors on Android devices will be more dense, from 16 megapixels to over 20 megapixels and in RAW, that's a lot of storage. To edit an image that large, you need at least 4GB. The current slew of devices offering 2GB RAM and 16GB Internal storage is barely enough—thanks largely to the way Google has structured internal and external storage usage in KitKat. Internal storage, at 16GB is hardly enough to satisfy the needs of current users and you will need 32GB just to manage.

Hopefully hardware cost will come down (storage cost has plummeted but that hasn't changed the price of the new devices) in the near future to offset the cost of storage. I hate to think that adding a SD card is going to change much once if you need to work from internal storage and RAM.  

Apple to play Catch Up

Apple will continue to avoid RAW and stick to JPGs. That's for good reason though as iPhones are not made with 512GB of storage as a standard. I am often reminded of the fact that bigger and better iPhones will cost more money and this will impact the way people will buy into the ecosystem.

The question now is how Apple can help to equalize the competition as Android camera phones ante up on those features.

Trusted that Microsoft's Windows Mobile already has a niche in this technology by way of the Lumia 1020, Apple is now officially lagging behind even after the iOS 8 camera feature announcements. At WWDC, Apple unveiled burst mode, time lapse mode and focus/exposure lock features that could only be described as a cure for insomnia. With the exception of focus/exposure lock features, the rest were already available on apps which are either free of paid. iOS 8 APIs have also been opened up for apps to give manual controls to the end user—something that Android has been doing for the longest time. Ground breaking news this isn't. Apple has to face the fact that it's manual capabilities are no match for what is already capable both on the Lumia 1020 and KitKat based apps.

Google's Android camera app is spearing ahead of the competition and more is expected in the pipeline. Mobile photographers who are keen to build their credibility will now have to toss that iPhone and embrace both Microsoft and Android with enthusiasm for it is the only way for them to be taken seriously. The iPhone has finally lost its luster among serious mobile photographers.


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