Thursday, 25 August 2016

If Apple Really Designed a Camera

The new Apple iPix will Unlock a World of Photographic Possibilities

Note: This is a re-posting of an older document first written in May 2014, interestingly the DXO camera module for the iPhone released a few months after I wrote this article included some of the ideas described here and some apps for the iPhone have also integrated a few of these aspects. Right about now Apple are preparing to launch iOS 10 and a new iPhone, currently much remains a secret regarding the phone, though of course we largely know what iOS10 will offer for photographers.

Leicaphiles get seriously worked when a new camera is released, the levels of salivation and GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) start reading at extreme levels, meanwhile the Leica detractors fulminate, frothing and pontificating on interweb forums as if the devil has just announced armageddon.

So few weeks ago Leica announced a new model that was supposed to fits the "i" generation to a “T". It hasn’t yet been a meteoric seller (still hasn't) in many ways the Leica T does look like the love child of an iPhone and a Sony Nex 5t series with sex appeal thrown in for good measure.

I am sure it is a fine camera and it does exhibit a couple of significant ground breaking features, namely the radical touch interface and the sexy one piece aluminium body, or unibody as Leica refer to it.

Would I ever buy one, not a chance, I'm too cheap for that, hell it would set me back about $4500.00 OZ to gain entry and since cameras for me are tools of trade and not neck jewellery or status symbols it just wouldn't rate in my world.

But that's not to say I don't like the look and idea of the T, I do, and for those who are keen to spend money on such items....well good on em, choice is great and it keeps things interesting.

But also being perfectly honest, aside from the body and interface there is little that is actually cutting edge about the camera, for that you would need to look into the Sony world at their sometimes clever but not always perfect for prime time options.

Lots of folk however have been saying that this is the camera Apple would make, or that it seems to have stolen "i" world DNA, some even say that Leicas' are the camera worlds’ equivalent of Apple. I disagree, the T is nowhere near as sophisticated or radical as what I feel the big A would produce if they ACTUALLY decided to make a "full on" camera to take on the camera market. (I don’t for one minute think they will, be the way)

Over the years I have actually contemplated what Apple would do if they went down the Camera production path, what would it look like, how would it be different, what would make it compelling to the camera buying public.

So with no further ado. I would like to present the Braddles blue sky dreaming Apple “iPix". Lets imagine for a few minutes this mythical device actually exists.


Memory is inbuilt but unlike the T there is no option for additional memory to be inserted.  You can choose between 128-256 gigabytes and it uses technology not dissimilar to the the solid state drives currently employed in the Macbook Pro models.  This removes one physical opening and for most target users is perfectly adequate, especially when combined with very easy high speed wifi or bluetooth transfer options.

There is no plug in battery, again it's an integrated part of the camera and able to be rapid charged via the standard iPhone lightening connection. The batteries shot capacity is somewhere around two to three times the current mirrorless offerings. Yes that might be an impediment to some users but most I am sure are perfectly fine with being able to pop off 800-900 frames in a day.  And now we have neatly removed yet another port.

In fact the only port on the iPix is the lightening port, it can do everything via appropriate adapters, and just like an iPhone it can be hooked up to external batteries, data projectors and other third party options not yet thought of.

Lens and Sensor

The sensor and lens are integrated units using a new Sony derived 24mp 1" curved sensor (now two years later and this sensor still has not seen the light of day, c'mon Sony what are you waiting for) and high speed matched 35mm equivalent f1.4 lens, no zoom and as you will see later not really needed either. It is also naturally image stabilised but uses two stabilisation modes both optical and electronic (when required ) to assist in getting steady video in low light.

The lens and sensor module can produce image quality very close to DSLR levels or even  better under good light, but most importantly it is very compact, which keeps the camera thin and not too heavy.

The shutter is a global electronic type able to operate at speeds between 60 secs though to 1/2000 normally and up to 1/40,000 with incremental “non global” readout, but due to the iPix's high speed processor it’s able to avoid the usual problems of rolling shutter. Being electronic the shutter is completely silent and vibration free.

There is also a built in variable ND filter, which makes wide aperture stills and fixed aperture video a cinch regardless of the ambient light and speaking of the aperture it is perfectly round and translucent  liquid crystal screen than allows the device to stop down without any fixed stops. (Future models will feature the option to shape the aperture opening for effect)

File Format

The saving format is also new, the new 12 bit jpeg style format, but the camera will convert files to standard jpeg on the fly for email sending and posting to the web.

There is no raw option and with this new file format it is not needed either for the intended market, this means that 128 or 256 gb memory module goes a long way, in fact many users may never actually fill their devices memory unless they shoot lots of video.

EVF and Touchscreen

Like the T the iPix uses a unibody construction but the form is more elongated, not quite like the new Sigma compact models but longer than normal for a camera with a sensor of this size.

The reason for shape? The whole interface and operational method is completely different to any other camera yet built, let me explain a little.

There are several issues with using a touch screens for photography, obviously you have to hold the device at arms length and secondly no matter how good the screen it is still hard to see in bright daylight.

So we really need an EVF for viewing and the iPix has the best EVF on the market, it had to, the Apple ethos is to always pursue a perfect user experience and only an EVF delivers. Unlike the T the EVF was never going to be an add on, that would have just stuffed up the form of the camera and to use it without one would be second rate!

But all is not peachy with EVFs, a touch interface and EVF in combination mean that the user generally needs to take the camera from the eye to make changes to menu items and settings, that's just so DSLR, so quaint,  

No friends the iPix has a touch sensitive gorilla glass plate on the front of the camera that sits just where your index finger sits as you grip the camera.  Oh and let’s diverge for a moment the iPix is very different to the T in terms of the grip. The T has a slippery grip that is not all that comfortable, it looks good but isn't truly practical!

On the iPix the grip is bigger and more ergonomically shaped, no hard edges and has recesses so third party "ultra grip" surfaces can be installed to personalise the camera, likewise the rear has a recessed area where a custom thumb grip can be installed, and again on the right side is recessed slot into which a matching grip strip can be attached. But there is even more, just under the handgrip, where your pinky sits is yet another recess for a soft grip surface so your pinky can act as an intrinsic part of your grip without any pain from extended use. It is a beautiful thing indeed to hold!

Now back to that front touch sensitive pad. The pad can control all the menu items, it can be stroked just like an Apple magic mouse, in fact it is called the “Magic Interface Pad” or iMIP.

You, as the user however never need to look at the pad because as soon as you touch it (you can lock this out if you desire to prevent accidental usage) the menus and items appear on the rear screen or in the EVF depending on which you are using.  The navigation is completely natural and super responsive.


There are just four external controls, a rotary “prime time” control around the shutter release, the soft touch release itself, a mode change button on the rear of the camera adjacent to the thumb grip and second soft touch shutter release for vertical pics located on the end of the body.

The shutter release is not located flat on the top of the camera but rather angled at about 30° from the horizontal, this is a much more natural position for reducing shutter release induced camera movement and in conjunction with the rotary wheel lines up much better with the natural position of the first finger when gripping the camera making for a more refined movement of the finger.

Flash is located around the front lens element and combines high powered LEDs and a traditional flash tube.  The LEDS have dual colour temperature operation just like an iPhone 4s to give better colour matching under mixed lighting situations.

The rotary dial controls aperture, shutter speed, mode, exposure compensation and more depending upon how you have pressed the rear button and what mode you are in.

Menus and Function

Once in the menu, the items are grouped into

Custom options
Flash options

Pressing and holding the rear button for 1.5 secs (user adjustable between 0.8 and 2 secs) enables the rotary dial to select the mode. Once you select the mode a quick single press will revert to normal operation.

If you are in Aperture priority mode rotating the dial will select the aperture.

A single quick press of the button will enable exposure compensation to be controlled via the dial.  A quick double press will enable white balance, again selected via the dial.

If you are in Shutter priority mode the functions are the same except of course the dial selects the shutter speed.

In program mode the dial selects combinations of aperture and shutter speed and the other functions remain the same.

In manual mode the dial selects aperture and the first press allows selection of shutter speed, WB remains the same.

In auto mode the dial selects the scene type or full auto, in this case the exposure compensation and WB work as fine tunings, but in the same manner.

A triple press of the thumb button in any mode gives access to the drive choices, which include, single frame, high and low speed continuous, self timer and time lapse.
When anything other than single shot are selected the dial can be used to set additional parameters.  These include, number of frames, or gap between frames or delay time.

A single quick press followed by a 1 second hold enables the selection of ISO in PASM and Video modes. All the usual options exist including Auto, fixed and Auto limited. Once in the ISO setting a further one sec hold will enable the ND filter, which again is controllable via the dial.

The camera is turned on by a two second press in the middle of the front track pad, and a two second hold turns the camera off.  The camera will go into sleep mode after 5 mins, though this can be changed and will wake up within 0.5 secs if the shutter button is pressed.  A single quick press in the middle of the track pad accesses the menu items.

The track pad can be used to select menu items via firm pressure, light pressure will allow it to manually select the focus point.

A single swipe across the pad will enter playback and allow selection of the image, again tapping lightly on the displayed image will allow zooming in on that part of the image. A single tap of the rear button will bring you out of zoom ready to select another image to view.


In image capture mode stroking up or down selects zoom and here we need a little explanation.  No, it’s not an optical zoom, but it’s not a crop type digital zoom either.
Instead the camera captures a very quick succession of frames where the sensor is shifted microscopically between frames, these are then up sampled and merged to create an ultra high res composite, higher zoom levels use a higher number of donor frames. The resulting file is then cropped down to match the focal length you desired.

When viewing the image prior to capture you can choose to either have the viewfinder show the whole image with a crop box in the middle to indicate the pre-chosen framing or simply show only the cropped section.  Obviously this method of operation is not ideal for high speed action but Apple aren’t marketing the camera as an alternative to the DSLR long zoom combo.

If you choose the former option and nominate the object you wish to concentrate on the camera will move the crop box around inside the full frame and then crop the section out you want discarding the rest of the frame, this can help when you want to follow moderate speed action.

The ISO raises as you zoom in to allow for higher shutter speeds and thus limit movement of both the subject and camera, in turn the camera takes a greater number of frames at increasingly higher shutter speeds.  The increased averaging keeps the noise low, a special algorithm is used to isolate any moving subject part of the image from the frame and only stack enough frames needed to obtain good quality without a noise penalty for just that part of the frame. 

Stroking to a wider setting than the fixed focal length enables a high speed image stitch, you rotate the camera about its end to encompass the view you need and it will stitch them together at full resolution.

The inbuilt image stabilisation counteracts the movement at the time of exposure for the donor frames and the software can also fix any residual blur in the direction of the sweep before stitching.

Because the lens is perfectly matched to the sensor and has very low residual aberrations stitching works far better than it does with normal camera/lens combinations.

The equivalent zoom coverage compared to a normal 35mm frame coverage is 24-105mm which covers 95% or more of most peoples needs.

The Screen

The Leica T supposedly has a pretty good screen, well good, but not iPhone quality, but the new iPix is as good as an iPhone 5s because it is an an IPhone 5s screen and friends that is far far better than just about any current camera on the market  (still is despite 2 years of progress) and an aspect that iPhone users rave about!


Of course being an Apple device it integrates seamlessly with all other devices and is in fact meant to be used in conjunction with your iPad Retina or other device, and just like your iPhone or iPad your new iPix can browse the web, post an email or message ( normally voice generated using the new version of Siri).  Perhaps best of all the iPix can work with apps, so who knows what amazing features may be added within the next few years by the grace and effort of the worlds most talented app developers.

But there is more, with Apple there always is, your iPix works seamlessly with the iCloud.

You want special purpose tools for your photography, the iPix offers built in HDR, focus Stacking, noise reduction stacking, panoramas, stop motion, slow mo movie and more just like many other cameras....but only better because the iPix is loaded with superior processing power that regular cameras can only dream of.

Of course the iPix just like the T is beautiful, you will want to hold it for the sheer joy of the experience but it is not an exercise in function following form, it truly is an ergonomic masterpiece and the finish will stay that way for years to come.

And now the final stroke....the cost.  Well this technological tour de force could sell for thousands, but Apple want this to be accessible by the broader market, they want to create a mass buzz, so the iPix will be sold for $999.00 for the 128 gb models and $1199.00 for the 256gb version.

And of course there are an enormous array of reasonably priced iPix custom accessories available for your new camera.

The iPix is available only at your Apple store or via Apple on line.

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