Photography, Unplugged: Going Wireless

How Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth & QR Codes Work (or Don’t) with Digital Cameras

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One way in which camera makers are adapting to the proliferation of smartphones is by incorporating wireless communications in many digital cameras. With wireless-ready digital cameras, your customers have the ability to transfer videos or photos they shoot with their cameras to social media, cloud storage or (if they’re pros working for news organizations) direct to a photo editor’s desk. It’s awesome, if a bit daunting at first.

Essentially, wireless transfer technology links digital cameras with smartphones or tablets. Users can then choose and upload images from the camera using an app on their phone. Some apps also permit users to remotely control their cameras. For the photo retailer, wireless-ready digital cameras offer customers the benefits of image sharing along with higher quality images than a smartphone. They also offer more creative flexibility, especially interchangeable-lens cameras.

But there is a lot of customer confusion about the different choices: Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth and QR codes. How many of your customers are baffled by these funny names and acronyms? Let’s take a look at what each of the technologies does and their benefits.

Wi-Fi

Perhaps more correctly called Wi-Fi Direct in the case of a digital camera, Wi-Fi lets you connect a camera to any compatible device. This could be a smartphone or tablet, or even a Wi-Fi-ready printers. The connection is via a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). Data travels via radio waves from a device to an access point that can link up with the Internet or other devices in the LAN. The devices could be many feet or yards away from each other and still connect.

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV

Each camera brand has developed its own app for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices that work with the camera. Over the years, these apps have become easier to set up. Typically, users turn on both camera and app, and the first time, they’ll be prompted to set up a Wi-Fi access point and password. Once that’s done they probably won’t have to use the password again. (But they should write it down anyway, just in case.)

The next time they use the app, they can simply open the app with the camera on and they’ll be prompted to search through the photos on the camera and choose what they want to upload. The rest should be just as easy as uploading a picture shot on a smartphone. If your customers have ever created a personal hotspot between a home computer and a smartphone, this process is similar.

Depending on the brand, they may also be able to control exposure and see the live view of the camera’s image from the mobile device. Most manufacturers have also set up cloud-based image and video storage services. Or consumers can upload images to independent cloud storage services. Examples are Dropbox, Google Cloud and SmugMug.

There are dozens of cameras at all levels that currently offer Wi-Fi connectivity. A partial list includes the Sony DSC-RX100 IV, Olympus PEN F, Canon PowerShot G5 X, Nikon D5500 and Panasonic DMC-TS6. On the high end, the Canon 5D Mark IV and 6D, and the Nikon D750, have built-in Wi-Fi; both companies offer Wi-Fi modules for other models.

NFC

NFC stands for Near Field Communication. It lets two devices establish communication by bringing them within two inches of each other.

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Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

If a camera has NFC, photographers can simply press the NFC button or menu command on the camera and do the same with a smartphone or tablet. They select the image to transfer, touch or tap the camera and the device for a moment, and wait for them to connect (they’ll see it on both screens). The devices must be kept next to each other. When connected, the image will transfer. Some cameras, more and more recently, can also be remotely controlled this way as well.

For Sony, the PlayMemories Camera Apps application lets users work NFC easily via the OneTouch NFC command on the camera and “Run the Wi-Fi function on the shooting device” on the smartphone.

The good news is that your customers don’t need to choose either or. A growing number of cameras that have Wi-Fi also have NFC, especially Sony and Panasonic models.

And an increasing range of digital cameras offer NFC, including the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II, Nikon 1 J5, Sony 7 II, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 and Samsung WB350F.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a communication standard that connects devices over a certain distance. Because of its ease of use and “always-on” technology, it can be found in a wide variety of devices. These include speakers and fitness wristbands as well as door locks and toys. All are connected, or paired, via an app on a smartphone. Bluetooth uses less power than NFC or Wi-Fi, so batteries don’t drain as quickly, and it is the easiest wireless connectivity technology to use.

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GoPro Hero5

After a relatively slow start, Bluetooth is starting to catch on for digital cameras. In early 2016, Nikon upgraded its SnapBridge app to make it easier for cameras to pair with mobile devices via Bluetooth. It was announced that this would be available in nearly all Nikon cameras going forward. Some cameras, such as GoPro action cams, use Bluetooth to establish a connection and then automatically switch to Wi-Fi. Some cameras that boast Bluetooth may seem more like smartphone accessories than stand-alone cameras and push the definition of what constitutes a camera.

The Nikon D3400 and GoPro Hero5 offer Bluetooth connectivity. The Sony DSC-QX100 and Olympus Air A01 lens-style cameras both connect to smartphones via Bluetooth. Users can then use the phone’s screen to control the camera and display images in live view.

QR Codes

A QR code (Quick Response) is a machine-readable matrix barcode that contains information about the equipment it is attached to. Typically, consumers take a picture of a barcode with a cameraphone and learn about a product or service via text or an app. This has expanded beyond its original purpose to provide information, sales or even gather data about the user for marketing purposes.

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Olympus PEN E-PL8

QR Codes are relatively new in the world of digital photography. However, their proponents say they promote easy setup between camera and smart device. Detractors say the process of linking camera to smartphone is just as simple using other methods.

The point may be moot. Only a handful of digital cameras, such as the Sony a6300 and Olympus cameras, offer this feature. In the case of the new Olympus PEN E-PL8, photographers can use the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi and easy QR code setup to link a smart device to the PEN with the free Olympus Image Share app.

They simply scan the QR code that appears on the camera monitor with a smartphone to complete connection settings with a few easy steps. Then they can remotely control the camera, frame a shot and trip the shutter. Photos can be instantly as well as wirelessly uploaded and shared.

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