The Canon R3 Can Teach Phonecams a Thing or Two About Computational Tricks

But digital cameras generally need better software tricks

  • Regular cameras should copy the best features of phone cameras. 
  • Software can boost the built-in advantages of dedicated hardware. 
  • Advanced camera features are often too hard to use. 

A photographer holding a camera up to their eye to frame a picture.

PeopleImages / Getty Images

The Canon R3's new facial recognition trick is something that all cameras should copy. 

There are two significant differences between phone cameras and regular cameras. Cameras have better sensors and optics, so they take better pictures. Phones make up for this by packing powerful computers and can do all kinds of neat processing tricks. Phones will never have sensors that match those in larger cameras, but those cameras, like Canon's mirrorless R3, are starting to catch up, computer-wise. 

"While some photographers may prefer the manual controls and tactile feel of a traditional camera, there are areas where regular cameras could benefit from smartphone technology, such as connectivity, user interface, and ease of use. Both phone and regular cameras have seen significant advancements in recent years, particularly in low-light performance, autofocus, and image processing algorithms," Jared Floyd, filmmaker and executive producer at Ajax Creative, told Lifewire via email. 

Digital Cameras That See Faces

Thanks to a software update, the R3 can now register several faces and then prioritize those faces while you're shooting. In group shots, for example, it could always pick out your family members and focus on them at the expense of other people in the picture. And professional wedding photographers might use this to prioritize the bride(s) and groom(s), always making sure they are sharp. 

It's a fantastic feature that is a little surprising to see appear in a proper pro-level camera rather than a smartphone camera. Your iPhone, for example, already recognizes faces. It uses its facial-recognition tech to group pictures of people in your photo album.

A smartphone photographer taking pictures of someone sitting on a rock during a hike.
martin-dm / Getty Images.

And if you associate the face with a contact from the address book, which is the usual way to do things, it probably also knows their relationship to you. It seems like the iPhone is especially well-positioned to recognize family members and prioritize them in your pictures. On the other hand, the small sensors of phone cameras mean that pretty much the entire image, from front to back, is already in focus. 

But really, phone cameras already have plenty of software tricks. The real opportunity is for digital camera makers like Canon. They already have the advantage of a bigger sensor and better hardware in general. Why not just copy the best phone software in addition?

Copy Right

Digital camera makers usually aren't that great at user software. Just look at any of the desktop or mobile apps made by Canon, Nikon, and Fujifilm to see just how bad software can be these days. But they make amazing firmware, which is the software that runs on the camera hardware (although the menus and so on are still pretty poorly-designed).

That lack of software expertise might be one reason they lag behind computer companies like Apple. When digital camera companies do add fancier features, they are often clunky to use. I have used recent digital cameras with panorama and HDR features, but they are always way harder to use than the phone versions, especially when compared to Apple's iPhone camera panorama feature, where you just rotate the phone to capture a wide or tall pano. 

But that doesn't mean digital camera manufacturers shouldn't try because the benefits could be huge. 

A photographer taking pictures.

Photography taken by Mario Gutierrez / Getty Images

"Aside from facial recognition, smartphones have additional features that traditional cameras could benefit from. The capability to adjust exposure and focus by tapping on the screen is incredibly efficient and time-saving. I believe that adding these features to traditional cameras will attract tech-savvy photographers and the younger generation, who may be used to taking photos with their smartphones," photographer and photography writer Stacy Witten told Lifewire via email.

As long as smartphones use smaller lenses and sensors than big digital cameras (that is, forever), there will be a place for regular cameras with interchangeable lenses. But this fundamental difference doesn't mean that digital cameras shouldn't learn from or outright copy the best of phone cameras. Not in the least because phone cameras are closing the gap in the other direction, and the more capable they become, the less need most people will have for regular cameras. 

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