Smartphones Become Compact Cameras

Two introductions during Photokina showed that smartphones aren’t done gobbling up the low-end compact camera market. Both, curiously, use large sensors.

bythom panasonic cm1.jpg

First up is Panasonic’s CM1 smartphone, which pairs a 20mp 1” sensor with a Leica 28mm (equivalent) f/2.8 lens behind a mechanical shutter. The sensor is about seven times the size of most smartphone sensors; a 20mp 1” would be about 2.5 microns compared to the iPhone 6 at 1.5 microns, so the iPhone probably has about one third the light gathering and less than half the photosites as the CM1. 

Compared to Apple’s iPhone 6, the CM1 is also three times thicker. But otherwise, it is the usual smartphone pocket size, sporting a 4.7” 1080P display. As you might guess, there’s a dedicated shutter release, but things that are less evident are the ability to adjust focus, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance manually (the first via a dedicated focus ring, the rest via the camera app). You can shoot raw files with the CM1 as well as 4K video. Also included is a microSD card slot, as the included 16GB memory probably isn’t enough for someone who’d really want to use this as a camera. Inside, the CM1 runs Android. 

Panasonic isn’t all in on the idea of the CM1, though. It will be available only in France and Germany later this year at 900 Euro as a test to see whether to pursue the product further. 

bythom relonch cam.jpg

Meanwhile, we have Relonch, which is an APS camera shell your iPhone 5 or iPhone 6 slides into. This is akin to the Sony QX model, where you “add a dedicated camera” to a smartphone, but it appears that the control mechanism is via the Lightning port, not via WiFi, which should make things a bit different. If nothing else, there’s no pairing necessary to establish the connection.

Inside the “camera” is an APS-sized sensor in front of an unspecified “normal” lens (though the images all seem to be 1:1 aspect ratio for some reason). Shown in prototype form at Photokina, this unit is said to be available “late 2015” for US$499 (orders being taken). Many of you will recognize this is as a large form of an idea I presented years ago (with the 30-pin connector on the previous iPhones). It’s an approach I expect Apple to take some day, as well. 

text and images © Thom Hogan 2015 -- all rights reserved
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