Every day, we receive loads of requests to develop another carbon copy of Uber, Tinder, Instagram, Facebook, and so on. But what about those niche apps that are being developed neither for profit nor to fulfill someone’s burning business ambitions? What about apps that aim to, first of all, fix the imperfections in the world and deal with some really tricky tasks? Unfortunately, requests for such apps are rare these days. So I’ve decided to fix that.
I was lucky to work on the concept for an app that deals with one such tricky task. It’s great when you have the chance to work on a solution to a problem that’s very close to you. So what’s the problem in my case?
With eight years of experience in photography, I can easily spot the disadvantages of camera interfaces, and I know exactly what features certain camera applications lack. That’s why for my experiment I looked at the professional photography apps niche.
Nowadays, the photography app market is very diverse: There are many mobile apps to take and retouch photos using your mobile phone cameras. However, the situation is different when it comes to apps that work in concert with professional cameras – this branch of apps is rather poorly developed. Of course, there are a number of apps developed by popular camera manufacturers – the Fujifilm Camera Remote app, Canon Camera Connect, and even Nikon’s Wireless Mobile Utility. But the truth is, they all suck…
These apps are designed by vendors to work solely with their equipment, making users dependent on whatever app supports their gear. In other words, camera makers create barriers for users that complicate their lives (as well as the user experience) instead of making them easier.
[The Fujifilm Camera Remote app]
So how can we help modern professional camera users?
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to take photos on your smartphone? Nowadays everyone (including your grandma) is capable of taking pictures with a phone, but at the same time not everyone can deal with professional cameras quite as well. What if we gave people the opportunity to manage their professional cameras via mobile phones? What if we could make this remote control just as easy, intuitive, and understandable as shooting selfies or slow-mo videos on your phone? Plus, we could add a number of useful features currently not available to photographers.
We thought it would be great to provide photographers with all the benefits of modern mobile technologies, since nowadays you don’t necessarily have to connect your camera to a computer to upload photos – after all, modern mobile devices are perfectly capable of processing and retouching shots of almost any format and quality, whether standard JPEG or RAW/NEF files. Plus, with mobile devices users can easily share their photos on social networks or save them to cloud storage.
At this point, it shouldn’t be hard to guess what our project is all about…
Shootapp, as we call it, is a mobile app that allows you to remotely control your photo and video cameras and transmit the live image from the camera to the phone’s display. It also lets you view your photos on a mobile device, share them via social networks, and send them to third-party applications for retouching.
We’ve created the Shootapp concept with one simple idea in mind – to solve the most common problems of existing camera companion apps. And what was the tool that helped us do so? Thoughtful UI/UX design.
First, let’s define the problems our UI/UX design solves.
What exactly do most camera companion apps lack? Having studied the UI/UX of the most popular products in the sphere and having done exhaustive market analysis, I came up with a list of the most common problems. Here’s what my list looks like:
Lock-ins and poor connection flows
As I said before, one of the main drawbacks to existing photo shooting apps is their dependence on gear. Unfortunately, most companies don’t provide APIs that independent applications can be based on. Camera companies also refuse to collaborate with third-party developers to deliver independent app solutions to the market. So far, you can barely find an independent photo shooting app that supports different cameras via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
[The Fujifilm Camera Remote app - Connection]
Proprietary apps usually have a crappy connection flow, which is a serious drawback since all app functionality is only accessible when a camera is connected.
Unintelligible and outdated UI
These days, most photography apps are still stuck in the skeuomorphic past. At first sight, it may seem logical to make interface elements look like real camera buttons and controls. On the one hand, this can make everything intuitive so your users can easily guess what controls are responsible for. In reality, however, interacting with real buttons is completely different from interacting with digital buttons (for instance, sometimes you need to long press a button on a camera and twist a dial simultaneously, which is impossible to implement on a touchscreen).
[Canon - the physical camera interface]
Moreover, by implementing overly realistic objects you risk overloading an already complex interface with additional shades, textures, and so on.
Absence of artistic shooting modes
Let me clarify some terminology first. By artistic modes, I mean different features such as time lapse, bracketing, stop-motion, HDR, and bulb. These days, photography is more than just shots and postproduction. So why not add such preset modes to your application?
What features can we add?
Intuitive control over settings
Some of my friends who aren’t into photography don’t even try to hide their wonder when they see all the buttons and switches on a professional camera. However, as soon as they take it in their hands, they realize that a camera with all those controls isn’t that scary. In just a couple of minutes, you can see that all controls are at your fingertips.
The easiness and convenience of a physical camera interface is really inspiring. “Why not use this in an application?” I thought. But mind you, here I’m talking about the placement of digital buttons, not about their appearance.
Convenient flash control
Imagine the following situation: You’ve set your camera up on a tripod at a distant point and you’ve connected several flashes, each with different modifications. Each flash has its own completely different intensity settings. Tuning such a system manually requires a lot of moves (which can be inconvenient). For such situations, it would be nice to give users the opportunity to adjust flash systems remotely.
Smart wearables are still quite popular among modern buyers. According to Statista, smartwatch sales in the US have amounted to around 12.8 million units in 2017 so far. Wearables integration could be one of the main features of our app.
How exactly will it influence the user experience? A wearable extension can make an app even more convenient, since you can perform some of the most frequent actions without a mobile phone.
With a smartwatch app, the main version of the application (a mobile app) would provide the complete set of features, whereas the Shootapp smartwatch extension could be assigned several of the most important tasks. For example, a watch could have a digital shutter-release button and a button for switching between photo and video modes – sounds like convenient stuff.
Moreover, such an application could prove that a smartwatch can be quite a useful gizmo rather than just a stupid accessory glistening on your wrist.
Our target audience is professional photographers, videographers, and amateur photographers who have just started their journey.
[Remote camera management]
Professionals will be able to change settings remotely; they’ll also get access to initial files and will be able to send them to third-party apps on their phone for editing.
Amateurs will be able to start experimenting with photography without being oppressed or confused with a complex UI. Instead, they’ll be able to enjoy the process.
Sports journalists who shoot from distant static points and nature photographers who for some reason don’t want to be eaten and digested by their wild “models” may find such an app useful and enjoyable as well.
Here’s a list of the basic features that Shootapp includes:
Wi-Fi camera connection
Camera connection manager
Live View mode with portrait and landscape orientation
Quick export with file format options and EXIF editing
Camera built-in level display
Gallery with previews, as well as import, sorting, rating, and file management
Editing in third-party apps
Cloud service integration
Battery level monitor
File details (EXIF, histogram)
Volume buttons as camera setting controls
Pro and Amateur interface modes
Cache preview cleaning
As for the shooting functions:
Shutter release modes (auto, manual, aperture, and shutter priority)
Creative modes (timelapse / HDR / bulb / bracketing)
Exposure compensation and metering selector
White balance (presets and kelvin)
Focusing (tap focusing, focusing point selection, manual focusing)
Flashlight control with group manager
Drive modes (single shot, burst, timer)
File format selector
Memory card free space monitor
The smartwatch extension includes the following features:
Photo/video mode selector
[Shootapp - wireframes]
The full case study will arrive very soon.
Of course, we plan to bring our concept to life sometime soon.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to share your thoughts about Shootapp. Does Shootapp deserve to be built? Would you like to see it among your favorite apps on your device? What other features should be included?
We’re looking forward to hearing from you. Drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to develop your own camera app. And, of course, may inspiration be with you. See ya soon!