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November 30th 2012 2:21 pm

Cameras are now offering online connectivity, but are they any good?

For years the distinction between digital cameras and phone cameras was this: if you wanted to take high-quality photos with optical zoom and flash and all the other bells and whistles, you got a regular camera. If image quality didn't matter to you and you wanted to be able to share your photos instantly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on, you got a camera phone. Unfortunately for camera manufacturers, phone manufacturers have been upping their game, making phones whose cameras rival the best point-and-shoots. Regular cameras were losing the war of features.

Now camera manufacturers are finally fighting back, so to speak, by making cameras with connectivity. WiFi is not necessarily a new feature in cameras (and even without WiFi built into the camera you could always put in an Eye-Fi card and let that do the lifting), but what camera makers have realized is that the appeal of camera phones is not just instant uploads, but social features. People want to be able to tag, comment, and add filters to their photos anywhere. So we're not only seeing cameras with WiFi, but cameras that actually connect to social networking services, and even cameras that run Android. Two such cameras are the COOLPIX S800c and the recently released Galaxy Camera. One big problem: the image quality isn't up to snuff with other cameras. Also, the S800c also runs an older version of Android (the Galaxy Camera runs Jelly Bean). And with the Galaxy Camera, you're going to need a data plan for the 3G.

The PowerShot S110 is a follow up to last year's excellent S100 (a gdgt Must-have) that now has WiFi as a feature. You can send pictures directly to your smartphone (iOS or Android) and share them through a special Canon app that connects to social networking sites. It's great when you're on a long trip and don't have access to a computer, but it's still a bit unwieldy to enable "instant" sharing.

If you don't want to bother with a dedicated camera Recently Will.i.am (singer/songwriter/rapper of Black Eyed Peas fame) teamed up with Selfridges in the UK to produce a series of phone shells/cases that add a 14-megapixel sensor and interchangeable lenses to your iPhone 4/4S or iPhone 5 so it looks and acts like a real camera. It even has loops on the side to attach a proper camera strap. The name may be silly and the designs are gaudy, but the idea is a bit intriguing. Unfortunately it comes at a price: £199 and up ($300+). Phone not included.

Would you be willing to accept a camera that took better pictures than your smartphone, but still not better than a dedicated camera, if it allowed you all the social features you've becoming accustomed to? Or do convergence and convenience still trump image quality?

And how silly is a name like "foto.sosho"?

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I really love the idea of an Android-based camera, and was hoping the Galaxy Camera would be better. I'm not surprised that it's not; like the Nikon S800C, it's a first-gen product, and Samsung will undoubtedly come out with a second-generation version that will be better. I'm actually optimistic about Samsung's chances here. They're one of the few companies that is successful in both the camera and phone markets, and they're continuing to come out with innovative features in both categories. If the Galaxy Camera II is about $100 cheaper and takes better pictures, I'll be the first in line to get one, and may even link it to my AT&T data plan.
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