Relonch wanted me to fall in love with photography again this CES. But its camera is so radically different from everything I've used before that I struggled to put my faith in its promise.
The company is based in Palo Alto, California, and its pitch is simple, if very Silicon Valley: a camera as a service. You hand in your old shooter (yes, really) and in return you get the 291, a unique, leather-bound DLSR-shaped camera. It has an APS-C sensor; a fixed, 45mm-equivalent lens; an electronic viewfinder; a shutter key; and, importantly, a 4G radio inside.
The 291 uses that radio to send raw files to Relonch's servers. Once they're there, AI scans through your shots and picks the best ones. To do this, it identifies the individual elements in the photos using computer vision and judges your composition. It'll then process the raws, individually lighting and coloring elements before applying its own crop and sending them back as JPEGs.
You receive a batch of photos each morning, which is key to Relonch's business model. The idea is you choose the photos you love as part of your morning ritual, which reminds you to take your camera out again and keep snapping.
The 291 itself is free. The photos are sent to you as small, watermarked files, and you have the option to keep them, which grants access to the full-size file (as large as 20 megapixels, depending on how the AI has decided to crop it). Each photo you keep costs $1, and you start your account with the market value of the camera you handed in as credit. Oh, and if you decide you want to pick a photo at a later date, you can always go back and buy it. Likewise, if you don't like the 291, you can hand it back in exchange for your old camera.
That financial proposition is what intrigues me most. Over the past five years I've spent $3,000 or so on various cameras and lenses. I've probably processed and kept maybe 300 photos, outside of work. (Of course, there are another 30,000 or so that are gathering digital dust on various SD cards and hard drives.)