Apps. In the last few years, apps have transformed the mobile phone, allowing you to customise your dog and bone to your heart's content. And now Sony introduces PlayMemories, the first app store for cameras, so you can do the same for your Sony NEX camera.
The first camera to download apps from PlayMemories will be the forthcoming lens-swapping Sony NEX-5R. With Wi-Fi bult-in, the NEX-5R connects to the PlayMemories app store and downloads apps wirelessly in moments, just like an Android or iPhone smart phone -- read our preview here soon.
New PlayMemories camera apps will be available in the UK from October. Sony has outlined some of the apps that could fire up your camera, including ones that add extra effects or let your phone talk to your camera.
The first app is Picture Effect+, which adds new special effects and filters to the camera's Picture Effect mode.
Bracket Pro automatically brackets your shots -- in other words, it fires a rapid burst of three images at slightly different settings and then lets you pick the best. That way you don't have to get the shutter speed, aperture or focus spot-on -- just get things looking roughly right and let the camera try different settings so you end up with the best snap.
Multi Frame NR also captures a series of images at different settings in rapid succession, but this time it automatically blends them together into one photo.
That's useful in low-light situations when a flash would be too harsh because you want to preserve the cosy feel of the scene -- but without the flash the camera struggles to record enough light to produce a picture that isn't too murky. The solution is to increase the camera's sensitivity to light, or ISO, but that comes with speckly image noise. So the NR app aims for noise reduction, taking pictures at different ISO settings and combining them for a clean final picture.
When you've taken a picture, the Photo Retouch app gives you a palette of adjustments to get the snap looking just right. You can change the brightness, saturation and contrast or add automatic one-click effects like a blemish-banishing Soft Skin effect. You can crop and resize pictures too. The app can even spot faces and automatically crop the picture to keep them nicely framed in the finished shot.
When you're happy with the results, the Direct Upload app lets you upload photos directly from the camera to PlayMemories Online or Facebook.
More apps are on the cards, including Time-lapse and Cinematic Photo, which creates a sort of animated image that moves slightly.
Camera and phone in perfect harmony
Apps also allow your phone to talk to your camera. Download the PlayMemories Mobile and Smart Remote Control to your Android phone and NEX camera, and you can use the blower as a remote control for the snapper.
So when you're taking a group photo, you can join the gaggle of family or friends with your mobile in hand, looking at the phone screen to compose the shot so everyone's in. There's no need to leave a gap at the side of the group to dash into, because you're already in the picture and ready to snap at leisure.
Captured pictures are also automatically sent to your smart phone or tablet for backup, or for sharing via 3G if you haven't got Wi-Fi for the camera to share.
Google's Android software is well established on mobile phones, but it can power just about any device, and bring apps to just about anything. Sony's appy snappers follow the Nikon Coolpix S800c and Polaroid cameras as Android snappers, but Sony's PlayMemories is the first major app store for cameras.
As such, Sony PlayMemories represents a bold step for photographers. It's no overstatement to say that apps have transformed the mobile phone, and they could do the same for cameras. It's still early days, as apps are currently only earmarked for the Sony NEX-5R, but we expect to see a lot more cameras with access to apps very soon.