Apple Camera

This is an Apple fan-fiction post. Even less relevant than when I wrote about why Apple should make AirPorts again. This is a product that I don’t see Apple making, but I’d like to wish it into existence. It struck me that we have a lot of various parts lying around, and a seemingly increasing desire on the part of Apple to be an end-to-end solution where the entire video production process to take place on Apple hardware (they seem a little less motivated on the software front).

What if Apple made a camera?

No, not the QuickTake, smartass.

Apple is one of the biggest camera makers in the world, and everyone sees images and video captured on one of their cameras every day, but those cameras are really part of a whole phone pocket-computer device. What if there was an accessory that was first and foremost a camera.

The Use Cases

Last Fall Apple had an event (showed a video on the internet) for “Scary Fast” M3 MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, and iMacs. They shot the whole event on iPhones and told everyone how they did it. A bunch of first-principles nerds got their computer engineering degrees in a wad over how they used lights because they felt that was cheating.

When Apple talked about the M4 iPad Pro at the Spring iPad Event Apple was a little less forthcoming with the details, but they still shot it with iPhones. More importantly, they showed off Final Cut Camera, an app that could be used on iPhones and iPads to offer some manual video recording controls, but it was really there to enable the iPad Pro to control the focus and pull in streams to Final Cut for iPad version 2.

You, and a few of your closest friends, could put together a multicam production on the fly with the iPad Pro being video village

You don’t have to own all of those iPhones, and it’s supposed to be like authorizing other ad-hoc networked devices, but if they weren’t your iPhones you were reliant on those people to have those iPhones to do your work. What if you were going to shoot several angles of sick skateboard tricks, but then Chet went and got a Samsung Galaxy? Thanks, Chet. Total Chet move.

People might not own all their cameras, and turn to rental houses to provide cameras to them for a shoot, but to my knowledge no one rents iPhones out. It’s possible someone does and I just haven’t heard of it, I’m not all-knowing, but it’s not the price that keeps people from renting them as they rent significantly more expensive cameras than iPhones. I guess because people think of them as cellular devices? How do you set it up and then return it to the rental house every few days?

Buying four iPhones is a thing a person could do too, but again, it seems like overkill. They’re destined to record or stream footage, and the rest of their capabilities are not only a waste, but there’s added complexity for device management.

This is also part of the reason why people have Continuity Camera struggles. Do they keep an iPhone worth over a thousand dollars just to use as a web cam once in awhile? Do they precariously balance that slab of glass on their monitor, or their living room TV with Belkin’s clips?

People turn to dedicated devices for these things if it’s something they do often. They invest in bulky, but robust, Sony mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses, or they grab the very popular DJI Osmo Pocket 3 to record their vlogs with something that’s a lot easier to hold for long periods than a glass rectangle. Many other hybrid stills and video cameras are on the market with each camera manufacturer trying to get a slice of the “creator” market.

Keep in mind that the vlogging-centric cameras have screens that either face the subject of the recording, or can swivel to face the subject, for the person recording themselves to monitor what the hell they’re recording.

The iPhone’s FaceTime camera, on the same side as the display, is nowhere near as good as the primary wide-angle lens on the back. That’s why Continuity Camera defaults to use the best camera, and you monitor from your … uh … monitor. With the iPad Pro you can monitor the streams from the iPad.

What if you could monitor from your iPad or iPhone the output of an Apple Camera? The screen could be anywhere you wanted it to be. Many cameras have a way to stream live video feeds to iOS apps made by the camera manufacturer but those apps are janky, and their connections fragile.

Is there a compelling product if you took the camera module from an iPhone, a big battery, some (removable, please) storage, WiFi, and put it all in one package? You could have something more cube-shaped than slab-shaped, and you could mount it anywhere with little concern over breaking something tied to a 2-3 year-long cellular plan.

Apple famously made the iPod Touch for many years, which was a stripped-down iPhone. There was very little reason to own both an iPod Touch and an iPhone because they were so similar.

It wouldn’t be competing with phones, it would be competing with DJI Osmo Pockets, GoPros, Sony and Canon “vlogger” cameras. It wouldn’t run games, or have an app store, and thus no regulation headaches. It wouldn’t cannibalize iPhone sales because it would be an iPhone accessory. You connect it up with Final Cut Camera and you’ve got synergy out the wazoo.

On a darker level, that appeals to the C-suite: If people invest in kitting out a bunch of non-iPhone cameras to go with their iPhone and iPad Pro then they’re firmly in your eco system, instead of relying on friends with iPhones, or relying on a person to over-leverage themselves on buying a stack of unlocked iPhones.

What Would That Product Look Like?

So we’re talking about something cube-ish with multiple mounting points. Ideally it has at least the wide-angle lens if not the complete camera array from the back side of the current generation of iPhone Pro Max. They could give it the thickness needed to have a real zoom lens and only one camera sensor, but I don’t know if they want to put themselves in the position of people asking for that on the increasingly thin phones that couldn’t possibly support it.

It could even be stripped down to just the wide-angle lens and maybe the LiDAR sensor, like the camera package on the M4 iPad Pro. Use that to assist in Cinematic Mode post-defocus. Apple could station those around a space and interpolate multiple LiDar feeds into a more stable mesh for projection shenanigans for Vision Pro.

It’s just a camera though, that’s the important part, and it wouldn’t be called iSight or QuickTake. They’d follow the very bland Apple naming convention of Apple Camera.

There would be some amount of on-device storage, of course, with multiple tiers where no one would want to buy the lowest tier but it would always be on sale on Amazon.

However, I would love to see a Cfast or SD card slot so the device could be entirely contained without external drives hanging off a USB-C port. It could write to the onboard storage, and card/external so there were backups (and a reason for internal storage) or write proxy files to one or the other. The important thing is that it can write out a lot, and it can write it out quickly, because it should support the precious log and ProRes abilities that make the iPhone flexible enough to do this kind of work to begin with.

The camera output would also be streamed to a controlling iPad or iPhone with the Final Cut Camera app, or to a Mac with Continuity Camera.

It seems unlikely Apple would ever design something as ergonomic for holding as the DJI Osmo Pocket 3, something as utilitarian as a Sony ZV-E1, or something with the mounting points of a Sony FX3. At least give it one threaded screw mount on the bottom so not everything is gingerly clipped to it with rubber pads. They could always make it some awkward-to-hold nightmare and rely on SmallRig (or their favorite ugly-accessory maker Belkin) to provide the actual utility.

That would satisfy the needs of any vlogger, influencer, or person-who-wants-to-have-the-nicest-camera-in-the-meeting.

The non-iPhone camera doesn’t have to manage anything other than the camera, the storage, and it’s ad-hoc WiFi. It’s not playing music, browsing the web, getting phone calls, loading QR menu PDFs, getting iMessages, dialing 9-1-1 — it’s just a camera, and it just recycles as many parts as possible.

Apple Camera Pro

Why stop there? If I’m imagining something completely improbable so why limit my famously optimistic scope? Let’s talk about something Apple very much wants to be associated with: filmmaking.

Apple shot their Spring iPad Event with iPhones that had Panavision lenses plopped on top of the camera’s own lenses. Stu Mashwitz has all the details.

Apple had to do that because the iPhone has no lens mount system. People have been sticking lenses, and adaptors, over the existing iPhone lenses for a long time. The feature film Tangerine famously stuck an anamorphic adaptor on an iPhone 5S.

What if Apple had their best wide-angle camera sensor and then a bayonet-style lens mount? Even though Apple used Panavision lenses, and Panavision has the PV-Mount (which stands for Panavision), the industry standard in cinema lenses is the PL-Mount (which stands for positive lock).

Naturally, Apple wouldn’t use an existing lens mount, because they’re Apple, and because they’re using a significantly smaller sensor so there’s no need to be married to a very old mounting system. They should still keep a wide mount in case they ever want to increase the sensor size and use up the whole diameter of the mount. They’d have to name it something. A-Mount was already used by Minolta and Sony.

Because of their cinema aspirations they could always go with APL-Mount. Wouldn’t that be fun? I think it’d be fun, and I’m writing this, so shut up.

It wouldn’t matter what it was named, because like any mirrorless camera you can get the lens glass as close or as far away from the sensor as you want to with lens mount adapters that can be as simple as threaded metal tube, or can carry electrical signals over metal contacts around the perimeter of the mount for lens information, or to control the lens itself.

What if Apple had custom auto-focus prime lenses that could be driven by that iPad Pro over in video village? Something that worked in concert with the other controls instead of doing what they did in the Spring Event and manually pull the lens focus.

Anyway, that seems extremely unlikely to happen. Like hell-freezing-over unlikely. The vlogging camera seems marginally more attainable as fan fiction.


Hell, I’d love an electronic viewfinder, but that’s harder to justify than a screen that can be looked at from a few feet away to check framing. That’s definitely more of a photographic concern. I’d just as soon rule it out completely, but maybe Apple can sell an EVF that hooks onto a hot shoe like Leica does. For the real dorks.


Apple is doing just fine selling iPhones, and it’s easy to argue that every time Apple sells another device it’s a “distraction” but if that were true then they’d only sell iPhones. They’ve got to be able to delegate something like this to a group in Apple. Riffle through parts bins and make one of these every 2-3 years.

I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why Apple wouldn’t benefit from selling dedicated cameras though. I already mentioned that they’re accessories that tie into Apple’s far more expensive devices. As an accessory it also helps take the strain off the iPhone needing to do everything all by itself —which is increasingly important as the device gets thinner and camera bumps get weirder.

As a producer of entertainment Apple would also stand to benefit. Imagine a show shot entirely on Apple cameras, without janky lenses on top of iPhone lenses. Apple could array a few cameras and have a stereoscopic rig, or stitch a bunch together for some immersive video —all on Apple hardware. Think of the press releases they could make about that. The adulation. The nitpicking.

Give us a treat from the parts bin, Tim. Just a little, itty-bitty accessory of a camera.

2024-05-30 09:45:00

Category: text