Recently Canon launched a new cloud service with Image.Canon that I wrote briefly about in my post when Canon released new Firmware for the EOS R3 HERE. At the time, the service had not yet been officially launched (the ‘very’ soft launch occurred on the 25th of July without any real fanfare). At the time I wrote about this new service there were many questions marks surrounding its usage in real-world applications. My curiosity was peaked, but answers were not yet forthcoming.
Since the release of image.canon I have been playing around with the service trying to get my head around the need for such an application and just who it was designed for and who might find it useful in real-world applications. If you want to skip to my conclusion: I still don’t really understand who this service is designed for; or what use it serves in real-world applications. To date, I find the whole service somewhat clunky, unnecessarily complicated, and confusing. Add in some very arbitrary limitations and it has me scratching my head at just what Canon was thinking when it designed this application and service.
On the surface, the idea of shooting out in the field and having your RAW files automatically uploaded to the cloud; where they can be shared to computers, and other services (including social media, YouTube etc.) seems like a great idea. And I think this is what Canon is driving at with the new image.canon application. The idea is solid – it is the implementation and user experience that fail to make the dream a reality. As is often the case with this sort of application; there is not enough thought that has gone into ensuring a smooth user experience. It is quite clear that this is an application developed by engineers and that it has not undergone much in the way of end-user testing prior to its release. Don’t get me wrong; the service works as advertised – it is just the user experience is quite poor and the approachability is I would say for advanced users with a lot of patience.
The full feature list of the new cloud-based service can be found HERE. In a nutshell, you can (quote) “seamlessly upload all your images and movies in their original format and quality from your camera and access them from the dedicated app (image.canon) or a web browser – and automatically forward them to your computer, mobile devices, and third party services”. There is a catch though – actually, there are several. The first thing to note is that the original images are only stored for 30 days before they are deleted. There is an option for up to 10 GB of long-term storage; however, it comes with several caveats. The first of which is if this service is not used for one year, all of the images will be deleted regardless of their expiration date. Secondly, (and curiously) Canon does not recommend this feature is used as backup storage for image files. This second caveat smells suspicious like ‘we take no responsibility for lost data to me. In any case, anyone serious about image back-up would never rely on this sort of service in my experience. Backing up your precious images should always be done with a dedicated service as just one part of a multi-part backup system. Lastly, you have to force images into the 10GB storage area as per the screenshot below. There does not appear to be a way to have images automatically stored in this area.
The second catch to note is that in order to have the files automatically downloaded by your home computer you need to download, install and setup the ‘downloader software‘. You can also auto forward the images to programs such as Adobe’s Lightroom. This feature could be useful if working in a studio (and you did not want to shoot tethered), or if you have your computer on and ready to receive the images. I don’t know too many Nature photographers who walk around with their laptops open and ready to receive photographs though. You could, of course, shoot out in the field, have the images uploaded to the cloud, and then download them later. But why not just download them from the memory card later at your leisure? And what are the real-world limitations for uploading RAW files from the Canon EOS R3 when shooting at 30 frames per second? That is potentially a lot of data to move to the cloud. And what about uploading 4K video? I have not stress-tested this feature; but my feeling is that in order for it to be of any real use, the camera needs to be able to upload the RAW files at near real-time at 30 FPS. If I get time (and the inclination) I may stress test this feature and see just how it works in the real world * See Addendum below.
Just as an aside, if all you want to do is quickly move a file from the camera to a nearby smartphone you don’t need the image.canon application (that requires a WiFi connection through a router to upload to the cloud). You can short circuit the cloud using the Canon Camera Connect application and simply connect your smartphone via Blue-Tooth/WiFi directly to the camera (without a router) and move as many files as you wish without having to go through the cloud. You can even browse the files on the phone and choose which you wish to download – as well as control the camera remotely with full camera control. I have used this myself in the field on several occasions and it works well enough – although the connection process is not all that intuitive. That said, you can have multiple cameras connected and I personally find the user experience better than the image.canon application connection process. The other thing to note is once set up you need to leave Blue-Tooth enabled on the camera or you will have to go through the entire connection process all over again. Personally, I leave Blue-Tooth enabled even though it uses some additional battery power. It is preferable to having to go through the connection and pairing process every time you want to transfer images with Canon Camera connect.
The feature that intrigues me the most with image.canon is “the ability to process your images to higher quality using deep learning technology on image.canon. You can process RAW images in the cloud with the same operation as in-camera RAW processing.” These two statements are somewhat contradictory since the first sentence implies that image.canon will process the RAW images to a higher quality (whatever that means) and the second goes on to state that RAW images are processed in the cloud with the same operation as in-camera RAW processing. Which is it? I remain unsure. There are detailed instructions on how to use this service on Canons website HERE. There is also a lot of information about this feature HERE. Anyone who has ever used the in-camera RAW processing feature found in Canon cameras knows full well its extremely limited in its capabilities. You are better off shooting RAW+Jpeg in my experience than trying to process a RAW file in camera.
It should be noted at this point that RAW processing in the cloud is a paid service – it is not free. There is a list of subscription plans (yes, Canon also wants to join the party and dip into your pocket on an ongoing monthly basis) on the site HERE. In short, the subscription period is 31 days (auto-renews unless you opt out), costs an arbitrary $7.69 AUD and facilitates the RAW processing of up to 80 images. You can cancel within the first 31 days for new subscribers and not be charged if you want to try the service. Let me know if you do and how you rate the experience.
The real problem I see with this service is not the $7.69 AUD monthly charge – it’s the very low number of images that can be processed (80 images). 80 images a month is not even 3 images per day in a given subscription period and that is just nowhere near enough for anyone who is serious about processing images to speed up their workflow. I have no idea how they came up with 80 images per month, or why this hard limit has been imposed on this service. Considering you can process an unlimited number of RAW images in camera it seems very strange to limit the number that can be processed in the image.canon cloud. I find this limit very strange indeed.
This brings me to the actual setup and connection procedures for utilizing this service. To their credit, Canon has a detailed list of instructions on their site HERE and a step-by-step guide HERE. You will immediately note that the Camera connection procedure is anything but a straightforward one-touch operation. It is in fact, a little clunky, time-consuming, and anything but user-friendly in my experience. You need your camera, your smartphone (with the image.canon app installed and registered), and a whole lot of patience. You also need an active WiFi access point – which means you are not likely to be using this feature out in Nature; unless you bring some sort of WiFi device with you. It also means you need to pre-plan and set this up before you head out into the field. Once set-up you can enable and disable auto sending images and video to the image.canon cloud. Just keep in mind, you have to switch networks if you are moving between different Wi-Fi networks.
In summary, I remain somewhat confused by the launch of this new service from Canon. To date, I see little application for it in real-world use and remain unsure who (if anyone) would find this service useful or beneficial to their workflow. One application that does spring to mind is photojournalists might find this useful for transferring images for news stories from the field to a studio. That said, I feel it would be faster to download from the CF Express card and email an image than it would be to use image.canon. Since both methods require a network it makes sense to just download from the card since it’s faster than uploading to image.canon.
If you try the image.canon service please let me know how you find the user experience and how useful you find it in real world use. Despite the shortcomings, the service still interests me and I hope Canon will continue to develop and streamline the user experience. If the connection process can be simplified, the upload speed significantly improved, and some of the curious limitations removed and/or amended there is potential for image.canon to be a useful workflow tool. Until then, it remains little more than an idle curiosity to me.
* Addendum: Stress testing the upload speed of RAW files to the image.canon cloud appears to be very network dependent (as expected). Even on a very fast network, the upload speed of RAW files is quite slow in my experience – taking quite a few minutes for even a small number of RAW files (I did not even bother trying to upload 4K video given how slow RAW files upload). It is significantly faster to download from the CF Express card with a high-speed card reader to a computer and then upload them to a cloud service than it is to upload directly to the image.canon cloud. I personally find the current upload speed the real Achilles heal of image.canon.
I was able to successfully connect Adobe Lightroom to the image.canon cloud (as shown below) and the files do automatically upload to Adobe Lightroom Online through your Adobe account (once correctly set up). From your Adobe account, you can then choose what to do with the uploaded images and where you want to push them.
Thoughts on the Future: It is conceivable (even likely) that cameras in the future (R3 MK II?) could have the inbuilt capability to connect to the internet in the same way as a smartphone (via 3G/4G/5G). This could work in much the same way as an iPad that is ‘cell enabled’ (the camera would need the ability to take a SIM card). This feature would significantly improve services such as image.canon as it would remove the requirement for network setup in the camera. The camera would automatically be online anywhere it had 3G/4G or 5G cell coverage and thus could automatically upload (and download things such as firmware) to cloud-based services. There are a lot of possibilities for a ‘cell-enabled’ camera (just look at your smartphone for the possibilities) and I suspect it won’t be very long before we see the first cameras from Canon that are ‘Sim card ready’. Add the ‘Air Drop’ feature to a camera and you would really be cooking with gas. Perhaps Canon should be talking with Apple?