Taking pictures used to be a cumbersome affair. Well, not quite as bad as the nineteenth-century plate cameras with black cloths and back-breaking weight. But still, you had to load film into the camera, wind it, rewind it, remember not to open the camera until the film had been rewound, and get the film to a photo lab. Some time later it might be hours, and it might be days your photographs would be ready. If you wanted to share them with a friend, you had to go back to the photo lab and have new prints made.
The best picture is the one you take. If you have to remember to take a camera and all the accessories with you, you may never take that picture.
Digital photography has, of course, made all this much easier. Your pictures are ready for viewing as soon as you take them. You can easily make prints using a color printer either by downloading the photos to your computer or (with some hardware) directly printing from your digital camera to your printer. Best of all, you can immediately correct problems in your digital photos such as "red-eye" by using photo retouching software such as Photoshop Elements.
Wi-Fi takes the digital photography revolution to the next step.
With Wi-Fi, you can transmit your pictures for viewing anywhere from anywhere. This has implications in many different areas, including:
Data gathering for professionals: In a variety of professional fields, such as medicine, the ability to easily transmit photographs can be used in examinations, consultations, and for general communication.
Teaching: The ability to instantly compare visuals with someone who is not present will be very useful in many educational contexts. For example, you could show a biology sample from your course lab work to a teacher at a distant location and get immediate feedback.
Amateur photography: The ability to send and receive images seamlessly from a wide variety of devices will change the way people use photography. People will reach for a Wi-Fi enabled device that also takes pictures, such as a PDA or telephone, in much the way they reach for a pen and notepad today.
In this section, we'll have a look at three digital photography Wi-Fi devices that can be purchased today. They are a PDA with built-in Wi-Fi and a digital camera, a Wi-Fi network camera that lets users view a video stream, and a Wi-Fi picture frame that can be used to display your photo library.
Camera, Wi-Fi, and PDA All-In-One
For many years, I was a professional photographer. This meant that I got used to schlepping heavy bags filled with camera bodies, lenses, filters, light meters, and other gadgets wherever I went.
The digital camera built into the Sony PDA has a maximum resolution of 0.3 mega pixels. This isn't capable of producing images with the quality of even a middle-of-the-road digital camera, but it also isn't half bad. In other words, this built-in digital camera isn't of true artistic quality, but will be good enough for many uses.
These days when I travel, I no longer take pictures for a living, so I don't have to carry all this stuff. Besides, I like to travel light. This means that I don't usually carry a camera. But the best picture is the one you end up taking, meaning if you don't have a way to take the picture, you won't take it. PDA and cell phone manufacturers have begun to discover that it's easy to add digital photographic capabilities to their devices.
For example, the Sony PDA shown in Figure 7.1 includes a digital camera.
Figure 7.1. This Sony handheld PDA comes with a built-in digital camera and a Wi-Fi connection.
It's increasingly common for digital cameras to be built into cell phones. At the present time, most of these phones don't support Wi-Fi, and users are expected to transmit the photos they take using the cell phone provider's proprietary network. (For example, Sprint has been heavily promoting its networks for use with digital photos taken using a cell "phone.") However, it is undoubtedly the case that cell phones that alternatively support Wi-Fi will soon be available. These phones will likely also include digital cameras.
If I had this lightweight all-in-one PDA with me on the road, and I saw something worth photographing, it would be a snap to do so. I'd always have this camera with me without having to lug an additional piece of hardware!
Best of all, the next time I was within range of a Wi-Fi hotspot, perhaps at a coffee shop or in an airport, I could "beam" my photographic masterpiece to my friends right away without delay!
Streaming Video with Wi-Fi
Toshiba (and other manufacturers) sell network cameras that let users view streaming video across networks and the Internet. These video cameras, often called Web cams or Net cams, can be bought with integrated Wi-Fi. For example, the Toshiba models shown in Figure 7.2 both come with integrated Wi-Fi.
Figure 7.2. The Toshiba Net cams shown come with integrated Wi-Fi.
The video taken with these cameras can be viewed using Wi-Fi across a network without wires, so it's easy to place these cameras in positions that would otherwise be awkward if you had to connect a physical network cable. They are really easy to install.
A common use of these wireless cameras is as a kind of baby monitor. Parents can use them to keep track of children (and their babysitters). Best of all, they can view the footage from the computer desktops.
One popular use for these cameras is for surveillance as part of a security system. The camera can be set to broadcast footage when motion is detected.
By the way, the camera is also equipped with a backup storage device in case the network goes down. This also limits possible security problems. (For more information about Wi-Fi and security, see Part V, "Securing Your Wi-Fi Computer and Network.")
The video from these Net cams can also be viewed across the Internet. You don't need to worry about complicated Internet configuration issues.
Toshiba makes a variety of services available to users of their Net cams, including a directory of live cameras that can be viewed, and customizable home pages for Net cam owners. For a fee, owners can set up chat services and credit card payments. So if you've ever dreamed of setting up your own Web cam in a dormitory room, or somewhere else, it's easy to do so using Wi-Fi. Wires are not included, because you don't need them any more!
The Net cam can operate across any high-speed Internet connection.
Framing Pictures with Wi-Fi
The Wi-Fi digital picture frame is an interesting new product. Wallflower Systems, www.wallflower.com, is one of the pioneers in this category of product.
Here's how the Wallflower digital picture frame works. Inside the picture frame, the product includes a high-quality LCD display, a hard drive, and Wi-Fi capability. The digital picture frame displays the pictures stored on its hard drive in the way you specify, for example, as a slide show. With its Wi-Fi capabilities it scans for Wi-Fi networks. After your Wi-Fi network has been discovered, it connects to it (you may have to supply the encryption key) and copies the digital photos that have been placed in a particular folder onto its hard drive.
When you are working from a computer on the Wi-Fi network, to add an image to the digital picture frame, you just copy it into the appropriate folder.
What a great way to display your pictures in your home (for example, on the living room fireplace mantel) or in your office!