Walking along University Ave. in downtown Palo Alto, California, there are many things to see and do. Eventually, you’ll stumble across a photography store called Relonch. But it’s not your typical photo business selling gear — you won’t find Canon, Nikon, Sony, or Leica cameras here. Instead, it’s all about a single camera model and technology that aims to simplify the process of capturing memories.
Today, the company unveiled what it has been working on for the past four years: a $99 per month camera subscription service that lets you focus on snapping the photo and forget about everything else.
“There’s nothing valuable about owning a camera that collects dust on the shelf or that you don’t know how to use,” said Relonch cofounder Yuri Motin. “Our aim is to eliminate the countless complications associated with photography, so we chose to create the camera as a service model rather than just hardware or software. Our service gives members the ability to solely focus on the experience, on the moment itself.”
But before you run to the store, there are a few things that you should be aware of. The company utilizes a proprietary camera device that it calls 291, inspired by famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz. It has a fixed zoom lens, a viewfinder, and a shutter button, but no LCD screen, SD memory card, or accessories. You won’t have to worry about adjusting settings, such as ISO, sensors, aperture, or anything else. Raw photos are uploaded in real time using a SIM card (Relonch is still determining which carrier to use). “The camera just works,” Motin told VentureBeat.
Using the camera felt normal, and it worked well, especially in low-light and nighttime settings. However, the battery needed to be recharged every day, even after snapping perhaps a dozen photos. Additionally, the refresh time for the device could be improved, as I grew impatient waiting for the next time I could take a picture. What’s more, when you wake the camera up from its sleep mode, there’s an approximately three-second delay between when it awakes and when you are able to see anything through the viewfinder and hit the shutter button — this was a bit of a disappointment.
Photos are immediately sent to the cloud, where they are edited using an algorithm-based approach Relonch calls Pictured Technology. This applies filters and color correction and bears some similarities to what Priime and Prisma offer. Nothing is stored on the camera, and all processing is done automatically — without your input — but only on photos the system determines to be the best images from all the ones you have captured.
Each day, Relonch will send you a batch of JPEG photos it has processed through its mobile app, but that’s all you’ll receive. You may have snapped 100 photos, but you might only get back five or 10. That can be kind of a buzzkill, so to try and game the system, I took more photos of the same subject. Sometimes it worked, but other times it didn’t. Relonch said that the main selection criteria for determining which photos to deliver back to you is “technical,” meaning the position of an object inside the frame and the image sharpness.
As for the non-processed photo, those are lost to you, and the company admits there’s nothing it can currently do to provide them to you.
“We believe that you won’t need every photo from each sequence you take,” the company states. “Think of how many unused and unedited photos you have on your mobile device, memory cards, and computers. There are hundreds of thousands for you to go through. With Relonch, you’ll receive a set of outstanding-quality photos that capture the essence of your experience in a way that would otherwise require expertise in photography and lots of time for editing the images.”
When you’ll receive the photos will depend on you, as you can set this schedule within the Relonch mobile app. During my review of the camera and service, the app was not yet production-ready, so the company pushed my photos using iCloud. The company said: “We’re in the process of fixing standard app bugs. As you know, app development is always a process.”
However, should the app be ultimately released, it’ll be for iOS first and Android later next year. It’ll provide photo composition tips, storage for saved images, an “On This Day”-like feature, the ability to control when Relonch should send photos, and an option to print your work.
The 24-hour turnaround for photo processing is intentional, and creates an experience that was lost for many years. It raises memories of when we had to drop off film for processing, and stores like Walgreens and CVS took a day to develop and print them out for us. That’s the type of encounter Relonch wanted to recreate. “We’re building anticipation by having members wait to see their images. We’re trying to move our members away from the instant gratification mentality. We want you to be excited to see your photos, looking forward to the moment they arrive in your app or are dropped into your photo-sharing folder.”
At the end of the day, the company is catering to families, people who don’t care about fancy settings and the accessories you might get with DSLR cameras, or who want something with more punch and creativity than they get with a smartphone. Those who grow weary of having to manually edit photos could find what Relonch is selling appealing, if they can stomach the $99 per month price point.
“This price is comparable to owning a high-end DSLR and/or mirrorless camera with a good-quality lens for roughly two to three years,” the company said. “We are offering a value-based service. The value comes from the moments you’re capturing in a way that you may not have been able to before. Users receive a result of remarkable photos, instead of hassling with the camera setting and time-consuming software applications.”
After using the camera for several days, I felt adjustments are needed before I’d even consider switching from either my Canon DSLR or Sony mirrorless camera. The images that I received back from the service were pretty good, but I wish I had more control over which ones were edited. The ones sent to me made me feel like they were done by a professional, so I suppose Relonch got that part right.
While its first store is in Mountain View, the company plans on opening up more stores around the world, including in New York City and Paris. Visitors can sign up for a three-day “test drive” of its cameras but will have to surrender one they already own, though only temporarily. Motin stated that a public launch won’t take place until 2018.