Relonch bets you'll pay $99 a month for one-button photography

The company plans to use AI to remove you -- mostly -- from the photographic equation. Just hit the shutter button and your image is whisked away to the cloud.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
3 min read
Watch this: Meet Relonch, the camera without a screen

Add Relonch to the growing pile of products touting artificial intelligence that's so advanced it's practically magic. In this case, it's a $99 a month service that consists of a data plan and a camera sporting only power and shutter buttons; it automatically whisks the photos to its AI in the sky, which processes them and boomerangs them back to your mobile device or sharing service.

There won't be any whisking until 2018, though. And keep in mind that this company never shipped its last product, an iPhone camera grip circa 2014.

So let's work through who might be the potential subscriber to a service like this. I'll ignore the issues of the size and design of the camera, since it'll probably change between now and when it ships.

We're looking at someone who wants to level up in photo quality from a phone or advanced compact to an APS-C-size sensor but doesn't want or need to have any control over the image. There are tons of those folks. Narrow it down a bit when you take into account there's no video recording.

Relonch takes a colorful approach to its connected camera

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But is that convenience worth $1,200 a year (roughly £935 or AU$1,585) on top of your existing data plans? And how much do you want to bet that between now and the time it ships we'll see a big improvement in photo quality from phones , and they'll probably be good enough for the majority of people who can tell the difference? Google and Apple have AI, too.

And you know that experience of looking at photos with your friends immediately after you've shot them? Nope. You get your photos at 9 a.m. the following day. By the way, it doesn't send you all of them, just the ones that the machine selected as the "best". So if that perfect-moment shot of your mom's reaction to her birthday present is out of focus and dark, it's probably gone. Even though if you had taken it you'd consider it a keeper.

The photos using this model look like high-quality images put through an effects filter. They're very high contrast and saturated, so the colors pop, and there's some darkening around the edges (vignetting). The processing should get better over time as it analyzes every shot sent to the service.

That price is going to have to drop a lot. Especially since you can't do anything with the camera without the service, unlike a phone where you can at least take it to a different carrier, or use it Wi-Fi only, once you've paid out the lease.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

The idea of covering the body in leather and numbering them like limited editions might give it some cachet, but it's Leica-like pricing for a very un-Leica crowd. And some might think it looks like a camera struggling to emerge from a baseball designed by a tween girl. Just sayin'.

The camera supplied by Relonch for use with its service -- at least the unit we tried -- is a customized version of the ill-fated Samsung Galaxy NX mirrorless. It's a sensible choice for a preliminary working model, since the NX had built in 4G and a nice electronic viewfinder, plus Samsung 's cameras had excellent photo quality and accurate white balance. But the Galaxy NX is pretty big, making it more of a "life event" camera -- something you're not going to pay $99 a month just to keep around until your kid's next birthday.

It's coupled with the Samsung 30mm f2 lens permanently (from a user perspective) affixed to the body for an effective scene coverage equivalent to 45mm. That's pretty narrow -- see the photo samples above for an idea of what that covers -- and coupled with the lack of a display makes the camera suboptimal for selfies and groupies.

I wish they hadn't felt the need to cover the huge display on the back of the camera; there's only a 2 second review of the shot in the viewfinder and that's the last you see of it. Because of the system's needs -- it sends a raw file with custom settings to the AI -- the photo wouldn't look as you'd expect anyway.

But don't take our word for any of this; if you're in northern California, you can test drive the camera at a showroom in Palo Alto right now. More will be opening in other cities during 2017.