What even is AI? Is it anything more than empty hype and marketing buzzwords?

When we talk about AI we are specifically talking about a new generation of image processing techniques which use deep neural networks and machine learning to provide a revolutionary leap in performance and capability over the previous generation. They have been a key driver in the enormous improvement in image quality and usability in smartphone cameras over the last few years but barely feature in modern camera systems despite their huge potential. Alice has been designed to combine these new techniques with the superior optical systems of professional camera systems to offer new creative possibilities to content creators and drive the photographic art form forward. What we absolutely do not mean when we talk about AI is a general computational intelligence built to replace human creativity, manipulate reality and homogenise photography. For more about how we are using AI with Alice keep an eye on our blog.

Does Alice use the phone’s camera processing hardware and software or does it have its own?

Alice has its own hardware and software processing pipeline inside the camera tightly coupled to the image sensor, allowing fast readout speeds and enabling cutting-edge multi-exposure AI-based computational photography techniques such as those found in high-end smartphones like the Google Pixel. The attached phone is used to run the Alice app which acts as an electronic viewfinder and control interface, taking advantage of the extraordinarily high-quality screens found in modern smartphones, and can also be used to post-process and share images and video taken with Alice using popular third-party apps such as Adobe Lightroom and Youtube. Alice will be compatible with a wide variety of phones including Android and iOS irrespective of the phone’s native camera capabilities or CPU power. A full list of compatible phones will be available soon.

Does Alice work in a standalone way without a phone attached?

Yes, Alice is able to record images and video without a phone or other WiFi enabled device connected to it, however functionality will be limited without access to the controls and electronic viewfinder provided by the app running on the phone.

Why does Alice connect to the phone via WiFi rather than a wired connection such as USB C?

All modern smartphones support fast 5GHz WiFi, while there is no standard cross-platform wired interface for smartphone peripherals. Further, using a wireless interface allows the phone to be mechanically decoupled from Alice while still acting as the viewfinder and control interface, opening up novel usage scenarios. In photography communities WiFi has developed a reputation for being slow and unreliable which is not unjustified, however Alice integrates modern 5GHz IEEE 802.11ac WiFi hardware with a maximum theoretical bandwidth of over 1Gbit/s, closer in specification to the WiFi hardware found in modern smartphones rather than a typical entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera. This enables a responsive and seamless user experience.

Is the Alice smartphone app required to use the Alice Camera? What will happen if the app becomes unavailable for any reason, will the camera become a useless brick?

At Photogram we are strongly committed to the principles of the open-source software movement, and believe that openness, freedom and collaboration are key to the future of photography and the camera industry. We are committed to releasing as much of the source code for Alice’s software and firmware as we can under permissive open-source licenses, and can guarantee that the interface between the smartphone app and the camera software will be included in that. This means that any individual or team of developers who wishes to replicate or extend the capabilities of the Alice app will be free to do so. While we are investing heavily into the Alice app to ensure it gives users the best experience possible, we heartily encourage others to collaborate with us and the photography community in general to improve Alice as a creative tool. For more about Alice and open source software, keep an eye on our blog for updates.

Why does Alice only have 11 megapixels?

While higher resolution sensors do capture more information, lower-resolution sensors have bigger pixels which produce less noise, particularly in low-light situations. Fewer pixels means less power is required to do computational processing, which means less heat produced and longer battery life and is why the best smartphone cameras often feature similar relatively low resolutions. Our sensor is optimised to produce 4K video without cropping or binning, which provides better quality with lower power requirements, similar to the Sony A7SIII and the Panasonic GH5S. For more about Alice’s sensor keep an eye on our blog.

Why Micro Four Thirds? Isn’t it dead?

Alice uses the Micro Four Thirds lens mount because it is a (relatively) open standard, it is the most compact of the popular professional systems both in terms of lens size, lens weight and camera thickness, and there is an extraordinary variety of lenses available at a vast range of costs, focal lengths and speeds. We believe that many (though not all) of the disadvantages of the system compared to full-frame systems can be compensated for using computational techniques at a lower cost and weight.