This Camera Uses AI to Spruce Up Your Shots

There's nothing more dispiriting than when you line up what you think is the perfect photo, snap the shot and end up with an image where all the vibrant colors you saw in the real world have been washed out in the digital realm, thanks to backlighting, bad white balance or any one of a number of mishaps that can mar a photo you tried capturing casually.

Relonch feels your pain. And the company wants to provide you with a camera capable of producing shots that match what you thought you were capturing in your mind's eye. The trick, as it turns out, is not to load the camera with features — the newly unveiled Relonch 291 has nothing but a shutter button — but rather to supplement the camera with an algorithm-based approach to processing images that's part of a $99-a-month membership you get along with your Relonch camera.

It's an unconventional — and pricey — approach to photography, but the people behind Relonch are betting that it's one that will appeal to people who want to be able to capture vivid photos of everyday life without having to mess around with a camera's sittings.

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Before showing me the Relonch 291 camera, co-founder Yuriy Motin flipped through a coffee table book of presidential photos, noting how much more compelling the candid shots of assorted presidents in their day-to-day lives were compared to official shots and staged photo opportunities. Wouldn't it be great, Motin mused, if you could effortlessly capture similar photos of your day-to-day life?

And since you probably don't have an official presidential photographer following you around to document your every move, the Relonch 291 figures to be an acceptable stand-in. The mirrorless DSLR camera features just a shutter button and a view finder for lining up your shot. (There's a knob next to the view finder, but that's just to adjust its focus for the eyesight of whoever's using the camera, Motin said.) There are no other buttons for adjusting settings, focus or anything else related to the shot; you just point the camera at what you want to capture and press the shutter.

The end results are pretty impressive. Korzhenevich showed me a raw image of a man reclining in a hammock whose face featured washed-out gray, blue tones without much detail. After Relonch's AI got through with the shot, though, the colors of his face looked much more natural and the background details were far more visible. Another shot of a woman in a flower garden picked up similar details after being processed by the Pictured technology, losing a lot of flatness of the raw image to take on greater depth and color.

Your $99 monthly membership with Relonch gets you both the camera and the image-enhancing digital assistant. In addition, the Pictured assistant sorts through the photos you take each day, delivering the best ones to a mobile app. The app highlights a picture of the day, but you can look through other photos to pick your favorite. The idea, Motin explains, is that you'll use Relonch so often, you should have a library of 365 photos of the day to sort through at the end of a year.

That's another break with how we're used to working with digital photos. Snap a picture with your phone's camera, for example, and you can review the finished product almost instantly. With the Relonch 291, there's more of a delay, particularly since you have no screen to look at the photo you just took. Instead, Relonch promises to send those photos to you the next morning — an eon in this Instagram age where many people want to shoot and share immediately.

If that's not a deal killer, than the $99 monthly membership fee may well be. Over the course of a year, that adds up to $1,188 — a pretty steep price to pay for enhanced photos, especially at a time when smartphones put 12-megapixel cameras at our fingertips for a fraction of that amount. Still, both Motin and Korzhenevich think the camera-as-a-service approach will appeal to families who want to amass a big collection of stellar-looking shots captured on the fly.

Getting your hands on a Relonch 291 may prove to be a bit of a challenge. The service is now available to early subscribers who stop by the company's Palo Alto showroom. (You can visit Relonch's website for more details.) Relonch says it will open more showrooms in major metro areas in 2017, expanding the service. The goal is to roll out the Relonch service globally in 2018.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.