For those who haven’t followed Alice’s story over the last couple of years, Alice is an AI-powered Micro Four Thirds camera that works with your smartphone. The smartphone is used both as the display for the camera as well as powering its AI features. It was announced in September 2020 and later came to Indiegogo. While shipping was expected to begin in the Summer of 2021, backers are still waiting to receive their cameras to this day.
Photographer and YouTuber Jimmy Cheng, also known as RED35, travelled to visit the Alice HQ to take a hands-on look at the camera and see what it could do. It’s long overdue, and past examples shown off in campaigns are believed to have been non-functional concept prototypes. Now, though, it looks like it can finally do all (or at least much) of what it promised.
What is Alice?
Alice was billed as an “AI-accelerated computational camera”. Instead of a display on the back like other cameras, there’s a slot to mount your phone. This provides much more processing power than a camera could ever really provide at a reasonable cost, not to mention a much better, brighter, and larger screen with pretty amazing touchscreen abilities. Sure, all of this will depend on your phone, but given the quality of even mid-level phones these days, it’s still a valid statement.
As you can see in the video above, the smartphone doesn’t just become the user interface to the camera, though. It also powers all of the AI features of the camera through its software. At the time of release, there was no confirmation whether or not it would take advantage of optically stabilised lenses. Still, if it doesn’t, that’s a massive oversight and potential downfall of the camera.
The one big advantage of smartphone integration is that the app can easily (and often) be updated to add new features as smartphone capabilities and operating systems improve and unlock new abilities. At the time of launch, the company also said that Alice’s software was open source. This meant that anybody could create their own software to work with the camera if the supplied software didn’t give them what they needed.
As a concept, it’s a very interesting camera. And while it has been teased or tried before, I suspect that past efforts were simply ahead of their time. Smartphone hardware and computational photography have come a long way over the last few years. Now, with the advent of AI becoming a major potential force in our lives, the possibilities are only just beginning to be discovered. I expect it won’t be too long before all our cameras – if interchangeable lens cameras remain a thing – will be powered by connected and easily updatable operating systems.
The specs at the initial announcement
The specs during the initial announcement don’t really appear to have changed. If they have, they haven’t been published on the Alice website. But here’s how they looked on announcement day:
|Video||4K @ 30fps, 1080p @ 60fps|
|Mount||Micro Four Thirds|
|Sensor||Sony 11MP 4/3 Quad-Bayer HDR|
|Colour||Deep learning colour science|
|Stabilisation||Electronic Image Stabilisation|
|Exposure||AI-Driven Auto Exposure|
|Focus||AI-Driven Auto Focus|
|Audio||3.5mm microphone jack|
Jimmy’s video reveals more of the camera’s actual state and capabilities at the moment. It is perhaps a little bit longer than you might have hoped for, but it provides some interesting insight into what’s happening at the company today.
So, where can I get one?
The short answer is you can’t. At least, not yet.
The campaign originally ran in February 2021 with a shipping date of October 2021. After some delays and many comments on the campaign page from people asking where their cameras were, the shipping date was updated to April 2023. Well, April ended a couple of weeks ago, and people still appear to be waiting on their cameras to arrive. In fact, it’s still so secretive that Jimmy wasn’t even allowed to show us everything he’d been told about the camera during his visit.
At the end of the video, Jimmy summarises the camera as being a “work in progress” that’s “almost there”, with a few things still being ironed out and features to be implemented. When it will actually begin shipping is anybody’s guess, but the company says it’ll be “at least July 2023”.
In the company’s defence, they have posted updates to their Indiegogo campaign every month or two, letting people know what’s happening. Jimmy’s video above shows that there is a working camera now. So, at least it doesn’t look like they’re taking people’s money and running.
Price and Availability
The Alice saga’s all getting a bit drawn out now, and this one’s still up in the air. The Indiegogo campaign is long since over and the “order now” link on the company’s website takes you to a form where you can pre-order from the 3rd batch (they have still yet to ship the first batch, remember) without specifying a price. The company seems hopeful that at least the first batch will finally ship this year.
Have you pre-ordered an Alice Camera?