Why Does the Zeiss ZX1 Exist?

That’s it. That’s the point of this post.

Zeiss ZX1. So quirky yet so cool.

I refuse to state that overused line from that dinosaur movie no matter how appropriate it is in this case. Read on and you’ll see how appropriate it is, though.

Ok, maybe I should add a little more to this. What’s the problem the Zeiss ZX1 is trying to solve? I’m not talking about the camera half of the device; that part is inarguable and Zeiss’ history and track record speaks for itself. My issue is the back half and marketing. Who is asking for a pocketable, fixed lens, full-frame, ultra-high end camera with Adobe Lightroom Mobile built in?

I need to address the software and I promise I’ll keep it simple and concise as it’s more of a philosophical dilemma. Have you ever used Lightroom MOBILE on Android OS? It sucks. It’s like a stripped down version of Lightroom Mobile, aka Lightroom CC, which is a stripped down, crippled and perpetually incomplete version of Lightroom Classic. It has the most basic of functions you’ll find in your smartphone’s camera app and nothing more than Adobe branding. Users like me have been begging for basic functions to be translated from Classic to Mobile for years now, only to go ignored. Personally, I believe they’re “done” and are only releasing bug fixes now. All of the grad tools are missing masking functions and there are no lens specific adjustments or corrections. Aside from the most basic processing for web, there’s no way to rely on Lightroom Mobile as most shots will force you to return to Lightroom Classic on the desktop to complete the processing. That’s a loss of convenience in any workflow.

Now, take that experience, put it on a 4″ display and slow it down by 3x. Only the most basic of basic global edits can be done with any accuracy. In most cases, you’ll discover huge issues requiring you to import the file to a desktop so you can redo everything you had done on the smartphone.

What about updates? Like any other contemporary digital camera, Zeiss probably WANTS to support the camera itself with perpetual firmware updates over the life of their ZX1 development division. Note that I didn’t say, “life of the camera.” The problem becomes 2-fold: their camera division is new, with 1 product to their name, released 2 years after they announced it, and is probably poorly staffed, poorly resourced and prioritized after their APS-C lens division. Now, this division will be tasked with coordinating between Google’s Android and Adobe’s mobile software divisions just to produce firmware updates. Then add security updates to ensure it’s not uploading your dick and cooter pics to a Ukrainian porn site whenever the camera connects to wi-fi, updates that will need to be tested by said development division at Zeiss to ensure it doesn’t break any of the camera functions. Even huge smartphone makers like Samsung have problems with timely software updates from Google Android alone… now imagine a small, inexperienced group trying to keep up while juggling both Google and Adobe.

A large touchscreen display dominates the rear, providing owners direct access to Android apps, like the oft touted Adobe Lightroom for processing your photos before uploading using the built in wi-fi connectivity.

Finally, in this extremely simplified and stripped down example, we have to address the philosophical: It’s a fact that smartphones are refreshed annually, with Android manufacturers only promising 2 years of timely security updates from the date of product introduction. With the extended manufacturing cycles of cameras, plus the further extended life cycles of luxury cameras, a species of which the ZX1 firmly exists, what will bug and security updates look like 4 years from now? With the likelihood of perpetual firmware updates to the base camera itself already in question, now add to that security updates and bug fixes from Google and Adobe. Will there even be feature improvement? Surely the idea is to retain feature parity with Lightroom Mobile on Android OS, but how long will that last 3 years from now, after Android phones have gone through 3 generations of CPU upgrades? Maybe the ZX1 will become a branched version of Lightroom Mobile since its hardware will no longer support a later version of Lightroom Mobile due to having outdated hardware… or will it just get dropped from Adobe and Google’s priority lists permanently due to its “legacy” hardware being unsupported.

With the Zeiss ZX1, now you can process your photos twice on 2 different devices while sullying your reputation by uploading the first, sloppy version quickly to the web. Maybe the ZX1 is for people who don’t care about their online rep as much as they are about being first to web? Then why choose such a high quality camera and lens?

Maybe they don’t care about the quality of their edits and prefer the convenience of Lightroom Mobile over a high quality product? Then why would they want, or need, a $6000, fixed lens, stills camera?

Maybe they plan to only upload to the web for social media? Then why do they need 37MP when most websites compress your photos until they’re unrecognizable, then crop them to 1000 pixels wide?

So for whom is this camera made for?

Despite all of these issues, at least the photographic hardware is really, really exciting. I think it’s really cool to see Zeiss re-entering the camera market with a lusty, niche product like the ZX1. People who love the Leica M series, and especially the Q series, are probably having wet dreams about owning them both together. However, these people also don’t give a rat’s ass about the inclusion of Adobe Lightroom Mobile on the device. They’ll try it out to confirm their suspicions, then completely ignore it for the rest of the time they own it.

Due to these issues, the ZX1 is a $6000 time bomb set to go off in 2 years. It won’t even be sellable in 2 years, much less for even half the price, as the hardware required to run the software will be considered “legacy.” Zeiss will have to scrap and refresh the internals every 2-3 years to keep pace with the smartphone industry that ARM, Google and Adobe are tied to. I’m afraid Zeiss has failed to truly consider all of this; Samsung, who has their own smartphone division, tried this years ago with the Galaxy NX line of point and shoots and APS-C mirrorless and scrapped it when faced with the choice between trying to sell outdated cameras for a profit versus annual camera refreshes that made them unprofitable. Ultimately, the product cycles of digital cameras and smartphones were just too dissimilar to be profitable. Even with their own Galaxy smartphone and Exynos ARM CPU divisions, and far more operating resources and money than Zeiss, even Samsung couldn’t make the numbers work for more than one generation of camera hardware.

Samsung Galaxy NX. Announced in 2013 and killed off in 2017, it was an APS-C mirrorless ILC with a complete Android OS smartphone built in. It offered access to all contemporary Android apps, including Adobe Mobile apps, with cellular and wi-fi connectivity.

Further simplified from a hardware perspective, it’s like trying to combine a PC with your refrigerator. One you replace every 3-5 years, the other your replace every 20… one is going to have to become outdated or the other is going to become too expensive to be either profitable or sustainable and consumers will want to buy neither. The only realistic way to handle this is to make the camera modular by designing the interface portion separately, with an annual life cycle, for buyers to upgrade their camera bodies with. But then you’re just selling a camera and phone stuck together and that product already exists… it’s called a USB cable.

My fear is that, when all of these realities come crashing onto Zeiss, they’ll completely ditch their aspirations to build an exciting camera. ZX1 buyers will be left with $6000 paperweights, a few more will be left with $2800 paperweights after buying them at a steep, closeout discount, and the rest of us will never see another Zeiss camera for a generation. They could just make a version that drops the Lightroom functionality, either now or then, but I’m sure they’ll do neither.

So, with all that said I ask you, “why does the Zeiss ZX1 exist?”

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