Probably one of the least used ports on a camera is the USB port. It has a collection of functions and yet of the many hundreds (if not thousands) of photographers I’ve spoken to, only a handful of you guys ever actually use the USB port.
However, the use or otherwise of the USB port is not the subject of this blog post. Instead, I’m going to discuss my thoughts on the future of USB ports on EOS models. You see currently, the USB on EOS models is USB 2. USB 2 was standardised in 2001 so in technology terms it’s really quite long in the tooth now, and yet, it is still used on the majority of computer peripherals and on all EOS models. So what does the future hold?
Before we go any further, here’s a quick recap of what the USB port can do for you:
1. Transfer images to your computer without a card reader
2. Tether the camera to the computer for remote shooting and remote Live View
3. Change settings on the camera such as copyright data
4. Upload new Picture Styles and Peripheral Illumination Correction data
Now, we’ve seen a few new I/O interfaces come in the last couple of years. The key contenders are FW800, USB3 and Thunderbolt. All of which have their merits. However, none of them yet has that much market traction.
If I had a pound for each time I’ve been asked when I think Canon will adopt one of these other I/O ports, I’d be a rich man. My answer however, is always the same: “I wish they would move to xxxxxx, but they currently can’t.”
This is not a statement of impossibility, it’s to do with market economics. You see, while each of the three other I/O interfaces offer compelling options for inclusion in a camera, until the rest of the market catches up, Canon will always stay with the lowest common denominator – that being USB 2.
If you think about it from a company point of view, while it would be great to have a super fast Thunderbolt port built into the camera that offered instant tethering ability of really high res RAW files, the number of people that could make use of it would be tiny in comparison to the number of people with EOS cameras.
Take a look at the specs of any computer either online or in a local computer shop. Then take a look around and see what interfaces the majority of peripherals make use of. You’ll notice that for all the fanfare of USB 3 since 2009, it really has little or no market traction. No-one has yet made the switch wholesale. Equally with Firewire 800. Although there are FW800 ports on a large number of computers, both PC and Mac, the peripherals are more expensive and the port itself is a little larger than USB 2 so it doesn’t fit so well into small spaces like the side of a camera.
That leaves us with the newly announced Thunderbolt. Could this be the solution that finally topples USB 2 as king of the I/O interface? Well, it’s already gaining market placement with third party peripherals appearing almost daily. It’s a smaller port and it’s far and away the fastest interface available offering 10Gbit/sec (or approx 800MB/sec). This would be more than fast enough to send RAW files or HD Movie footage directly out to a computer with bandwidth to spare. The trouble is, it needs to become the dominant I/O port across all computer platforms. Unless every computer, be it PC or Mac, starts including Thunderbolt ports as standard, I strongly doubt we’ll see Thunderbolt on any EOS model in the near future. Canon simply has to be reactive rather than proactive.
To put it another way, imagine we did suddenly see the adoption of Thunderbolt across the range, for anyone that wanted to use them they’d be forced into upgrading to a computer that had that port. And if it doesn’t catch on? Well, it wouldn’t be long before those that had bought the cameras were complaining that it was now useless and not future proof.
So next time you see a new technology that you’d love to see in your EOS camera, just stop and think for a moment – is it viable, is there enough market traction, will it last? For all it’s failings, USB 2 fulfills these criteria and until the computer market catches up with the newer technologies, it will remain so.