Traditional camera manufacturers fail beginner photographers over and over.

They'll gladly sell you a camera with a kit lens, but they've struggled to help beginners with any of the challenges that come after taking it out of the box.

It's not for lack of trying; every manufacturer has some form of beginner-friendly mode that will tell you how to open the aperture wider for sharp subjects with blurry backgrounds. But when you put a slow kit lens on a typical entry-level camera, you quickly find that there's more to it than just opening or closing the aperture.

Only the viewfinder, shutter button and diopter are exposed – no LCD, no dials, everything else is off limits. It's truly a point-and-shoot.

And as your memory cards fill up with photos, you realize there's so much more to photography than just pointing a nice camera at a subject – from composition to editing to how the heck do I get these off my camera and on to my phone so I can share them? It ends up being a frustrating experience, and that nice new camera ends up on a shelf at home.

I recently paid a visit to a little boutique on University Avenue in Palo Alto that's taking a radical approach to bringing photography to beginners.

Relonch doesn't sell anything you can walk out of the store with, and it's not a hardware company. Their 'Photo Club' lends out its Relonch 291 camera free of charge. Specifically, it's a Samsung NX camera stitched up inside a brightly colored leather case. Only the viewfinder, shutter button and diopter are exposed – no LCD, no dials, everything else is off limits.

I know, I know, to a seasoned photographer, this is a vision of hell. But for a beginner who doesn't really want those things, it's kind of genius.

Here's how it works: you reserve the camera in advance and borrow it for, say, the length of a vacation. The camera uses a 4G data connection to automatically send a preview of each photo taken to a companion app. The previews are just that – they're screenshot-proof because they're sepia-toned and watermarked. You select the photos you want to keep at a $1 each. At that point they're sent to the cloud for processing, and back to your app where they're yours to keep.

Interestingly, instead of a kit zoom Relonch 291 comes with a fast prime attached. And you aren't just handed a camera when you walk in the door – you also get a crash course in photographic composition.

Nobody at Best Buy ever made a cup of Cuban espresso for someone buying their first DSLR.

During this lesson there's no mention of shutter speeds or f-stops because there's no need – the camera handles all of that. Instead, it focuses on getting the user to try different composition techniques that take advantage of the shallow depth of field afforded by the lens and larger sensor.

Yuri Motin, a Relonch co-founder, takes me through the introductory session that a typical customer gets when first picking up a camera. And let me tell you, it is a rare customer experience. Nobody at Best Buy ever made a cup of Cuban espresso for someone buying their first DSLR.

Relonch automatically processes Raw images, making adjustments to exposure, white balance, sharpening and so on. This is a photo Yuri took of me with one of the cameras. Bless the facial-recognition-skin-smoothing algorithm that produced this image.

A little cafe setup at the camera club allows you to try focus-and-recompose to put either your subject or the coffee in front of them in focus. Another scenario I'm guided through is using the handle of a suitcase to frame Yuri in the background, pretending to charge his phone while sitting on the floor. It's a common scene to anyone in an airport, but an opportunity for a candid portrait that many beginning photographers would overlook.

I didn't frame this exactly how Yuri told me to but he gave me a passing grade anyway.

Relonch has cleverly addressed many of the pains beginning photographers feel. Sending the images to your smartphone happens automatically. Curation is built in – instead of coming home with hundreds of photos, you have only your favorites. The fast prime lens offers much shallower depth-of-field than your typical slow kit zoom, and the composition lesson helps first time photographers use it to their advantage.

And then there's the look of the thing – the brightly colored leather case gives the camera a dual purpose as a fashionable accessory. It's not a look everyone will want to sport, but if you ask me it's miles ahead of any attempt by Canon or Nikon to dress up an entry-level DSLR.

Relonch announced its 291 camera just under a year ago, and at that point planned to loan cameras at a rate of $100 per month, with the same image editing process baked in. There was a catch, though – only your best photos were delivered to your mobile device, and they didn't arrive until the next day.

In the end, Relonch launched with a pricing plan that's easier to stomach, and the service is now aimed clearly at travelers. And that's a pretty smart move, because I hear this line a lot:

"I'm going to [insert exotic location here] and want to take better photos than my phone takes, what camera should I buy?"

That answer is getting more and more expensive, because the difference between what your phone and a $500 camera can do is rapidly shrinking. Paying by the photo rather than sinking a grand into a camera system you may or may not continue to use after the trip sounds like a fair value proposition.

And it's also true that these days people, especially 'The Youths', seem perfectly happy to pay a little bit at a time for something they don't own, rather than invest a lot of money up front to own it. Not all that long ago it seemed unfathomable to pay a fee every month to access your music collection, or drive a car you don't own and pay by the hour. But the Spotify-ing, Zipcar-ing generation is happily embracing a life owning less.

Paying by the photo rather than sinking a grand into a camera system you may or may not continue to use after the trip sounds like a fair value proposition

Still, there's another hurdle in the way. Relonch's business model may have partially been made possible by the smartphone, but it's a double-edged sword: smartphone cameras might just become good enough to render it unnecessary.

Yuri isn't worried about that. When I ask him what Relonch thinks of the rise of bokeh imitating Portrait Modes, he says they welcome more beautiful photos in the world. He doesn't see the smartphone as a competitor, because he believes that once they try it, Relonch's members prefer the participatory experience of taking photographs with a traditional camera, with a viewfinder. And with curation built into the experience, Relonch's customers end up with photos they want to revisit again and again.

But does that audience really exist? I'm less convinced. While that may be true for a small portion of the photo-taking population, camera makers know all too well that there are plenty of people whose desire to carry less stuff around overrides the appeal of using a dedicated camera, no matter how much better it is. If Relonch is counting on growing its business they'll have to tap into a market that seems to be happily retreating to their increasingly capable smartphones.

Relonch might not in the end survive the rise of smartphone photography, but it seems to me that they're onto something. You certainly can't beat the smartphone by insisting that every camera user learn the intricacies of exposure and post-processing to get the results they want. Smartphones – and to an extent Relonch – meet these consumers partway and do the rest of the leg work.

It's time to pay attention, traditional camera manufacturers of the world.