Tiny Time-Lapse Digital Camera

Pet

This is kind of a neat idea. It's a camera called the "Pet's Eye View" that you clip to your pet's collar. It takes still photos on an interval timer, like a security camera, so you can download them at the end of the day and see what your pet has been up to.

That might make a neat time lapse video.

They say it's for pets but I bet it works equally well on children. Let's see... if I stick one to each kid maybe I'll finally find out who's been leaving the kitchen such a mess...

Pet's Eye View Digital Camera

Review: The Flip Mino HD Video Camera

I really like the Flip video cameras. I reviewed the original Flip Mino back in June and recommended it for anyone who wanted to shoot more than a couple of minutes of video at a time or who wanted to reserve the space on their camera's memory card just for pictures. The Flip Mino is a handy, compact, easy to use video recorder. And the Flip Mino HD (Amazon) is virtually identical in every way except one---it records 720p HD video.

Everything I liked about the Flip Mino I like about the Flip Mino HD. The body and controls are identical. You can't even tell them apart visually except for the "HD" logo on the back. They operate exactly the same and feel exactly the same in my hand. Everything I wrote in my earlier review about the Flip Mino applies to the HD version. So let's get on to video quality.

The video and sound quality are quite good. Video is recorded in H.264 format at 30 frames per second. Audio is recorded in AAC format at 44.1 kHz. The average bitrate is about 9 Mbps which lets the Flip store about 60 minutes of video on its internal 4 GB memory. Previous Flip models recorded MPEG4 AVI files. The Flip HD records H.264 MP4 files.

Like the previous models, although the video quality and sound are good, it's hampered by a cheap fixed-focus lens. Images aren't incredibly sharp or vivid, but honestly, I think it does what anyone should expect from such a low-cost device. Video from this camera is easy to watch full-screen on a 21" LCD monitor or TV. But really, like previous models, the videos from this camera are designed to be uploaded to YouTube or other video sharing sites.

One problem I noticed with the Flip was a weird visual artifact caused by shaking of the camera itself. You can see it clearly in the second video below in tall vertical lines like the street lamps and trees. When the camera shakes quickly they go all wobbly. I think this is an artifact of the underlying hardware and how the data is read off the sensor. There's probably a name for it but I don't know what it is or exactly what causes it. Any AV experts out there please weigh in in the comments. It should be noted that under normal circumstances this effect isn't a problem at all.

Having just bought a Nikon D90 I wanted to compare the video quality between the two cameras. They both record 1280x720 video. I give the edge in video quality to the D90 because it gives you much more creative control over the video and the lens is always going to be better. Beyond that, the D90 is a big black camera and the Flip is, well, a tiny black camera. The D90 can only record HD video in 5 minute clips. The Flip can record for up to 60 minutes all at once. The D90 uses removable storage media but with the Flip you're stuck with its 60 minute internal memory. The Flip has a fixed lens and the D90 is a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses. The Flip HD is a little over $200. The D90 kit is over $1,100.

So which is better? As you can see, they are really completely different animals. The Flip is a dedicated video machine that can record high quality video for long periods of time. It's a nice companion to any still camera, even to the D90 which can shoot video itself. I found that it's ease of use was perfect for situations where I didn't really care about getting "creative" and just wanted to record something quickly and easily. And when you've got to record something between 5 and 60 minutes, it wins hands down.

The Flip HD is a nice camera. If you have an original Flip but you want higher resolution video, this is a worthy upgrade. For those looking for a new digital video recorder, start here.

Sample Video

Below I've got two full-resolution sample videos. I shot the first indoors under fluorescent lighting in a typical usage scenario. The second is slightly less typical... I clamped the Flip to the bars of my scooter and went for a totally legal ride (in which no traffic or safety laws were broken for the entire 40 second clip).

Click the link beneath each one to download the original MP4 file (warning: they're big). Don't judge the video quality based on the re-encoded flash video below. The originals are much nicer and smoother. Download the full-resolution original videos to get a real measure of their quality (courtesy of blip.tv).

Click to download sample 1 original (1280x720)

Click to download sample 2 original (1280x720)

Buy the Flip Mino HD from Amazon.com →

Review: Nikon D90 first impressions

On semi-impulse I bought a Nikon D90 kit last Thursday from Amazon after nearly four years with my trusty D70. I sat down with the manual over the weekend and got to know it a little better. There are plenty of great in-depth reviews of the D90 out there with tech comparisons and sample photos. This is not one of those. I'm just going to give you my first impressions of the D90, especially things about it that made me smile, from the perspective of a D70 upgrader:

  • Live view! Giant LCD! 6.7x image review zoom! Awesome. The D70 screen looks like a postage stamp now.
  • It is perceptibly faster and lighter.
  • I turned on the viewfinder grid, turned off the focus beep, and switched to selected area for focus because that's how I roll.
  • The default image processing settings are fairly neutral and true to life. In Flickr terms: boring. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but I'm not particularly interested in absolute truth, photographically speaking. I prefer my photos to have a little more pop so I adjusted the default to Vivid which boosts both the contrast and saturation. Speaking of which, you can record up to 9 custom image processing settings in the camera and save them off to SD cards to store or share.
  • Turned on custom setting d3 which shows the ISO setting in the viewfinder instead of the remaining frame count. Maybe that will stop me from shooting entire rolls at ISO 500 instead of 200. I doubt it. But one must try to be optimistic. I said "rolls." How old am I?
  • The self-timer can be set for 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 seconds and you can adjust the number of shots (up to 9). So you can set the self-timer to go off in 5 seconds and take, say, 3 shots (which it does at what feels like the low-speed frame rate).
  • The new AF-A focusing mode which automatically chooses between AF-S (single) and AF-C (continuous) focus depending on subject movement seems really good on paper and so far it has worked out well in practice. And thank you Nikon for the AF selector button on the body.
  • I must say I'm a fan of active D-lighting. In almost every test shot, the D90 makes better exposures than my D70 at default settings. Matrix metering and auto white balance are markedly improved, especially in difficult lighting situations. The D70 has a strong bias against blown highlights, so much so that I routinely shot my D70 with an exposure compensation of +0.7. The D90 isn't nearly as overprotective (especially with active D-lighting enabled, strength: Normal). At the moment I think the D90 will work quite nicely at +0 or even -0.3.
  • It can record RAW + JPG FINE for every exposure. On an 8GB SDHC card I get a readout of 361 available images at that setting (539 RAW only, 1.1k JPG Fine only).
  • Built-in image adjustment and RAW processing. Pretty cool, though it's no Photoshop/Lightroom/Gimp obviously. Post-processing lets you do the usual stuff: crop, rotate, adjust white balance, exposure compensation, choose picture controls (e.g. vivid, landscape, portrait, custom, etc.). In addition, you can apply D-lighting, red-eye removal (although I couldn't get the D90 to give me red-eye), convert to black and white, sepia, cyanotype, filter effects (skylight, warm, red, green, blue, cross screen), resize, quick retouch (contrast + saturation), adjust distortion, and add fisheye effect. Each adjustment creates a new JPG and leaves the original untouched. It's a nice-to-have for a guy like me who doesn't particularly like post-processing images.
  • Strobists take note: The D90 has built-in flash commander support for up to two groups + the built-in flash + adjustable channels (1-4)! It's almost like getting an SB-800 thrown into the kit for free. Awesome news for folks with multiple strobes.
  • No complaints about the 18-105 kit lens. The VR works well, it has the same field of view at the wide end as the 18-70, and it has produced fine bokeh so far. Plastic lens mount but, hey, it's the kit lens. Exactly the same lens hood as the 18-70 kit and takes the same filter size (67mm).
  • Movie mode is a fun, fun, fun little battery drainer. Image quality is excellent, sound quality is acceptable (what you'd expect from a dinky in-camera microphone). I'll post a video sample soon.

As I said, I've only had the camera a few days. More impressions as I learn more about it. Some weekend shots below, from my Flickr account:

Tower 4

Huntington Beach Condos

Friday grab bag

A National Geographic photographer brings her kids to work. It's the ultimate photography internship. What a great opportunity for a kid.

The growth and birth of a chicken in pictures. Despite this, I will continue to enjoy eating eggs.

60 photo links you can't live without over at CameraPorn. No, it's perfectly work safe, trust me. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Olympus has a really neat new super zoom with the "soul of a DSLR." You can't change lenses, but why would you? The SP-570 UZ covers 26-520mm (f/2.8-4.5) with built in sensor-shift and digital image stabilization.

Review: The Flip Mino Video Camera

The Flip Mino video camera (www.theflip.com) could be the perfect complement to your digital still camera. I received a review copy of the Flip Mino this morning (sorry, no giveaway---it's going back to Pure Digital soon) and within minutes I was making videos. See gallery and sample video at the end of this review.

Just about every consumer digital still camera I can think of has the ability to capture videos. And videos from the Mino aren't going to wow you with their quality. What sets the Mino apart (I think it's pronounced "minnow") are it's ease of use, size, and that it can capture up to 60 minutes of television quality video (640x480 @ 30 frames/second) onto a 2GB internal memory. It is a device laser-focused on doing one thing and doing it well: creating video for viewing on the internet. Think YouTube and mailing videos to grandma.

My Nikon D70 has no video capability at all and our Canon Elph, while respectable in the video arena, doesn't have the juice to record a lot of video on a single charge. Plus, since video shares space with stills on the same memory card, total capacity is limited. The Flip solves that problem by providing a separate device dedicated to video.

The Mino is extremely compact and lightweight and easily slips into a shirt pocket. It can be operated one-handed but felt slightly awkward---although, that could easily be because I have large hands and/or because I'm not accustomed to the device. My wife didn't think it was awkward at all.

It has seven buttons on the back arranged in a logical pattern beneath a smallish but workable screen. Play/Pause, Delete, Record, Back, Forward, Up, and Down. The up/down buttons are for changing playback volume or zooming. Left/right are for scrolling through videos you've already captured. The buttons are very sensitive and require no pressure at all to activate which took some getting used to. The record button is large with a good feel. I had no trouble finding it by touch and a red LED on the front lights up when recording---perfect for those YouTube confession-style videos.

I took the Flip out to the park with my kids to test it. The video quality was decent although nowhere as good as my Panasonic DV camera (which cost 3x as much). Color was accurate enough in good lighting conditions but not vibrant. Because the Mino uses MPEG4 compression (at about a 4Mbps bitrate), artifacts are visible in the video during quick motion. But on a standard television set you wouldn't notice and YouTube will do much worse things to the video quality.

The fixed-focus lens covers a focal length approximately equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. The Mino does have a 2x digital zoom but I'd avoid it. Zoomed video looks terrible and anyway 2x doesn't really get you a lot closer. Don't plan on zooming into the on-field or on-stage action with one of these.

The audio (44.1kHz mono) was surprisingly good. Sounds were crisp and clear and covered a good range from normal speech to high-pitched whistles. I was able to record 60 minutes of video, as advertised, with enough charge left over to review videos on the device or play them back on a television with the included RCA audio/video cable.

The device appears like a removable hard drive to your computer. Plug it into a USB port (also used for charging) and you can drag videos onto your desktop---no software required.

A couple of minor gripes: the Mino's lens is protected by a clear glass/plastic membrane but I'd have still liked to see an automatic lens cover to prevent scratches. The namesake flip-out USB port works well but feels flimsy---if anything breaks on your Mino it will be this.

I think the Mino is a solid device. It does one thing and does it well. For the price ($179.99 MSRP) it provides a good value. I can see many people using a Flip Mino to augment the capabilities of their still camera. DSLR owners might find the Mino especially handy since most DSLRs lack video capability altogether (imagine documenting a photo shoot or a lighting setup).

Buy the Flip Mino in black or white from Amazon.com →

{democracy:5}

Full quality demo video (151MB AVI) (blip.tv)

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