Sometime back I posted about inexpensive cameras sold by Aiptek, and how this might be used in the classroom. One of my schools took me up on the challenge and purchased one of these cheapies for about $15. Here’s what we found…
First, there are a surprising number of features for a camera so
cheap inexpensive. The Aiptek PocketCam 1.3 purports to have 1.3 megapixel resolution. It also includes a flash, a standard A-B USB cable, and several pieces of bundled software for image manipulation. Its internal 16 MB of storage won’t win any awards for innovation, but at 1.3 it will still hold more images than will typically be taken on an outing. Include with this a mini-tripod, and you’ve got a fairly complete package.
That package, however, has some pretty big faults. The plastic camera housing is very flimsy plastic, and there is no way to cover the lens. The ON button is in such an awkward position that I can see it being turned on accidentally on a regular basis. As for the other controls, these are easy to understand, and just as easy to operate (even accidentally.)
The flash has three settings – off, constant on, and auto. I tried each, with sporadic results. Off and On were predictable, but the Auto setting seemed finicky. It didn’t seem to want to work when I thought a flash was necessary. I did finally get it to flash, but I’m not sure that the sensors are up to snuff.
Also on the lens ring are focus settings. One appears to be macro, and the other long range. It would seem to be a range of settings in between. Changing these settings seemed to have no effect, and I’m not sure they even do anything. There was nothing in the manuals about a macro setting.
For $15, you’re not going to get an LCD screen. The only thing you get is a small viewfinder. This inability to preview images is the camera’s biggest drawback, especially since the transfer software is such a pain to set up. Plug-n-play this is not, even with USB and XP. The folks at the school couldn’t get it to work on two different computers, and I only got it to work on my laptop after much weeping and gnashing of teeth. However, once installed, transfer was very easy. Since it sets itself up with a TWAIN driver, the images can be imported directly into Photoshop (not that an elementary school is going to do that.)
Once I was able to transfer some images, I was disappointed in the quality, even for a cheap camera. Color and white balance don’t seem to be a concern. The image below was the first image I took in bright afternoon sunshine.
Note the bluish tint to the bricks. Photoshop was able to bring back some more natural colors, but elementary kids aren’t going to do that.
The next two images were taken of a brilliant tree outside the office in full sunshine. The long range image looks OK, but the close-up completely loses the color.
Compare that to the image I took of this same tree with my Nikon S1…
One final comment about the camera itself. It will EAT batteries, especially if the flash is used. Speaking of the flash, here is the one image I took inside with the flash. Notice how grainy the image was. I actually took this shot on Auto three times before the flash ever went off.
The graininess of this image is much more noticeable in the original size. These shots are available on my Flickr account.
So, is my idea valid? Will a $15 camera work for a classroom? After playing with this one, I think not. The quality of the images is not really the issue. These are either going to be used in PowerPoint or printed on ink jet printers. Plus, kids are very forgiving when it comes to image quality. The problem is the lack of an LCD screen for preview. The likelihood is that the kids would take a ton of pictures and not know that they had anything useful until they got back and downloaded them. That could get very frustrating. And, as flimsy as these things are, a teacher would be buying replacements and batteries at an alarming rate. Perhaps a $50-$100 camera would work much better