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FlyCAM CF 1.3 MP digital camera CompactFlash Card (type I) from LifeView
posted June 2003 by Lisa Gade, Editor-in-Chief

LifeView is a company that's been making popular PDA products such as the FlyPresenter and FlyJacket for several years. Their latest CF digicam for Pocket PCs is the FlyCAM CF 1.3MP model, released in May 2003. It's one of the few add-on cameras that has higher than VGA resolution and a built-in flash, yet at $129 it costs only around $30 more than VGA digicam accessory cameras.

The camera is a 1.3MP unit capable of taking 24 bit color images at up to 1280 X 1024 pixels. Like most integrated PDA and cell phone cameras as well as accessory cameras, the unit uses CMOS rather than CCD technology. The Sony Clié NZ90 and the NX80V are the only PDA cameras to use CCDs. What's the difference? Most digicams have CCD sensors, which is the original modern sensor technology. CCDs take higher quality images with less noise. However, CMOS sensors, which are a newer technology, cost less and consume significantly less power than CCDs, making them ideal for affordable PDA solutions that won't eat your battery.

The camera is mounted on a collar attached to the CF card and can rotate 210 degrees. This means that the camera lens can face you, face away from you or any point in between. The collar and mounting assembly are well-designed and should last through a few years of swiveling.

Like most accessory digicams, it's manual focus, which means you'll rotate the ring surrounding the lens to focus your images. Rotating it all the way toward one side is good for long distance landscape shots, while rotating the ring all the way in the other direction is good for close-ups. There's a line on the ring that indicates when you're half way between these two focusing distances. It'll take a little practice finding the sweet spot for shots somewhere in between the extremes, and if you're in bright sunlight, you may have problems seeing the preview screen clearly enough to make focusing decisions. This is true of all manual focus accessory digicams, not just the FlyCAM.

The FlyCAM has a built-in flash that's reasonably powerful for this kind of device. You can select flash settings that suit your environment (moonlight shots, subject distance). It worked well for very dark environments, but for interior shots with some ambient light, you're better off not using the flash as it will overexpose your shot.

Images and Movies

The FlyCAM can take still images at 320x240, 640x480 and 1280X1024 resolution in your choice of JPEG, GIF or BMP format. It can also record movies at 120x160 and 136x180 resolution in either .IAV (IA Video format) or .AVI format. LifeView claims that the camera can shoot at 30 fps, which is pretty impressive, but I didn't get that kind of performance even though I was using some of the fastest Pocket PCs available today. I got about 8-10 fps. And yes, you can record audio using the Pocket PC's built-in mic along with video.

 

Veo Photo Traveler digital camera for Pocket PC

FlyCAM CF card. Flash is at left, lens in the middle and view finder at right.

Camera inserted into a Toshiba e755. You can rotate the camera and lens so that it faces away from you.

Software and Installation

Installation is straightforward, and all the software you need is included on the companion CD. The CD menu allows you to install three applications from IA Style (who also makes their own VGA camera not reviewed on this site). You'll get IA Capture for shooting still shots and movies without audio, IA VideoMail for recording .AVI movies with sound that can be emailed or played back on PCs, and IA Album which allows you to browse JPEG, BMP and GIF images. In addition, the QuickTest app is installed on your Pocket PC, and this can be used for diagnostics as well as shooting still pictures.

IA Capture

After installing the software, IA Capture will automatically launch when you put the FlyCAM in the CF slot. It has an image preview inset into the application which allows you to see what the camera sees and is shooting. You can switch to full screen preview if you prefer. There's a large capture button that you can press with the stylus or your finger, a button that displays and allows you to change the current mode (image or video) and resolution setting, a timer delay (1 to 15 seconds), and buttons for adjusting color and image quality. The interface is quite intuitive, but just in case you have questions, a "?" on the screen will launch online help for the app. The Options button allows you to set image size, preview size, save location, file format (JPEG, BMP or GIF), and video quality (5 different levels).

IA VideoMail

This is the app you'll likely use to record videos since it saves files in standard .AVI format, viewable on PCs and Macs (but oddly not on the the Pocket PC) and it can record audio along with video.

IA Album

Want to view the JPEG, BMP and GIF files on your Pocket PC? IA Album is a popular, full-featured image viewing application for Pocket PCs that allows you to view not only the pictures you shoot with the FlyCAM, but also images shot with stand-alone digital cameras that are stored on media cards. It supports animated gifs, zooming, digital ink annotation, slide shows and more.

Image Quality

Close and indoor images are quite good for an add-on digicam in this price range: the color balance and saturation are pleasing and reasonably accurate and sharpness is decent. I found that the flash is really best for night and quite dark indoor shots. If you use it in moderate or somewhat low light situations, the shot will be overexposed. I did have trouble getting a sharp landscape shot, and all my distance shots were a bit fuzzy no matter how much I played with the focus ring. Outdoor shots of brightly lit light objects will wash out, which is true of any budget digicam (see the yellow rose image). Below are sample images taken with the camera at 1280 x 1024 resolution using the JPEG fine setting. To see the full size unaltered photo, click on the image.

White orchid, indoors. Great color accuracy and sharpness on well lit indoor subjects and close ups.

The camera didn't focus as well for landscape and long shots.

This outdoor shot shows that the camera focuses decently for close range shots, but like most budget digicams, washes out brightly lit light colored subjects.

The pictures are sharp as long as you've focused properly and the colors are fairly accurate in good lighting. If you're indoors under incandescent light, don't expect accurate colors or well lit pictures. This camera does need strong ambient light, either natural or plenty of indoor lighting. Color aberrations and fringing are not that bad for a camera of this resolution and price.

Conclusion

This is an easy to use, battery friendly camera that offers both a flash and relatively high resolution images for the modest price. The flash is best used for truly dark environments if you don't want to overexpose your image. The software bundle is strong, with several excellent IA Style applications included. Close ups and indoor shots are quite decent, but landscape shots seem a bit blurry. How does it compare to the Veo? It has higher resolution and a flash, which are big bonuses. The FlyCAM offers better color and proper exposure, but the Veo wins for sharper landscape shots.

LifeView, estimated price $129.95

 

Software Tip:

Looking to take even better pictures with more creative control? CECam by WinCESoft is an improved capture program that works with the FlyCAM and the Pretec 1.3 MP digicams.

It takes noticably sharper images using the high resolution setting, and offers more controls than the factory software: banding filter settings, flash on or off, capture rotation, JPEG compression level, auto capture, and user defineable preview window size. If you're looking to get more out of your FlyCAM, check it out!

Other Cameras we've Reviewed:

Palm OS solutions
Veo Photo Traveler

Pocket PC
Veo Photo Traveler

Nexian NexiCam Sleeve for iPAQ

 

 

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