CF 1.3 MP digital camera CompactFlash Card (type I) from
June 2003 by Lisa Gade,
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!