Just click the button-- the computer does the
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1996. First
published in Computer Player, April 1996
Epson's PhotoPC and Connectix's QuickCam
2655 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA
Who needs film? Why bother buying and loading film,
shooting your shots,
then paying for processing?
Sure, it makes sense if you want pictures of the new
baby to send to
Grandma, but if you're just going to use that photo in a document that
you're writing on your computer, maybe you'd be better off if the
as well as the text, was digital.
Newspapers like the Vancouver Sun are starting use
but the $20,000 or so that they pay for one of their Nikons is probably
more than you can even dream about. But for much less, you can still
surprising usable results.
We took a look at two very different digital cameras.
Epson's new PhotoPC,
costs $899, and gives you quite full-screen, full-colour shots.
QuickCam is more limited-grey-scale (i.e. black and white) photos only,
but at an affordable $149 or so.
Full Colour from Epson
With their Stylus inkjet printers, Epson produces one
of the best ways
to output colour pictures... now, with the PhotoPC cameras, they join a
half dozen other companies (including photo-traditionalist, Kodak) in
computer users a simple way to input colour pictures.
Their $899 PhotoPC looks like a slightly oversized
camera-similar to the many popular autofocus 35 mm models. Like them,
has a built-in flash, and a simple, one-button operation. However, if
look closely, you'll see that while there is a picture counter, there's
no way to open the back to put in film.
Instead, your pictures are stored on ram, in the
camera-it comes standard
with 1 meg, which is enough to store 16 full-screen, 640x480 pictures
32 smaller 320x240 pictures. You can mix and match the picture sizes.
all cases, pictures are stored in 24-bit, full-colour form. The ram can
be upgraded, with an additional 2 megs for $299.
Wide angle or telephoto lens and filters can also be
can use standard 37mm camcorder add-ons. Note however, that since (like
many other popular cameras) it uses a rangefinder viewer, what you see
is not quite what the camera is actually viewing-on close-ups in
it can be off by quite a bit.
When you're ready, you connect the camera to your
port, using the included cable, and send your shots to the computer...
Epson's Easy Photo software creates a page resembling a traditional
contact sheet; from there it's simple to either choose selected shots
the whole bunch and retrieve the larger versions-it'll take anywhere
20 seconds to a minute per shot, depending on the speed of your serial
The included software lets you make simple crops,
or colour adjustments, though I found the colour balance quite good
any touching up. Sending a bunch of photos to your computer will put a
strain on the camera's batteries-Epson offers an AC adapter, but for a
steep additional $199. They recommend against using any other AC
that case, rechargeable batteries might be a wise investment.
I found the picture quality quite good-and once you've
got a picture
on your hard drive, it can be easily added to any of the standard
editing software like PhotoShop, desktop publishing software, word
or more. Pictures, by default, are stored as compressed JPEG files, so
even the full-screen shots tend to take up a modest 40-55 kb of disk
Since Grandma probably doesn't want digital photos,
this camera is too
expensive for most home photographers. It could be well-used, however,
by anyone producing a newsletter, to get pictures for Internet home
for real estate agents looking to produce quick handouts on new
for documenting insurance claims, and more. Currently, it's PC-only...
Epson expects Mac software and cabling around June.
Black and White on the cheap
For about 1/6 the price of Epson's colour camera, you
can get Connectix's
It's a light-grey gadget, about the size and shape of
a billiard ball,
with a little eye on the front, resting on a pyramid-shaped pedestal--
or if you prefer, it can screw into a standard camera tripod. Because
what it is-- an affordable, easy to use still and video camera for your
It's available in both Mac and PC/Windows versions
(sorry, you can't
use the same version on both platforms). The PC version, which I'm
plugs into your parallel (printer) port, while drawing power from the
jack. That means no opening the case-- easy connections. A single
can be easily used with any number of computers-- just install the
disk worth of software on each machine. (You can plug your keyboard
the QuickCam's jack, but there's no pass-through connection for your
but if you have two printer ports, or a simple A/B switchbox, you can
both the QuickCam and a printer plugged into a single port. Or just
cables when you want to print!)
So what does it do? Easy to use software let you take
either a 320x240
still photo, or a 160x120 video clip... saving either to your computer.
Why so cheap? How can this be a $149 (or so) unit
offering both still
pictures and video, while other digital cameras (including Epson's
but including competitive models from Apple, Logitech, Canon and more)
are still hovering on either side of the $1000 mark for still pictures
Connectix is able to produce such an affordable unit
for two reasons--
first, it's black and white only (although there are rumours of a
version later this year). Still, the 64-grey scale b&w pictures are
quite attractive, and print out well. As well, because it's attached to
your computer at all times, it can leave off a number of features
in a stand-alone camera-- a battery and ram, in particular. Stand-alone
digital cameras need to be able to store your photos until you can
them to your computer-- here, the shots go directly to the Windows or
Clipboard, or right to a file.
And because it's saving immediately to your computer,
video is possible.
While a single b&w picture results in a modest 80k file-size, a
of video can take as much as 5 megs, uncompressed. The QuickCam
which supports standard Video for Windows AVI format (on the PC) or
QuickTime (on the Mac), can compress this as low as 1 meg per minute--
but it still adds up quickly. By the way-- you'll need a sound card and
microphone if you want sound in your movies... the QuickCam is a video
The uses of a cheap and easy digital camera are
limited only by your
imagination... it's easy to think of lots of business or just fun uses.
Because the pictures print out well on a standard 300 or 600 dpi laser
printer, it can easily be used as a source of photos for school or
newsletters. Or to include employee photos in a personnel database. Or
to keep records of valuables in case of theft. Or to attach pictures to
e-mail. Or... I think every elementary school classroom with a computer
should have one of these!
But that's not all-- Connectix has also released cheap
software-- VideoPhone. While that's not included in the standard
package, a couple of QuickCam's and this software gives you a quick and
dirty computer-based equivalent of that '50s sci-fi cliché, the
picture phone. The current version of the software only supports
over a network, or via high-speed ISDN links, but Connectix is
a modem-to-modem version soon.
Even without the extra video-conferencing software,
the QuickCam is
a neat computer gadget -- Connectix has pretty much gotten everything
it's easy to set up, fun to use, produces good quality results, and is
However, be aware of it's limitations-it has to remain
attached to your
computer, the pictures are small, and they're black and white only-once
you've had a chance to use a more full-featured, colour camera like
PhotoPC, you'll chafe at the QuickCam's limitations.
With, on the one hand, affordable and fun gadgets like
Quick Cam, and
on the other, more expensive but also, perhaps more satisfying units
the PhotoPC, this could be the time to think about adding a digital
to your setup.