The Gadgets Page

June 16, 2009

Columbia University: Automatic Face Swapping

Filed under: Cameras,Software — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Columbia University has developed a fully automatic face swapping system. They describe it here:

I can see this sort of thing being included in iPhoto in the next five years. I especially love the ability to replace one face in a group of people using a few of the photos you’ve taken. I don’t know HOW many times we’ve taken family photos where one (or more) of the kids weren’t quite looking at the camera.

How many times have I thought, “Dangit! If we could use Kristen’s face on this one and Sammie’s face on that one, THEN we’d have the perfect family photo!” With this automatic face swapping techniques, we could easily do that without having to burden my Photoshopping Skillz!

June 10, 2009

Retro Gadgets: Kodak Ektachrome Film

Filed under: Cameras,Retro Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Kodak Ektachrome booklet 1 by wardomatic from FlickrWard Jenkins scanned in this lovely and informative booklet about Kodak Ektachrome film from 1955.

After looking through the pages, I remembered how irritatingly difficult photography was for me before my first digital camera. The photos I took wouldn’t be seen for days or months after I shot them. That left me with such a delay of feedback that I never got any better at photography. It wasn’t until my first digital camera that I started to get better: no more cut off heads or meaty fingers over the lens.

Film was the biggest drawback to photography for me. I constantly had to decide whether each thing was film-worthy or not. Now that I’m on digital, I am a Photography Cowboy. I shoot ’em all and let God sort ’em out. Okay, God doesn’t sort my oceans of files, but iPhoto is the next best thing.

I’m so grateful for the digital photography era. Reading through that Kodak booklet made that crystal clear for me again.

May 29, 2009

Unibind MyBook Kits

Filed under: Cameras,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Photobook Creator Bundle at Amazon.comAs great as looking at photos on the computer can be, sometimes, I just want to look at pictures in a book. I can sit on the couch with family members and we can turn the pages together instead of crowding around my computer desk and trying to look at the photos together on the screen.

Unibind offers a way for you to make your own books with their MyBook kits:

Here is a video showing how it works:

It costs $99 for the Photobook Creator and then $19 to $25 dollars for the MyBook kits. After looking at the cost for comparable Blurb and Qoop books, the Unibind system seems like a pretty good deal if you like to make books often (i.e. for each vacation or family event).

Binding Machine, Binds 340 Pages at Amazon.comThe Photobook Creator reminds me of the UniBind Binding Machine that I used when I worked at the engineering firm. It heat up the glue in the UniBind Steelback Spine and make a great book that stayed together. It was a great gadget and we made MANY reports with it, but it cost them a bunch of money just to buy the machine.

UniBind Steelback Spine 24mm graphite at Amazon.comThose steelback spines came in a WIDE variety of sizes and we could make reports that held over 350 sheets of paper, but we had to add our own plastic sheets and covers to the reports, whereas the MyBook kits come with what looks like a hard cover book instead. I suspect I could use the smaller spines with the Photobook Creator gadget and that would make it affordable for normal human beings (instead of engineering firms).

I enjoy having a book that I can pull off the shelf and show friends, so I think this would be a good thing for me. It looks like Digital Scrapbooking 101 likes the Unibind system and even has tips on how to get the printing exactly right using the Photobook Creator software.

One thing she didn’t mention is that if you put more sheets of paper than are supposed to go in the book, the papers won’t be bound correctly and the middle sheets will fall out. You MUST follow their guidelines about how many sheets of paper that they can hold, otherwise, you’ll be sorry.

If you notice, she holds the book right on the heating element instead of letting it sit like they show in the official Unibind video. That’s because she has learned, just like we did, that the books MUST be fully on that heating element in order to melt the glue correctly. Otherwise, it just won’t work. At the engineering firm, we were making 10 or 15 books at a time, so we would just put them all in the Unibinder and they would be held upright by the plastic holders on the side. Based on this video, it looks like the Photobook Creator is big enough for the larger steelback spines from UniBind, so I would feel confident in using it for them as well.

Whether you’re creating photo books, reports, or even journals for writing with beautiful pictures, the Unibind system is a great way to make books that stand up to many viewings.

May 1, 2009

The Samsung HD Camera Challenge

Filed under: Cameras,PDAs and Phones — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

This is a pretty cool video. At first I thought it was just a lame unboxing video, but it turns out to be a pretty cool thing:

He shot this video all in one take without video editing. How did he do it? This video explains it, but try to think how it was done. You can also watch the original video in HD to see the little details that give it away.

All of this is to advertise the Samsung I8910 HD camera phone. If all commercials were this interesting, people would watch them willingly!

April 24, 2009

Review: E-matic 4GB Video MP3 Player

Filed under: Audio and Video,Cameras — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Ematic 4GB Video MP3 Player at Amazon.comThe folks from Shaghal Ltd. sent me one of their 4GB E-matic Video MP3 players. I’ve had fun playing with it for the last few days.

In a spark of genius that not even Apple has achieved yet, the E-matic comes preloaded with a video showing how to use it. You can see the video here:

It’s a multi-function device that tries to be everything. I’ll review each function on its own.

MP3 Player

When compared to an iPod, the E-matic will never be able to compete. Apple has made adding music to an iPod so incredibly easy that everything else is clunky and difficult in comparison. When compared to other MP3 players, however, the E-matic is a perfectly functional device.

When plugged into a computer (I tried it on my Mac and my PC), it shows up like a USB thumb drive or an SD card. When you drop MP3s into the AUDIO folder, they are playable with the built-in MP3 player. Using Windows Media Player to try to add music onto the E-matic is definitely a mistake. It’s a much better idea to just add folders of music using Explorer (on the PC) or Finder (on the Mac).

Be warned that any music you have purchased with iTunes won’t work on the E-matic, even if it’s DRM-free. Apple wants you to use their MP3 players, you know.

Video Player

I was able to get the video player to work with .3GP, .AVI and .MP4, but not .WMV files. I was able to download an episode of Dexter from Bit Torrent, put it on the E-matic and watch it within minutes, which is MUCH easier than trying to get .AVI files to work on my iPhone. Transferring files from the computer to the E-matic takes longer than it would to transfer the same sized file onto an SD card, but the playback (especially with the .AVI files) was clean and watchable. Here is a glimpse of what the episode of Dexter looked like on the E-matic:

With big files like that episode of Dexter, there is some choppiness and pauses. I found it quite distracting to watch, but if you have fifteen episodes of Sponge Bob on the E-matic for your kid to watch while you’re waiting in the grocery line, I doubt that will be an issue.

The screen is bigger than the iPod Nano and about as clear as long as you have a good file to begin with. That is one thing that Apple does a little better; they make sure that the videos you do put on your Nano or iPhone look as good as possible.

Audio Recorder

There is a feature that lets you record audio, such as notes to yourself or a quick interview of a friend, etc. This feature is limited by the small microphone. The audio clips are recorded in .AMR files, and show up in the AUDIO folder on the E-matic. Transferring them to your computer is as easy as drag and drop.

Here is an example of an audio recording using the E-matic:


The camera is 640 X 480 and the pictures are choppy at best. Here are some examples of photos I took with the E-matic.

Review: E-matic 4GB Video MP3 Player by LauraMoncur from Flickr

Review: E-matic 4GB Video MP3 Player by LauraMoncur from Flickr

These photos where taken under the BEST lighting possible and they are still a little pixelated. The camera is good enough to prove that you saw somebody who looked like Elvis, but not good enough to prove that Elvis is alive.

See the rest of the photos taken with the E-matic here:

Video Camera

The video camera records in 320 X 240. Not since my old Treo 650 have I had a video camera with this resolution. Here is a video that I took with the camera:

As you can see, this is good enough for kids or simple family shots outside in bright light, but if you try to film indoors, it will be too dark to see anything. The audio quality is also limited by the tiny microphone at the bottom of the unit.

See the other video taken with the E-matic here:

eBook Reader

This isn’t an eBook reader so much as a way for you to read .TXT files. That’s great if you want to cheat in school using the E-matic. I’ve written in detail about that sort of thing here:

The directions for the E-matic are EXACTLY the same as what I wrote for the iPod, except you don’t need to enable the E-matic for disk use. That’s all ready for you to go.

This feature also might be good to store phone numbers, information, etc. that you might want to refer to. As far as reading a book using the E-matic, you could do it, but it would be an incredible pain in the butt because it doesn’t remember where you were last reading and you can’t resize the font for readability.

TF Card

Review: E-matic 4GB Video MP3 Player by LauraMoncur from FlickrThere is a tiny slot at the bottom of the E-matic labeled “TF Card.” I tried putting in a Micro SD card and it fit. It popped out at an incredible force, but aside from that it sleekly fit in the E-matic.

To use the Micro SD card, you need to go into the TOOL section and choose MEMORY. When you choose it as a WORKSPACE, then you can record audio, video and photos onto the Micro SD card. You can also watch videos or listen to MP3s that you have saved on it.

In this respect, the E-matic also works as a great card reader for Micro SD cards. When you plug it into the computer the Micro SD card shows up as a different drive and you can use the E-matic to transfer files to the SD card as easily as to the hard drive.

You can get Micro SD cards with as much memory as 16GB, so just the purchase of one Micro SD card can change your 4GB E-matic into a 20GB device. I love the expandability of the Micro SD card slot!

Is It Worth The Money?

The E-matic is available at Wal-Mart for $49 and available on Amazon for anywhere from $54 to $63. Is the E-matic worth it? Hell yeah.

If you need something to entertain the kids, but you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on an iPod, the E-matic is PERFECT. You’ll have to work a little harder to get the files on the device, but if your kid loses it, you’re out fifty bucks instead of hundreds.

It’s also a great device to teach kids how to shoot video and take photos. The limitations of the camera do make it a little more difficult to get a good shot, but that is a great way to teach them about proper lighting and setting up a shot.

If you’re expecting the E-matic to take the place of your normal camera, however, you will be sorely disappointed. The camera on your phone is probably as good as the camera in the E-matic, if not better.

On the whole, however, the E-matic is definitely worth the fifty bucks. It’s best for kids, but if you just want to snap a few photos to remember things and watch a couple of videos while you’re waiting at the DMV, it’s great for adults as well!

March 20, 2009

Review: Sony Webbie HD

Filed under: Cameras — Matthew Strebe @ 5:00 am

Sony Webbie HD Camera at Amazon.comI’ve always liked the idea of tiny direct-to-flash video recorders, and bought one of the first Antec video recorders available. The optical quality sucked, and I wound up giving it to the kids because it was basically useless. Every direct-to-flash camera I’ve seen since then has reminded me of a toy—poor optics, poor video quality, and VGA or lower resolution. Unfortunately, the traditional video camera makers were slow to give up other formats—with Sony being amongst the slowest. Sony’s first forays into direct flash recording were very expensive, and for HD they recorded in the AVCHD, which has received very little support amongst software vendors (including Sony) and remains painful to work with still today.

That has all changed with the Sony Webbie HD. This slick little camera costs $199 (the cheapest product from Sony I think I’ve ever seen), records in full HD, and has by far the best optics I’ve seen in video camera in this price range. The Auto white-balance, autofocus times, and color balance, while clearly not on part with my $1500 Sony HD camcorder, are far better than anything I’ve seen at the low end of the market. They’re better across the board than the JVC HDD camcorder I paid over $600 for. My only real complaint with the optics is the occasionally long auto-focus times. It can take a few seconds for the camera to find focus when aimed at distant shots with few clean-edged objects, like the ocean or distant mountains. White balance can occasionally be a little washed out in strong daylight, but again, compared to the other $200 offerings the optics are outstanding.

Sony Webbie HD Camera at Amazon.comThe construction is noticeably cheaper than a typical Sony product, but in-line with my expectations for the price point. It comes in silver, purple, and orange. It fits entirely in the palm of your hand facing away from your thumb, which can be somewhat awkward. The button placement is reminiscent of larger camcorders and is a bit awkward for a camera this small. I have large hands and it worked well for me, but my wife didn’t like the button placement. The camera comes with almost no internal flash (just enough to demo the camera) so you have to supply a Sony Memory Stick Duo, which come in sizes up to 16GB at the time of this writing. You can plan on using about 4GB/hr. for full HD, 2GB for 720p, and 1GB for VGA resolution.

The camera records in your choice of full 1920x1080p HD, 720p HD, or 640×480 SD resolutions and creates standard MPEG-4 files that can be dragged and dropped into Roxio, iPhoto, iMovie, and just about every non-linear editor on the market. Zero compatibility problems. You can plug the camera into your computer using its standard mini-USB port and treat it like a flash-card reader. There is a built-in bright white LED for lighting, and with Sony’s low-light optics it actually works better than you would expect.

The camera takes 5MP photos, but with no flash, a second or more delay between pushing the camera button and having it snap the photo, and no ability to take a photo while recording, this feature is a pointless add-on in my opinion. Don’t get this camera thinking you’re killing two birds with one stone, because you’ll be disappointed with its still camera performance.

Sony Webbie HD Camera at Amazon.comThe only significant downside to this camera is the built-in, non-replaceable 80-minute battery. It rather sucks to have a camera whose storage lasts far longer than its battery. Sony could have gotten me to buy two or three proprietary batteries and a charger had they built it with a replaceable battery. Being a geek, I noticed that the camera charges at 9 volts, so a quick trip to RadioShack for an Adapt-a-plug, 9v Battery-clip, and a 9v battery puts me in business for a full day with only slightly lower carrying convenience.

You can’t do better than the Webbie HD MHS-CM1 for a low-cost full HD video camera. It has the best optics I’ve seen in a low cost camcorder and the convenient MPEG-4 format made it a no-brainer for me. Avoid it for still pictures, and think about the low-capacity fixed battery before you buy. Play with it in store to be sure you don’t mind the button placement and handling. If those aren’t an issue, then you’ll love your small and convenient HD camcorder.

March 10, 2009

CES 2009: JVC Camcorders

Filed under: Cameras — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I didn’t get a chance to look at the JVC camcorders when I was at CES this year, but they filmed some cool videos showcasing them.

I really like their hand grip and wrist strap option. It’s an innovative twist on the typical camcorder hand grips because it can pull tight on your hand, but when you aren’t filming, it can pull into a wrist strap.

They’ve also added a bunch of colors for their camcorders, which makes their camcorders appeal to me even more.

I’m pretty bummed that I didn’t catch the JVC camcorders when I was at CES. I don’t know how I missed them, but it’s great to be able to show them to everyone who didn’t get to attend.

February 13, 2009

ProdMod NightVlogger LED Camera Light

Filed under: Cameras — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

There are many times when I’m trying to take video of the cats playing, but they are in the dark bedroom in the evening, so all I get is a reddish tinted video that shows little if any of the action. ProdMod has made a super bright LED camera light that attaches to your tripod mount and gives you more than enough light to catch the action.

You can attach it to any camera or camcorder or even a tripod for more professional looking steady recording.

It projects a roughly 100 degree wide beam of light so you wont see a spotlight effect or dark circles around your subjects and hot spots are limited. With a few nuts and bolts you can mount this to your tripod for macro photography too.

Here is a video that was filmed in a dark room:

They don’t sell the camera light fully assembled. It’s a kit that you put together. Here is a video telling you how to put the kit together:

If you like to take a lot of video in the house or other poorly lit areas, then this camera LED light from ProdMod might be just the thing for you!

February 12, 2009

Ms. Jen Pits The Nokia N82 Versus The Nokia N85

Filed under: Cameras — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

The Nokia N82 vs N85

The very excellent Ms. Jen got a hold of a Nokia N85 and compared it to her N82. She took TONS of photos with both cameras in several situations and posted her findings here:

You might think that the N85 MUST be better than the N82 just because it’s newer, but that wasn’t always the case.

The N82 has a better flash and a better focal range than the N85, but the N85 takes the photos as you click, it does not focus and then capture. At times this is much more satisfactory as one is not frustrated as the camera focuses, but as you can see from the photos above the N82 takes much clearer and sharper photos than the N85. I conclude that it is worth it to wait for the N82 to focus rather than have the immediate satisfaction that the N85 is fast.

Dark situations are the bane of the camera phone, so she tested in that situation. The N85 won that round.

As for night and difficult lighting situations, I purposely took the camera phones to the badly lit red interior of Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, California, which is the bane of rock photographers LA wide for the lack of spotlights and the red walls which eat light right on up before your camera can sense it. The N85 won in this situation when I turned off its flash and just had it shoot. It was fast, captured warm colors and made the most of the dim lighting, but the N85 failed miserably when I turned the flash on as it was dark and dim. The N82 was blurry and a bit darkish with no flash inside of Alex’s, but with the lovely Zenon flash really lit the band right on up.

Next time you curse your cameraphone for not taking great pictures, remember that Nokia is making cameras… err… PHONES especially for you!

December 30, 2008

Ziotek USB Camera Wrist Strap

Filed under: Cameras — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

USB Camera Lanyard, Wrist Strap at Amazon.comThis ingenious device is EXACTLY what every camera needs. It looks like an ordinary wrist strap for your camera, but when the time comes to download your photos onto your computer, the wrist strap opens up and becomes a USB cable.

USB Camera Lanyard, Wrist Strap at

Ziotek USB Camera Lanyard, Neck Strap at Amazon.comI can’t believe ALL cameras aren’t equipped with this feature. Ziotek makes the strap in two sizes: wrist strap and neck strap:

Each of them cost as much as a normal camera lanyard would cost, so they are inexpensive as well. Try them out!

Via: Camera Strap Doubles as a USB Cord »

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