VIDEO & PHOTOGRAPHY "On the Cheap"
Saga - Movin'
- Test Footage - Still
Photos - Usage Anomolies - Resources
I got me one of these Aiptek Pencam 1.3M SD units. Actually, got
both the Aiptek MegaCam and the Pencam SD at the same time. They
were the "refurbished" ones, so they cost $9 and $19 respectively.
My plan was to get a digital camera that was not going to cause
me to cry if I fell on it or got caught on a hellishly rainy ride.
I mentioned the specifics of purchase over on the blog,
and most of the photos get posted over on Flickr.
There's even a "Pencam
Group" over there as well.
most of the images are intended for websites, absolute resolution
was not really the issue. Actually, the files get reduced (well...
not since upgrading to Flickr Pro) from the "raw from
the camera" size before I upload them to my
Flickr pages. But, I'm getting a little ahead
cameras arrived with various accessories, USB cords and CD's with
Windows-only software. It finally dawned on me that these little
cameras were geared more for the legions of misguided souls who
don't use a Mac. Leafing through the bare-bones manual confirmed
that opinion. Hoping for a "plug & play" response
from iPhoto, I plugged the MegaCam into the computer and got no
response. It didn't even view it as a separate drive (like a USB
flash stick, which was my hope). I had a momentary flashback to
the "free" Logitec camera that came with my earthlink
account, which I never got to work. But, that was back in OS 8.6
serious google-session through the Aiptek websites looking for a
MacOS driver (they have several international sites - the German
one seemed to have the widest selection) only ponied up a plug-in
for PhotoShop. ( mac-pencam-series.hqx - found here
- waaaay down at the bottom of the page). I downloaded and installed
this plug-in, which popped up on my "Import" menu in Photoshop.
However, this did not function*. With the camera plugged in, it
didn't find or recognize the camera, nor would allow me to access
attempt was not without its own little variables, of course: I'm
a bit on the trailing edge of technology sometimes - firmly routed
in the "if it's doing what I want, then there's no pressing
need for an upgrade" camp. Specifically, that meant that my
version of Photoshop (5.5) was running in Classic mode. I have not
tested the plug-in with and OSX version of Photoshop & have
not found a OS9-specific version of the plug-in.)
course, after kicking through many various subpages of different
websites, I found the link to the Macam
software - which I'd zipped right past on the first page of
Group. This freeware provides a pretty generic but decent Mac
OS interface for many types of simple digital still cameras.
a bit finicky. The software seems to have an opinion regarding how
direct the connection of the USB cable must be. To digress further
into my hardware specifics, I've got a Mac G4 Cube, and as the connections
to the Cube itself are reasonably inaccessable, opted for a simple
4-1 USB hub for my printer and a Zip Drive, leaving two empty ports
into which I usually plug my normal digital camera.
I first plugged the Aiptek into the USB hub, and fired up Macam,
there was a pause and then I realized that my knuckles had appeared
onscreen. In my excitement of joining modern broadcast journalism,
I moved the mouse, which froze everything up and generated a USB
error message. Through a bit of trial and error, I found that the
USB hub would reliably work, as long as I didn't use the mouse at
the same time (mouse is attached to keyboard which is attached to
the USB in the monitor). As I was only using macam to get the photos
from the camera to the computer, I could do so using the keyboard,
which did not seem to affect things.
do use the macam software to quickly view images, as it has a Preview-like
functionality. It does tend to position the images rather strangely,
leading me to believe that I was having some extreme parallax
error from the camera. This turned out to be less than I thought.
When viewing the images through Photoshop, significantly more of
the image appeared.
still photography seemed to work reliably for the most part. I did
have one issue with the Pencam SD. During one use, it dropped some
photos. More precisely, the images didn't download to the computer.
When I was going through the transfer, the last couple of photos
(estimated by the progress bar in Macam) seemed to "hang"
things - progress pretty much stopped and the last photos took about
10 minutes to transfer. These long-time images were not readable
by anything - Macam, Photoshop, Preview, etc. I went through the
format steps for the SD card - /Press & Hold "Mode"
button for 5 seconds until the LCD says "FOR", then press
the Shutter button to format the SD card/ - which seemed to fix
the problem. Since that time I have not had a storage issue problem
on that camera.
only other issue was with the MegaCam, during the photos I took
at the Fairfax
Fat Tire Festival. It was unreasonably hot, so that may have
had something to do with it. The camera got to a 21 or 22 photos,
and then refused to take more photos or turn off. I removed the
batteries for a forced reset and switched to the other camera. The
images came out fine.
cameras use AAA-type batteries. I purchased Durcell rechargeable
AAA-size batteries and use a generic AA/AAA size charger which I
already had. I also bought a 4 pack of "Photo" Duracell's
for backup. The camera instructions say that the batteries should
be removed from the camera if it will sit for a while, so I've been
running them through the charger about once a week, or before any
serious photo-rides. JimG
recommends removing one battery and flipping it to prevent trickle-decharging
while on a ride. Carlos
D used an inner tube to fashion a lens cap holder, USB port
protector and extra battery holster, shown here.
quirk is that the Pencam SD has a volatile memory if you are not
using the SD card. The instructions warn you, but it is important
to note that if you are using the SDRAM memory, and you remove the
batteries, you will lose your images. According to the instructions,
when the SD card is inserted, the camera will write to that first,
then write to the SDRAM after it is full. It does not say if it
tells you when it has switched, but I reckon if the image count
is up in the high 60's you probably don't want to take your batteries
out. It also only records AVI movies when the SD card is inserted.
more or less brings us to the next part of the saga. My original
idea was to use the MegaCam for still photos and the SD, with its
larger memory, for some on-the-trail video work. At this point (8/14/06),
I am currently sadly mistaken.
shot some test video on the Mt
Tam/Bo Ridge ride. The files downloaded using Macam, but have
remained impervious to my attempts to convert them. The video is
an AVI file, which I have learned more or less an "encapsulation"
standard used by Windows machines. The actual COding and DECoding
of the image stream within the AVI is done via various proprietary
schemes called CODECs.
I haven't messed much with digital video, and don't have much more
than the vanilla version of Quicktime which came with OSX. I have
since found out that there are a large number of CODECs floating
around out there. Oh goodie.
the plus side, I was able to transfer the video to a spare XP Pro-running
computer at work and actually verify the images exist.
I should be able to take the AVI file, run it through a transfer
program, and have a Quicktime MOV file pop out the other end. This
has not occurred yet. (As I type this, I wonder if the issue is
that I had emailed the AVI file to myself from a Windows computer
to the Mac. I would assume that the transfer file would know that
the AVI file is a Windows file, and that would be part of the conversion.
Yet, nowhere does that get explicitly addressed.)
to the XLab
reference I found, if the VL*
software didn't do it, I could use the 3ivx
codec and/or the DivX
Doctor to make the transfer happen. So far, zip, nada, zilch,
bupkis... I've also found a reference to something called avi2mov
which doesn't seem to exist anywhere. The last reference to it seemed
Conflict Issue - Update 8/21:
It seems as though VL conflicts with something in the "Classic"
mode of the Mac. Specifically, I use an older version of Quark Xpress
for layout/design work. When I tried to output two postscript files
for transfer using Adobe Distiller, Quark crashed on the second
file, freezing Classic mode. The resultant output for the first
file had a VL icon (normally just appears using the generic text
file icon). I had also gotten a very weird printing error earlier
that day. I have since removed VL from the machine, and everything
operates as it did before.
this point the files are not viewable on the Mac. I guess the other
option is to see if I can crack the file a bit differently on the
XP machine, and see if I can tranfer it into a more compatible flavor.
Too much for tonight - I'm tired.
before I fall asleep -
- Transfer the AVI to another format on the XP machine, and transfer
that to the Mac
- Upload the AVI to Video Google and see if that puts it into a
cross-platform format of some sort.
I had the opportunity yesterday to upload a couple of the video
files from the work (XP) computer to Google video. The interface
requires that you register on Google, but is reasonably hassle-free
regarding personal info. It requires a secondary email confirmation
before you get full functionality, so it wasn't until this morning
that I had a chance to login, tell them I was me and upload files
directly from the Mac.
quick & dirty report is that it seems to work - both in terms
of viewing the XP-uploaded files on the Mac, and uploading files
(with the wrong extension, as Macam appended ".jpg" to
the AVI files) from the Mac and having them work as well . (I would
guess that they have some transfer function which seems to change
the video file to a flash or shockwave file. I have not yet attempted
to dowload and further edit the resultant Google video files.)
Google page also generates an html snippet, which allows you to
embed the video into your blog or web page - which I've done here.
They also generate an auto-email with the direct link to the video
certainly allows a means for viewing the video files without messing
with transfer functions. There does seem to be a change between
the image as it appears onscreen via the Aiptek viewer on the XP
machine and the final Google Video image - color and density shifts,
some aliasing in the image - but overall, it solves the problem
of viewing the images on a Mac reasonably quickly.
this allows me to -
Download the Video images from the Aiptek to the Mac using Macam
- Upload the video images from the Mac to Google Video via the standard
- View the images using the Mac on the Google Video site (i.e. -
without having to go to work to use the Windows machine.)
Google Video Images - 8/16/06
I've aggregated the Google videos here
(weeding out some of the tests I showed earlier on this page).
JimG has put his here.
Late-Night Notes -
Google Video and YouTube methods seem to provide a couple of dead
ends of their own design.
the worst - YouTube doesn't allow you to download your videos -
or at least I have not found the method.
although GoogleVid says they allow downloads, I cannot seem to get
it to work properly. When I select the "Download" button,
my browser (Firefox)
tries to download the "Google Video Player" - a 7.7 mb
download. It also says that as soon as the GVP is installed, the
video will automatically download.
Well, I have (a few times now) and it doesn't. The GVP does not
actually seem to start up when clicked upon either. Perhaps an OS/version
in the FAQ section of Google, it makes reference to the DivX
player being the same thing. So, I knocked around the site, and
tried downloading the
appropriate DivX player - 5.2.1 for OSX 10.2.x. This created
a folder, but no actual application and I'm kinda stymied about
what to do there and running out of gas to try more options.
is a "Manually Download Video" link, which I've tried.
It puts a 4K icon on the desktop, but it "false-starts"
and nothing actually happens when I click on it. Harrumph. I've
pestered the folks at google via the "contact" page, so
maybe we'll see the verdict from them.
to clarify -
What I want to be able to do is actually edit these video snippets
on the Mac, so I can string together a short video.
I can put up what I've shot, but the true strength of video is being
able to edit together the shots and create something. This is edging
me back towards finding some sort of Windows OS conversion software
so I can wrangle the raw AVI footage into something editable (like
Quicktime), then bring the footage back over to the Mac so I can
put it together.
shouldn't be that tough, but still appears to be so. More as more
the XP/Windows machine, I've been trying to transfer the AVI to
a MOV (Quicktime) format. I downloaded
a trial version of AVIMOV for
the XP system, which seems to handle the actual transfer quite smoothly.
(I'm just using the trial download, which allows me to transfer
30% of the file for free - the full version is $30...) I was able
to view the MOV on the Mac after emailing it back from the XP machine.
when I tried to import it into iMovie, it wouldn't work. It seems
that iMovie only deals with DV (Digital Video) streams and then
outputs a Quicktime MOV file. In order to get Quicktime to output
a DV file, I need to upgrade to QT Pro*. So, I need to see if AVIMOV
(or something else) will output just a DV stream. So, another work-break
- Turns out I had already upgraded to QT Pro and not actually plugged
in the code. Found and done. So, now I can output DV files from
Quicktime, and they are importable into iMovie. I'm gonna need a
bigger hard drive...
Thanks for your email. We appreciate you bringing these issues to
our attention. We are currently investigating the situation and
we'll contact you as soon as we've found a resolution. We thank
you for your patience and apologize for any inconvenience.
we've implemented a number of features on Google Video, such as
ratings, comments, and labels. We'd love to know what you think!
Give us your feedback at http://video.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=feedback2.
hope you'll visit Google Video in the future to see our additions
The Google Video Team"
like a bedbug letter so far...
8/21 - JimG gets a Break/Google Writes Back
spent the first hour or so of our 8/19
"Mixed-Terrain" ride chattering about Aiptek video
and pencams in general. I related much of the above and we shared
ideas about how to get the video converted within the Mac OS. JimG
link to a .tar file which runs in terminal mode on the Mac.
He was able to convert video taken with the Pencam SD in a very
short period of time, and ended up with files viewable by Quicktime.
He uploaded them here.
got another email from Google Video Team, who pointed me toward
the Mac OS version of the Google Video Player. Footnoted below,
it resides here.
(It requires Mac OSX v10.3.9 or higher, so I'm a rev behind.) Now
that this terminal program has been found, the whole idea of uploading
Mac-unviewable footage to Google, then downloading it back to deal
with it, has become a bit moot.
fact, as of now, we should be able to transfer the files from the
camera to the computer via Macam, and then use the Terminal program
for transfer, then use Quicktime Pro to view/select and output DV
files for editing in iMovie. So - it should let us fulfill any latent
auteur fantasies which we have... All without setting foot off the
good ship Mac.
that remains is, y'know, actually attempting it...
week, more video dinking around...
Last week, JimG found a cheap source for SD cards, and wanted to
test whether one could use a larger SD chip in the Aiptek SD. He
got a 512mb chip for a ridiculously low price and tested it. His
to work video is pretty cool, runs about 16 minuts, and confirmed
his theory that it would be a way to get serious still/video photo
had a coupon down at Staples which was burning a hole in my wallet,
so I did the same, which allowed me to take some pretty long footage
as well. The quality of mine pretty much sucks, though. I was getting
a slight vibration which was causing the camera to move out of synch
with the bicycle, causing a similar type of warpage which occurs
in the stills when you move the camera.
to come up with a more rigid mount, or follow JimG's
idea. I'm now leaning towards a helmet mount myself.
am still digging through my friggin' drawers trying to find were
I stuck my DevTools disk for OSX. Seems that the C compiler for
Unix isn't installed, and resides there. That means I can't yet
run sp54convert in terminal mode. So, I still have to upload the
videos to Google in order to evaluate them.
Mount System - Helmet Cam
blogging something to the effect that I wasn't going to screw around
with the danged video thing, I found myself sitting on the floor,
dismantling helmet light mounts and tensioning hook & loop straps
to create a helmet mounted video camera base... Darned if it didn't
work reasonably well.
photos are over on my
Flickr pages, along with the vibration-rich method of mounting
it to the stem of my singlespeed with a flexy composite blinkie
video footage has been placed here
for right now. There are 17 files, so you might hear your browser
grinding its teeth towards the end.
helmet cam shows some real promise - the trickiest thing is to have
a sense of where the lens is pointing. I was thinking of something
like a rear-view mirror that attaches to one's glasses, except obviously,
it would be attached to the helmet to maintain the relationship
to the lens direction. I keep thinking about making some light wire
frame that would be attached to the helmet, but I'm a little concerned
about having that near my eye in case of a crash.
I follow with still images.
- Take Pictures with Camera
- Upload from Camera to Computer
mentioned above, the Macam software lets me get the images uploaded
from the camera to the Mac. Most of the time, this occurs without
incident, but occassionally, I find that I have to restart the computer
to get Macam to recognize that there are images in the camera. (i.e.
- the software opens, and the "larger"/Camera Attached
window appears, but I never get a message that there are files on
the camera). I have also found that using the keyboard exclusively
while uploading always works with my setup.
uploading the imges from the camera, I disconnect the camera and
sometimes use the Macam software to quickly evaluate the images
(it has a "Preview"-like functionality) before upload.
- Upload from Computer to Flickr
I'd been avoiding online photo services, as they seemed to be reasonbly
ad-bloated and idiosyncratic. However, Flickr uses a relatively
clean interface and allows connections and groups to be made fairly
readily. (I had used Yahoo's earlier photo section, which never
seemed to work quickly or simply, and Snapfish as well). With the
free account, Flickr limited my uploads, but I figured that the
Pro Upgrade was cheaper than another hard drive, so I took that
step. Also, the descriptions (and comments) allow limited html,
so it can be used to point people to websites, other interesting
I want to keep the bulk of these images as "ephemera",
so I don't end up with the computer equivelent of shoeboxes full
of snapshots. Since I still have boxes of regular photos kicking
around the 'work room', this is a very real threat.
I had a free Flickr account, I had Photoshop bulk process the images
to 25% of their size, as the onscreen image used by Flickr is about
that dimension. Now that I have a pro account and essentially unlimited
upload ability, I have discarded this step.
- Organize the Photos into a Flickr Set
Slick and quick interface.
- Send Photos to Appropriate Group
Like the Pencam-Bike
Photo Group. Or Orange-is-the-Fastest
Color. Again, the architecture and conventions in Flickr allow
and encourage this type of interaction.
- Save any Good Pictures/Delete the rest
If any of the shots really look good, I'll dig into Photoshop and
correct and balance colors, then save the image into my 'good' section.
I try to be reasonably rigorous about this and save as little as
- Clear the Camera Contents
Press Mode a few times and you get the "X-All" icon -
pressing the shutter a couple times erases them all from memory.
is my favorite one so far - the trick to it was that I had the camera
sideways as I pedaled, then rotated the photo 90 degrees afterwards.
the Flickr "Warped Tour"
MegaCam seems to give a secondary "warning" beep when
the shutter speed slows for low-light. It still seems to take the
photo, so the old "self-timer + tripod" trick should work
to eliminate vibration from tripping the shutter manually.
of tripping the shutter inadvertantly
provided us with nylon washers which are roughly the same height
as the exposed shutter button on the SD. When attached to the camera,
this allows direct finger pressure to trip the shutter, but prevents
the extremely easy accidental shutter event which seems to happen
6 or 7 times a ride with that model.
OS Resources Needed for this project:
software - http://webcam-osx.sourceforge.net/
OS CLI program for fourcc SP54 conversion "sp54convert"
Pro Upgrade - http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/mac.html
Mac OS Resources:
Video Player for the Mac (requires 10.3.9 or higher - http://video.google.com/playerdownload_mac.html
Resource page for AVI and DivX - http://www.thexlab.com/faqs/avidivx.html
software for Windows XP - http://downloads.zdnet.com/download.aspx?&kw=mpeg-2&docid=227204
Aiptek PenCam SD 1.3 + 128 MB SD Card - http://2fidelity.com/product_PCSD13.htm
Aiptek MiniPenCam 1.3 / MegaCam - http://2fidelity.com/product_PCM13.htm
TinyCams Group - http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tinycams/
Pencam-Bike Group - http://www.flickr.com/groups/pencam-bike/pool/
of fourcc SP54 (and other codecs) - http://www.fourcc.org/codecs.php
person got a Linux/Unix program called Gphoto2
to run on his Mac - http://www.ynse.net/2006/09/10/gphoto2-on-mac-osx/
Also called "viewfinder error," it is the difference between what
you see in a camera's viewfinder and the final picture. When the
camera viewfinder is separate from the lens, there will be changes
between what you see and the image that is captured. This is compounded
the closer you get to the subject - especially in macro photography.
The framing of the image in the viewfinder will differ from the
photograph. Also, the picture image will be slightly larger than
the viewfinder image. There may be very little or no parallax error
if the picture is previewed in the LCD screen. Traditional optical
single lens reflex (SLR) cameras also eliminate parallax error.