Ring Stick Up Camera Review

If you’ve ever wanted to watch over your property, you know security systems can be complicated and expensive. But things are simplified with the arrival of the Ring Stick Up Camera. Continue reading “Ring Stick Up Camera Review”

Photo gear from Joby lets you go handsfree

With so many of us relying solely on our smartphones for the bulk of our photography, it’s too bad we don’t put much effort into making the shots truly great. While lighting, luck and skill are definitely part of getting a good photo, you can improve your snaps with a few key accessories. Joby is a large company that makes photo accessories and gear for DSLR cameras, and action video cameras like GoPro, but it’s also got some gadgets that can help you with the photos you take on your phone. Continue reading “Photo gear from Joby lets you go handsfree”

Polaroid SnapTouch camera & printer review

Since the world has become a fully digital place, no one prints photos any more. An array of small photo-specific printers on the market aims to change that habit by making printing easy and adding some fun elements to the experience.
The Polaroid SnapTouch camera and photo printer is one of those gadgets. (I’ve also reviewed the older generation Polaroid SocialMatic camera. Read that review here)

Small and compact, the SnapTouch looks cool and sleek right out of the box. It uses Polaroid’s Zink paper to spit out small 3”x2” prints. The backings are adhesive, so these tiny prints can also double as stickers.

Polaroid SnapTouch Camera + Video Specs

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
The SnapTouch has a very small internal memory.

The camera is a 13 megapixel camera. By comparison, the iPhone 6 has just 8 megapixels, so the photos should be pretty good. The SnapTouch also takes 1080p video and can store images and videos on a 128 GB Micro SD card (not included).

Unfortunately, neither the package, nor the Polaroid website tell you how much storage is on the camera without a micro SD card, so I snapped photos until it told me the internal hard drive was full – that’s a grand total of 15 photos. (And by the way, there’s no bulk delete feature I could find; each photo must be manually deleted, which was tedious)

Without that micro SD card you can record less that 30 seconds of video. The lens will also constantly refocus the image so it looks like it’s wavering as the autofocus constantly adjusts. I think it’s a terrible idea to have so little internal storage, but I guess that’s common with cameras, that you need to purchase additional memory. It would be nice if that’s spelled out on the package.

Set Up – Polaroid SnapTouch

Setting up the camera is reasonably simple. You’ll need Polaroid’s SnapTouch app to access some features but for the most part you can take photos and print them instantly right from the camera. You snap the picture, then hit the print button right on the back of the screen.

Things get a bit more complicated when you want to use the camera as a printer and send photos from your smartphone, but we’ll get to that…

Delayed image capture

It’s worth noting the photography is not fast here. There is a delay of about a second or two from the time you press the shutter button until the image is captured. While this will be frustrating but adaptable for adults, kids are bound to keep hitting the shutter button or moving the camera, not realizing image capture is already in progress.

The camera was going to sleep relatively quickly during my testing, but it can be woken up almost immediately by touching the shutter button lightly. I discovered soon after there is a setting in the menu that allows you to extend that screen timeout option up to 2 minutes.

Printing Options, Effects and Filters

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyyc
You can add filters, but they’re a bit much

You can choose a variety of different colour borders that look like a vintage Polaroid camera frame when you want to print. While that original ‘Polaroid’ style photo paper no longer belongs to Polaroid (read why here) you can still print a faux Polaroid border with special effects.

If you don’t opt for that, these prints come out edge-to-edge.

There are also a variety of different effects and filters like Instagram, though they’re quite limited as far as choice goes, and honestly, they’re quite garish and extreme.

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyycA touch screen on the back of the camera let you access photos, delete, edit them, share them, or print. There are also digital ‘stickers’ or emojis you can add to the photos. By touching the emoji or icon, you can drag it around the screen and place it on the photo wherever you want. That function worked easily enough, though the emojis are limited to a flower, a heart, lips, sunglasses and a smiley face, as you can see at right. You’re not exactly going to become Rembrandt here.

Print speed of the Polaroid SnapTouch camera

While it takes a second or two from the time you hit the print button for the process to begin, the printing of the image takes an awfully long time; almost 30 seconds. With that said, if you compare this Polaroid printer to a device like the Fujifilm Instax Share printer, the overall wait times might be quite similar.

The Polaroid printer takes about 30 seconds to spit out the print, but when it’s done, the print is fully ready and rendered in color. With the Instax Share, it may print the photo much faster, but you’ll still need to wait a minute or so for the image to develop on the paper.

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
A selection of printed photos from the SnapTouch camera

Printing from your smartphone to the camera

The SnapTouch camera gives you the option of sending photos from your smartphone or other device to the camera for instant printing.

Set up for this option is slightly different. You’ll need to connect the phone and the camera, and doing this is not intuitive, nor does the camera or app walk you through it.

There is nothing within the app which will tell you why your printer is not talking to your phone. Fortunately for me, I’ve dealt with enough of these devices that I know you need to go to your phone’s Settings menu, find the Bluetooth settings screen, then look for the Polaroid SnapTouch to appear in the Bluetooth list.

Click to connect it, and you should hear the device emit a tone that lets you know it is finally connected. Return to the app and you should see confirmation of that fact. From there you can select the photo you’d like to print.

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
Photo printed from iPhone 6 to the SnapTouch printer. The print is much darker than the original.

Constant reconnection to Bluetooth

It’s worth taking note that each time the camera powers off, it loses the connection to Bluetooth, and each time you need to reconnect via your smartphone’s settings menu.  That was annoying, but not an uncommon problem in other similar printers I’ve been testing, like the Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer. (Read that review to see which of these photo printers comes out on top.)

When picking a photo from the camera roll, I noticed the Polaroid app frequently zooms in the photos by quite a bit. The app asks you to pinch to adjust the zoom, but it won’t actually let you do it.  Weird.

Finicky Printing

Every time I tried to print from my phone, the SnapTouch did that weird zoom thing. Finally, I found that by adjusting the orientation of the film on the camera screen I could disable the zoom effect. By the time I’d reverted the photo from upside down back to right side up, it had snapped back to normal size without the zoom. Also weird.

Sometimes I would connect to the SnapTouch in order to print, select the photo I wanted, and then click print, but nothing would happen. I would get an error message in the app telling me the printer was busy, but nothing would print out, and nothing else would happen. No error messages, no warnings, no indication if the SnapTouch was out of paper… nothing.

Turning the camera off and then turning it back on again seemed to deal with the worst of this trouble, but of course then you need to re-connect to Bluetooth.

SnapTouch Print Speed from smartphone

It takes the Polaroid SnapTouch about 6 seconds, and even up to 10 seconds on some attempts from the time you hit the print button in the app, until your photo begins printing from a smartphone (in my tests and iPhone 6 plus). Once you get used to this it’s OK I guess, but the first few times, you’ll have no idea the photo was actually about to print so you think you should start over, or keep hitting print. Sometimes it omes out eventually, other times, nothing happened, and maybe I confused its little circuits.

I found many things on this camera were slow; from the image capture, to printing being initiated. It made the camera feel quite old, clunky, and outdated.

No fun effects when connected to your smartphone

One final note on printing from your smartphone; filters and borders will not work on photos that are printed from your smart phone. (If they do, I couldn’t figure it out, and there seemed to be no easy explanation found on the Polaroid website.) In order for this effect to work, you must snap the photo using the camera.

Polaroid SnapTouch photo quality

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyyc
A look at the same digital photo as seen on iPhone 6, the SnapTouch camera screen, and the SnapTouch print.

I was really, really unhappy with the photo quality of the Polaroid prints. The colours were not accurate, the prints more often than not looked washed out, and on many of the photos I printed, I was left with odd lines across the print. For a 13 mp camera, what was coming out the back didn’t seem right. Comparing it to my 8mp iPhone camera and viewing those on my iPhone screen, the Polaroid SnapTouch looks and feels like a toy by comparison.

Overall impressions of the SnapTouch camera

I would absolutely not buy this camera for myself.  I didn’t like the photo quality because the Zink paper seemed washed out and it didn’t provide true colour in my opinion. For the price (+$200) I think you could do much better.  Polaroid snap touch printer camera erinlyyc

Set up and operation is not intuitive on this device when pairing it with a smartphone. Yes, you can figure it out but it wasn’t easy. Plus the fact that none of the much touted special effects or filters can be added to the photos when printed from a smart phone is a big oversight. Those are only available on photos taken using this SnapTouch camera.

The camera overall feels like a toy, and maybe that’s all it needs to be, but I think this device would be frustrating for kids and tweens too because of the slowness of its operations. Plus, I think it should be spelled out on the package that you need a Micro SD card, and that one is not included.

While I loved the idea of this gadget, it just doesn’t have the quality and versatility I look for in a device. I don’t feel it performed well as either a camera or a photo printer. And the bottom line for me is that many of the photos I printed, from both the iPhone and the camera are such low quality, in some cases, they’re not worth having. You can also get

The Polaroid Snaptouch Camera and Printer sells at Best Buy for $239CAD.

You can also get more info from Polaroid’s website.

Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016

I’ve tested a lot of gadgets and gear this year. Picking favourites is hard, because unlike previous years, many of the items that have come into the tech test kitchen in 2016 are really high quality, and work well, so picking the cream of the crop is a challenge. Nevertheless, here are the Top 10 tech gadgets I highly recommend having in your life. Continue reading “Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016”

Artists to use old farm equipment to create giant walk-in camera

graineryFour artists are banding together to create works of art inside a giant empty grain bin.  The project will create a massive ‘camera obscura’ inside the old corrugated metal structure.

The plan is unfolding at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage northeast of Nanton, Alberta. Camera obscura is Latin for ‘dark room,’  and as the group undertaking the project explains it, “the basic idea is to have light enter through a pinhole into a dark space; thereby creating a projected image,” says Dr. Josephine Mills, Director/Curator at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. “This is the forerunner of the camera and the source of the name of this technology.”

Pinhole camera technology is one of the earliest forms of photography, and using the grain bin just takes something that can be make out of a cereal boxSketches or cardboard tube, and expands it to a huge scale, with what could be very interesting results.

“I’ve always wanted to exhibit the fabulous contraptions built by Kamloops artist Donald Lawrence to take pinhole photographs and make projected images,” explains Mills, “When I heard about Donald’s major SSHRC Research Creation Grant and the team of artists he had put together for the project, I knew that bringing these artists to work at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage was a perfect match,”

So what will the finished photographs look like?

Calgary artist Dianne Bos is setting up her “See the Stars” prospector’s tent where she’ll make cyanotype prints.  “Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print, says Mills.  “It was used by engineers well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost way to produce copies of drawings called blueprints.”

A simple pinhole camera
A simple pinhole camera

Holly Ward, from Vancouver, is using cyanotype photography to explore the Coutts’ herbarium collection and will provide demonstrations throughout the day.  Sarah Fuller, based in Ottawa, will install video projects related to the Coutts home and gardens and conduct an Anthotype workshop using local spinach.

The Prairie Sun Project, as it’s being called happens on August 21, 2016 is the first project involving major Canadian artists creating work at the Coutts Centre.

Vimtag P1 Smart HD camera review

img_4605Home security cameras are becoming more popular, both because they’re coming down drastically in price, and because the quality of video is improving dramatically, not to mention the user interfaces are much easier to operate.

Families are using in-home cameras for watching kids and teens, for keeping an eye on the house while out of town, or for policing workers and tradespeople.

I’ve tested several cameras, and I can tell you I’ve seen it all when it comes to ease of use; some cameras I’ve needed an engineering degree to operate and set up, while others have been pretty simple.

The Vimtag P1 Smart Cloud home security camera definitely falls into the easy category. It’s super simple to set up, easy to use, and the video picture is crisp, clear HD, and there’s even a two-way audio talkback function.

Vimtag P1 Smart Cloud home security camera features

-Hi-def video recording with 4x Digital Zoom
-Crisp hi-fidelity sound with 360 degree audio pickup and two-way voice functionality
-Multi-user mobile functionality
-Fully controllable pan and tilt functionality for near complete inhouse coverage
-Advanced Night-Vision Technology
-Wireless data storage via Vimtag Cloud Storage box (sold separately)
-Motion triggered push notifications (with wireless sensors, sold separately)

Setting up the Vimtag P1img_4986

Vimtag touts the camera’s “foolproof plug and play setup for installation in under three minutes,” according to the company website, and I found this was bang-on. The camera is literally plug-and-play simple; the part that will take the longest is downloading the app and setting up an account.

The app is easy to use and navigate through, and you can easily move the camera by touching the screen in the app. You get 360 degrees of movement from side to side and the pan and tilt functions are similarly broad, so you can see just about anywhere in the room where the camera has been placed.

Great HD video

The HD video from this camera is outstanding; there’s not a hint of graininess or blur, so you know you’ll have a crystal clear view of whatever you need to see. And if you need images or video to provide to police in case of a break in of theft, rest assured you’ll be able to share sharp, detailled images. The cameras is so good, I was playing with it, and took a great selfie! Not your everyday use, but it’s one way to show you the great video quality.

d38d26b2-a51a-4fcd-8abf-b347d2dabe0cCloud & Recording not built in

The camera doesn’t record footage and store it to the cloud unless you purchase an extra storage device.That S1 Cloud box is an additional $150, so unless you want to add this feature, you’re left with only live view capabilities.

You can take short videos and snap still photos from the camera app interface, but unless you happen to catch something live, your surveillance capability is limited.

 

The camera is $129 from Vimtag or on Amazon.

New Ring Video Doorbell has smaller design, adds Live View

doorbell_proRing, makers of the very popular and easy to use Video Doorbell, are rolling out a brand new gadget dubbed Pro. Made as an upgrade from the existing doorbell, the new Pro version is smaller and slimmer than the original,  and has advanced features, like Live View.

Ring says the ability to peek in on homes at any moment, with a live video feed has been the number one most requested new feature, so it’s now available in the Pro model.

I’ve been a fan of Ring since first reviewing the original model and now one keeps watch over my home. Read my review here.

The new ultra slim wifi video doorbell with advanced features available today on pre-order for $249. Ring will now offer two choices for smart doorbells, Ring Video Doorbell, which offers dual power and super easy installation for $199 and Pro which requires doorbell power and has a handful of advanced features for $249.screen-motion-pro-b3c5ab536239238cce5b1e39e151f4bf

Interested in other home security options, like padlocks that work with your smartphone (no keys!) and wireless alarm systems? Check out those gadgets here.

pro-colors-31f91f13608b5561d672b9a837f7332a

 

Always losing your keys, wallet, phone, remote, bag? You need a Pebblebee Honey tracking device

pebblebeeIf you’re the forgetful type, life just got easier.  A new tracking device from Pebblebee can help you find your lost stuff, not just inside your house, but anywhere in the world.

Pebblebee Honey is a small, flat circular tracking device about the size of a large coin. It holds a CR2430 lithium battery which can easily be swapped out when it reaches the end of its lifespan. The Pebblebee can be attached to your key ring, tied to or placed inside anything you want to track, or even stuck on to your wallet, phone, bike, remote control.. whatever. The tracker, combined with the free app will show you a map view of where your device is, and help you manage multiple trackers.

This device has some smart functions built right in; for starters it has a rangefinder, so when you’re tracking the device, you can tell how near or far you’re getting, and it has an audio alert function, so that when you get within a certain distance, you can have the tracker squawk out a sound to help you pinpoint the location. A small LED light is another option to spot the device in the dark. As an aside, it also comes in a really cute and small tin.

Surprising versatility: remote photo shutter too!

One neat feature this device has that I’ve not seen in other trackers is the ability to use the Pebblebee as a remote shutter for your smartphone.  The tiny on/off button on the side actually has double function.  Just adjust the pre-loaded settings to find your phone or take a picture using the button on your device.

How it works

Your Pebblebee communicates with your phone using Bluetooth LE technology. That signal will have a strong connection up to 150 ft depending on obstruction. Inside, your device will experience limited visibility, while outside its range will increase.

IMG_7698What’s a Pebblebee

Where did the idea for Pebblebee come from?  The company’s website says, “The Pebblebee idea first emerged in late 2012 as a necessary solution to a curious toddler’s endless ability to hide things. With generous support from over 3080 Kickstarter backers, we raised over $218K to make the Pebblebee the reality it is today.”

Help with setup

The app and device were a bit confusing to set up.  Initially I couldn’t get my Honey to pair with my phone.  However I was able to get quick and responsive customer service by emailing tech support.  IN the event anyone else is experiencing trouble with the pairing process, here’s the instructions that worked for me, as provided by Pebblebee support:

1. Hold down the button on the Honey for 5 seconds until you hear 2 beeps (3 means it is off)

2. Login to the app

3. Wait up to 10-15 seconds. A bar should appear letting you know you have an unclaimed device nearby.

4. Briefly press (not a long hold) the button on the Honey. This is not the same as holding down the button for seconds.

5. The app will ask you to verify the claim.

6. The Honey will appear in your Hive.

Getting the Map view

My next issue, once the device paired, was that I couldn’t see my device on the map view. More help from Pebblebee explained that was probably because I didn’t have location services enabled on my smartphone. On an iPhone, you can do this by going to your iPhone Settings, then down to the Pebblebee  app, then under location services make sure you have chosen either “Always” or “When the app is open.”

Pebblebee Lost and Found, with the help of other users

IMG_7802So how does the tracker find and pinpoint location on the map? While Honey does not have GPS built in, it  uses your phone’s GPS to track location. Anytime the Honey is within range of your running app, the location gets updated to the map, so the map will always show the last known location. Pebblebee tells me, “if you lose your Honey, you can mark it as Lost. When you do, any time the Honey goes within range of Anyone using the Pebblebee app, you will receive an alert letting you know when and where your Honey has been found.”

The company is working on a cool new style of tracker too, the Stone, which as the name suggests is a pebble-shaped tracker and remote control in one that’s already overfunded on Kickstarter.

The Pebblebee is available from the company’s website for $25 USD

Click here to check out more cool tech news and ideas to make your life easier!

Spy on your pets? Watch over your kids? Record intruders? New Myfox camera can do it

IMG_7768 Personal use cameras are becoming much more popular. From dash-cams in cars, to smaller home security cameras, it’s now easier than ever to monitor your environment for security, safety, curiosity, or to keep an eye on pets or children.

That’s the premise of the Myfox home security camera. This device is described as a “high performance home security camera remotely controlled by a smartphone app and is the only camera with a motorized, mechanical shutter to guarantee total privacy.”

Hands On with MyfoxIMG_7772

The camera is a very unique shape.  It’s just a bit bigger than a standard size hockey puck. The lens is in the side edge of the device, and features a sliding shutter that can open and close over the lens when you want it. The camera comes out of the box with a very long USB cord for power, which is a great unexpected plus, allowing the camera to be placed anywhere, at a good distance from any power source.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this review on Best Buy’s Plug in blog.

For more awesome tech news, click here!

Polaroid Socialmatic Camera &Printer and Zip Printer Reviews

polaroid socialmatic 2If there’s one review I’ve been looking forward to the spring, it’s this one.

Recently both a Polaroid Socialmatic and a Zip printer arrived for testing, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

I was a bit shocked when I opened the box for the Socialmatic. The camera itself is quite large, much larger than I was expecting.  It’s very flat, very square and was difficult to grip. While many digital cameras fit neatly in your hand, this camera is quite the opposite. That’s probably because it does more than just take pictures.  It’s a video camera and  printer too, all in one package.

The lap-sized Polaroid Socialmatic.
The lap-sized Polaroid Socialmatic.

From full off to on and ready to go, the Socialmatic takes a frustrating  30 to 40 seconds to start up. Then if you don’t touch the screen immediately it goes dark with no obvious way to get it back on. Eventually I figured out a quick touch of the power button does it, but it was bothersome.

I started taking photos almost immediately and noticed a few things right off the bat.  First of all, it takes about three seconds from the time you press the shutter button until it actually registers the photograph, which resulted in plenty of closed eyes and movement in my test pictures. The other thing I did not like was the quality of the screen was not good. The resolution was surprisingly low.

Photos & Quality

Initially I was expecting Polaroid style photos with the papery white border, however Polaroid no longer owns this technology. So my test pics printed edge to edge on the photo paper.  The photo quality was not great. For the most part the photos were grainy and dark. Even photos I tried to take in good strong light didn’t come out looking as high quality as I was hoping for. I tried to take some photos in a pub that was not super dark, but all the photos came out very very dark and grainy. We turned on the flash to compensate but using it made us all look like deer in headlights. There was no happy medium.

One thing I did enjoy about the photos was the sticky backing on the Zink photo paper so you could use the photos as stickers. That’s a nice touch.

After testing for a couple hours that first day, I put the camera away until three days later. When I went to turn it back on, the batteries were already dead.  I’m wondering if perhaps this was because I didn’t turn it fully off, only put it to sleep. That’s something to be aware of.  I would charge it up for several hours to full battery, turn it off and use it once or twice for just a few minutes, then power it down again, a few days later if I went back to it the battery was dead and required a full recharge.

Video Review of the Polaroid Socialmatic Camera & Printer

Polaroid Zip printer

The Polaroid Zip printer is much smaller than the Socialmatic, but is it it is a printer only. I found this device very easy to set up and use, in fact, within seconds of plugging it in and selecting a photo you’re printing. The quality of the photos is not quite what you’d expect from a high resolution fancy camera shop, but for the size and availability, it’s very handy and easy to share with family and friends where you are, and for me, the fun and convenience factor here is more valuable than crisp HD copies.

Polaroid Zip photo printer.
Polaroid Zip photo printer.

There are some things about the Zip app I don’t like. For example it does not have a ‘reprint’ feature like others do. This means you cannot easily select photos for reprint without starting the printing process over from scratch. However the app’s layout and user interface are straightforward and simple, and very easy to read, navigate and understand.

The Zip also used Polaroid’s Zink paper, and as I said, the quality of the photos is not good.  Worth noting, it does not appear that the photo paper is light-sensitive, like film is, or like some other photo papers can be. I dropped the printer and the back popped open and scattered the remaining photo paper pieces all over the place. I reloaded it and put it back together, and in subsequent print jobs, everything printed just fine. So it’s nice to know the paper is not light sensitive, and losing the back off the printer will not destroy a whole stack of expensive photo paper.

The Verdict Overall

While I’d definitely like to buy a Zip printer, I’ll take a pass on the Socialmatic.  The Zip is easy to use, infinitely portable, and makes printing fun sized photos easy. I also like the sticker option for the photos.

The Socialmatic is just too large and unwieldy to be a fun take-along.  Basically it was just a bulky exercise in frustration, and not a fun and enjoyable and social tool. I’d much rather use my smartphone for great quality photos and a high-res display, then print them on the spot with the Zip. I’m interested to see if there’s a future incarnation of the Socialmatic, and if there is, I’d love to give it another chance.

The Socialmatic and the Zip are available at Bestbuy.ca as well as from Polaroid.com