CHE-EZ! SPYZ POCKET DIGITAL CAMERA REVIEW

Che-ez! SPYZ Pocket Digital Camera Review

Overview

Che-ez SPYZ next to a Zippo The SPYZ digital camera from Che-ez! was introduced in Japan around the end of 2001, and is the smallest digital camera (maybe even of all cameras) and webcam to date. Its diminutive size makes it easy to take it anywhere, allowing you to always have a camera at hand without having to lug around bigger camera that won't fit in your pocket. However, as a result of its size, it is a simplistic camera that would most likely be used as a fun gadget rather than a true camera.

Unconnected, it's a VGA (640x480 pixels) camera with 8MB of built-in SDRAM that holds 27 high resolution photos (640x480) or 107 low resolution (320x240) photos, or a combination of the two. Power is provided by one AAA battery, which the manufacturer claims will last for 4 hours of continuous shooting. I've taken well over 1000 pictures on the original battery so far, and it's still going. Connected to the computer through the USB cable, the camera can run indefinitely or it can be used as a webcam that provides resolutions from VGA (640x480) all the way down to SQCIF (128x96).

The camera uses the STV0680B chipset, so the drivers do include a TWAIN module allowing you to capture directly to other apps. There also seems to be an open source project related to this chipset as well.

Specifications

Views of the SPYZ
Image Sensor 350,000 pixel CMOS
Image Resolution 640x480 (VGA)
320x240 (QVGA)
Memory 8MB SDRAM (volatile)
Image Storage 26 @ VGA; 107 @ QVGA
Video Storage ~8 seconds @ VGA; ~28 seconds @ QVGA
Image Format BMP, PICT
Video Format (through software) AVI
Lens Aperture F=2.8; f=6.2mm
35mm-equivalent Focal Length ~40mm
Exposure Automatic
White Balance Automatic
Flash None
Focus Range .5m – Infinity
Self Timer Yes (9 second delay)
Tripod Mount Yes (plastic)
Interface USB
Power Supply AAA Alkaline Battery x 1 (not included)
Dimensions (W x H x D) 2.36" x 1.52 x .73 / 60mm x 38.6 x 18.5
Weight 1.20oz / 34g (excluding battery)
Price Paid $139 + S&H at Dynamism.com

Operation


Camera

The viewfinder
The SPYZ is really just a video camera set up to capture individual frames to memory. It has a pop-up viewfinder, which you must hold at about 1 foot away from your eye to get a good approximation of the framing. I found it to be marginal at best, and quickly learned how to shoot without using it. Pressing the "menu" button will turn the camera on, bringing you to the first menu item in the 2 character LCD screen. Pressing the "menu" button will cycle through the 6 menu items; pressing the shutter button will confirm each menu selection.

Camera Menu Options
Hr: This is the default setting. It shows the number of pictures remaining.
OF: Selecting this menu item will turn the camera off. The camera will also automatically shut off after 30 seconds of inactivity.
Ct: This is the continuous shoot mode that will allow you to take 26 VGA or 107 QVGA pictures in a row. I measured 3.8 fps at both VGA and QVGA resolutions. The camera itself doesn't actually store the data as an AVI—rather it just stores all the frames as BMP files and you must use software to combine all those frames to create an AVI. The converter software included simply strings all the individual frames together at a frame rate you specify.
St: This is a self-timer function that delays a snapshot for 9 seconds.
CL: This clears all of the camera's memory at once; it is not possible to clear images one at a time. The shutter button must be pressed twice to confirm this action.
Lr: This sets the camera in low resolution mode. Although the camera will hold up to 107 low-resolution images, the LCD display will only show a maximum of 99 pictures remaining because it only has 2 digits. It will remain at 99 until you take enough pictures to bring down the remaining pictures below 99.

Webcam

Using the SPYZ as a webcam simply involves plugging the camera into the USB port and launching whatever webcam or conferencing software you prefer. The performance seemed comparable to the Intel Pro Camera that I've been using. Warning: When you use the camera as a webcam, the internal memory will be cleared and all the pictures that you haven't downloaded will be deleted!

Software

Software manager The software is a very basic picture manager that downloads all the camera's photos in BMP format. It allows you to switch between camera mode and webcam mode. The software is also where you create the AVIs from the individual frames captured in the camera's continuous mode. You select all the frames you want to be included, choose a frame rate, and then save to an AVI. The program just takes all the images in order, sorted by filename and spits out a file—no other settings are available.

Performance

The SPYZ is really only meant as a fun camera and/or webcam since the image quality is most similar to that of a vidcap frame. Of course, you also have to keep in mind that it's also the size of a Zippo lighter and so you shouldn't expect too much. With that said, you can still take relatively good pictures if you judge your lighting correctly and keep a steady hand. The camera is extremely susceptible to lens flare, in that if you take a picture when the sun is closer to the horizon and it's in your (not just the camera's) field of view there will be a huge flare in the picture. In other words, if you are shooting at sunset and the camera is pointing in the slightest westerly direction, you will get some flare.

Because the camera doesn't have a mechanical shutter, you'll also have to keep a steady hand or use some kind of support. The effective shutter speed is approximately 1/24, which is also the equivalent to its 24fps performance in webcam mode. Since the camera is so small, holding the camera in your hand and pressing the shutter button will often cause it to move enough to blur the picture. I found that the best way to get stable pictures is to hold the camera by its front and back between your thumb and middle finger, using your index finger to press the shutter.

One of the advantages though, is its speed. The startup time is just under 1 second, and there is virtually no lag time between shots. This is mostly due to the small file size, and the camera's use of SDRAM as opposed to flash memory. However, because it's SDRAM memory, you will lose any stored pictures if you remove the battery or the battery dies.

Bottom Line

Camera tinBeing a gadget-lover, I really like this camera for it's absolutely miniscule size and overall cool factor (it even comes in its own tin!). However, at $139 (most of that cost is because it's imported from Japan), I would be hesitant to recommend it to anyone who isn't so easily amused by gadgets. If you are in the market for a webcam, and also like the idea of taking it along with you for impromptu snapshots, then this might be a nice little buy. Creative also has very similar camera/webcam products, but at two or three times the bulk. However, if you are looking for a digital camera that takes good pictures, this is not a good choice. For the same price, you can get a megapixel camera that is designed specifically for photography and get much better picture-taking results.

Photo Samples


Note: each image is around 200kb

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