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Re-Printed From SLCentral
Targus is a company that I, for one, have always associated with soft goods. Targus was one of the first names that would come to mind when considering briefcases for laptops, bags for cameras and wallets for PDAs. One look at Targus.com however, would enlighten you to the idea that Targus is actually a company of accessorizing a portable world. Not only does Targus.com have bags, but also cables and even a Compact Flash 56K modem.
One of the more recent items to join the Targus collection of goodies is the Springboard Handcam for Handspring Visors.
Probably the best thing about a Handspring Visor is the Springboard expansion module. Components are easily installed into the Springboard slot to allow a Visor to become, among other things, a cell phone, an MP3 player or a digital camera.
Digital cameras typically sell for about $300 these days for a very average point and shoot model. The cameras that interface with Handspring Visors tend to run between $50 and $150 dollars.
Why the big price difference between the typical digital camera and a Springboard digital camera module?
Take a look at your lesser expensive (say around $100) stand-alone cameras and what are they missing? The LCD. Obviously, if you're converting an existing Handspring into a digital camera, there's no need for an LCD as it's already there!
So what's the difference between a $50 Springboard digital camera and a $200 one?
The primary difference between all of these models is the amount of memory. Springboard camera modules tend to have anything from no memory to 6MB. A module with no memory is completely dependant on the amount of RAM available on your Visor. A model with 6MB, on the other hand, can store 50 full size (640 X 480) pictures just in the camera itself.
What I Liked About The Targus Handcam
The Targus Handcam is the epitome of happy mediums. The first happy medium is its price at $99. The second happy medium is the amount of RAM it has. With 2MB of RAM, the Targus Handcam is capable of storing about 20 640 X 480 pictures.
At $99, my expectations weren't high, but outside of the amount of on module RAM, what can really justify a more expensive digital camera? The fact that I use a Prism model of Visor means that I have my color LCD, and the camera only protrudes from the top of the Visor by less than 30mm and only adds an additional 1.5 ounces, so normal use and storage of the Visor is not affected. Sure, it does not fit in the Visor wallet, but then again I don't have a Springboard module that DOES allow the Visor to fit in its wallet.
A couple of things that I was actually impressed about getting out of the $99 Handcam, that I would not necessarily see in a more expensive unit, were the ability to pivot the lens and the macro/landscape/portrait selection on the lens.
There was no need to be a contortionist to get the right picture with the adjustable lens. Even some of the more expensive cameras require the user to point the Visor directly at the subject to get the correct photo. The Handcam also allows the user to pivot the lens all of the way in towards the Visor user so one could actually shoot a self-portrait!
The other thing that the Targus Handcam surprised me with is the adjustable lens. Sure the lens still auto focuses, but there's also a dial that adjusts for macro, landscape and portrait adjustment.
Much to my surprise, this isn't covered in the manual. I figured out the function of this dial through trial and error.
A Few Sample Pictures Taken With The Targus Handcam
The icon of the flower on the lens is macro, which is used for close up photos. The icon of the person on the lens is for portraits. Use this setting for taking pictures of subjects that are an average of 6 to 10 feet from the camera. The icon of the mountains is for landscape photos.
Below are some sample photos I took. The first thing one has to remember when taking pictures using a Handspring Visor is that the resolution of the Visor's LCD can not truly reflect the quality of the picture…
This is my ugly mug at (going from left to right) macro (notice I'm more blurry), portrait (the best photo as I am 4 feet from the camera) and landscape (if there was something behind me other than a wall, I'm sure what would be behind me would look sharper than me).
Macro is best used for close ups then photographs of people. The bear in the below photo is a mere 3 inches from the camera lens.
I have found that the subject of your photo really needs to be still in macro mode. Below is one of my cats 6 inches from the camera. Obviously she doesn't want to have her picture taken.
To give an example as to how helpful the landscape mode can be, here's a picture of the oak tree in my front yard, as taken from the back yard. The first photo was taken in macro mode (worst case scenario). Notice the difference it makes to take the picture in landscape mode.
Unfortunately, beyond the default picture size of 320 X 240 (shown), the picture quality of the Handcam is a far cry from that of your typical digital camera.
Where The Handcam Falls Short On Picture Quality
Below is a 640 X 480 shot of my ugly mug. The size of the subject (me) has not been altered, but the photo has been cropped so it doesn't take as long to load here on this website.
Despite proper lighting (light source was above and behind the camera), proper focus, proper camera setting (portrait) and a fair distance from the camera (about 4 feet), there is some serious quality loss in the form of lost pixels. The photo looks almost "washed out".
Despite the convenience of the Handcam, this limits the usefulness. For example, when taking close up pictures of computer hardware for reviews for SLCentral, I prefer my regular digital camera because what I tend to do is take a larger than necessary photo (at LEAST 640X480) and then crop and zoom on the aspect of that photo that pertains most to the subject at hand. For example: taking a picture of an entire motherboard, but then zooming in on the Northbridge chip.
If I were to do this with the Targus Handcam, my initial photo would be 640 X 480 at the most, and if I were to zoom into that picture to bring focus to a particular aspect, the picture would only be blurrier and more washed out than the already washed out original.
So what kind of photos was the Handcam good for? My wife, a teacher, found herself using it at meetings to take pictures of co-workers. These photos then found their way onto the school's web site where the pictures did not need to exceed 320 X 240. So in a nutshell, it's safe to say that this camera is definitely good for taking portrait style pictures that don't exceed 320 X 240, as well as movies of similar size and subject matter. Scenery is also good subject matter for this camera (such as the photo of my oak tree), but again, without cropping and zooming and not exceeding 320 X 240.
This "limitation" also applies to the movies one can make with the Handcam and the best rate the Handcam can capture with these videos at is 8 fps. They look fine at 320 X 240, but the "wash out" effect seems to take place at higher resolutions just as they do with still photos.
What do you do when you're done taking photos?
So now that we've shot all of our photos and movies, what do we do with them?
Here's where the manual was frustrating again. After looking through the manual a couple times for the instructions on dialing in the lens and not finding it, I would've thought I would have run into how to get the pictures off of the camera. What I concluded, after not finding what I was looking for, for the second time, was that you COULDN'T retrieve images directly from the camera!
What I found in the manual is that you can move pictures and movies from your Handspring's memory to the Handcam's 2MB of memory in order to free up your Visor's memory. I had thought that once this was done, one could simply plug the Handcam into the computer's USB port and download those pictures into the PC.
Pictures can, however, be shuttled from the Visor to the PC another way. The PC that has your Visor's cradle hooked up to it can have the Targus software installed on it and then, when you synch your Visor with that PC, the pictures will be moved into a default folder on that PC.
This is great, except for one thing. In my house, the Visor's cradle is hooked up to the PC and the camera is currently hooked up to my laptop. There's no way that I know of to get the pictures stored on the camera onto my laptop without having to take the Visor cradle off of the PC and installing it on my laptop, software and all. Grr.
More Than A Camera For A Handspring
Of course, the Handcam does double as a straight up video camera for your PC. The Targus Handcam comes with a "Handcam socket adapter" that the Handcam can just slip into and plug into an available USB port.
Photos and videos can be shot the same way as they were on the Handspring, but with a much better resolution preview.
You can immediately tell that the bracket that the Handcam socket adapter slides into was meant for laptops. Perhaps the folks at Targus feel that, if you're in the market for a digital camera that fits into a portable digital assistant, that your entire life must be portable! Then again, this is Targus's market niche; portability. The bracket has a spring-loaded clamp that is obviously engineered to clamp onto a laptop's screen for use with video conferencing.
The bracket can double as a simple platform for the camera, but there are no rubber feet to keep it from sliding off of the top of a monitor. This is another good reason for the pivoting lens. The camera can be placed on the desktop and the lens pivoted upward for videophone and self-portrait use.
The fact that this bracket was obviously made for a laptop brings me to a complaint I have about the USB cable provided. The Handcam comes with a 6-foot cord that actually takes away from the camera's portability.
Guys, make the cord only 1 foot long and include an extension for those people that will use the camera with a desktop PC. I found myself tying up the extra 5 feet of cable with a bread tie so it wouldn't get in my way! I have several "mobile" USB devices that come with very short cables attached to the device (some as short as two inches) and then a USB extension cable so the device can be used with desktop computers.
There are a lot of aspects to a Springboard digital camera module that this unit also appreciates. It would be redundant to say that I like this unit because of it's compact size and light weight or that it's very convenient to be able to use your Visor as a camera.
Of the things I liked unique to the Targus Handcam are:
The price is right at $99.
The pivoting head allows for quality pictures without a yoga warm-up.
The bundled ArcSoft Photo Impression 3.0 software has power that rivals even Adobe's Photo Deluxe. Upon installing, I was editing photos like a pro, despite the fact that Photo Impression is nothing like the Adobe software that I'm used to.
Of the things I didn't like that I think that Targus could easily "fix":
The USB cable needs to be shorter for the laptop users that Targus is obviously targeting with this device.
If sticking with the current bracket's design, let's at least put some rubber feet on the base so it doesn't slide around when you don't have a laptop screen to clamp it to.
Give me some way to unload pictures from the camera's 2MB of memory onto any PC with the appropriate software installed and not just a PC with a cradle for the Handspring.
Let's rewrite the manual, guys. Include more information and be clearer on how to do certain procedures with the camera, like loading and unloading the photos.
One of the things I didn't like about the Targus that we'll just have to live with is the poor quality of larger pictures. If you're content with 320 X 240 pictures (the resolution that pictures look the best), you'll be content with the Targus Handcam pictures. If that won't do, then you really just need a more expensive camera.
All said, the Targus Handcam deserves a 7.5/10 on the SLCentral scale.
Re-Printed From SLCentral