007-Style Cameras Not Quite a Ten

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - "Bond. James Bond." That's what I wanted to announce every time I attached one of two new snap-on digital cameras for handheld PDAs. Block Products' gadgety US$149 Eyemodule is designed for use with the Handspring Inc. Visor. Kodak Co.'s $179 PalmPix Camera is intended for various Palm PDAs. Both are slightly larger than a matchbox and about as light.

The Eyemodule takes either black-and-white or color photographs, while the PalmPix snaps only color pictures. Both cameras let you use the PDA screen to preview the picture before capturing it.

Alas, my Bond fantasy lasted only until I saw the blurry, sometimes pixelated photos the shipping versions produced (not that I really expected great images from such small cameras). The photos may not make memorable family snapshots or vacation souvenirs, but they can be useful to document, say, conference room board notes or trade show exhibits.

Both cameras are a snap to use. The Eyemodule slides into the expansion module bay on the back of the Visor. After installing its application, you view a live-action preview on the screen and press the button next to the fixed-focus lens. You can capture pictures in any of three formats: 320 by 240 pixels in color or black and white, or 160 by 120 pixels in black and white. A Visor Deluxe PDA with 5MB of free memory can accommodate 500 black-and-white shots at 160 by 120 pixels or 125 black-and-white images at 320 by 240 pixels.

Alternatively, it can hold 25 color images.

Unfortunately, images at the lower resolution evoke work by pointillist painter Georges Seurat on a bad day. Higher-resolution color pictures can't be viewed in color until transferred to a PC.

Kodak's PalmPix snaps into the serial port on Palm III and VII series devices and attaches to Palm Vs with an optional Dock V adapter. Thanks to its 640 by 480 resolution, 24-bit color, and 2X zoom capability, it produces somewhat better images than the Eyemodule. The camera can also function at 320 by 240 resolution.

The Palm's Date Book button serves as the shutter snap: Press it once to view, and a second time to shoot. You can preview your pictures in color on the Palm IIIc or as gray-scale images on other models. The scroll-up button controls the 2X digital zoom, which works only in the 640 by 480 mode.

The camera supports automatic exposure shutter speeds that range from 1/15th of a second (useful in low light) to 1/500th of a second (good for stopping action in bright light). You can store one picture for each 100KB of memory on the Palm. As with images on the Visor's screen, the preview on the Palm screen is limited by the PDA's low resolution; as a result, what you see is an unflattering approximation of what you'll get on a PC screen or printout. On a Palm IIIc, the preview appears in (somewhat splotchy) color, and the lens is awkwardly located.

These small cameras might evoke visions of James Bond, but their poor output quality is more reminiscent of the bumbling Maxwell Smart.

--Michael S. Lasky


PRO: Easy-to-use add-on module for Handspring Visor is useful for creating reference images.

CON: Low-resolution screen and fuzzy output hurt image quality.

VALUE: Convenient if you don't mind low-quality digital images.

List price: $149

Block Products



PalmPix Camera

PRO: Easy to use, fair resolution, portable size.

CON: Awkward lens placement, previews are limited by Palm's low screen resolution.

VALUE: Camera's convenience outweighed by blurry output.

List price: $179




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