Digital Toy Cameras are the digital equivalent of lomography cameras like the Holga and Diana Models; the charm is in the low quality and unpredicatabilty. Unlike lomo cameras, however, digital toy cameras usually come with a video function.
Let’s look at one toy camera — the Digital Harinezumi 2++ (デジタルハリネズミ).
Digital Harinezumi 2++
This toy camera, so tiny that it can easily be held in your palm, provides a retro, lo-fi look for your video recording. I’ve been trying out the Black Rain version and found it an interesting camera to work with. It takes still images (there are two jpeg resolution choices: 2048×1536 & 1024×768), but in this review, I will focus on the video.
The videos created tend to have a lo-fi look, with a slightly grainy image, oversaturated and distorted colours (blue and orange tones really pop out) and obvious light flickers (especially in video shot indoors). If you are shooting a colourful scene, the colours become wilder and sometimes change (e.g., some shades of blue will become purple). In shots without much colour, you will get a dreamier effect. In any case, if you are looking for fidelity—where the image recorded closely matches the real scene—this is definitely not the camera for you. Here are some videos I have shot with the camera:
- You can see how other people use the camera in the Vimeo group Digital Harinezumi 2.
- YouTube playlist of my Harinezumi videos: Digital Harinezumi 2 Playlist
The auto light balance will also occasionally over-expose the image so you sometimes get pure white instead of a pale colour. There is no manual exposure control (except for allowing you to choose between two levels), so flickering and overexposed frames are inherent traits that you would just have to accept. Another characteristic of the camera is that it doesn’t handle gradients well (this is particularly noticeable, if there is a lot of sky in the background).
There is only motion blur when the camera is moved very quickly, and even then the blur looks quite natural (not the strange interlaced lines you can get when you do a quick pan using a normal consumer-grade camcorder).
I used the Harinezumi for a school event—preparations for the school open day. The events themselves were filmed with an HD camcorder on a tripod, but for the preparations, I wanted a more informal look , so I again went with the Harinezumi. The Harinezumi is particularly well suited for hand-held moving shots. I find the same kinds of shots filmed using a normal high definition camcorder to be very annoying, (too much of a contrast between the crystal clear image and the shaky, bumpy camera movements), but with the Harinezumi the shaking movement, weird colours and flickering image seem to complement one another. If you do want a still image, the Harinezumi can be mounted onto a tripod.
The Harinezumi 2 isn’t really built for audio recording (earlier versions don’t even record audio at all). Loud sounds are distorted and quiet sounds are not picked up well. This above video can also give you a good idea of the audio-recording capabilities (the camera also comes with a silent film function that disables the audio recording). If someone is talking near the camera, the sound will get picked up quite clearly by the internal microphone; however, there is no control over levels. As you can see (and hear) in the second rock band scene near the end of the video, loud sounds will be recorded with horrid levels of distortion. For the first rock band scene, I recorded the audio separately with a portable audio recorder. If you bring this camera to a club, concert protest or other loud event, it would be a good idea to bring a separate device to record the audio. Also, it doesn’t have a headphone port, so there is no way to monitor the sound being recorded.
The camera runs on CR2 batteries, which has benefits and drawbacks. The good thing is that you don’t have to worry about re-charging batteries or having an unchangeable rechargeable battery die on you. The bad thing is that when you are shooting in video mode, the battery life is only a couple of hours. If you shoot a lot of video, you will go through batteries quickly. That can be quite costly and is not environmentally friendly.
The Harinezumi video is recorded on an mini-SD card as a 640 x 480 resolution AVI file with audio (previous versions were silent) that can be directly uploaded to video sharing sites like YouTube. The 640 x 480 resolution is one of the standard YouTube resolutions (480p), so the video looks fine (as long as you don’t switch to the full screen mode). The output is a compressed AVI file and work in most media players and video editors.
This output format makes the camera very user-friendy. You won’t need to convert file formats for viewing and editing; and because the file sizes are quite small, you won’t need a powerful computer set-up for editing.
I could view the video clips in Windows Media Player and edit them in Windows Movie Maker and Adobe After Effects CS4, but they would not run properly in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 until I installed the most recent version of the Motion JPEG Codec (downloaded from www.free-codecs.com). The full specifications are available at the SuperHeadz page: www.superheadz.com/digi2/detail.php?lang
With the Black Rain version, there are a few functions to choose from. For example, you can choose between two different ISO settings (in photography terms, ISO settings refer to film speed;for digital cameras, they refer to how sensitive the image sensor is too light): IS0100 is more suitable for recording in bright conditions and ISO800 is used for recording in low light environments. However, if you are shooting with the ISO800 setting, you will get a lot of noise/grain. You can record in black & white or select macro mode for extreme close-ups.
It is not a very cheap camera. On Amazon, the cost is around USD 170 (SD card and card reader not included), which makes it about twice the cost of a typical non-video recording toy camera and pushing it closer to the cost of the following products:
- iPodNano($170 US), which , like the Harinezumi, also records video at 640×480 (For the iPod Nano, however, you would have to buy an older version. The latest update of the product (Generation 5) does not include a video recording function. Also, the iPod Nano does not take still pictures.)
- iPod Touch ($225 US for the 8 GB model), which can give you HD video (at 1280×720) amongst a host of other applications
- Flip Mino HD (the newest version goes for around $230 US) , a dedicated digital camcorder that records at 1280×720
If you are looking for a good quality low-budget camcorder, you can consider paying a little extra and going for the Touch or Flip Mino. The Digital Harinezumi is really only for those who are interested in the retro, dreamlike aesthetic and interestingly inaccurate colour tones. I think I’ll be using this camera quite a lot, however, as I like the way it records informal, daily-life shots.
Another Lo-Fi Camera: The Exemode SQ28m
The exemode sq28m pocket digital camera (のポケデジ) is a tiny digital toy camera. It records video at a low resolution (320×240) and a low frame rate (8 frames per second compared to the usual 24 to 30 fps). There is no viewfinder. Here is a video shot with that camera:
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