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Costing little more than a disposable one time film camera, the new Slimcam 300 mini digital camera is the same size as a credit card and only slightly thicker.

This micro sized digital camera claims to be the world's thinnest.

 
 
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Slimcam 300 Mini Digital Camera

A credit card sized 'toy' digital camera
 

 

Very small, very inexpensive, but not very good.

You get what you pay for, with digital cameras as with everything else.

 

 

This is a temptingly small little gadget that offers seemingly good resolution (1280x960 = 1.2 megapixel) pictures.

The performance is disappointing, but probably fairly in line with its low price.

Description

The SlimCam 300 is very small.  It measures the same size as a regular credit or business card - 3" x 2".  Most of its body is about " thick, and where the lens protrudes, it is " thick.  The camera weighs a mere 1.1 ounces, with a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery and 64 MB of picture memory built in to it.

The Li-ion battery is charged through the USB cable and takes its power from the computer's USB port.  This is sensible and convenient, and much preferable to having yet another separate transformer power supply.

The battery life seems to be sufficient to take 50 or more pictures and hold them in its memory for a day or so, and by the time you've taken that many pictures, you'll have probably needed to transfer them to your computer anyway, recharging the camera in the process.

It has a fixed focus lens (4.5mm focal length, f2.8) and says it has both auto exposure and auto white balance.

It records photos either in a high resolution (1280x960 = 1.2 megapixels) or lower VGA resolution (640x480 = 300k pixels).  But its CMOS sensor is only capable of 300k resolution, and if you choose to store 'high resolution' pictures, its inbuilt circuits interpolate extra information to make the 300k sized raw picture grow up to 1.2 Megapixels.

This makes for ugly looking pictures (see samples below) in both resolutions.  If you need to increase the pixel count in an image - something that is always a bad idea - you're normally better advised to do it in Photoshop (using the bicubic method of resampling).  Photoshop will do a better job of making the image larger than most cameras.

The camera holds 26 pictures with high resolution and low compression, 52 with high resolution and high compression, 104 with low resolution and low compression, and 209 with low res and high compression.

In theory the best setting combination would be low resolution and low compression, giving you a capacity to store 104 pictures.  But the low resolution looks so unexpectedly bad that you probably should choose the high res/low comp option, giving 26 images.

The camera has an optical viewfinder.  A small LCD panel shows the number of remaining photos you can take before its memory is full, and a button alongside enables you to change some of its default settings.

There is a main on/off switch on the bottom of the camera that is recessed so it can't be accidentally turned on or off.  This is important, because if you turn this switch off, all pictures in its memory are immediately erased.

If you leave the camera on, the rechargeable battery keeps the memory alive, but this continual drain means the battery flattens within three or four days, and, once more, you lose all the stored pictures.  It is a good idea to transfer your pictures quickly to a PC.

Although safely protected from accidental switching on or off, this also means it is very difficult to switch it on/off when you want to.  You'll probably need to use a pen or some other pointed object to do this.

The camera comes with a very short wriststrap, a 51" USB cable, a CDrom with drivers and image management software, and two manuals (one for the camera and one for the software).

The small ten page instruction booklet was written in a very foreign version of English that is almost completely unintelligible.  For example, can you understand the second part of this sentence?

Please move the button to 'OFF' when you are not use the camera, unless it will cause its lifetime of battery.

There was no indication of any website or company contact details where one could go for support, or for updated drivers.  There was also no warranty information provided - this probably varies depending on the retailer you purchase it from.

Using the Camera

I took some pictures around my house and garden.

The camera almost instantly switched on (from either its standby or off state) and there was very little delay to take a picture, and it was almost immediately ready to take another picture again.  This fast power up and responsiveness was better than my Canon G-1 high quality digital camera.

It was very easy to use.  Simply and literally point and click.

The camera did not work well in lower light conditions (eg much of the time inside), and annoying would refuse to take a picture if it did not think the light was good enough.  There was no way to use it with an external flash.

I'd prefer the camera to warn about the low light but still to allow you to take the picture - it is amazing how you can adjust a very dark photo up to relatively bright good quality by subsequently editing it in Photoshop, and if you're in a situation where you would rather have a potentially bad picture rather than no picture at all, you'll be frustrated by the camera's refusal to take the picture you want.

The camera does not remember its settings, and defaults to the high resolution setting every time you turn it on.

On one occasion, the camera froze while I was adjusting its settings.  I had to turn its main power off and on in order to unfreeze it, which meant I lost the pictures I had in its memory.

On another occasion, the LCD started flashing its display at me rather than displaying the information normally.  Nothing could stop it from flashing, and I had to wait until the battery had died and then recharge it, with the flashing now thankfully gone.

Sample Pictures

The following pictures were taken looking over to a neighbor's house on an overcast day.  The first image was on the Slim Cam's low resolution (640x480) mode, the second on its high resolution (1280x960) mode, and the third is a comparative photo taken by a higher quality but 3 year old Canon G1 camera in high resolution (2048x1536) mode.

Care was taken to select the best of several different photos from the Slim Cam so as to fairly show its capabilities.

A 200x140 'thumbnail' segment of each of the three photos is shown below.  You can click on this thumbnail and have a larger image appear in a new window.  The images have not been appreciably altered, and have not been scaled (but the second and third photos were cropped so as not to have too large a file size and to conveniently fit on your screen) and were re-saved in moderately low compression/high quality jpg format.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so there is probably no need to comment on the quality of this picture, which was taken in low resolution mode.

 

This is with the setting for high quality and low compression from the Naxos.

If you expand this picture (by clicking on it) you'll see that the picture doesn't have much detail - the lighter colors quickly get washed out.

 

As a comparison, here's a picture from my Canon G1.

You can see definition in the wooden fence and the siding on the house that is missing with the Naxos, and the colors are a lot more stable and accurate.

.

 

Installing the Software onto the PC

I hoped that the camera would not need any software at all to be recognized on the PC.  Ideally, the PC would simply see it as another disk drive, just like it does with a USB Flash Drive.

And so I plugged the camera in to one of the laptop's USB ports, to see what happened.  Hopefully it would see it as a new drive.  Alternatively, well behaved USB devices will trigger the install process when plugged into a USB port for the first time and will call for any necessary drivers to be loaded if needed.

The laptop thought for a while, and then advised that the auto install of the camera driver had failed.

I then did what the instructions told me to do (!) - installed the drivers while the camera was not connected to the laptop.  The installation process was unusual because the install program wanted to access my network as part of its installation procedure.  This should absolutely not be necessary and I wonder why it wanted to do this.

I allowed it network access, so as to give it the best possible chance of working properly.

The other surprising event was that after loading the driver, it required the computer to be rebooted.  These days well written USB drivers should never require the computer to be rebooted as part of their installation.

After completing the installation process, and rebooting, the camera was still not recognized.  So I uninstalled the drivers, and then reloaded them, and after more reboots at the end of every step of the process, the camera was now recognized by the laptop.

Right clicking on the camera device in the My Computer window offered the opportunity to download pictures from the camera to the computer.  I did this once satisfactorily, but the pictures were in a strange low resolution (320x240) mode, even though I thought I'd set the camera to high resolution.  I deleted these pictures off the camera, reset it to high resolution, and took some more pictures, then reconnected it to the computer again.

Surprisingly, the computer thought it saw the original pictures again, and could not find the other pictures.

I unplugged and replugged the camera, and then the computer stopped recognizing the camera at all, and it took several uninstalls and reinstalls to get the computer to see the camera again.

The camera comes with two software programs, ArcSoft Photo Impression for both Windows and Mac and ArcSoft Funhouse, also for Windows or Mac.  Photo Impression seems to be a very simple image filing and editing program, and Funhouse appears to let you take pictures of yourself and super-impose them in front of various backgrounds.

I had no interest in or need for either program, and no wish to load my laptop with more unnecessary software, so did not test either program.

Transferring images to a computer

Transferring images to the computer wasn't quite as simple or reliable as one would hope.

Several times, when plugging the camera into a USB port, it somehow interfered with my Securikey on another port, causing the laptop to think the Securikey had been removed, thereby making the computer lock itself up.

After connecting the camera to the laptop several times, the device driver became corrupted and I had to treat myself to another series of uninstall/reinstall procedures until the camera and pc could be persuaded to talk to each other again.

While the two devices were working together, transferring images, via a special program loaded onto the pc during the driver installation, was relatively simple and relatively quick.

Cost

The camera is not very expensive.  I've seen it for sale (under the Naxos brand name) on various websites for $60-90, and it is available from ProTravelGear.com (the people that make the Plane Quiet noise cancelling headphones) for only $50.  If you use the 'Travelinsider' discount code (don't type in the quotes, just the word) you'll get a 5% discount off its $49.99 list price.

Although not very expensive, it is also not very impressive.  My preference would be to pay about twice as much (at the time of writing, March 04) and get a truly good quality, 2 MP, mini digital camera complete with built in flash, optical zoom and removable media.  This would be a larger bulkier camera, of course, but would also be a very much better quality unit. However, in terms of what you can expect from a $45 camera, the SlimCam 300 is probably a fair price for what it is.

Summary

You shouldn't expect much for only $45, and as long as your expectations are low, you won't be disappointed.

The camera is easy to operate, but its software is buggy and unreliable.  It takes very basic pictures quickly and simply, but of a poor quality level, comparable to current first generation cell phone cameras.

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Originally published 19 Mar 2004, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

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