Wednesday, October 10, 2012

PlantCam / Timelapse Cam Follow-up

I figured I'd share a few more thoughts (and pictures) of the Time-Lapse Camera Gee-Gaw - since it really is pretty cool!

First-up: Side-by-side Old and New (Old, dead one is green.  New, live one is black).

And here they are out of their boxes:

They have a tough, weatherproof exterior and they seem to seal-up pretty tight.  The old one made it thru several rainstorms without incident.  They both have a screw-ma-bobby hole on the bottom that enables them to be screwed onto any standard tripod.  They also come with brackets that can be mounted thru a lattice fence or on a sturdy garden stake.  The bracket has a corresponding screw-ma-bobby and adjustable angles and yada-yada.  Wingscapes also provides straps so you can strap the camera to a tree trunk.  All-told - you will be able to find a way to rig it up (just don't put it in a high-traffic, narrow-walkway, at shoulder height, like I did!).

Here are the cameras with the doors open:

You can click on the image to Biggify it.  All told, it's a pretty simple set-up.  There's a viewfinder ("Meh!"), a power button, a focus-ring (the flower-lookin' ring around the lens).  The old camera had a laser-aim (but it really was only marginally useful), and they both have light sensors (so you can set the camera to go on at first light) (again, that didn't work for me b/c of our motion-sensor lights and nocturnal neighborhood cats!).  The middle rectangle-screen is just a simple LCD.  You basically use the dialy-knob (bottom left) to pick your setting; then when you're in setup mode, you use the 5 "directional" buttons to navigate thru the menu selections.  It's fairly intuitive and SUPER simple.

Incidentally, this is not intended to be an instructional post (you can always go to Wingscapes for more info) on how to use the thing, but since my last post generated some questions, I figured I'd share a few more observations based on my (limited!) experience...

It uses 4 AA batteries (one set of alkalines lasted most of the summer: May - Aug) (over 1,100 jpgs).  Apparently, there's an AC Plug-in option, but I never bought the adapter - and I never needed it (I don't think I'd want to run an extension cord outdoors anyway).

It does need an SD card for storing pics - and if you're half as geeky as us, you've probably got dozens of cards laying around.  Otherwise, I think if you send back the Registration Card, Wingscapes will send you an SD card for free (Free is good!).

I used a 2-Gig in my old Plant-Cam and you saw the quality.  Not bad (Not great, but not bad).  I'm gonna bump-up to a 16-Gig b/c the new cam has HD capabilities.  Also: It looks like the new cam supports WiFi.  I haven't "RTFM" yet so not sure if that means it WiFi's the images directly to my laptop (which means my machine needs to be on all the time).  I think I'll prob'ly just stick with the SD card.  And now that I finally figured out the Movie-Maker software, it's ridiculously easy.

Price seems to have gone up a bit (no surprise), but Amazon's got it for $99.95 w/Free Super-Saver Shipping.  I do think it's a fun and cool gizmo.  The key is to find a good place to aim it (Finny Farm was a sucky spot, unfortunately).  It did pretty good with the "longer view" of last year's garden.

Honestly, I think the trickiest part of the PlantCam is finding a good place to put it.  The mounting stuff provided is excellent - that's not the problem.  

First up:  It's pretty difficult to "aim."  There is a little Viewfinder, but it really doesn't help much (especially if you are mounting the camera on a lattice fence and really can't fit your head behind it!).  And it's not like you can "aim it," let it take a few pictures, then view the output right away...  

(Well...  Wait a minute - maybe you can?!  But you'd have to be SUPER careful not to jar the camera.  I'm thinking Bolt it into position FIRMLY, let it take a days' worth of shots, then the next day *very carefully* open the door and remove the SD card to view the jpgs on your PC - just to confirm that it's aimed properly...)

So - up 'til now - it's been kind of a crap shoot!  I'm not sure if it will be easier or more difficult on smaller subjects; say, aiming the camera at a seed-tray to capture germination.  I think I'll experiment with that (I know, I think I said that last year, right?!).

I do like the broader selection of focus/distances with the new camera.  I bet a lot of folks were trying to do close-up seedling shots and getting fuzzy photos.  And they do provide a tape measure so you can accurately gauge the distance.

Secondly: In order to get a decent video, you need to be cognizant of where you're aiming it and what kind of background you'll have "competing" with your video.  In other words, trying to photograph my GREEN veggie garden under a GREEN tree with GREEN vines covering the fence in the background?  Ummm...  Yeah! (Obviously I am NOT an award-winning photographer!).  Think "Composition!" Duhhh!

Footnote to that: Don't aim the thing due-east (as I did last year!), or due-west (as I did this year!).  You'll end up dumping a LOT of shots because the sun is blaring straight into the camera at dawn/dusk.

And for something large, like a garden bed, you'll want to keep the camera further back so you can actually see the whole bed.  Last year's video was much better from that perspective: You could actually see the plants grow from seedlings and eventually fill the entire screen!

And, personally, I like having some kind of inanimate object IN the picture so there's a sense of continuity (plants do seem to "move" during time-lapse photography).  Last year, it was my Weenie-Dog Whirlygig  This year it was a garden stake.

Hmmm...  What else?  I set my camera to take pics at one-hour intervals starting at 8:00am and ending at 7:00pm.  You can probably get a "smoother" video by shortening the intervals to, say, 30 minutes.  You'll need to have a pretty big memory card for that, though...

I had actually tried to use the PlantCam, last year, to photograph my Plumerias coming into bloom.  Strapped it to a palm tree and set it at 15-minute intervals (since the bloom-time of Plumies is just a matter of days).  Unfortunately, I never got to complete that experiment due to some palm-tree-trimming action that practically annihilated my Plumeria tree (Ooops!).

Anyway, I think that's about it.  To summarize: Be aware of where you're placing your camera - for a big area, the further-back the better.  Don't aim it in a location where it's gonna get direct-into-the-lens-sun.  Don't put it someplace where it's likely to get bumped.  And have fun with it!

I really do like my PlantCam (even if it is a toy that requires a lot of patience!) and - as previously noted - I love any company that stands behind it's product...


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