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Johnny Wilson
  • Johnny Wilson

I shot a vlog with an 11 year old iPod nano

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

July was very much all about music for me. I spent a good portion of the last month doing a long overdue 'music audit'; replacing any albums in my collection ripped at 192 kbps mp3's with 320 kbps mp3 rips (and there was ALOT), sorting out and tidying up the ID tags, making sure everything had nice album art e.t.c. because I figured I was probably never going to have an opportunity like this one to get round to it ever again! Hopefully... And it had been on my mental to do list for quite some time. Whilst carrying out my music audit, I wondered if I could find some old songs that had gotten lost after x4 computer changes over the years, so I dug out my old 11 year old iPod nano to see if they were still on there. My little red nano is a fifth generation model, the first generation to come with an integrated video camera and microphone, that recorded .mp4 videos at 640 x 480 resolution and 29.97 fps and stereo audio at 128 kbps.

At one point in time it was my primary mp3 player so it has it's fair share of war damage, and that quote on the back is a song lyric from mewithoutyou - Messes of Men, by the way, back when you could get engravings on your stuff when you ordered it direct from Apple's website! Even at 11 years old it still charges and works mostly perfectly, unlike my 160gb iPod classic that died after 13 months of usage... Despite being my primary mp3 device I never really cared for that integrated camera at the time, and never used it, but going to back to it after not using it for about 8 years I thought it would be cool to test it out and play with it. There's no settings to speak of, nothing you can tweak, you just point and shoot. And I just so happened to going on holiday at the end of July and seeing Chloe for the first time in 5 months, so with that simplicity in mind, I took it along with me and used it to film a vlog of our week away together:

As I said in the video, I've never really watched a vlog. I've never recorded one before, and I hate hearing my own voice played back to me... so this was quite painful to edit! But I'm really pleased with how it came out. Working within the limitations of the nano gave it a real 'home movie' vibe and the video quality is not the best, but still passable enough that you can decipher what is going on in each clip. The microphone however, as I'd read previously, was not great. It worked fine for the most part but was quite tinny, and really suffered from wind noise. Granted we were at a coastal town so there was higher than usual wind speeds, but it really became a problem. Also the positioning of the camera was a real nuisance, and I was often accidentally obscuring the camera, or getting a finger in shot when filming. I found the most comfortable way was to grip the top and bottom corners of either side with my thumb and forefinger but in this fashion it was difficult to hold the iPod tight enough to minimise camera shake and that really shows in my video clips. Because of the awkward placing, I also filmed a whole bunch of videos upside down, when using it one handed, and the built in orientation translator for the video software sometimes rendered my videos in portrait instead of landscape. These are all only really problems that you have when taking videos off the hardware I guess, and I don't think that was ever really the intention with the nano when it was first bought to market, but if you were serious about using this to film something (and I don't think many people were...!) you were going to have these problems.

Aside from the above issues, I don't know if it's because my nano is old and well worn but a few times I pressed the centre button to start recording and it didn't actually start recording... that was annoying. I also noticed in post that the microphone tended to cut out a couple of milliseconds before the video ended and sometimes the audio seemed to be slightly out of sync. The camera also struggles with adjusting to changes in brightness, and a handful of my video clips look underexposed because of strong contrasting background lighting or overexposed because of contrasting foreground lighting. And another big nail in the nano camera coffin was that for some reason it only had the capacity to record video and there was no still camera function? My feelings are that, arguably, going with a still camera and not video would have been the better option? And I don't know, technologically, if there is some reason why the camera only records video and not photos? But thanks to the magic of VLC media player, I extracted a few still frames from my videos to check out how it could potentially perform as a camera:

And they look ok, but are never going to compete with digital still camera quality, even the ones in low end feature phones that were around at the time. As prior mentioned, I don't think the intention was for these videos to ever have any use outside of being played back on the nano and it having a video camera was more for a fun user experience, or recording spontaneous moments. It was never going to be a contender to replace your digital camera of the time, especially lacking a still photo function, and it's for those reasons that it probably didn't catch on; the iPod nano 6th gen shifted to a touch screen interface and removed the camera, although the inclusion of an integrated camera did migrate to the iPod touch range (maybe that's for a future review!). All of that being said, and despite it's short comings I still had fun with using it, the nano is so lightweight and slim line that it's easy to carry around and once you find a comfortable way to hold and record with it without accidentally getting your fingers in shot, it becomes a really simple and easy to use camera, but it's ultimately just a novelty and nothing much else.


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