Before the shops closed forever and it became normal to queue for 20 minutes to get into a chemist, I used to like wandering round second hand shops and charity shops trying to find cool stuff that had been left behind by the modern age of technology. Old film cameras are obviously my thing, but I'm into retro technology in general; old Game Boys, old Computers, and old Digital Cameras. Whilst in Cash Converters some time back in November last year they had a whole shelf of like 20 boxes of the "Quickpix Qp3 Pen Cam" by Nisis, an unusual, oddly shaped camera looking a bit like that thing that erases memories in Men In Black. Clearly very old, boasting "1.3 MILLION PIXELS" on the box, I bought one to mess around with.
Bundled with the camera was a whole bunch of Software applications; a video editor, panorama software, a photo editor and some other stuff all for £1.99. A proper bargain. But what I hadn't bargained for was just how old this thing actually was! My modern Windows 10 laptop wouldn't even recognise it when attached by USB, and the software on the CD was so old my laptop wouldn't even read it. Luckily I've had experience in messing around with legacy digital cameras before now and running Windows XP in Virtualbox solved everything. I had all the software set up, the camera connected and I could save the photos from it, I was ready to go!
At first impression, the camera is actually really well designed. Despite the intention being for it to function more at as a "PC Camera" (read as webcam - this was from the days when video conferencing was super high professional big business!) ergonomically it's really comfortable to hold and use, and as the box suggested; it is indeed pocket sized. Being really light even with batteries, and easily held with one hand and in such a fashion that you can trigger the shutter using the little silver button on top. The lens can easily be adjusted using a little notch on the silver ring around the camera lens from "landscape and people" to "extreme close up"; a macro mode with a focal distance of 40cm apparently. I never get on very well with macro modes and macro focusing on cameras... There's a little view finder near the top but the accuracy can be very hit and miss depending how close you are and I learned to mostly frame subjects I wanted in the centre of the photo in the bottom right hand side of the viewfinder to compensate. Going back to the subject of batteries though, I don't know if it was the dodgy "Kodak" branded Poundland AAA's I was using, or if this thing just guzzles batteries, but I got about an hour of usage filming no more than 30 seconds of video off of x2 AAA's before the batteries died. Shooting stills was much better; batteries lasted about a week. Also there's no way to switch the camera off, it shuts off automatically after about a minute, which probably doesn't help battery life. And if your batteries die, you lose all the video clips on your camera because they are saved in the SDRAM, not the internal memory. I lost about 4 or 5 video clips over the course of messing around with it because the batteries either died before I got home, or the software crashed and deleted my videos... a bit annoying that.
The Quickpix has two shooting modes; "still image mode" or photos... and "AVI movie mode" or videos... For both you can choose between high quality or low quality; high quality photos are shot at a resolution of 1248x960 and low quality at 640x480. In high quality mode you can record 30 seconds of video at 624x480 @ ~10fps or in low quality mode; 2 minutes of video at 304x240 @ ~ 10fps, and neither quality mode records audio; no internal microphone here! Also I say ~10fps because in my experience the fps rate differs between 8 to 4fps and I never got it as high as 10 fps in either quality mode. Either way, that's a terrible frame rate, and 624x480 is a weird video resolution and a weird aspect ratio? Maybe the future standard had not yet been established?
I used the camera to shoot both photo and video at both quality settings, but was primarily more interested in how it shot video. I shot a whole bunch of clips and then put a montage video together keeping faithful to the original source settings as close as possible. Accounting for any compression Youtube might apply, check out my example video below:
There's a lot going here: dodgy colour shifting and colour abrasion, failures to compensate for a change in light levels resulting in massive overexposure or underexposure, and terrible detail lag by the low fps rate. It doesn't get much better in low quality mode either, the videos are just smaller! That being said, it has a certain lo-fi aesthetic to it and if you could improve the frame rate to, say 30 fps, things would probably look a lot more acceptable. It still shoots better quality video than that old Sony Ericcson feature phone though! Photos are much more consistent; there are instances of colour shifting, and differing exposure levels either blowing out the highlights or muddying the shadows and a bit of a yellow colour cast in my opinion, but broadly speaking the camera does a good job with still photos. Check out some of my examples below, all shot in High Quality mode:
Again, the viewfinder is not the most reliable and sometimes things I framed in the centre of the photo ended up offset from the middle, even when the subject is over a metre away...
Aside from that, the photos most turned out pretty well! Things in Low Quality mode aren't much different, just slightly smaller:
Obviously these are far from comparable to the results from modern digital cameras today, but taking into account that this camera is about 18 years old, it does alright compared to digital cameras of the same era and retrospectively the slight colour shifts and exposure glitches are actually quite appealing and something you get a lot with old digital sensors. Here are the rest of the photos I shot:
I also played around with the software that came with it. The video editor is called Ulead Video Studio Basic and is really simple to use. You start a new project, you add your clips to the timeline, you can crop and edit, apply filters e.t.c and then export the finished project as a video. It features a bunch of presets but nothing better than 384 x 288 resolution @ 25 fps or 352 x 240 @ 30 fps. I made a quick video:
You can also use it to grab stills in .bmp format at source resolution from video clips, which I thought was quite cool:
It's pretty simple to use, and I will probably mess around with it some more in the future! The panorama software is called Ulead Cool 360 and actually almost works really well! You pick your images, and the software blends them together and you can do some adjusting afterwards. I chose not to tweak mine too much, but here's my "cool" panorama:
And the photo editing software is called Ulead Photo Express and is very much what you expect from early 2000's photo editing software; you open your photo and you can touch it up and enhance or let the software do it for you, and apply a whole bunch of filters, decorations or special effects, good fun to mess around with and useful for like church groups or pre-schools, or something... maybe not so much for photo professionals? Here's a before:
Yeah, great fun! It was worth £1.99 just for the legacy software alone to be honest!!
So the Nisis Quickpix is a little oddity; designed as a pen camera so it can be used easily with one hand and pull double duty as a webcam (although I should say that I haven't actually tested it as a webcam, but judging from the quality of the video it records, I can't see it functioning as a webcam much better! Maybe I'll give that a try in the future?) but despite it's odd design, despite the occasional issues with colour balance and exposure levels, and the viewfinder issue aside, it's a functional camera! All those things aside...! It's niche is obviously that it can be used fairly easily and almost discretely with one hand, a bit like the future Mini DV cameras. It's absolutely never going to pass off a spy camera or similar, and it definitely looks like that thing in Men In Black I referenced earlier, when I was playing with it, it turned a few heads, and not just because I was walking around taking photos during lockdown... I think... anyway because of that, and because I collect crap, I'll probably keep it, but I don't know if I'll ever have any reason to use it again!