Vivitar ViviCam 55Review by: Ted Felix
In December 2003, while walking through Staple's I noticed the attractively packaged Vivitar ViviCam 55. Yes, I fell for the packaging. Actually, I knew what I was probably getting into at the $50 price point, but I was curious to see if the thing was at least partially workable.
Installation didn't go very smoothly. I'll try to recount from memory the problems and solutions. As I recall this is a device that must have its drivers installed before it is plugged in or else things get messed up and the drivers are unstable. I did things the wrong way and consistently received "Driver open fail!" messages. As I recall, I played around with the Add New Hardware wizard until it started working. Once I got it working, it wasn't 100% reliable and I would occasionally get "Driver open fail!" errors.
Normally, a "Driver open fail!" message simply means the camera isn't plugged in right now. However, it can also mean that the drivers aren't properly installed.
It is small. Very small. So small, you can take it with you everywhere and probably forget you even have it. Cool. It uses two standard AAA batteries. It has a focus adjustment that can be used to focus at any distance from infinity to macro. This really made me curious as it reminded me of my faithful Fuji FinePix 1300. Downloading pictures from the camera is relatively fast and easy. It has a tripod mount. The camera can be used as a "PC Camera", i.e. a camera that stays connected to a PC and captures video or stills.
Unfortunately, the cons far outweigh the pros. This is not unusual at this price point. Expect very "artsy" results.
The main problem this camera has is its very limited dynamic range. This is a point-n-pray camera. If the exposure is even slightly off, the picture is ruined. Shadows and highlights block very quickly. It does have some extra information in the dark end as all digicams do, so dark shots can be salvaged to a certain extent. But, if your image is overexposed, you're out of luck. If there is one thing that would save this camera, it would be wider dynamic range. But that would probably raise the price.
All the other complaints I have about the camera pale in comparison to the dynamic range issue. The JamCam seemed to do a slightly better job with dynamic range than this thing (and the JamCam wasn't very good, but at least it was serviceable). I was hoping to at least have an experience equivalent to the JamCam, but this is worse.
This camera does not have flash memory like the JamCam. So, if the batteries die, your pictures are gone. It is powered by USB, so in theory it would be very unlikely that you would ever really lose pictures as long as you downloaded the camera before changing batteries.
The drivers seemed a bit unstable as they kept appearing and disappearing without warning. It was usually straightforward to just refresh the driver each time this happened, or reboot. It was rather annoying, however. It would have been nicer if the device appeared as a drive letter when you plug it in, but no such luck. You have to use the proprietary downloading app that comes with the camera.
The TWAIN driver appears to simply launch the downloading app. Very strange.
This isn't covered in the manual... The flash is ready when the green LED goes out. This is backwards of what you would expect. If you try to fire before the flash is ready, the camera will make a warning noise and refuse to shoot. The camera will let you shoot just prior to the flash being fully charged, resulting in a potentially dark picture.
There are some interesting settings for
the camera found in the following registry key:
These appear to affect "PC Camera" mode only. Unfortunately, you can't use them to get better dynamic range in normal camera mode.
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