Night photographer Lance Keimig takes you on a journey to the Aurora Borealis and helps you from start to finish, beginning with preparation for cold, Icelandic weather and finishing up with exposure...
Remember how frustrated you were when you last used a product so badly thought
out that you wondered if you and the designers were natives of the same
If not, may I recommend the Casio QV-10? I can guarantee you'll be left
wondering about the possibility of alien life forms and their potential role in
consumer electronics design on Planet Earth.
The basic design concept of the Casio QV-10 isn't bad; in fact, it's
brilliant. But some boneheaded tradeoffs in the implementation along with some
really sloppy software design combine to make the QV-10 a really weak
I should point out right here that no digital camera can compete with its
film-based counterparts in terms of image quality. In fact, a $100 35mm camera
will produce images which are so much better than those produced by a $1,000
digital camera that you'd be embarrassed to put them side-by-side.
The same can be said for any high-end 35mm SLR and a high-end digital camera
like the $28,000
That said, the currently-available set of digital cameras remain eminently
useful for electronic illustrations such as those commonly found on the Web. If
photography is your reason for publishing on the Web, you'll obviously want to
use a more traditional method of image transfer, like Photo CD, but for simple
illustrations requiring rapid turnaround time, digital cameras can be hard to
Note: All of the inline images in this review are reduced;
click on the image to see the full-size version.
The QV-10 is about the size and weight of a small 35mm snapshot camera. One
look at the back of the camera, however, tells you that it's not one of those
little snapshot cameras. Instead of a viewfinder, there's a small (1.8" diagonal)
active-matrix color LCD which shows you what the camera sees. If you've seen
camcorder, you've seen the concept before; this is smaller and lighter, though,
since there's really nothing mechanical inside. The viewfinder works quite well
in most situations; it is, however, virtually unusable when the camera is outside
in bright sunlight.
Unlike a 35mm camera, there's no
prominent image lens on this camera. The image sensor (a 250,000 element, 1/5"
CCD) is housed in the small section off to the right (when viewed from the
front). That little section swivels through 270 degrees of travel, so you can
even do a self-portrait if you're so inclined.
Here's one place you can find an example of what's right with this
camera: when you've got the lens flipped around so it's facing you, the LCD image
is a left-to-right mirror image of the camera's actual view. This makes composing
the picture easier since the image moves as expected when you move. But when you
capture the image, the correct (non-mirror-image) view gets stored.
Images are captured by pressing a "shutter button," just as on a conventional
camera. But the shutter is electronic, so there's no noise at all when you take
the picture; the only indication you see is the word "WAIT" in the middle of the
viewfinder screen for a few seconds while the image is stored to the camera's
flash RAM. The camera has 2 megabytes of flash RAM, enough for storage of 96
Exposure control is automatic, though a manual override (in the form of "+"
and "-" buttons) is available. The effect of these controls is immediately
visible on the LCD screen. The lens also has two mechanical aperture settings: F2
The lens is fixed focus; everything beyond 60cm at F2 (28cm at F8) is in
focus. A macro setting is available; when active, the lens is set to focus on
objects about 14cm away (again, of course, depth of field at F8 increases the
acceptable focus range).
The camera takes four AA batteries. A fresh set of alkaline batteries should
last you about two hours, says the manual. My experience suggests that that two
hours is measured on the alien planet I spoke of earlier; on Planet Earth, you'll
have about one hour before you see the "low battery" indicator come on. And you'd
better heed that indicator when it comes on (more about this later).
A self-timer button triggers a ten-second countdown, just as with a
Under a little hatch on the top of the camera are three jacks. One connects
the camera to a computer; another carries a video signal to a monitor, VCR, or
video printer. The third and final jack is a 6-volt power input, which helps tame
the camera's voracious appetite for batteries somewhat.
By sliding a switch on the back of the camera from "record" to "play," you can
use the monitor on the back of the camera to review the images you've stored. The
"+" and "-" buttons move forward and backward through the images you've stored in
The image on the camera-back monitor is also also
sent as NTSC composite video if you have the video cable connected. Here's an
image grabbed from this digital output (the object in the photo is a digital
pager). The number shown in the upper right-hand corner is the "page number" in
the camera (photographers would call this the frame number); the camera's "DISP"
button will show or hide this number.
There's a "MODE" button on the top of the camera which can be used to display
four pictures at once in a two-by-two grid, or nine pictures at once in a
three-by-three grid (pictured here). A "ZOOM" button will allow one to look at a
portion of a single image; this looks pretty blocky, though.
When an image is on-screen, the "DEL" button can be pressed; you're given the
choice to delete an individual image (pictured at left) or all images (at
Any of the images in the camera's memory can be marked "protected;" when this
is done, the image(s) will survive the "delete all" operation and are not
candidates for individual deletion.
Using the QV-10 with a Computer
I installed version 1.2 of the QV-PC software on my Windows 95 machine and
connected the faintly ridiculous-looking serial cable to my machine. (Mac
software and a cable adapter are also included).
The software installed
easily, and had no problems establishing a connection with the camera. Thumbnail
images (in essence, a contact sheet), can be downloaded from the camera. Clicking
on an image causes the LCD display (and attached video device, if any) to display
that image; this could potentially be really useful for giving presentations.
Double-clicking an image will download it from the camera to the computer. The
only problem with this is that the images look really awful. Images
downloaded from the camera have very visible compression artifacts. The
astute reader will note that the pictures which follow are in JPEG format. I
converted these from the .BMP format saved by the camera software using Photoshop
at the "high quality" setting. The compression artifacts you see are the camera's
work; they're not from the conversion process. (Remember, click on the small
photo to view the zoomed-in version; the thumbnail images here don't look all
Digital pager photographed in
image. Check out those compression artifacts! (They're especially visible around
the head of the lamp).
This is a pretty well-lit
shot designed to test both resolution and color.
test, this time in macro mode.
Macro-mode close-up of some
fine detail. Again, check out the compression artifacts! I never thought I'd say
this about anything, but the frame-grabbed NTSC video output from the device
actually looks better (in general) than the straight digital output. (I
used Play Incorporated's
capture device for all of the video-captured stuff in this document). Compare
these NTSC grabs with the digitally-transferred images. The left-hand column is
the captured video (I had the DISP function on, so you can also identify them by
the frame number in the upper-right hand corner). (Click on any image for an
Presentations to Go
One of the most intriguing features of the QV-10 is that images can be
uploaded from the computer to the camera; these bitmaps, of course, need
not necessarily be photographs. Assuming the compression artifacts aren't too
objectionable (and that your type is large enough), the camera is a formidable
presentation tool since an entire talk can be put on a very portable
device; there's no need for a laptop computer, LCD panel, scan converter, or any
of the other gadgets usually associated with giving a presentation from a
computer. Just find a large-screen monitor/TV, plug in, and go.
Stupid, Stupid, Stupid
So, what's wrong with this picture? OK, so the image quality isn't great, but
the camera's really small, holds a lot of images, and has great potential as a
portable presentation tool Every time you write to the camera's flash memory, you
risk turning it into a paperweight. Included with the camera was a scary-looking
yellow scrap of paper with warnings in about eight different languages. A power
interruption while writing to the camera's flash memory (after taking a picture
or while uploading from the computer) or a data communications problem while
uploading from a computer to the camera will cause the message "MEMORY ERROR -
CALL TECH SUPPORT" to appear on the display. According to the sheet, "whenever
this happens, the unit cannot be used and all of the digital images stored in the
camera's memory will be lost." "Well," I thought, "I'll call tech support
now and find out how to reset the camera rather than wait for this to
happen, which it invariably will some Friday at 5:01pm, right after their tech
support folks go home. After about ten minutes in a tight
redial-busy-hangup-pickup loop, I got through to their tech support number. Their
automated attendant system informed me that there were two calls ahead of me
(suggesting strongly that their national tech support operation is in possession
of not one, not two, but three telephone lines for incoming calls. Color
The technician who answered said that he was familiar with this situation and
had, in fact, just spoken with one of the senior technicians about this very
issue. There is no way for the user to reset the camera; it must be sent in to
Casio for service.
The technician elaborated: this was a design decision to do this (to
safeguard any pictures not destroyed by the problem which caused the error to
occur--yes, I know this is at odds with the little yellow warning sheet), and
that the reset to clear the problem is strictly a software operation. Yes,
that's right, you send your camera back to them, and they plug it into their PC,
run a software reset program through the very same serial port interface used in
normal operation, then pack it up and send it back to you. I asked: no, the
software isn't available to end users; in fact it's so closely guarded that the
service centers don't even have it. They have to send the cameras suffering from
this problem off to Casio USA's headquarters (I assume this process differs if
you're outside of the U.S.) All of this "usually takes less than two weeks,"
according to the technician. (Random aside: what is it that takes so long
about getting consumer electronic equipment fixed? I have a mental vision of the
Factory Authorized Service Center Corporation, a gigantic warehouse full of
broken electronic gear. Every once in a while, the lone person working there
takes another piece of hardware off the shelf, opens it up, scratches his head,
and mutters to himself, "Look at all them wires in there!" It goes
downhill from there.)
My first guess upon hearing this was that the technician didn't really know
the answer, so he was simply making something up which seemed plausible to him
but not me. After asking a number of fairly detailed questions, though, it became
clear that he really did know this product pretty well, and this problem in
He did make the alarming suggestion, however, that I use nickel-cadmium
rechargeable batteries after I expressed dismay at the camera's hunger for AA
cells. One wonders about the wisdom of this move, though, given the fact that the
camera will self-destruct if the camera loses power when flash RAM is being
written. The low-battery warning with alkaline AA cells is only issued with about
seven minutes' operating time remaining; given the discharge curves of NiCd
batteries, this time could be a lot shorter.
I was able to confirm that NiCd batteries are, indeed, unwise for use in the
Kimura Kazushi maintains some
information on his
pages about the QV-10, including the Japanese-language FAQ. Since no
English-language version of the FAQ exists, he was kind enough to mail me a
translation of the section on the FATAL ERROR message (same as the MEMORY ERROR
message in the US version of the camera):
There is no way to recover from a FATAL ERROR :-(
Then all you can do is send QV-10 to the shop for repair.
How to avoid the FATAL ERROR:
- Take care when you take a picture.
(Because FATAL ERROR is a flash memory *WRITE* error.)
- Avoid low battery voltage
You should take heed of the low-battery indicator.
Don't use NiCd batteries or manganese battery.
- Avoid DC power supply disconnect--even if it's only momentary.
Don't touch the QV-10 and the cables when uploading;-)
- Use a lithium battery, if you can.
It is expensive but has a very long life span.
So, it's just a matter of time, in my opinion, before the camera
self-destructs. Maybe you'll be lucky. Maybe you won't. Put another way, would
you trust the health of your hardware to the ability of Microsoft Windows
to reliably communicate with the serial port?
The concept behind this camera is, as I said before, simply brilliant. If it
were just the fact that the image quality is kind of weak, it would be easy to
forgive; after all, the device is a mass-market item based on camcorder
technology. But it's also fairly easy to, well, destroy the camera in the course
of normal use, particularly if you use it for offline presentations--one of its
greatest strengths. Combine that with a difficult-to-reach tech support
organization, bad information regarding product usage, obstructionist policies
regarding the software reset tool, and a lengthy turnaround time when service is
necessary, and you have a great idea with some really fatal flaws.
Casio has just announced their QV-30 camera. A revised version of the QV-10,
it has a telephoto lens and a larger LCD panel display. The image capture
electronics, however, remain largely (if not completely) unchanged. Image memory,
in particular, has not been increased from the 2Mbytes of RAM found in the QV-10
This suggests that any improvements in image quality will be incremental
improvements at best. According to the technician, the QV-30 will behave
identically with the QV-10 if a flash write is interrupted, so this new camera
has paperweight potential as well.
It's a great idea, really. But it's ruined by flaws in the implementation.