By Bryan Young
AstraCamby Dannee Davis
The UMAX AstraCam is a relatively low cost ($199 MSRP), easy to use digital camera that produces 640x480-pixel images. The camera is geared toward first time buyers who want to take photos that can be emailed or used on a webpage. The included software allows you to make calendars, greeting cards, e-cards with voice messages, certificates and interpolate the 640x480 images up to 1280x960 pixel size images.
The camera is constructed of high-impact plastic and due to its small size (4.3" x 3.2" x 1.3") it fits comfortably in your hand or pocket. A lanyard is included if you want to hang the camera around your neck.
The 50mm (35mm equiv) F2.8 lens is fixed focus and covers from 20-inches to infinity. The ISO is 125 with automatic exposure and a 2.5 second processing time between shots. The images are stored as a standard JPEG type files.
The recessed power switch makes it difficult to accidentally turn the unit on or off. This is great for those of us who may opt to carry this camera in an overstuffed purse. I like the fact that the shutter button is raised, you don't have to feel all over the top of the camera when you are ready to start clicking away.
This view of the rear of the camera shows the viewfinder, LCD data display, the Erase button and the White Balance Mode button. Next to the viewfinder is a LED which flashes green when the photo is being processed.
Pressing the Mode button cycles through the white balance settings of: Sunny, Incandescent, Flourescent and Cloudy.
The monochrome LCD display shows the battery condition, the microphone icon, the white balance icon, and the number of photos remaining. The camera icon lets you know the camera is ready to go to work. Those 3 marks on the left are the built-in microphone.
The left side of the camera is home to the Voice Recorder button which allows you to add a 20 second voice snippet to each of your photos.
When this feature is enabled you can take 31 photos, disabled 46 pics.
Changing batteries couldn't be easier, slide the battery door open and drop in the supplied rechargable AAA-size NiMH batteries. I like this type of "easy to swap" battery comparment placement along with a sturdy door. The batteries recharge in just under 3 hours while in the docking cradle.
The docking cradle lets you acquire your photos from the camera by simply pushing the "Download" button. It automatically launches the PhotoCabinet software and begins the transfer process.
This ease of use will be a big selling point for those who have limited experience with digital cameras. The only connection to the computer is via the USB port. This allows for very quick downloading of your photos, about one image every 3 seconds. But it also means that those without a USB port are out of luck.
This is a screen capture of the AstraCam TWAIN acquire module that is used to transfer camera images into any Windows application. It has the ability to adjust the color, brightness and contrast of your photos as well as interpolating the 640x480 images up to 1280x960.
The AstraCam could be a good seller if its price is reduced down to that of the JamCam and WWF SlamCam which are also 640x480 digicams selling for under $100. I imagine that by the time this camera makes it to market the street price will be more in line with the competition.I like the one handed operation and the software packaged with the camera. The image quality is not all that good, judge for yourself on the sample pictures page. I have undoubtedly been spoiled by all of the one and two megapixel cameras I have been using lately.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.