Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Full Review: Wingscapes BirdCam

If you've been keeping track of my recent posts, you've seen several posts with the tests of my newly acquired BirdCam manufactured by WingScapes (retail price: $250). As promised, here is a full review of the device:

Initial Observations
The box is very appealing including pictures of birds and a nice fold-out cover. The contents include a USB cable for connection to your PC, a detailed manual, a remote control, and a pair of bungee cords for hanging the BirdCam on a tree or other large pole. A mounting arm for hanging on smaller feeder poles is sold separately. From an environmental standpoint, I would prefer the use of cardboard vs. plastic packaging.



The BirdCam itself has a front door that opens to reveal the controls inside. The controls include a small display screen for changing settings, menu buttons, a focus setting wheel, a button to turn on the laser aiming, and an on-off switch. There is also a slot for an optional SD memory card (not included) and a place to plug in a DC adapter if you have one. The door snaps shut with two latches. A thin rubber gasket around the perimeter of the device makes it weather-resistant. The back of the device is dominated by the battery door which holds four "D" batteries (not included). The top of the device has an eye hole that can be used to hang it from a hook.

Setup
The BirdCam is usable "out of the box." A few simple instructions written on the inside cover of the device will have you taking photos in minutes using the default settings. You need batteries of course. The laser aiming device is an excellent feature and makes it a snap to point the camera at your target.

Customizing settings is done through the simple menu system. The key settings are the sensitivity of the motion sensor (high, medium, low) , the time interval for activating the sensor (the sensor goes into a sleep mode after it takes photos/videos), and the number of photos/videos to take per activation of the sensor. You can also set the size of the photos (up to 3.1 MegaPixels) and videos (up to 640 x 480). A large dial sets the focus distance for the camera. There are four intervals of settings from 8 inches up to infinity.

A "manual mode" allows you to take photos/videos through the push of a button on the front of the device or via the included remote control. Actually, the remote control can be used at any time to trigger a picture and the device will automatically return to whatever mode it was set in.

As mentioned, it does not include a memory card, but has 32 MB of internal memory which will hold a bit, but not a day's worth of photos. I've been using a 512 MB card (pretty cheap these days) which is sufficient for several day's worth of photos or a day's worth of videos, depending on your settings.

One complaint I have about the setup is the use of the laser aiming device. The laser aiming is extremely useful, but it can only be used when the door is open. This can be problematic depending on where you are placing the camera. For example, I had placed the camera in a flower pot, but the lip of the flower pot forced me to have to lift up the camera to close the door, thus messing up my aiming. (Note from Wingscapes: This is actually a safety feature common to all game cameras (that I know of). There are many regulations concerning laser usage and we try to prevent the user from turning it on or leaving it on unintentionally.)

Results

Click here to see samples of photos and videos.

Although it might take some trial and error to get the ideal placement, lighting, focus distance, and sensitivity for your yard, the photo and video results are excellent. You're obviously not going to get SLR-quality photos from this specialized device, but the quality is very good. Objects within the focus range are very clear and colors appear accurate. The camera uses a variable exposure speed that is supposed to allow the capture of birds in flight. I have not had much success with this yet. The few flight photos I have managed to take have had some blur in them.

Some have complained that the BirdCam does not take pictures well when placed in a shadowed area facing a lit area. I'm no expert photographer, but I think this is true for any camera that doesn't use a flash. The "blank" pictures that the camera takes can be annoying. These are usually the result of a bird flying by too fast for the camera to react or from some other object (a branch or leaf) falling too close to the camera. The falling objects have to be pretty close to set the camera off it seems. This is a minor inconvenience and can usually be resolved through the sensitivity setting.

The video picture quality is sufficient enough to know what you're seeing and quite good in clarity, but the frame rate is low causing the video to look choppy. It's still great fun to watch videos of the goings-on in your yard.

On a typical day, you're probably going to only get 15-20 usable photos or 5-10 usable videos. Let's face it, birds and other creatures are very mobile. Many times you will get photos of tails, heads, wings, SQUIRRELS, or nothing at all. This is no fault of the BirdCam itself. It's simply the reality of using this type of device.

The battery life seems excellent. A battery meter shows the percentage of battery life remaining. After taking approximately 150 photos and 40 videos, I still have 98% battery life. A light sensor will put the device into "night mode" to reduce unnecessary battery use when it is too dark to photograph. If I could have one wish for this device, it would be for it to be able to take photos at night. I understand that this would take a big change in technology and is probably outside the designated purpose, but it would be an excellent feature.

Conclusions
At a cost of $250, the BirdCam may be a bit out of price range for many. I feel that the technology and the quality of the results warrants the cost, but may prohibit casual backyard birders from buying it. To me, the real appeal of this device is the thought of capturing something new in your yard or observing some interesting behavior. You're not likely to be entering these photos into a photo contest any time soon, but the results are more than sufficient to share with others, stick on your refrigerator, or post on your blog. If you want to see what's lurking under your bushes, who is visiting your feeders while at work, or who has been stealing your mail, give the BirdCam a try. It would also make an excellent gift for any backyard bird lover.

13 comments:

mon@rch said...

Thanks and so far I have found this to be the best review of the camera! I think it is a little expensive for what you are getting for the quality of the pictures but would be an excellent tool for many of us bloggers who are always looking for creative pictures! Thanks for your report and can't wait to see what other pictures you get with this camera! Do you need to get it from the web or you able to get at certain stores?

Lynne said...

The ability to take night photos would be a great adition.

John said...

I like being able to get web-quality close-ups of birds without the need for a telephoto lens.

The laser aim does not seem to work on mine. It's not that big of an issue, though, since I just use a yardstick instead.

Patrick Belardo said...

John, be sure you are in the "setup mode" when you want to use the laser. It doesn't just turn on.

Monarch, thanks!

Lynne, I spoke with the folks from Wingscapes and they agree. I want a flying squirrel pic or something like that. No bears though! :)

drew said...

I think the greatest thing this camera could be used for is to monitor your hummingbird feeders to see if any stray Selasphorus hummingbirds show up. I have two feeders up and it really makes me wonder if any are coming to my feeder while I am at work.

drew @ Nemesis Bird

Patrick Belardo said...

Drew,

I did just that the other day. I have a pineapple sage blooming and I've been hoping for something to show up. I'll try it again tomorrow.

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

I have tested it too with similar results. I look forward to trying it out in cold temperatures since it is heat/motion activated.
Thank you the review!

BG said...

If you don't want to pay the cost of the BirdCam and you already have a camera that you can use with your computer (webcam, video camera, point and shoot) you can sort of make your own using software and your existing hardware.

The Mac software is very powerful, allowing you to set up regions where movement triggers the shutter among lots of other features.

EvoCam - For Macs
http://www.evological.com/evocam.html

WebcamXP - For Windows
http://www.webcamxp.com/

MAKE mag even has a little how to video explaining one way to do it:

http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2007/01/make_a_birdfeed_1.html

I used my existing Video camera, which has a 'webcam' mode. This was great because I could use the good quality 32x optical zoom of the video camera to get in close on my bird feeder even though my setup was pretty far away from the feeder and inside the house.

It really allowed me to inventory the birds that visit my feeder. Have a look at some of the birdie mug shots from my set up (the first 6 photos are from my birdie cam):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bgirardot/

You can also do lots of cool time lapse stuff with the software and I have lots of cool storm rolling in vids, flowers blooming, stuff melting and rotting, all with the EvoCam software and my old vid camera.

I use the EvoCam software, a 6 year old Mac laptop and inexpensive recent vid camera, both of which are battery operated so I can set it up in the field or wired as I do when home.

Katie said...

This may be an odd request but I am wondering about the security features of the BirdCam. I am interested in purchasing the camera for a citizen science project at a middle school and I am worried that the camera will get stolen.

Does it seem like there are ways to secure the camera?? Any ideas?

Also, thanks for the great review

Patrick Belardo said...

Hi Katie, it doesn't come with any "security features" per se. You could easily build some kind of a locked box to enclose it in.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, we are looking for a more sensitive cam for our duck boxes. For night photos, we have had great success with the StealthCam. It is not as good for extreme close up (rarely triggers) but we've photographed ducks and chicks swimming, beaver, bobcat, deer, elk, and lots of bears! Excellent quality, too. Which I could attach one here. Price is under 200. Flaw: it eats batteries because of the flash, but you can set it up with a big 9V. It also takes a memory card.

Muhammad Saeed said...

Yes of course the box is very touchy and shaky. Its beautiful!
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Zafran ali said...

I think it is a little expensive for what you are getting for the quality of the pictures but would be an excellent tool for many of us bloggers who are always looking for creative pictures!Thank,s for so nice sharing.
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