RISC World

Digital Cameras

Paul Johnson

It's small, it's powerful and it weights less quite a number of mobile phones - best yet, it takes pictures. It must be the Trust FamilyC@m 310AV!

The Trust FamilyC@m 310AV

The 310AV is quite a neat little camera. For it's price, it comes with a range of facilities which you'd expect on cameras costing much more. For example video recording, audio recording and a self timer. Of course, it comes with all the most important features of a digital camera, the ability to take clean crisp pictures simply and of course the ease of getting the photos into your computer.

What do you get then?

A mini tripod, strap, USB cable, instructions, installation CD and 2 batteries are supplied with the camera. The instructions are quick and clear so the learning curve isn't steep. The design of the camera is quite fun - the viewfinder is at 90 degrees to the camera. This is actually a very comfortable design feature (most people have to turn their heads to use a camera as their noses get in the way, especially on SLRs).

There is however one major snag. You can only use the camera software under Windows. The website does not have a driver for Linux and the gPhoto application cannot cope with it either. This does mean one thing, without a linux driver, it's unlikely that there will be a RISC OS driver either (though we will shortly have USB on a podule from both Castle and Simtec). There is no support (that I can see) for it's use on Apple machines either. Surely, this is a mistake?

The camera

It can take a staggering 2000 pictures at a resolution of 0.3 Mpix. This is down to it having 16Mb of memory on board. The video recording is at 10 frames per second giving a total recording time of just over 3 minutes. For plain audio recording, you get 31 minutes of high quality audio. It has a hardware resolution of 640 x480. The lens focus is fixed, but does have a macro focus and can go down to 50 lux (1 lux is roughly the light you get from a normal wax candle) for light. A nice little touch is that you have a mirror on the front so you are able to see what you get when you do a self timed picture.

The Windows software provided is extensive in scope (Webcam, video studio, photoexpress, NetMeeting and VideoLive mail).

Fixed or variable focus

For those who don't understand what is meant by these terms, here's an overview.

When you used to get the cheap 35mm cameras from Jessops (or any other camera retailer) they would be split into three groups. True autofocus, stage focus and fixed focus. .

The camera lens would be motor driven (usually) for autofocus. This would give the highest quality results, but was expensive. With the expence, you did get quality (pictures could be enlarged up to the quality of the film and picture).

Stage focus would mean that for a number of focal ranges (distance between you and the camera) the camera would be in focus by either moving the lens or by having the lens constructed like bifocal glasses. In between these stages, the picture would still be okay. The more stages, the better. Pictures taken with staged cameras would not always be able to be enlarged to the same extent as the auto focus camera, especially at the lower end of the price market.

Fixed focus means that the lens focus is fixed. Before that the picture will become progressively blurred, after that, the picture would be less well resolved. These were usually the cheapest cameras of the lot and unless you were spot on (or within a few meters) of the optimum distance (usually about 2 - 3 meters from the camera lens) then it was ill-advised to have prints over 8 x 6 inches without large losses of overall photo quality. Overall though, the lens quality for fixed focus cameras tended to be better than stage focus with some in the higher end bracket being better than some of the true autofocus cameras!

Thankfully, as lens technology has increased, the difference between the fixed focus and staged focus cameras has lessened. With digital cameras, the camera is able to "make up" for the camera picture quality - software advances make up for the rest. This is one reason why even cheap digital cameras are fine for most applications.

Other than the software only being useable on Windows machines (and only 98SE or later due to the USB interface), my only other niggle with the camera is the lack of a flash. Given though it can be used as a webcam, it's low light handling is acceptable.

Picture formats

Pictures are saved out as jpegs. No problems there. These are either in 640 x 480 (high res) or 320 x 256 (low res).

A "high res" photo

Video is saved in AVI format. This present a problem for RISC OS users, especially as MovieFS is no longer available (and besides, it won't work under MovieFS as it doesn't have the correct codec) and Replay3 is still in waiting. All AVI files are in 320 x 256.

Audio as WAVs. There are plenty of RISC OS WAV players out there. WAVs produced are mono, but at 44100Hz, so if you wanted to, you could get them to burn onto CD via SoundCon and then CDBurn.

A nice touch of the provided software is that the JPEGs can be converted into AVI files, so you can have a slideshow if you so wanted.

As a webcam

You can use the FamilyC@m as a webcam if you want as either a live stream or as a static picture taker. Unfortunately, when I tested the live stream facility I did find a problem - the light sensors are not very good. They're fine for differentiating between high lighting conditions, but there is a decided jump between normal and low light. That said, it is a very good webcam.


Good points :

  • Price - 89 UKP, a cheap, cheerful camera packed with facilities .
  • Weight - it fits nicely into your pocket and has an auto power off .
  • Design - it's great for adults and young kids .
  • Easy to learn - this is really a small curve.
  • Bundled software - very comprehensive and of a high quality .
  • The absolutely massive memory!
  • The mirror is a good touch when taking self portraits .
  • Ability to shoot moving images and record sound.

Bad points :

  • No way to see what you've taken until you upload.
  • Trust only support Windows. Unless you have a PC with VirtualA5000 (or access to one) it's not of much use. There are no drivers for Linux or MacOS either.
  • No flash.
  • The distance selector on the lens is too easy to move causing problems .
  • The light sensors are not that good at low light.

I have included on the CD this month some of what can be achieved with the camera. This is a warts and all collection. If you have a PC or Mac you can view the AVI files and see that the camera copes well with movement (the child running towards the camera is a very good example).

Paul Johnson