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Title: Largan Digital Cameras
by  Robert Sanborn


Several years ago, I ran into this start up company on the Comdex floor pushing a line of very inexpensive cameras for consumers. At the time, there were very few cameras available in the sub $100 line and Largan, www.largan.com was out to crack that market with a unit that was very small, easy to use, and had very few parts or controls to learn or get confused with. With that effort, I could see a lot of promise in the low end market but felt that it fell too short. So this year, I have another Largan camera to look at, the Largan Chameleon Mega. 

First of all, this is still a low end camera targeted for the first time user on a budget. It is a 1.3 megapixel camera with 16MB of built in memory with no memory cards. Very small, (I have seen business card cases take up more room), and very lightweight. You can take almost 40+ pictures at the high resolution of 1280x1024, which is certainly suitable for making good quality small prints. It is a fixed focus camera with a macro mode, built in flash unit, and capable of capturing video clips and working as a web camera.  

It comes very professionally boxed and packaged like you would now expect from a mass-market low end camera. Everything in the package is well laid out and you first open up the quick start guide that takes you through some easy steps for setting up the camera and using it. For someone where this is their first camera, the directions are straightforward and easy to follow. The camera is a very slim and lightweight unit that measures just 3.5x2.3x.8 inches and weighs less than 3 ounces.  In the box you get the camera, wrist strap, vinyl carrying case, two AAA batteries, and two cables, one is a USB to TV cable, and the second is a USB cable with dual A connectors on it. (The A connector is the one that plugs into the USB Port on the computer.) The camera also comes with a really neat tiny tripod stand as well as the quick start guide, software CD, and a more detailed manual. What the Getting Started guide doesn’t tell you is to how to quickly start taking pictures. You can tell from looking at the camera where most of the main useable features like the power button, shutter release, viewfinder, and lens are. There is a macro mode switch on the side of the camera for close up pictures.  

You do have a lot of choices in pictures; normal mode is the high-resolution 1280x1024 mode and will capture quite a few images. Low resolution is 640x480. Jpg is the mode for the images and the compression must be set high as the box will tell you that you can capture up to 120 pictures in high-resolution mode. Taking pictures is pretty easy with the camera. The default is high-resolution mode with the automatic flash turned on. If you want to take a close-up, then hit the macro switch on the side of the camera to allow a close focus of up to 8 inches otherwise the camera will focus at 4 feet and beyond. If you do switch to macro mode, it automatically turns off the flash and you cannot turn it back on until you switch back to normal mode. You can turn the flash off if you like or even setup for a 10 second self-timer to get in your own picture if you like. You can even delete single pictures on the camera but I would not recommend it in normal photography mode, as you can’t tell what is good and what isn’t. What is handy is that you can sometimes guess how many remaining pictures are on the camera so if you are out taking pictures, you don’t run out unexpectedly, the selector button will give you the remaining percentage of camera memory available for pictures.  There is also the battery icon in the LCD panel to give you an indication of battery life. The other way you will notice the battery life getting shorter is that it takes quite a bit longer to recharge the flash battery after a picture. There are three blinking leds on the back of the camera, one to tell you if you are in macro mode, one to tell you it is writing an image to the camera, and the third to tell you that it is charging the flash unit. 

The camera is actually very easy to use and not at all difficult to hold. They have included ridges both in the back and front of the camera where your hand will hold it to give you a good feel for the camera and help your grip on what is otherwise a very smooth and sleek finish. While tiny, the view finder is bright and clear and easy to see through. 

Installing the software was very straightforward on my Windows XP Home test system. The software that comes bundled is from Arcsoft so if you already had the software loaded for another scanner or camera, you may find you don’t need it or it is an update to what you have. You have to take a look there. As with most drivers of this sort, you will have to reboot your computer for the changes to take effect. As they did a good job with the software installation, you can simply take all the defaults to install the software. Once that is done, just plug in the camera with the USB Cable that comes with it and your computer will find the camera, setup the twain drivers, and soon be ready to go. One quibble here is that the cable is not a standard USB Cable that you find everywhere. In fact, I figure, that if Belkin doesn’t carry it, then it will be difficult to find if you need to replace it. I realize the camera is very thin but I think they might have been able to accommodate the standard USB connector, maybe they couldn’t. The Arcsoft Photo Impression software is becoming a very common package and in fact, I see it is now installed with many of the Epson scanners. It is a pretty good package as far as bundled software goes. You may need to browse the help files to get going but if you have used other photo imaging software before, you should be ok in getting started very quickly with it. This software also has all the usual capabilities you would expect to edit the photo and as I said, once you get used to it, it is not bad at all. You can choose to just load the Chameleon’s basic software for downloading images from the camera to your computer and then using your own software to work with the images. 

Now that I have taken a bunch of pictures, I had a chance to look them over. My recommendation to do that once you have downloaded them to your computer is to go into your “My Pictures” folder if you are using Windows XP and to open up one of the pictures by double clicking on it. What it does is open it in Microsoft Windows Picture and Fax Viewer application and it is an easy way to just browse through the pictures. The good news about downloading them via USB is that it takes the power from the USB port to power the camera so you are not using your batteries when you keep it connected to the computer. In my first impressions using the camera and studying the pictures, I see that it does not do a good job in handling wide ranges in contrast. This is especially true of outdoor pictures in bright daylight. Stick to the shadows or stick to the sunny areas but don’t try to combine them. The camera doesn’t handle bright spots very well. The flash range is also fairly weak and doesn’t compensate very well for the un-natural yellow cast by incandescent light bulbs as well on pictures taken indoors. Since you have no way of knowing what shutter speeds are being used in a photograph, I suspect it uses a lower speed indoors and uses the flash as a fill flash rather than for main lighting. Of course, remember we are using two AAA batteries to power both the camera and flash, but what I found after taking a bunch of pictures indoors at night is that I had a very yellow and orange cast on many of the pictures. Stick with natural lighting pictures preferably outdoors. And in fact, for those natural type pictures that I took outdoors, I was very pleased with some of the results I got. One of the good things about the camera is that because it has no LCD preview screen, you will get quite a bit of life out of the batteries.  Having taken several hundred pictures with the camera, and many with flash, the batteries still keep going just fine and I am still on the first set. 

Because it has no way of telling you what the shutter speeds will be, you need to be careful when taking your pictures. It is a very lightweight camera so that it is easy to let it shake when taking pictures. You need to be aware of this when taking pictures in lower light settings and when the flash doesn’t go off. Another problem spot is using the macro mode. It is preset at 8 inches and so if you want to take some close ups, take a bunch to make sure you get a good one. You also need to watch out for the contrast and if it is too much, you will have exposure problems. The camera focuses in standard mode at 4 feet and beyond so if you are doing close ups, watch that fuzzy area between 8 inches and 4 feet.  It also turns off the flash in macro mode so be sure you have enough light for the pictures otherwise the shutter speed will be too low and your pictures will not be in focus. 

What separates this camera from many others are the video and continuous modes it can take pictures. One mode is called “Continuous Snapshot” and what it does is to take 16 pictures at 4 images per second. You can save them as jpg files or in an avi format. This is good to capture action shots as they happen.  Another feature is that you can capture video clips with the camera. As with normal images, the contrast and the lighting need to be excellent otherwise the images will not look very good. So stick with a camcorder. Same holds true for the pc camera mode where you connect it to the computer and use it like a pc video camera. The lighting near my test system is not what you would call great and so the images captured from the camera were not all that good but the image did look pretty sharp so from that standpoint, the camera did ok. Again, one of the problems was the color balancing was just not quite right. 

One feature of the camera that I did not at all try is the ability to plug it into your television set and use the set to either preview the pictures on the camera, or to preview your video clips from the camera. You can also take pictures and instantly see them as you take them on your TV screen.  

The Photoimpression software from Arcsoft is not all that bad though when I was trying to transfer images to my computer, an AMD Athlon 800, it did crash the program several times and in looking over Largan’s web site, I see where they have a fix for the problem I was having with virtual memory. With all the changes in software and operating systems, it is best to check the “read.me” files and look for updates. They do have a good support page that lists their phone number and has the manual that you can download.  If you don’t care for the Arcsoft software, you can always use your own like JASC Aftershot or Adobe Photoshop Elements as the software has a standard twain driver installed. 

So, is this a good deal, well, hard to tell sometimes. This is a very feature rich camera and if you look around, can be had for around $109 at places like www.cameraoutlet.com or for $149 directly from Largan and Dell Computer. It must be good if Dell carries it. However, when looking around, I find that Logitech has a Clicksmart 420 camera for $100 and has video, web camera and digital camera capabilities, and OfficeMax carries a true no name Cintar 2 Megapixel camera for $99 built with a zoom and LCD screen to view your pictures. The good news is that there are choices out there to keep your expenses low if you really want a digital camera in the $100 range. If you learn to work within the limitations of the camera, I think that the Largan would not be a bad choice. 

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Robert Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant and a contributing editor for the Indy PC News. Reach him through the net at indypcnews@indy.rr.com

Last Update:06/26/2007

 

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