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04-05-2019, 10:08 AM - 18 Likes   #1
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A "Professional DSLR" for $26? - Full Review [bandwidth warning - many images]

A "Professional DSLR" for $26? - Full Review




Introduction

Photography can be an expensive hobby, and a significantly more expensive professional vocation - especially if you choose to shoot with the latest equipment. For hobbyists, a current entry-level camera body and a brace of decent auto-focusing lenses can cost $1,000+, while professionals need pockets that are many times deeper, with bodies alone costing upwards of $3,000 - and that's before high end glass is added.

It was with great excitement, then, that I learned of a recently-released "professional DSLR camera" with a typical online price of just $26 including shipping. Such a product, I realised, could level the playing field for photographers regardless of their available budgets.

At this early stage, the new camera - as yet unbranded, and with no definitive model designation - isn't available from major distributors, but can be readily acquired from internet auction sites.




Product Images






Specifications

The features and specifications given in various auction listings aren't entirely consistent, but the user guide helpfully lists the following:

(a) System Requirements

The Video Recorder is applicable to a PC with below conifgurations or above.

Windows XP/2000/ME/98 SE Operation system or above
Intel Pentium III 500Mhz CPU or above
Support USB 1.1 port or above
4xspeed CD-ROM or above
200M hard disc or above

(B) Features

Image sensor 16 Mega Pixels CMOS Sensor by interpolation
Video Clip 1080P (1920x1080) 30fps / 720P (1280x720P) 30fps by interpolation, VGA (640x480)
Build-in microphone Yes
Build in speaker Yes
PC camera VGA : QVGA 320 x 240
Build-in Memory: No
Storage Media SD (up to 32G), MMC, Support SDHC
Digital Zoom 16x Digital Zoom interpolation
File Format JPEG / AVI
LCD Display
PC Interface USB 2.0
Power Source 4 x AAA Batteries (DO Not included in the accessories)
Supported O/S Microsoft Window 98SE, ME, 2000, XP, VISTA

(C) The package shall contain all the accessories below, please contact your retailer if anything is missing or damaged. List of package contents

Video recorder
Usb cable
User manual

The above duplicates, but in some aspects differs from, the specifications given in various online auctions - one example of which reads:

Specifications and parameters of the CMOS sensor, up to 16 million pixels
Storage medium can be expanded to 32 gb SD card/HCSD card
Automatic sensitivity, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400
Lens fixed lens F / 3.2, F = 7.6 mm
1.2 m - infinity focus range
Static images jpeg/VGA, 1 m, 3 m, 5 m and 12 m, 16 m (interpolation)
Clips AVI 1080 p, 720 p VGA
16x digital zoom, zoom
Image stabilization function support
LED lighting lamp < 1.0 m range opening/closing
Automatic white balance/sun/cloudy/bulbs/fluorescent lamp
Exposure compensation - 2.0 + / 2.0
Take time off / 2 seconds / 5 seconds / 10 seconds
Computer usb interface (high speed)
Automatic shutdown 1/3/5/10 minutes
The built-in microphones
The speaker built-in
2.4 inch TFT - LCD LCD screen (230000 pixels, 4:3)
NTSC/PAL video output
Power lithium ion battery NP-5c
115 (long) X48 size (high) X50 (wide) mm
Weight about 220 g


Despite some question-marks over the notable differences between official and quoted specifications, it's clear this camera has an interesting feature set!

Testing reveals that the lens and sensor offers a field of view more-or-less equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm "full frame" camera, with a fixed aperture and focal distance that ensures everything is in acceptable focus. Whilst this may seem limiting, the simple technique of "zooming with your feet" works perfectly to increase and decrease the field of view. Furthermore, panoramic stitching of multiple frames - using free software such as Hugin - offers countless opportunities for wider angle captures, whilst selective use of blurring in post-production offers all the background and foreground blur any photographer might need. A simple and elegant solution, I'm sure you'll agree.


What's in the box

The cardboard retail box is reassuringly six-sided with a handy opening lid, emblazoned with clear images of the product and quoting a selection of its disputable features. Even at first glance, the buyer will be encouraged by the presentation.

The contents of the box are pleasingly minimalist... just the camera itself, pre-fitted with wrist strap and tethered lens cap, protected by an efficiently-thin bubble wrap, a USB cable in a clear plastic bag (I have seen none clearer in all my years of photography), and a comprehensive single-sheet English-language user guide.










Hobbyists and enthusiasts may be disappointed by the lack of additional accessories and materials provided, but professionals will undoubtedly appreciate the reduced clutter, confident that they have received exactly what they paid for and nothing more. Major manufacturers take note: There is no need to provide CDROMs, cables and documentation in every conceivable language. This increases the unit cost and is of little benefit to most buyers.

One notable omission from the kit is a battery. Contrary to the official specifications and online auctions which stipulate AAA and NP-5c lithium ion batteries respectively, the camera takes 4 x AA batteries. It would have been nice to receive a set of these as part of the retail package, but since they are inexpensive and widely available, it's not a problem. Excluding them was clearly intended to optimise unit cost and comply with international shipping regulations. Given the price of OEM battery packs for competing cameras, I believe the end user's interests were prioritised here.


Construction and Handling

This camera is constructed entirely from synthetic injection-moulded materials, with the exception of the strap lugs which are metal. It feels comfortable in the hand, with an extended grip area at the rear, and a textured thumb-rest. The shutter button and controls operate with a satisfying click which reverberates through the body to confirm successful operation. The flash button raises the LED "flash" via a sturdy spring mechanism. There is an internal microphone at the front of the camera, next to the lens, and a speaker at the top. A rubber door on one side of the body opens to reveal the SDHC card slot, USB interface and headphone socket. On the underside of the body we find a threaded tripod socket (made from the same sturdy material as the body, and the locking battery door, which is slightly fidly and stiff to operate, but closes and locks securely. The lens is protected by an integrated clear "filter". Sadly, there is no thread to allow fitting of additional filters, but judicious use of inexpensive duct tape allows filters of any size to be securely attached.

In contrast to the quoted dimensions, I measure the body to be approximately 118mm at its widest point, 86mm in height at its tallest, 56mm in depth (including grip), and 114mm from the lens cap to the screen. It weighs just 176g, and 272g with 4 x Energizer Max Plus batteries installed. Not dissimilar in size, then, to a Pentax K-70 plus standard kit zoom lens - but considerably lighter. This is a camera you can carry all day without breaking sweat.

Whilst there is no mention of weather resistance, it's my belief that the manufacturer has applied a "cost versus risk" approach. In the event of failure due to dust or moisture ingress, complete replacement of the unit would cost less than the shipping fees to return most other cameras for warranty service. As such, I conclude that the weather resistance capabilities are excellent, though implemented in an unconventional way. Thinking outside the box, one might say.


User Interface

The top panel of the camera hosts the power on / off, shutter, zoom in and zoom out buttons. The flash release / activation button is on the side of the flash housing. On the rear of the camera, to the right of the 2.4" LCD display, are the mode button, a four way control cluster with multiple functions, and an unmarked centrally-placed "OK" button.

When powering up the camera, the screen displays a "WELCOME" message, for which I am grateful - I am indeed made to feel most welcome for every shoot. When powering down, either using the power button or when the camera automatically switches off to save power, a "Goodbye" message is displayed. I feel this is somewhat final and abrupt. "Until next time!" or "Come back real soon, now, you hear?" might have been preferable, but perhaps screen real-estate dictates the brevity.

The camera defaults to stills shooting mode. Two others, video and playback, are supported. Each press of the mode button cycles between these three modes, and each has its own dedicated menus and on-screen information markers.


Stills mode

In stills mode, the "camera" icon is shown in the upper left corner of the display, with EV compensation, file quality, resolution and number of shots remaining shown along the top. In the lower left corner is the battery life indicator, and in the lower right, a status indicator to show whether an SD card is installed. Pressing the down button on the four way control cluster switches increases the EV compensation by one third of a stop between the +/-2.0 limits, looping round to -2.0 when the upper limit is exceeded. The up button selects the resolution, with each press reducing the resolution from 16M to 12M, 5M, 3M, 2M and 1M respectively, before looping back to 16M. The zoom in and out buttons reduce or increase the field of view accordingly, and the shutter button captures a shot. The right button on the four way cluster, marked for playback, switches into a limited playback mode showing the image last captured. From here, the up and down buttons will cycle through other captured images on the card.

The left button, marked "M", enters the menus. The shooting menu provides adjustments for resolution (16, 12, 5, 3, 2 and 1M), timed and burst shooting (single shot, 2 and 10 second timer, and 4 shot burst), file quality (super fine, fine, normal), Exposure (EV) compensation, and on / off selection for date and time labelling and format. The settings menu provides adjustments for date & time, auto power off time, screen saver time, sounds (shutter sound on / off and beep volume), language, display frequency (50/60Hz), card formatting, return to default settings, and firmware version display (v1.10 in this camera).

As a point of particular note, this DSLR constantly shoots in Live View mode, and there is no mirror to move out of the optical path when a shot is taken. Coupled with the fully-electronic shutter, this allows for near silent shooting if the shutter sound setting is disabled.


Video mode

In video mode, a video camera icon is showin in the upper left corner, with EV compensation, recordinging resolution and remaining recording time shown along the top. Battery and SD card indicators are also displayed.

Entering the menus, the shooting menu provides adjustments for resolution (1080P [1920x1080], 720P [1280x720] and VGA [640x480]), cyclic record (3, 5 and 10 mins) for looped recording, exposure (EV) compensation and date labelling. The settings menu is the same as for stills mode.

Videos are shot at 30fps.


Playback mode

On entering playback mode, pressing the right hand cluster button displays the last photo or video captured, along with the "play" icon in the upper left and the index number / total files in the upper right of the display. The up and down cluster buttons cycle up and down through the image and video files stored on the SD card. For video files, the first frame is displayed. Pressing the unmarked "OK" button in the centre of the cluster will start and pause playback.

There is just one menu for playback, providing functions to delete and lock files, and one to display thumbnails.


Overall, the modes menus are easy to navigate, and the user interface is straightforward, whilst offering a wide variety of settings.


Firmware Omissions and Bugs

Since the camera reviewed is an early model with v1.10 firmware, there are - unsurprisingly - a few minor omissions and bugs in firmware functionality:
  • stills resolution settings of 16, 12, 5 and 3M all produce images of 1280x960 resolution, while the 2M setting produces 640x480 images
  • 1M images are recorded incorrectly, resulting in corrupt files, locking up the camera on playback
  • video settings of 1080P and 720P produce videos of 1280x960 resolution (VGA correctly produces 640x480 files)
  • file quality settings of super fine, fine and normal all produce the same quality of files, with no change in recorded detail, compression or file size
  • the digital zoom function only works on the live view image, and not on the recorded images
  • metering is not yet (as the documentation would suggest) switchable between centre, matrix and spot (I suspect centre-weighted is used)
  • selectable in-camera playback effects for B&W, sepia and various colour styles (listed in the documentation) are not available

As you would expect, none of these issues seriously impacts use of the camera. Metering aside, all other limitations - resolution, field of view / magnification, file size, colour and monochrome effects - can be dealt with efficiently using free post-processing software such as GIMP. This requires the user to learn the post-processing software and techniques, but professionals will consider this to be "bread and butter" stuff, and by no means a barrier to successful shooting.

On one occasion during testing, my stills were recorded at just 320x240, for no obvious reason. A factory reset resolved this issue. Looking at the numbers and maths, those of a doubting nature might jump to the conslusion that 320x240 is the base resolution of the sensor, with the 640x480 and 1280x960 resolution images merely being scaled. However, I will let the images and video later in this review speak for themselves.

Lastly, the date & time labelling setting occasionally reset itself to the default of "On", as evidenced by a number of the test shots shown later in the review. This is a little frustrating, but if the user checks the settings before shooting (as any professional would), it isn't a problem. As an alternative, spot healing can be applied in post-processing to remove the overlayed information without significantly impacting the overall quality of an image.

Given the price and recent release of the camera, we can surely forgive these small inconveniences and be confident that firmware updates will address them in the very near future.


Drive Modes and Flash

The camera offers single shot, 2 and 10 second timed shot, and burst drive modes. The single and timed shot modes are self-explanatory, and work as you would expect. The burst mode takes four shots at approximately one second intervals, ideal for birds in flight, sports and other fast action scenarios. Some enthusiasts would wish for fast burst shooting, but this simply results in many near-identical shots. Here, the manufacturer cleverly ensures there will be enough difference between each captured scene by increasing the delay to around one second.

The "flash" is in fact a powerful LED light that switches on just before the shot is captured and switches off just after it. There is no recharge time, and the useful range is approximately one metre - more than ample for most situations, I think you'll agree. Unfortunately, off-camera flash is not supported... potentially a serious omission, were it not for the luminosity of the on-camera LED.


Focusing


Since the lens is of fixed focal length, aperture and focal distance, auto-focus simply isn't required. Let me repeat that for your due consideration... Auto-focus isn't required. As a result, there's no delay in focusing, no hunting, no continuous AF tracking inaccuracies, no AF fine adjustment to worry about, no noisy screw-drive or risk of sonic motor failure. It is impossible to over-state the benefits of such a system, and how liberating it can be to shoot. Critics will bemoan the lack of distance-specific focusing, but - once more - I ask them to reserve judgement until they have reviewed the sample images. Seeing is believing.


General Image Quality

And so to the part everyone has been waiting for...

This section of the review is, of course, limited slightly by the firmware omissions and bugs already disclosed - to wit, a maximum available resolution of 1280 x 960. Even so, this is more than enough resolution for the majority of applications, and future firmware updates can only improve upon the results obtained.

When I took my first test shots with the camera, I was pleased with the results when played back on the unforgiving 230k 2.4" LCD screen. But when I downloaded the images to my PC and viewed them in GIMP, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. White balance and colour accuracy are both admirably decent, but it's the rendering that - frankly - left me quite speechless. I have never before witnessed straight-out-of-camera images of this quality from any camera.

I did notice some very mild noise reduction, and perhaps a little sharpening too. But let us not forget that Pentax's current flagship full-frame camera, the K-1II, also uses such techniques in its processing chain.

The following shot, re-sized in GIMP to an optimal 320x240 but otherwise unedited, was taken on a sunny day in my garden:




And now, the same image at 100% pixel-peeping reproduction:




The combination of lens, sensor and in-camera processing have revealed and rendered aspects of this scene that I've not previously noticed in straight-out-of-camera files from any other camera.

This last image (shown first at 320x240, then full size) is cropped, scaled and sharpened in GIMP to provide a narrower field of view and significant magnification. Observe how this simple technique, combined with the sensor's native image resolution and clever in-camera processing, offer possibilities for much tighter and longer-range shooting without significant loss of image quality:






Unfortunately, the fixed focus lens proves limiting for macro photography, and more research is needed to improve close focusing (perhaps using lens attachments).


Video Quality

Again, limited slightly by current firmware, presented here is example video footage shot at maximum available resolution (I encourage readers to copy the video URL and view it in a separate browser tab, so it can be resized and assessed more closely):


As can be observed at the start of the video, there is very slight rolling shutter effect when quickly panning left and right, yet nothing that should dis-hearten the determined cinematographer. Note the effective image stabilisation and exposure compensation as light and contrast changes within the scene.


Photo Samples

The following photos are unedited, straight-out-of-camera images. First, shown at an optimal resolution of 320x240:




... and now, at 1280x960, 100% pixel-peeping reproduction:






















Conclusion

This camera represents a valiant effort to make professional photography accessible to all, regardless of budget. For this, the manufacturer must be applauded.

However... restrictions to resolution, metering options and exposure compensation in the early firmware, and the lack of off-camera flash control, mean that it doesn't quite compare with flagship professional DSLRs from the major manufacturers just yet. As a result, the photographer who chooses this camera for professional engagements will be something of a maverick, one who is ready to accept a few challenges in order to get the very best end results. His reward, though, will be the look on the face of his client when he presents the portfolio of his shoot...




Last edited by BigMackCam; 04-05-2019 at 01:43 PM.
04-05-2019, 10:17 AM - 2 Likes   #2
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I don't want to be brand bashing, but for $26 they have a better grip designer (nice copy of Canon grip?) than Sony.

---------- Post added 05-04-19 at 19:19 ----------

I like that "Camera" written in the lens cap. Is "Camera" the brand name of that camera model? the model name? or to indicate the user that the device is a camera in case he hasn't noticed?

---------- Post added 05-04-19 at 19:20 ----------

Nice image resolution, you can post directly on Pentax forum without downsizing.
04-05-2019, 10:20 AM - 2 Likes   #3
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Useless, too expensive and no 4k or flip screen.


(This was a fun read, thanks )
04-05-2019, 10:26 AM - 1 Like   #4
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It even has a red ring around the lens indicating the high quality of the lens!

04-05-2019, 10:28 AM - 1 Like   #5
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It's pretty good for 22.99. The packing itself cost money, so it must be hard to make a profit out of the camera itself.
04-05-2019, 10:30 AM   #6
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I hate to quibble, but doesn't DSLR mean digital single-lens reflex? The reflex (prism or mirror) seems to be missing, not to mention a viewfinder.
04-05-2019, 10:30 AM - 2 Likes   #7
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Is that a mirrorless DSLR?

---------- Post added 05-04-19 at 19:32 ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by pete-tarmigan Quote
not to mention a viewfinder.
no sure a viewfinder is needed. Just close one eye, and use the other eye to find the view!
04-05-2019, 10:35 AM - 3 Likes   #8
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I'm speechless. Such a well-presented review - well worth the wait. Congrats!

04-05-2019, 10:39 AM - 1 Like   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by pete-tarmigan Quote
I hate to quibble, but doesn't DSLR mean digital single-lens reflex? The reflex (prism or mirror) seems to be missing, not to mention a viewfinder.
QuoteOriginally posted by biz-engineer Quote
Is that a mirrorless DSLR?

---------- Post added 05-04-19 at 19:32 ----------


no sure a viewfinder is needed. Just close one eye, and use the other eye to find the view!
Right. The manufacturer appears to have taken the basic architecture of a DSLR and optimised it by removing the OVF and mirror. This reduces complexity and hence improves reliability. It also results in a significant weight reduction.

And, by utilising the large 2.4" LCD screen for all composition and playback, eye strain is reduced when compared to high-end mirrorless cameras where the EVF is often known to cause headaches and nausea...

Last edited by BigMackCam; 04-05-2019 at 01:53 PM.
04-05-2019, 10:45 AM - 3 Likes   #10
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Diffraction is a bitch.
04-05-2019, 10:52 AM - 1 Like   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by BigMackCam Quote
On the underside of the body we find a threaded tripod socket (made from the same sturdy material as the body
This is of concern I feel, as it could wear out.
The simple solution of course is to glue an L bracket in place. Unfortunately this doubles the cost and adds 50% to the weight of the Camera.

Those close crops have an image quality reminiscent of a post processed image in Topaz, is there some unofficial tie up here, did you engage an 'effect' from the menu?

Excellent write up and an Honest review too, especially with regards to the 'bugs'.

We are all indebted.
04-05-2019, 11:00 AM - 1 Like   #12
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Great write-up but I think you're about 4 days late on this one. Note the 16MP resolution (not to mention the video specs) is "interpolated" which means it could really have a native resolution of 0.5Mp.

I've seen the equivalent (fantastic specs and price) on video projectors which are basically junk but still, it's a wonder that something like this can actually be manufactured with a $25 tag. They must have had engineers volunteering free time just to cut the mold and pay the postage.
04-05-2019, 11:02 AM - 4 Likes   #13
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'The cardboard retail box is reassuringly six-sided with a handy opening lid'

That is absolutely brilliant. I love this review.
04-05-2019, 11:09 AM - 2 Likes   #14
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Astonishing; truly astonishing...


Rendition that Monet would have been proud of.
04-05-2019, 11:38 AM - 4 Likes   #15
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So... "Silver Award"?
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