Top critical review
19 people found this helpful
A bit disappointing
on March 10, 2014
Some have written reviews, asking for more information on this little camera. In keeping with that request, here are the good and bad on the little Bell & Howell IR camera.
The camera itself is attractive, comes with a small pouch to put it in, as well as USB and other cables for connectivity to your computer, TV, etc. They supply one battery with the camera, and a charger. The battery has to remain in the camera for charging. The battery is a very compact Lithium Ion, 3.7 volts and hardly weighs anything in your hand.
The camera has a decent swing open viewfinder that when opened will automatically power up the camera, producing a Bell & Howell startup screen. It's a simple touch-screen, and seemed to work just fine, although it absorbs fingerprints quite easily. In the manual, it mentions using a fingernail.
There is a built-in lens cover, actuated by a flip-swtch on the side of the lens. There is NO manual focus knob or thumbscrew anywhere on the camera. On top of the lens is a speaker grill. There are two tiny dots on the front side of the video touchscreen, that when you have it open are supposed to be microphones. An odd placement for them, and I tried to rotate the camera to see if it picked up two channels of audio, but it sounded mono to me. The manual doesn't elaborate, but after testing it sounded quite tinny. No low end, so I don't know how this camera would perform if you were trying to record a musical event. In comparison, the GoPro Hero 3+ produces excellent audio and is half the size of the Bell & Howell camera, although the Hero 3+ doesn't have a zoom lens.
The camera uses either an SD memory card or a miniature card -- either singularly or at the same time. There is a limit of 32GB, and I guess that they mean per card. The card slot(s) is on the bottom of the camera, and has a flip-open cover which worked fine. There is also a standard tripod mounting hole on the bottom of the camera as well as a rear battery release tab. The covers for the cards as well as the access ports were plastic and worked well, and there were no rubbery covers to fall off like some cameras use.
On the inside, once you open the viewfinder, is a port for a mini HDMI cable as well as a USB 2,0 cable. The USB port also is used for charging the battery, as well as downloading your pictures or video to your computer. A red light comes on while the battery is charging, and goes out once it's done. The manufacturer recommends a 4 hr charge on a new battery, first time around.
There are multiple menus on this camera and they are controlled via the touchscreen as well as a four-way button inside. Two more buttons at the top of the side of the camera are simply for power and video vs playback modes. There is also another mode button near the top of the camera close to the zoom control, for selecting video or still photos. The zoom is noted as 10X, and there is digital zoom, which I wouldn't recommend using.
The 1/3 inch CCD chip is 5 mega pixels. Nothing to write home about, but not terrible. (Most cell phones are at least 8MP nowadays). It did have a tendency to flatten whites, like clouds, which lost their detail in my shot. The camera boasts of its infrared capability, but the manual barely mentions it at all, and not much explanation is given on how it works or how to use it. It is not like Sony's former "Night Shot" mode where the images turn green and you can see in the dark. The camera has two LED lights on the front. One of them is white and is useful to add light to your shots. The other is red and illuminates in IR mode, an infrared light that doesn't light up the area like visible light does, so you won't startle animals or people that you'd like to film in the dark. Beyond that, you're on your own. Good luck.
The manual says that either light is optimized for 1 meter from the camera, so that means that both lights are quite wimpy, but I would say that they reach further than the manual says they do, but not a great deal further. So, does that mean the camera can "see" Infrared light all the time, or only when the LED is on? Is IR filtered out in normal mode? Could you see infrared objects emitting light at night without the IR light on? Not much help at all in any description of this as it is ignored in the manual -- surprising since this is one of the camera's selling features and is also printed on the side of the camera!
The pdf manual is very basic in the specifications. For example, there is no indication what mode your video is saved in. It is compatible with Windows or Mac, but the editing software that comes with it is not Mac compatible. The movies play on Mac without a problem. This is probably because the files come up as .mov which is a good thing, compressed in h.264 mode at 1920 X 1080, making it compatible with YouTube video as well. You can select NTSC or PAL. The audio comes up as DVI ADPCM. I don't know what sample rate since none is specified. I had to get info on the video on my computer, just to know what format the camera shot in. It should have been in the specs page, but only the resolution was noted.
There is an AF (auto focus) mode that is pretty much worthless. This is the camera's Achilles heel. At night, say you'd just like to take a simple shot of the moon -- the camera is incapable of doing it. The whole time, the auto focus is searching back and forth, making any night shot of that type impossible. I let it stay on the moon for several minutes, and it could never find the focus. I also tried reducing the exposure setting, and it made no difference. However, with the camera running in IR mode indoors, it did find focus on dimly lit buildings and such. I guess it all depends on the situation, the available contrast, etc., but a simple manually operated focus knob would have made this camera far more useable. If you have a camera equipped with night shooting mode, then one would expect you to be able to shoot the night sky with interesting results. It's not possible for this camera to work that way.
So, we have an HD camcorder here that fails to really excel in any area. It is small, lightweight, and looks good in your hand. It's sound is poor to mediocre at best, and the video doesn't come close to video shot on an iPhone. There are manual audio controls for sound via the touch screen, but no headphone jack to hear what you're shooting. In short, the camera is like so many others in this price range, but doesn't measure up to some of the others that are similarly priced, like the JVC or Sony or Canon camcorders that have enhanced light options, but don't say anything about their IR capabilities, which it seems none of the cameras actually have anymore.
My hopes for the Bell & Howell camera were because I was trying to find a camera with IR, and this one failed to meet my expectations. Without a decent IR mode, there was no reason to buy this camera that can't hold its focus. It's going back.