PRODUCT REVIEW

RCA’s ‘Small Wonder’ Makes Wonderful Videos

A friend of mine once told me he mourned the fading fortunes of point-and-shoot film cameras. It was a momentary lamentation induced by his wife’s struggles with her new digital camera.

Film is simple, he reasoned. You shoot your pictures. You take your film to the drugstore. You get your prints.

With digital imaging, you have to worry about uploads and downloads and memory cards and printers. Where’s the simplicity in that?

Drugstore Video

As complicated as digital photography may seem to some people, digital video is far worse, especially if you want your video to make it to DVD.

That problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year, for example, drugstore chain CVS, of Woonsocket, R.I., introduced a one-time use digital camcorder. You can shoot 30 minutes of video, drop the camera off at CVS, and a DVD of your footage will be returned to you in as soon as one hour.

The snag with a one-time use camcorder, though, is you’re essentially renting the camera for your video sessions. At $30 a pop, that can get pretty expensive.

Less Intimidating

If you’ve tried the CVS camera or find its point-shoot-burn approach alluring, then you’re going to love RCA’s Small Wonder EZ101 digital camcorder.

For about the price of four rentals — US$129 — RCA will essentially give you a reusable version of the CVS camcorder.

Although it’s a video camera, the Small Wonder looks like a point-and-shoot still camera. That design will be less intimidating to many folks who have struggled with a full sized camcorder with minimal success.

The unit — which measures about 4-by-2-by-0.8 inches — has a 1.5-inch color LCD on its dorsal side. The display is bright and sharp, although small by today’s standards.

There’s no optical view finder. That can pose a problem when shooting outdoors in direct sunlight.

Simple Controls

However, controls for the Small Wonder are the very model of simplicity.

There’s a diamond-shaped rocker dial below the LCD.

At its center is a red button. Press it to start recording. Press it again to stop recording.

Pressing the east-west points of the diamond moves you back and forth through the clips in the unit.

The north-south points on the diamond control the unit’s zoom.

To the left of the diamond is the play button and to the right, the delete button.

Southwest of the dial is the power button.

USB Sidecar

You can connect the unit to a PC or Macintosh computer through a USB connector that pops from the side of the camera with the flick of a slider bar.

The connector slips directly into a USB port. If your ports are cramped, RCA includes a USB extension lead to make linking easier.

The USB connector is also a “thumb” drive that contains the software for the camera. That makes the Small Wonder eminently portable. Wherever you are, if you’re near a Mac or a PC with a USB port, you don’t have to worry about lacking the software to transfer what’s in the camera into a computer.

Noisy but Nice

The software allows you to perform some basic functions with your video clips — save, delete, e-mail and make a movie.

With the e-mail function, the program will shrink a clip to a manageable size for that medium. The “make a movie” function is nothing more than a way to stitch several clips together.

While the video captured by the camera doesn’t compare with that taken with a tape-based camcorder, it’s better than what’s produced by its single-use brother.

There’s noticeable noise on the video when it’s played back on the TV, but this is only mildly distracting.

The camera has a slot on the top that enables it to be taken to an outlet like CVS and have its contents turned into a DVD. The more adventuresome can complete that process themselves on their own computer.

Sure, this RCA offering is no substitute for a conventional camcorder, but how many times have you left the house without a camcorder because you didn’t want to lug it around? With the Small Wonder, you never have to miss a video opportunity again due to camera fatigue.


John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at reviews@jpmello.com.


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