Snap Spectacles: A Part-Time Photographer's Review
You know that feeling when you wake up on Christmas morning and know you're getting something awesome? Well, I don't, but I imagine this is what it feels like: Today is the day that my Spectacles arrived.
Snap Inc, Snapchat's parent company, rolled out a public release of their first-ever camera, mononymously called Spectacles. A hardware extension of Snapchat, its intention is to take short, hands-free video clips to be synced directly to Snapchat.
So why buy Spectacles over the multitude of other consumer-ready wearable cameras? Well, in the 9 or so hours that I've had them in my possession, here's my main takeaways:
- It's not going to fit over your prescription glasses. Sorry, visually-challenged snappers.
- Its construction is sturdy, and while it doesn't meet my sophisticated fashion needs (despite what you may think, I'm actually not very savvy in that department 😂)
- Clips can be edited in post using the standard Snapchat filters.
- The aspect ratio (circular) takes some getting used to. Typically I shoot with my right eye to the eye piece (on a DSLR) with a 4:3 or 3:2 rectangular aspect.
- You can record 10-, 20-, or 30-second clips, and it doesn't support still photos at present.
- Audio is single-channel, so don't expect dynamic soundscapes.
- Surprisingly, it captures in PAL (with no option to change it), which seems odd for a US product. NTSC is the standard in the US and Canada (among others), while PAL is the predominant video encoding throughout the rest of the world. At first glance, the color isn't noticeably different.
Having amassed a small collection of... small cameras, I thought it would be pertinent to compare Spectacles to some of the other consumer cameras in my possession. Let's dive in:
For starters, here's the control: A 10-second, "HD" video taken through Spectacles. Taken in midday lighting outdoors, this should be a solid representation of the video quality.
You may notice the heavy, white letterboxing surrounding the video. This is first-gen tech, and this solution to something that's never been done before is acceptable. Also, full disclosure: moving forward, I'll be comparing the still image quality of three other cameras to a video still from Specs. This typically isn't a fair comparison, and it's worth acknowledging.
Also, all of the images have been lightly compressed for the web. No other images adjustments have been made (so please kindly look past the horizon lines!).
In the control, one thing that stands out to me (other than my unrealistically-patient wife or the random article of children's clothing that was in our test area) is the appropriately-wide 115º field of view. The idea behind the wide, circular aspect ratio was to more-closely represent how humans see — so far so good.
While Snap hasn't released much of the camera's specs, what I do know is that we're looking at a circular video inside a 1088 x 1088px frame, notably with a PAL color profile.
Looking at the same scene from a GoPro Hero 4 Silver Edition, the buildings in the background appear narrower thanks to its 170º field of view. Looking at Caity's skin and jacket, the colors look a little truer in this image, while they look slightly boosted in the control.
For the nerds: ISO 100, f/2.8, 3mm
I don't think I've read one review yet that hasn't compared Spectacles to Google Glass, so it wouldn't be a complete review without testing Google's last effort in this space.
The immediate difference between this image and the previous two is the much-tighter field of view. You'll notice that you really can't see either of the buildings in the background, but Caity (as the subject) is much more evident.
The image quality itself really isn't great considering it was a pretty ideal time of day for direct light — it's pretty grainy, the clarity looks enhanced (look for a white halo around Caity's right arm), and the shadows are darker.
For the nerds: ISO 68, f/2.5, 2.95mm
Lastly, my trust old iPhone. This photo seems to be the most-realistic of them all, but that could just be because I'm exposed to these images the most. Nothing looks overly adjusted, the quality is great, and the colors and shadows look true-to-life. The one standout difference between this and the others is that the focal length is much longer than the others, so we see much less of background than any other photo so far.
One other interesting detail is that while digging through the EXIF data, this image has a pretty wild 9.6 EV (exposure), which was done automatically in-camera.
For the nerds: ISO 20, f/1.8, 28mm
There you have it, folks — a fair-enough comparison by a part-time photographer between a handful of cameras in the portability space. No one's looking at any of these to be the next RED cinema camera, but each has their own strengths.
Having spent some more time with Spectacles, I have to say, I'm really impressed with this first attempt from Snap. I look forward to future firmware updates to improve image quality, and definitely software improvements to Snapchat as more users adopt Specs.
PS: If this article did anything for you, I'd love it if you shared it with someone who you think might benefit from it!
PPS: I'm "danschenker" on Snapchat! Feel free to add me if you're curious to see more results from Spectacles.
PPPS: I can't be the only one who thought the case looked like a chameleon. Please enjoy my best drawing efforts.