The Autographer: A New Take on the Concept of Photography
Are you ready for a wearable, hands-off photo device that automatically tracks your journey through time and space?
The Autographer, a creation of the Oxford Metrics Group (OMG) of the U.K., is essentially a wearable, 5-megapixel, ultra-compact, self-controlled camera with a wide-angle, semi-fisheye lens that you hang around your neck using the included clip-on lanyard, or slip into a shirt pocket using the hefty built-in spring-loaded clip. You turn it on and let it take pictures automatically without user intervention as you go about your business. The discreet Autographer is claimed to be, with some justification, the first “intelligent” device of its kind, because it incorporates five distinct sensors that automatically determine opportune times to take a photo based on changes in their readings. The primary sensor detects variations in color and brightness, a magnetometer (compass) sensor determines the direction in which the camera is facing, a PIR motion detector senses moving objects using infrared, and a thermometer measures ambient temperatures. There’s also a built-in GPS module that tracks the device’s location and records location data (along with the shutter speed in use) in the data attached to each image, and displays the camera’s successive locations as points on a tracking map whenever this information is accessible. The fixed-focus 3mm f/3.2 all-glass hybrid lens provides a 136-degree angle of view and records images as square-format JPEGs. Depth of field is virtually unlimited, extending from less than 1 foot to infinity, based on my results.
Setting up the Autographer is pretty straightforward. To charge the internal battery, simply plug the Micro USB end of the supplied cord into the matching port on the Autographer and plug the larger end into your computer’s standard USB port. There is no removable memory card, but the device’s 8GB of internal memory can record up to a claimed 27,000 images, for up to 12 hours of continuous use. I cannot confirm these maximum figures, but I was able to shoot for up to 5 hours and record more than 5,000 images during one session. There was still plenty of battery power left, according to the percentage readout on the cleverly concealed stealth OLED screen in its front panel, next to the sensor dome, which reads out in blue characters. The next step is turning the front bezel on the built-in rotating lens cover clockwise to expose the lens, and pressing and holding in the Action button until the word AUTOGRAPHER scrolls across the LCD in blue to indicate the Autographer is on. Pressing the Menu button will let you scroll through the readouts, which include percentage of power used and remaining, the capture-rate setting, Power Off/On, GPS Off/On, and Signal Access Status, Sound On/Off, and Blink On/Off. Press the Action button to change and wait a second or two until the settings you selected are input.
"Autographer is claimed to be, with some justification, the first “intelligent” device of its kind, because it incorporates five distinct sensors..."
The default capture settings are: Capture Rate, medium (up to 240 images per hour); Bluetooth Off; GPS On; Sounds On; and Blink On. I switched the Bluetooth setting to On for syncing the Autographer with my iPhone 5, upped the capture rate to High (up to 360 images per hour), turned the Sound off (it's a low beep at the start and end of a nine-frame shooting sequence), and left the Blink on (a discreet blue circle that flashes on the LCD whenever a shot is taken). Incidentally, that nine-frame Sequence mode, which you activate by pressing the Action button, is the only way you can take pictures more or less at will, albeit without a viewfinder or controlling the precise instant of capture—there is no conventional shutter release that lets you take a single shot exactly when you'd like.
While you can view images captured and saved, or uploaded as file folders in the Autographer’s memory by simply plugging the unit in and opening up the Autographer icon on your desktop, to get the most out of this unique device you must download the free Autographer app to your computer and pair the device with your smartphone using its Smartphone app and Bluetooth connectivity feature. This makes it easy to share stored images with friends and family via social media, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the Autographer Cloud, all of which are supported on the iOS and forthcoming Android Autographer Smartphone apps. You can do considerably more using the Mac and Windows computer apps, which not only let you select and send individual images and groups of images, but also create stop-action movies of sequential groups of images.
The Autographer makes it easy to share stored images with friends and family via social media.
Click the Share icon at the bottom of the Autographer screen on your computer and you can post images on any activated social media sites on the display list. Click the Cinema and Create icons, and you can create stop-motion movies, select the movie or animated GIF file format, vary the resolution, set the viewing interval between successive cinematic frames, and save them as files that you can post or e-mail. These apps also let you select, view, and send images taken on a specific day or taken at or near a specified GPS location. Aside from its five-sensor intelligent design, it is this extensive range of creative and sharing options offered by the Autographer support system that differentiates it from other wearable cameras.
What the Autographer really does is to create an automatic point of view to document the wearer’s movement through time and space, and it does so by surrendering the two primary control elements in conventional photography, namely, what will appear in the frame (that is, composing the picture) and precisely when the picture will be taken. Granted, it’s fun to capture and review a visual record of where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing (such as driving your car, attending a family event, or visiting the playground with your kids), and it’s cool to be able to select and share portions of this running narrative via social media, e-mail, etc., but is this really photography? I would answer in the affirmative because the Autographer user edits the images, can create stop-action movies, and even select which frames appear in these movies and the rates and resolution at which they are presented. And, of course, only you decide whether or when to send images to friends, save them in your personal collection, or delete them entirely.
A Day in the Life
While shooting, the Autographer is pretty straightforward and easy; the printed instructions that come with it are minimal and not entirely adequate. To really get off on the right foot, you’ve got to go to the Autographer site and view the tutorials, and it definitely helps to go on the Autographer chat site to ask questions and get ideas. The folks at the customer help number (which has a New York City area code, but actually connects you to a live human being in London, England) were very polite and helpful and took the time to walk me through a number of complex questions. Following are some of the key things I learned in the course of my research and field test.
"...Autographer is not so much a camera per se as an experience—one that takes you several steps beyond conventional photography."
- When you download images from the Autographer to the desktop app, it’s generally best to select the “delete from Autographer” option so they don't continue to take up space on the unit’s 8GB memory. However, only images still stored in the Autographer’s memory can be shared through social media sites via the cell phone app, so if that’s what you want to do, make sure to send them first and delete them later.
- How you wear and position the Autographer on your person is very important because it determines what will be recorded. The first time I took a motorcycle ride with the Autographer I hung it too low on the lanyard and the bag attached atop my bike’s gas tank dominated the bottom half of each picture. The next time I moved it up a few inches with much better results. Foregoing the lanyard and clipping the Autographer to a shirt pocket will prevent it from swinging around as you move, which can possibly lead to blurry pictures, but it may give you an off-center perspective especially since most peoples’ chest contours will cause it to point toward the left or right. The message: Experiment until you get what you want. Many experienced Autographers clip the unit at the center of an accessory strap running laterally across the chest.
- In general, the Autographer is capable of capturing satisfyingly sharp, well-exposed images—not a match for a DSLR or a high-end point-and-shoot, but quite decent, considering the unit’s form factor and 5MP resolution. However, the highlights are occasionally blown out when shooting in high-contrast situations outdoors, so there are limits to the abilities of its auto-exposure system. Also, camera movement at slow shutter speeds results in a fair percentage of blurry images when shooting indoors in low light, especially when using the lanyard rather than the pocket clip. The Autographer’s “low-light color sensor” is perfectly capable of capturing sharp images in average indoor lighting conditions if the wearer and the subjects are reasonably stationary, but in really low light where shots are taken at shutter speeds as slow as 1/13-second, your sharp-image shooting percentage will likely decrease.
- While part of the real joy of using the Autographer is to “forget” you’re wearing and experience the surprise and delight of capturing images that are cool, funny, and somewhat unexpected, it’s sometimes better to be aware of its presence so you can take corrective action, such as getting up from your seat to capture a view of what’s really happening at the dinner table, or even holding it and pointing it downward as you peer into the baby carriage. While Autography was designed to be a semi-controlled medium at best, it’s sometimes better to improve your chances.
Judged strictly as a camera, the Autographer Wearable Digital Camera is reasonably competent but rather narrow in focus when poised purely as an imaging device. However, the Autographer is not so much a camera per se as an experience—one that takes you several steps beyond conventional photography. And while it has been described as a brilliant “proof of concept,” it is also a really fun gizmo that, despite its shortcomings, will undoubtedly delight most of the early adapters who acquire it. It’s an absolutely unique product that’s a blast to use, celebrates the quirky randomness of our lives, and adds a new dimension to sharing our personal narratives.
|Image Sensor||5MP low-light image sensor|
|Lens||3mm f/3.2 glass lens (136° angle of view)|
|Built-In Memory||8GB (stores up to 27,000 images)|
|Capture Modes||Fully automatic: high/medium/low frequency
Manual image capture button
|Sensors||Accelerometer, magnetometer, light, movement, temperature|
|GPS||Built-in GPS module|
|Connectivity||Micro USB, Bluetooth|
|Power Source||Internal rechargeable battery pack (12 hours continuous operation)|
|Software System Requirements||Mac OS X 10.6 or later, Windows 7 and 8
iOS and Android smartphone apps
|Dimensions||1.5 x 3.8 x 0.9" / 37.4 x 95.5 x 22.9mm (with lanyard ring)|
|Weight||2 oz / 58 g|