Articles - Key-chain Video Camera
10/13/2012
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I have always enjoyed those in-layout videos that some of the larger scales enjoy. I finally stumbled across a high-quality digital video recorder that was compact. These are the so-called "808 key chain video cameras". They are very popular in the radio-control hobby, specifically R/C airplanes, helicopters, and even rockets. The entire camera is about the size of a small car alarm/door lock/unlock device. These are manufactured in China (of course!). You primarily get them on eBay. You can buy them directly from Chinese individuals in Hong Kong for a bit cheaper, but you'll have to deal with non-English speaking sellers, shipping delays, and customs. I preferred to pay a little more and buy it from someone in the U.S. It is the same Chinese product; you just get it within a week and without hassles. These little cameras have quite a following. There have been several releases and versions of this camera. Some versions fix problems discovered in previous versions, and some add new capabilities. I bought version "#16". The previous version that got rave reviews was version #11 (note that version #12 is not necessarily better than #11; be sure to read the reviews). Version #16 is the latest that adds high-definition (HD: 1280x720) recording abilities. This version also adds three different lenses for standard ("A"), wide ("B"), and extra-wide ("D") angle view. I bought the "B" one, because the "D" one distorts the view too much for what I intend to do with this camera. The photo below shows what you get. To keep the cost down, everything is bare-bones. You do not get a fancy box (that you throw in the trash anyway). You get a padded envelope with a piece of Velcro®, a keychain ring, a USB cable, and the camera itself. The camera has a rechargeable battery built-in (which is user-replaceable), so you use the USB port of your computer to charge the battery (the first thing you do when you get the camera). Please be aware that there are fakes out there. Expect to pay around $20 for one shipping from Hong Kong and around $48 for one from the U.S. If the price is significantly lower, you are getting a version that may be labeled #11 or #16, but you are getting a cheap fake that has lower resolution video or has some other problems. Buy from someone with a good eBay rating.
Key-chain Video Camera
The camera itself comes with no manual or diagram. However, there is plenty of documentation online about this camera, so it is easy to download the latest information (see References below). There is even a Windows software application (free) that you can download, install, and use to configure the options for the camera (such as which resolution to use for the recording). You must be able to explicitly follow written instructions in order to correctly upgrade and configure this camera. It is not difficult, but you must dedicate some uninterruptible time for this. The camera itself has no memory. You need to supply your own microSD card. The recommendation is to use a "class 4" (relates to the recording speed of the card, but it is older technology, so it is harder to find), and the card cannot be larger than 32GB. The new microSDXC and 64GB cards will not work on the camera, and some people have even reported that the camera corrupts the card so that it becomes useless. I bought a PNY 16GB class 10 card and it appears to work just fine (there a number of class 10 cards that don't work according to reports).
Key-chain Video Camera
I also bought the cable, shown below, from a different eBay seller. These are specially made to hard-wire the camera to an external power source. The primary purpose is to replace the internal rechargeable battery with one end of the cable, and plug the other end into a separate battery supply onboard an R/C airplane. I don't have a need for it right away, but technology changes quickly, so if I were to ever want to permanently mount the camera inside an engine, for example, this cable will help me replace the battery with a permanent power source, such as filtered rail pick-up power. And, of course, by the time I get around to doing that, this cable would no longer be available. It doesn't cost but a few dollars, so it is no big deal.
Key-chain Video Camera
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OK, enough of the behind-the-scenes stuff. How about a video of the layout? I built a simple camera stand, shown below, using an old bottle cap. I filed the top of the cap down so that it was smooth, mounted the Velcro® to it, and the applied the Velcro® to the bottom of the camera. The camera sits in the gondola, which can then be pushed or pulled through the layout. The only video I have recorded and made available is the one I titled "Layout Drive-through". It has my NW2 pushing the camera car (err, gondola) from the right-hand side of the layout to the left-hand side into the O'Brien siding, where it couples to a waiting box car. Note that this is the raw, unedited video from the camera. It was recorded in the full HD quality, but compression gets applied after upload, of course.

Video playback problems: When I did my first recording, I discovered that when I played the .mov file generated by the camera on my Windows 7 PC using Windows Media Player, the video had lots of digital artifacts, blocking, and old VCR tape-like distortions. At first I assumed it was the camera. I tried all sorts of configurations. I searched online. I even reconfigured the camera. Then I played the same video over and over a few times, which was when I noticed that the artifacts were not the same each time I played it. I then suspected the player. I downloaded Apple's QuickTime, and sure enough, the camera's .mov file played perfectly. I also downloaded the VLC Player, which I liked better. It, too, played the videos back perfectly. The eBay seller from whom I bought the camera recommended the VLC Player software application.
Key-chain Video Camera

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