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PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ken Kwok / Los Angeles Times

Image taken using Autographer wearable digital camera.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Ken Kwok / Los Angeles Times

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Review: The Autographer - Spontaneous hand- and eye-free photography

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Review: The Autographer – Spontaneous hand- and eye-free photography

Long before the photographic term “selfie” entered mainstream culture to annoying effect, there was  the “hip shot.” Popularized by street photographers, shooting from the hip meant that  the camera was discreetly placed on the hip or other chosen angle and with nary a glance through the viewfinder, pointed in the subject’s direction to make a totally candid picture from a fresh and unexpected perspective.

Enter the Autographer, a life-logging camera that takes shooting from the hip to a whole new level. Billed by the U.K. company OMG Life as “the world’s first intelligent wearable camera,” the Autographer is a mini camera clipped to clothing or worn on a lanyard around your neck. Utilizing five intelligent sensors, the Autographer captures photos from your perspective throughout the day, with neither you nor your subjects being aware. The resulting imagery can be surprising and fun, bringing a whole new approach to visual storytelling.

Autographer_product_51As far as wearable tech goes, the design of the Autographer is as simple as it gets. About the size of a digital voice recorder and in shiny black, the 2-ounce Autographer is so lightweight and discreet you almost forget it’s there. Clip it on your belt or shirt and you’re good to go.  I wore  it around for a few weeks and only the occasional perceptive person took notice and asked about it. Two buttons on the side turn it on and off and give users access to  a menu with a simple blue OLED display that tells you battery life, number of photos remaining, Bluetooth pairing, GPS tagging of photos on/off, sound on/off, rate of capture setting, as well as a sequencing feature to enable short bursts of manual shooting when inspiration strikes.

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The camera is equipped with a 136 degree 3.0 mm f3.2 fixed fisheye-like wide angle  lens that simulates the first-person perspective. The Autographer features a rechargeable battery via micro USB cable that promises 12 hours of all day shooting on a single charge. With an 8 gig storage capacity, Autographer can store an amazing 16,000 images at a 5-mp file size before running out of space. Depending on the image capture rate the photographer sets, the Autographer will shoot from 120 to a whopping 360 images an hour.

Camera operation is virtually undetectable. The only way you know when a photo is being taken is a small blinking blue circle on the OLED screen. When not being used, turn  the dial and the lens can be closed, with a bright yellow lens-cap alerting people that the camera isn’t in use.  Despite this safeguard, the inherent nature of the Autographer as well as  the ubiquity of camera phones these days brings to the fore a challenging question: When it is OK to take pictures of people without their knowledge? The folks at Autographer are aware of this and have included in the box an etiquette sheet to guide users when to stow the device in everyday situations.  A  little common sense and social responsibility are required when using the Autographer, especially in situations when privacy may be a concern.

The intelligent part of the Autographer is in its five onboard sensors, which decide when to take a picture. They  include an accelerometer that measures speed of movement, a magnetometer that determines camera direction, a color sensor that detects changes in light and adjusts exposure, an onboard temperature reader, and a GPS feature pinpointing location of the photograph taken.  There is no viewfinder or image review on the Autographer, so there’s no telling what you are going to get — so placement of the device is crucial to achieve a higher success rate. Images are streamed seamlessly via Bluetooth to your iOS or Android smartphone for chimping on the go with the free Autographer app, or can be downloaded via a micro USB to your desktop and viewed there.

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Autographer’s image quality was just OK, with color and exposure rendered adequately under a variety of situations. The camera performs  best in bright and even  light. In low light, noise and banding were fairly evident in photos. Distortion was prevalent in most images with the semi-glass 136 degree lens. The Autographer was best used while standing still, as any movement caused noticeable blur in a lot of the photos.

At  the end of the day, the Autographer is not trying to be a DSLR; this camera isn’t about image quality, but rather unique content. Using the Autographer is like casting a fishing net into the sea of your life and then returning at the end of the day to see what  you’ve caught. It was conceived by the parent company of OMG (Oxford Metrics Group) as a medical device for Alzheimers and brain injury patients so they would have  a visual journal to stitch their day together.

The Autographer, which I wore for several weeks, recorded the most mundane parts of my day — a visit to Starbucks showing my deft grip on my cup, my hands on the steering wheel at 9 and 3, the view of my work station and computer screen where I spend most of my hours editing photos, and even the occasional plumbing fixture while taking care of business. The Autographer’s biggest fun factor was when it captured the expressions and  interactions with people over the course of my day that I forgot all about or never really gave a second thought. When I viewed the photos on my iPhone, it was as if I was unearthing visual Easter eggs hidden among a vast sea of body-cam photos destined for the trash can. Thankfully it’s just ones and zeroes; be prepared to deal with a high volume of photos and some serious editing  to get to the good stuff.

Auto6Where the Autographer excels best is in its ability to capture people totally unaware in their most natural state from the POV of where you choose to position it. In the hyper-aware camera culture we live in when the moment the camera comes out everyone is primping and getting their pose on, the Autographer is the antidote to all that madness. Autographer is best suited for significant life events that you don’t want to miss a single moment of. Things like the candid in-between moments on your wedding day that are too soon forgotten, the birth of your child, your last day of work after 30 years on the job, your meeting with pope, or that last day of freedom before leaving for a stretch at Leavenworth. You get the picture — Autographer hangs on to every precious moment so you can return to them and remember them, however trivial.

For pro photographers it means adding a whole another layer of storytelling to supplement their DSLR shooting. Magnum photojournalist Steve McCurry is a fan of Autographer, using it on assignment to capture a different perspective that he wouldn’t normally have with his DSLR camera, as well as documenting his day and what is going on around a shoot. “Being able to capture my subjects looking at the photographs I had taken of them, especially in one of the remotest parts of the world, was exciting for me,” McCurry says about using the Autographer on shoots.

Priced at $399, the Autographer is a nice little diversion from the big guns, a supplemental camera that delivers fun and unpremeditated photography. It fills in the blanks where traditional photography of seeing and shooting leaves out, creating candid photos that are unexpected and if you are lucky, beautiful. Isn’t that what photography is about?

1 Comment

  1. December 14, 2014, 7:09 pm

    "The Autographer" – nice name for it.

    By: Joolo

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