Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Mobius ActionCam: the Swiss Army Knife of Digital Cameras

The humble Swiss Army Knife: jack of all trades, master of none. It may not be the perfect tool for all jobs, but its compact size and versatile set of functions more than make up for any limitations it has. And so it is with the newest edition to my camera repertoire: the Mobius ActionCam. For size comparison, here's the Mobius next to a Swiss Army Knife:

I know what you're thinking: it looks like one of those horrendously awful key-chain cameras. But, before you write off the Mobius, give it a chance. Yes, the Mobius comes out of the Spy Camera tradition. Previous versions of the Mobius were actually shaped like car remotes and were intended to be carried on a key chain. The current version has dropped the stealth goofy look and now has a more boxy case. It's also transitioned from being sold as a Spy Cam to being sold as an Action Cam. I suppose this was a smart marketing move: a Spy Cam is for 11 year old boys, while an Action Cam is for X Games striving 13 year old boys.

Marketing aside, the Mobius remains a feature packed lightweight camera. It shoots stills and videos. It shoots time lapses and has built in motion detection. You can tweak the color balance, exposure, and enable Auto Exposure or Auto Focus Lock. You can use the camera as a Web Cam, Thumb Drive or Slide Show Player for your TV. The camera is lightweight enough to be mounted on your drone model helicopter and is a favorite among the RC hobby folks. Heck, you can rubber band it to a binder clip and attach it to a hat. How do I know this works? Because I did just this:

The Mobius generates standard files which can be easily post processed. For example, you can create a hyperlapse using the recipe found here:

ffmpeg -r 20 -pattern_type glob -i 'IMG*.JPG' \
  -vf "scale=trunc(iw/2)*2:trunc(ih/2)*2" -c:v libx264 output.mp4

The Mobius is small enough to conceal, so you can use it as a portable game camera. The recipe would be simple: drop the camera into a Tupperware container, cover said container in Camo Duct Tape and leave somewhere on the trail. Return hours or days later to see what you captured.

Want to experiment with shooting 3D? Pick up a couple of Mobius Cameras and mount them side-by-side. Heck, you can even use the camera to capture macro shots. The camera works well as a dashcam because it can be configured to automatically turn on and off when it receives power from its USB cable. If you've got an idea for a new experimental camera or method of taking pictures, I'd hazard a guess that the Mobius is a solid platform to build it on.

The camera is hacker friendly in its configuration, allowing for exporting and importing of settings via a text file. There's both Windows and Android apps to simplify the configuration process if you prefer select boxes and radio buttons over editing plain text. There's even a very readable instruction manual, something most digital devices lack these days.

Like a Swiss Army Knife, it's possible to go totally astray with this tiny contraption. The camera gives feedback via a series of colored LEDs, but as I found out while preparing this post, it's possible to shoot photos and get nothing but unusable images (in my case, I had the exposure, color, contrast and sharpness set to -128 by accident, when these should have been at 0). The good news is, unlike a Swiss Army Knife, you shouldn't end up losing a finger or severing an artery. Still, plan to do plenty of practice and double checking of your configuration to make sure you you're capturing what you think you're capturing.

I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to put my Mobius to work next. But it's just too compact and handy to not have in the toolkit.

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