HP Pocket PC CF Camera Tips

By Beverly Howard

I have to admit that despite the problems that I encountered with the inability to focus to infinity with my first CF camera and the absurd 90 day warranty that this expensive camera carries, HP's concept and camera are still great and valuable assets for any Jornada owner.

Following the loss of use of my Jornada after damaging it during a sneezing fit and subsequently spending a month using an Ipaq without a camera, when the Jornada was finally repaired, simply the availability of the tiny CF was a large factor among several other points in my ultimate abandonment of the Ipaq to return to the slower Jornada.

This tiny camera provides ultimate portability... if you have a shirt pocket, it can tag along and be ready to use in seconds without being noticed.

Alert!  Jornada 54x and 525 camera users... CFCamera software has been updated... The new "image viewer" software allows viewing of images in any directory including storage cards and supports JPG, GIF, BMP and PNG formats.... Click Here for HP FTP site download.   It was also nice to discover that this "installer" file is a simple "CAB wrapper" than can be opened with WinZip to expose and extract your device's cab directly to the device or storage card for immediate install.  The only disappointment with the upgrade was the discovery that they removed the "Exit" option from the app menu.

Blending In

If you are a photography buff who is old enough to remember the heyday of the "Two and a Quarter inch" or "6x6 cm" format cameras such as the Rolliflex, Mamiyaflex and Hasselblads, you probably also remember that the camera was held at neck level or lower and the image was framed, focused and the shutter tripped looking downward into the camera rather than forward toward the subject.  One of the advantages of this viewing posture is that human subjects are normally much less intimidated by the picture taking process.

The Jornada, while not capable of capturing the same image quality, has proven to be an excellent way of taking unobtrusive digital images in a variety of circumstances and light conditions without being noticed.  While in some cases, notably Pocket PC or other gadget based gatherings, where everyone is acutely aware of the camera, in most other groups, I have found that after posting the snaps almost always results in everyone in attendance being amazed that pictures were being taken at all.

Most casual observers assume that you are simply taking notes with your Pocket PC and pay little attention as you move around taking pictures, especially since your view is directed down at the PDA and floor rather than at the subjects in front of the lens.

Controlling Things

If you already have the CF camera, you already know most of the user tips, but here are a few that I have developed over 8 months of use that may help others and most of them relate to accurately focusing the camera.  The focus ring is the camera's biggest asset and it is probably the cause of most user problems.

While you may have found that the CF Camera software provides a wealth of setting controls in the menus, you may not be aware of the fact that most of these settings can be toggled with a simple screen tap on the displayed value, for example tapping the resolution value toggles it between 640x480 and 340x240

If you select "Spot" rather than "Center" for the exposure meter tapping the screen will reposition the "spot" right at the tap location for sometimes dramatic exposure differences.  This feature allows quick and absolute exposure control in a variety of situations from normal to exteme backlighting to dark areas with an illuminated subject.

Surprisingly, you also have absolute control over the shutter speed of the camera... I'm not really sure how this works since I can't detect evidence of an iris.  This feature alone gives the photographer an element of control that most other digital cameras don't and that control is easily executed using on screen taps.

While the viewfinder on the camera is useful for snapshots, especially in full sun using a 54x Jornada, know that it is only an "approximation" of the image.  You can easily see how dependent the viewfinder's content is by holding the camera steady and moving your eye left and right to see how the frame content changes.

Clipboarding Images

While the software initially appears to limited in image manipulation, it allows some surprising clipboard options.

For example, you add a contact to your contact lists and snap their picture.  You can immediately switch to the "review" mode, rotate the image (if you took it in portrait format,) then "copy" the image (which places it on the clipboard rather than creating a file copy) and paste it into any app that allows image pasting... Word, natch, and yes, contacts and calendar in the "notes" field.

Now a few of you are going to try this and call me a liar, but those are the ones that will try to paste a 640x480 image... the "notes" fields in the databased apps such as contacts have limits... apparently somewhere between the size of a 320x240 and 640x480 image, so the copy option allows the ability to reduce the image before copying it to the clipboard.

Depending on how the pictures will be used or transmitted, note that the CF Camera software allows "two tap" image rotation that can save valuable time in getting a usable image to where it needs to be... using email irda or irobex.


Some focus tips;

When you finish any picture session, take a moment to rotate the focus back to the "infinity" detent to assure that the camera is ready for normal snapshots without looking at the screen.

When focusing on closer images, tap either the screen (in camera mode) or the "zoom" icon.  The Jornada then displays an image section that is twice as large and much easier to use to set an accurate focus.  When you get the image in focus, zoom back to normal before you take the shot.

When making close images, you really need the camera/Jornada to be held steady, both to focus and to prevent blurring at the moment the shutter clicks... use books, arms, hands whatever is close rather than attempting to hold things free hand.

There are four shutter release options and each one has proved useful;

1 - The button on the camera, useful when using the viewfinder for normal snapshots but often useful for taking other images using the screen to frame the shot.

2 - The "onscreen" button, which can be used with either the stylus or fingertip... and provides a good way to trigger a shot with minimum camera movement.

3 - Depressing the jog wheel... this has only come up a couple of times, but it was a valuable option on those occasions.

Know that there is a slight shutter delay, so it is important to hold things steady until after you hear the shutter sound... and yes, the shutter sound is important and helpful... if you don't want to alert others that you are taking pictures, lower the volume or use headphones.  You can also use the hardware button on the camera or the jog wheel, both of which provide a tactical feedback when they trigger.  Unfortunately the shutter sound is built into the app and cannot be changed by specifying a different .wav file.

All of the above leads to effectively using  the camera for "macro" photography.  At least 50% of the images that I currently take and use are of subjects that are less than a foot from the lens.

It's much easier and much more accurate to snap a picture of almost anything that you are trying to describe verbally in a written message... a part, a broken part, a magazine picture, an item in a store, etc., etc.  One of the surprising uses is to take snaps of printed or written information rather than carrying scraps of paper torn out of magazines or catalogues or transcribing info onto paper or into the Jornada.  The small image scrap below is only a tiny 100x40 pixel portion of a 320x240 image of a catalogue item I wanted to remember, but, as you can see, the information is not only readable (this clip width is of only a 1.25" wide section of the page,) but, for me, easier to read on the Jornada than off of the paper original.

The Jornada accidentally provides two items that both steady the camera as well as quickly and accurately focusing the camera... the Jornada screen cover and the stylus.

The focus ring actually has a distance "line" on it.  I discovered that with this line set to dead center toward the back of the Jornada and using the detached cover as a "stand" as shown in this image, the surface is in perfect focus plus the camera is easy to hold absolutely steady to capture a sharp image.  Note this may be different on your camera and will definitely be different with the smaller 56x series covers, but experimentation will allow you to find a setting/distance match.

With the focus ring set to absolute minimum distance, the stylus can be used to both set the correct distance to the subject, and as shaky as it may appear, it also helps to steady the camera for the snap.

Since I took this image using the stylus, I have discovered that the cover also sets the lens distance to minimum focus when it is held horizontally under the Jornada plus, the cover provides a much more stable rest than the finger held stylus.

"Macro" photography has a correspondingly tiny focus "depth of field."  When the CF camera focus is set at its minimum distance, this "depth of focus" is probably only around a quarter of an inch deep, so practice taking some images that have depth such as a pile of coins or the edge of an old book so that you can clearly understand that your subject is going to have to be pretty flat as well as accurately focused to end up sharp in the final image.

Also, remember my initial problem... a progressive mechanical defect in the first camera I purchased that prevented the camera from focusing to infinity.  If you purchase one of these cameras, know that the warranty is only 90 days.

I strongly recommend that you, with the focus set at the distant detent, take some time to capture several steady images in good lighting using the 640x480 resolution that show items with sharp features running from a couple of feet from the camera to infinity.  Then, using a desktop viewer, review the images and confirm that the images of objects (such as buildings) several hundred feet from the camera are in the prime focus area.  If the distant images are blurred, get it back within the warranty period or it's a throwaway as HP does not offer repair for this camera.

Slide Show Surprise

While the camera software is necessary to use the camera, the "Image Viewer" software is a damm good, efficient PocketPC Image viewer that supports JPG, GIF, BMP and PNG formats.  The above update allows you to use this viewer to easily browse stored files anywhere on the PPC or Storage Cards... for example, I have a photographic record of our recent "to the studs" remodel of our home which means that when I need to drive a nail or drill a hole, I can immediately pop up a construction image of that wall to see if there are wires, pipes or whatever behind the sheetrock.

The software is also simple enough to set up a "slide show" and hand the Jornada to anyone, showing them the "jog wheel" and allowing them to proceed at their own pace with minimal danger to the PPC and it's contents.   It's also more than a little surprising to most when you have voice notations or associated sound recordings that play during their viewing... so, hope they don't drop it... ;-)

You Can't Play With Our Toys!

Finally, as much as I praise and love this device, I have to severely chastise HP for their decision to limit access to this productive and fun tool to Jornada owners.  I have confirmed that it is an HP policy decision to build limits into the CF camera software so that it will not function on Pocket PC's or other devices not manufactured by HP.

I assume that it is a pure, money based, business decision that, by doing so, the camera will be a factor in individual Pocket PC purchase decisions, but I can't help but feel that if it could be used on other platforms, camera sales could easily exceed any revenue enhancement realized from camera related decisions when purchasing a PDA, so...

Wake up and play nice HP!

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