After a fruitless search for a teeny key-chain digital camera with a fish-eye lens out front, Greg Dash decided to design and build his own. The subsequent prototype was just intended for his own use, but when more and more folks asked him where they could buy one when they spotted him snapping photos, he hatched a crowdfunding plan to bring his LoFi-Fisheye Digicam to market.
Thankfully, monster lenses like the one introduced by Nikon at the 1970 Photokina show are something of a rarity. Today's smaller varieties, however, are still a rather expensive addition to a photographer's toolkit, and certainly something that was out of Dash's price range. Of course, he could have opted to add something like a TurtleJacket PentaEye lens wheel to his iPhone, or post-processed images using software or apps for a digitally-manipulated snap, but didn't feel that such things were quite what he was looking for.
"Although apps give the appearance of a fisheye-effect, they're unable to replicate the true 170-degree image due to the limitations in the hardware," he told us. "Snap-on attachments can suffer from low quality construction, can fall off, can break and can be device specific."
He wanted an easy-to-use, pocket-friendly digital camera that had a quality fish-eye lens, was able to record in HD, and included features like time-lapse – criteria that were satisfied in his (roughly) Chobi Cam-sized LoFi-Fisheye Digicam.
Dash, who works and studies at Aberystwyth University in Mid Wales, told us that the reference to Lo-Fi in the camera's name relates to its simple, uncluttered style and the distinct lack of bells and whistles of the design itself, rather than an indication of anything lacking in image quality. In fact, the camera's onboard sensor can record HD video and grab images at up to 12 megapixels.
Pressing and holding the power button on the top brings the camera to life and it goes straight into HD video mode (indicated by a red LED on the back). Next to the power button, there's another which allows the user to choose between video and photo (green LED). A microphone on the rear picks up and records audio and the button on the front of the camera activates the camera's time-lapse feature. The front is also home to that desirable 170-degree glass fish-eye lens.
On one side there's a microSD slot (it doesn't have any internal memory), and there's a mini-USB port on the other. The latter is used to connect the device to a computer or to charge its lithium battery. A small text file is stored on the supplied microSD card that can be opened on a computer to change some of the camera's parameter settings, if desired.
There's no screen, no viewfinder and you've got no idea what your photo or video will be like until it's viewed on a computer. This might not be to everyone's taste, but I think it adds an element of old-fashioned surprise and intrigue to the proceedings (harking back to a time when you never quite knew if your holiday snaps would turn out until you got them back from the developers).
To bring his design to market, Dash has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The production model will feature a custom-molded body over a metal frame. He has partnered with an experienced manufacturer to finalize the design and now needs a cash injection to pay for tooling and meet the costs associated with an initial production run.
All the early bird units have gone, so you'll need to pledge at least £65 (US$99) to wrap your hands around a production model. The campaign closes on April 4 and, providing the target is met, shipping is scheduled for August.
"If I'm unable to hit the £35,000 (about $46k) target, the production will not go ahead," admitted Dash. "It's unlikely I will seek funding from elsewhere as I have neither the funds or time to continue with this project. If funding is successful, however, I have many more ideas I would like to try out. I'd really like to create a line of fixed-lens pocket cams at an affordable price, but this project is currently my priority."
The campaign's suitably lo-fi pitch video can be seen below (although a higher quality, updated version has been produced if you'd rather watch that).