Hands-On With Nano Video. Better Than OK

eye on youApple’s new iPod nano has a video camera. Surely, we’ve all heard Hitler’s take on the insanity that is Apple putting a vidcam in the nano but not in the touch, so let’s get past that. How does the video actually stack up?

Ignoring all else for the moment, the video quality itself is surprisingly good. I have a Nokia N86 loaner that captures video and in a head-to-head, the nano wins handsomely in the ease of use stakes. Video quality, not so much (the N86's 8MP sensor counts for a lot). The nano's on-screen preview as you shoot is in fluid real-time with the barest frame lag and the captured video is very watchable, in a YouTube kind of way. Auto-exposure is responsive and accurate, though you get an adjustment lag during a dramatic change in lighting conditions, but that’s acceptable.

The nuts and bolts There’s no zoom. You’re stuck with a fixed-focus lens that handles close-ups to about 10cm nicely. And captures aren’t time limited, or so it seems. As I write these words, the nano is recording its 37th exciting minute of me writing this review. You can keep recording until your nano’s memory fills, which would take about 1.5 hours, assuming there was nothing else stored on it.

Your video will be a 640x480 H.264 clip at 29.97fps with a data rate of 2715kbit/s. The output clip screens up very closely to what you see previewed as you shoot. It’s not great, but it’s better than OK, given the limitations of a tiny lens and tinier mic (which doubles as the world’s tiniest, and tinniest, speaker).

So let’s talk about the “all else”. The lens is mounted on the back panel, almost directly behind the “next” button. Apart from making it tricky to shoot yourself, this means that for your fingers to clear the lens when you’re shooting, you need to grab the nano around the screen. It’s not any kind of challenge to your manual dexterity but it sure feels odd to hold an iPod, any iPod, this way.

But what’s really odd is that while you can shoot video, you can’t shoot a still. Yeah, sure, you could grab a vidcap still, but that’s just one step too many to bother with.

With all that said, they say the best camera is the one you have on you when it’s most needed, and in this sense the nano’s vidcam will go over well with its buyers. For those who for some reason don’t carry an iPhone 3GS or other mobile with video capability, an iPod is a natural daily companion. Whipping it out and slipping into video camera mode is easy. It’s a win on that score. Especially if you’re travelling, when it’s likely you might deliberately choose to go mobile sans mobile, so to speak.

Gorilla to the rescue But it’s a massive fail when you want to shoot the “wish-you-were-here” clip to post to friends while you’re overseas - given, of course, that you have a ‘puter with you, because without the touch’s or iPhone’s networking capability, you’re stuck with having to use middleware to get your message out.

However, I chanced across the perfect travelling companion to the nano for users wanting to shoot clips of their fine selves. Joby’s baby Gorillapod, the Original model ($37), comes with a suction cup attachment that’s just right for setting up the nano to shoot a self-portrait video. Because of the rear-mounted lens and the obvious wisdom of not combining screens with spit, you need to attach the Gorilla’s suction mount to the nano's rear panel. Sounds clumsy, but it’s not. The only tricky part is that because of the nano’s convex case, you have to get the suction pad dead-centre, or the air will slip in and the grip will give way. Not good if you’ve just set the little fella on a bridge pylon above a long drop.

All considered, you wouldn’t buy the nano because it has a video camera, but it’s easy to imagine there will be occasions when you’d be grateful for what might be, mobile phones aside, the most conveniently carried video shooter on the market, beating both the Flip Mino HD and Kodak’s Z1X in the size and weight stakes.

Oh and BTW, the nano plays your music files and podcasts and photos and stuff. Same old same old. Except for the FM radio, which is a welcome addition. If you’re into radio.

At $199 for the 8GB model and $249 for the 16GB model, the nano’s two new features - camera and FM radio - add a lot to the value proposition of what is already a fine PMP.

Want a second opinion? Some sample clips? Gizmodo writer Dan Nosowitz has more.

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