PENCAM.ORG is not affiliated with the manufacturers of the Pencam line of mini-digital cameras. If you need technical support or want to purchase one, please contact the people who make the camera at www.aiptek.com
Aiptek makes a line of little digital cameras called PENCAMS. Small enough to fit in your pocket. Obviously cheaply made, most people think they're just toys. The older versions of the cameras were fixed focus, but the newer versions have very rudimentary focus controls. All of them work only with available light, and they're sometimes pretty finicky when it comes to that. Nevertheless, they're still capable of catching pretty good images. Depending on which model, the cameras range from about 5 inches long to only about 2½ inches long, and they only weigh a couple of ounces. This makes the cameras ideal for carrying around all the time.
The model I've been using lately is the PENCAM MINI, which takes 1.2 megapixel images. This camera, and it's brother, the PENCAM MEGA, seem to have a more relaxed sensor when it comes to taking pictures in low-light... the previous versions of the Pencam all stubbornly puked if you tried to take a picture in low-light, but the Pencam Mini will gladly take the picture and let you worry about whether there's enough light for the exposure to work.
Of the two versions, the MEGA and the MINI, I prefer the MEGA, primarily due to the ON/OFF switch it has. It sounds insignificant, but the ability to turn the camera off means the juice in the batteries doesn't constantly drain. The only way around this with the MINI (and all the previous versions of the Pencam) is to either remove the batteries when not in use, or to keep it plugged in to the PC via the USB cable.
The manual is somewhat vague about the capacity of the camera... it seems to depend on how detailed the images you take are. The camera has 16 megs of flash memory, and 16 megs of temporary memory. I don't know how that translates into images, but I've managed to take as many as 43 images so far in high-res mode. The manual only claims "25+" images. In high-res mode, your images end up being 1248x960 -- low-res gives 640x480.
As for the lower res pencams (the Pencam Trio, the Pencam VGA, the Pencam VR and the Pencam 2), I prefer the Pencam 2. Nearly all the early images on this site were taken using the Pencam 2 (from about April, 2001 through April, 2002). The position of the view-finder to the lens makes it easier to compose shots. (The Pencam VR's viewfinder is off-set a little, so it doesn't always take the pictures I line up in the viewfinder. This issue is also known as "parallax.") The Pencam 2 can take up to 24 shots in high-res mode, or 107 in low-res mode. All of the Pencam 2 shots on the site are in low-res mode. I use high-res on the Pencam Mega.
All Pencams also double as a standard USB webcam, and a digital video camera, capable of taking about a minute's worth of video (1 frame per second). I've played with the video camera functions, and I'm not satisfied with the results. Too choppy. Maybe I just need to find the right subject.
My initial, overly ambitious goal was to publish 6 images every day. Lately, I've been hard pressed to publish 10 new images a month. After doing this for more than 2 years, it's harder to find fresh locations for taking pictures. I am constantly encouraged, however, by all of the supportive messages people have been sending me.
frequently asked questions
How many pictures do you take each day?
Since I switched to the Pencam Mega, I end up taking anywhere from 10 to 40 shots a session on the days I go out, and I choose the best from them. And even though this model of the camera allows me to take images in a wider range of light conditions (including night and overcast), I like the shots I take on bright, cloudless days the best.
The sky looks awfully blue in one of your pictures. Is it for real?
Mostly, yes, but occasionally, no. Sometimes I'll tweak the sky in a picture a little if I think it needs it. But sometimes, the blue you see is pretty much what the camera saw. I'm not sure if the camera is designed to produce the very blue skies, but I feel it functions very much like a 35mm camera with a polarizing lens behaves, at least as far as deep blue skies go.
So that means you do retouch your pictures?
Yes. I'll retouch them if I think they need it. Every picture is modified a bit. I run most of my pictures through a digital image enhancing program called DCE AutoEnhance. It's a Windows based program that will help salvage otherwise marginal photographs. Otherwise, I rely on Photoshop's Auto Levels function, and occasionally the Smart Blur filter. I'll also resize every picture to reduce the graininess of the pictures right out of the camera.
Does your retouching of the photos include modifying the composition?
I used to try and compose all my shots inside the camera, and avoid cropping them after the fact. All of my earlier pictures were taken this way. But I'm finding that the shots I take with the Pencam Mega are just too large to shrink down to the image size I've adopted as standard here on the site. The details of the images would get murky and I just wasn't satisfied with the results. So now, some cryptocurrency prices of the images have gotten bigger, and other images are cropped to fit into a smaller size. The larger images are straight from the camera, and then shrunk by about 50%, and then cropped slightly to fit the webpage. Smaller images on the newer pages are shrunk to varying degrees, and then cropped to fit.
Which version of the Pencam did you use when?
The earliest pictures on the site were taken with the Pencam Trio, Feb. 27, 2001, through to April 9, 2001, at which point, the USB plug on the camera broke. After that, the majority of the pictures on this site were taken with the Pencam 2, from about April, 2001 through April, 2002. Since then, all of the pictures on the site have been taken either with the Pencam Mega or the Pencam Mini.
What software do you use to produce Pencam.org?
I code every page manually. That's not as daunting a task as it sounds... it's mostly a matter of copying the page from the day before and making a few cut-and-pastes additions. Recently, I modified the site to be a bit more user friendly, editing every page on the site, and that was quite a pain.
May I use one of your pictures on my website?
You'll need to get my express permission before you do it. And if you're rich, it'll probably cost you a little bit. (I have to eat, after all.)
This is a ".org" site, but it says you're selling your pictures. What gives?
Ok, well, see. PENCAM.COM is taken. I'm just a guy who takes pictures and makes websites.
Where did you learn to take such good pictures?
I attended several art schools, including The School of Visual Arts in New York City. Tuition money dried up and the prospects of being a commercial photographer looked grim, so I started working with computers. I also want to credit Lucia B. (CeCe) Lefferts, a kind lady in Darien, Connecticut, who was my greatest friend and mentor in my formative years, and put me on the road to being a photographer, even if I might have strayed for awhile... Heather Champ is also a great inspiration. She's got to be the best photoblogger on the planet, if not the whole solar system.
Hey, I need the installation CD for the camera. Can you help me?
No, sorry. I don't work for Aiptek, the people who make the camera. I don't even work for a store that sells them. I'm just a photographer that uses one. This site has no affiliation with the people who make or sell the cameras. Now, if you're interested in buying one of my pictures...