Managing Editor, www.smallbusinesscomputing.com
Digital cameras are becoming more powerful and coming down in price, and Benq's Digital Camera 300mini breaks new ground. This compact camera eschews some of the basics found in good cameras, such as an LCD and flash, but costs less than $100. It's not the ultimate low-cost digital camera, but a step in the right direction.
Until now, there have been several sub-$100 digital cameras on the market. However, most of these have been nothing more than toys that took inadequate, low-resolution pictures that were so poor, they couldn't even be used as thumbnail images for Web sites. While you're not going to blow-up the pictures from the 300mini into 8x10" or 5x7" enlargements, you can record almost adequate snapshot-sized pictures.
To start, the 300mini is amazingly compact at 3.25" x 1.5" x .75"-its footprint is smaller than that of a business card-and it weighs only 49 grams (with its single AAA battery). As you would expect, the camera comes with a fixed-focus lense-you can forget about zooming capabilities. There's a small switch on the side that pops up the viewfinder, which helps you frame pictures. Unlike conventional cameras where you place your eye up to a viewfinder, with the 300mini, you stare through the viewfinder from about a foot away. The process generally works.
You turn the camera on by pressing a function button on the back of the camera. And if you don't take pictures within 30 seconds, the camera automatically shuts itself off. The function button also lets you change the resolution of the pictures that you're taking, as well as erase pictures within the camera.
Without a built-in LCD, you can't review pictures and delete them. Also, you can't delete a few select pictures-you have to delete all of them at the same time. The camera's continuous shooting mode lets you take a series of pictures with a single press of the shutter release, and there's a self timer that gives you ten seconds to set the camera and get yourself into the picture before the camera records the image.
I found that when taking pictures, the 300mini could only record images in direct daylight or in brightly lit indoor situations. If there's not enough light, the camera simply doesn't take a picture. I found that even under overcast skies, there was often not enough light to take pictures-which limits the camera's utility. By the way, the 300mini records and stores up to 26 640x480 pixel snapshots, and you can store up to 107 shots if you opt to shoot pictures in the inadequate 320x240 pixel mode.
The 300mini makes it easy to transfer digital photos to a PC. Here, the camera offers a built-in USB port that connects directly to a PC's USB port-there are no memory cards or card readers to deal with. Since my PC has a USB port on the front, it was easy to connect the 300mini directly to my PC. And it's be equally easy to connect the camera to a USB port on the back of a notebook computer. Benq provides a USB cable with the camera that you may use if your desktop PC connects in the back.
To download pictures, the camera comes with ArcSoft's PhotoBase 3.0 software, which offers minimal photo-editing features. Actually, PhotoBase barely qualifies as photo-editing software because it offers so few options. However, the software works well with the 300mini for downloading pictures.
The resulting pictures from the camera are grainy. For some, the picture quality may be adequate, however, most will probably find the pictures lacking. And don't even consider blowing up these images to a larger size, which will enhance the grain.
If this camera could produce great 640x480 pixel pictures, as I recall from the early $1000 digital cameras of years ago did, I could recommend the 300mini without reservation. But with the limited picture quality, I can only recommend the camera to those who can live with it. On the other hand, the camera would be great for youngsters who take rolls of film in minutes and want to experiment with digital photos on the family computer.
Benq's Digital Camera 300mini is a definite step in the right direction, but it leaves much to be desired. I like the way that the camera makes it easy to take and download pictures onto a PC, but the pictures that the camera takes need to be higher in quality.
Digital Camera 300mini - $99
Benq (Inspired by Acer) - www.benq.com