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Apple iSight
Date 13 August 2003
Author Scott "Sciby" Eiby
Manufacturer Apple Computers.
Price $259aud

iChatAV, tech specs, usage and conclusion.

iChatAV is a funny beast. It works like pretty much every other instant messenging system out there (MSN, ICQ, AOL) and in fact, it shares a gateway with the AOL AIM system. This isn't bad, but since for drivers for the iSight only come with iChatAV, you pretty much have to install it.

Call me crazy, but if Microsoft released a sexy piece of hardware that had the goods, but would only work if you had to install MSN to get it working, lots of people would go ballistic and I'm sure there'd be lawsuits involved.

Anyway, iChatAV is pretty straight forward: you have a "buddies" list (which seems to lack a "search for other people" function, but that's probably to protect people from me flashing my butt at them over the iSight. Smart thinking, Apple.), and there's Rendevous, a "local buddies" list. I'm still trying to figure out what the difference is, but I believe Rendevous lets you connect directly to your local buddies, rather than having to connect to an iChat server to talk to your buddies.

Before you connect to a buddy to start a conversation (text, audio or video), you can click on the happy little video camera icon and it will show you the video stream coming from the iSight, so you can check for bbq sauce stains and wandering nose hairs.

When a buddy finally comes online, you double-click on their name, up pops a message window, with a video camera icon on it. Click that and it'll start a video conversation, complete with audio. It's rather good quality - 30 fps with high-fidelity audio, if you believe Apple's blurb, although it does suffer over long distances. I trialed it with a co-worker and the video was nice and smooth and clear, as was the audio, although he was only three rooms away.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able capture any video to put up here, but since it'd just be me grinning madly at the camera and singing showtunes, you're not missing out. The video quality is good. Let's move on.

Technical stuff.
So why is this little tin can camera so darned sought after by Macheads everywhere? Well, for a start, it's made out of brushed alumium, which makes it rather sexy, although it's not the titainium that was originally reported, which is the same material that Apple makes their crazily sexy PowerBooks out of. Also, it has a max res of 640x480, which I mentioned before, and has an aperture size of F/2.8.

So... what's that mean?

I don't know.

Well, I kinda do. It means that the camera has a nice big aperture, to get more light into the sensor, which means it's better in low-light than another camera, for arguments sake. It also means that it's field of view is somewhat larger than another camera with a smaller aperture. This means this cam is great for sticking up in the corner of a room to view a large area. It's not as large an area as a proper fish-eye lens could view, but it's not bad.

Anyway, here's some tech specs I pinched off Apple's iSight page:

iSight Technical Specifications.

Requirements:Requires iChat AV Software (not included), Mac OS X v.10.2.5 or later, 600MHz G3 processor or higher, Broadband Internet connection.
Sensor: 1/4-inch color CCD image sensor, 640x480 VGA resolution
Focus: Autofocus from 50mm to Infinity
Framerate: Full motion video at up to 30 frames per second (FPS)*
Input and Output: FireWire for audio, video and power connection
Audio: Integrated, dual-element microphone with noise suppression
Included Accessories: Three camera stands, carrying case, FireWire cable, FireWire cable adapter.

All fairly ho-hum stuff, except for the autofocus item. It sounds like a great idea, and indeed it is, but in practice, it's not a wonderous feature. Don't get me wrong, it works... but not like Apple would probably like it to.

Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge

Autofocus on the left and manually focused on the right.

At a normal focal distance of about 1.5-2m, the cam works fine, and autofocuses fairly well. However, put something up close to the camera, where you're approaching it's minimium focal distance of 50mm and it really isn't happy. It'll keep focus on the background and completely ignore the random object you've shoved in front of it. As you can see, condiment or iconic Imperial fighter make no difference to the iSight's inability to autofocus at close and personal ranges.

Click to Enlarge

However, you can get around this (in a very pain-in-the-bum way).

Opening up the properties window for the video feed gives you several options, including a button marked "Focus/Autofocus" and a nice slider bar. When switched to manual focus, the slider sets your focal depth. Using it in this way allows you to get those chilli illustrations nice and sharp, but still... who wants to go into properties each time you want to do that sort of thing? Not me, that's for sure.

I like the Apple iSight: it's sexy, smart (but not too smart) and does the job well. I'm disappointed about the autofocus not being as automatic and I'm annoyed about having to install iChatAV just to get the thing working.

I have a feeling this may change in the future, however, because at the moment, iChatAV is only in beta form, but will be bundled with the new version of OS X, (Panther or v10.3 if you prefer), in the very near future. It will also be available for people who use earlier versions of OS X, but weither it's a free download or not remains to be seen.

If you *do* have to pay for it, just to get your iSight working, then people will yell. And loudly.

These few piece of information, and the fact that you have to own a Mac (at this time) means most of the regular readers of OCAU won't be too interested in buying an iSight.

But for those who are, you can't go far wrong with this, the most professional, sexy, easy to use webcam.

Unfortunately, it doesn't make me look professional, sexy OR easy to use:

Click to Enlarge

Oh well, maybe with the iSight 2...


All original content copyright James Rolfe.
All rights reserved. No reproduction allowed without written permission.
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