CVS One-Time Use Video Camera (LONG REVIEW)

Just for fun, I bough that new disposable (“one time useâ€) video camera from CVS. The price is 29.99 though there is a special $10 off this week. The camera is small, about the size of disposable film camera though slightly narrow. The front is a fixed-focus lens and a hole for presumably the microphone. On back, there is a small color LCD screen and control buttons, “on/offâ€, “playbackâ€, “record†and “delete†One can record up to 20 minutes of video in segments. I think it records onto a memory card. To operate, the power button is turned on and an LCD image appears. The image is easy to see. To record a segment, one hits the record button to start and again to stop. The last video segment (plus sound) can be reviewed by hitting the playback button. If the video segment is not acceptable, the delete button can be pushed twice. I didn’t check to see if previous video segments can be played by pushing the playback button more than once. I used the camera this weekend while hiking in the Virginia mountains and at a party/cook out. The camera is very light and easy to carry. I didn’t have to worry about it falling in the creek or down a cliff. After each segment, the screen shows how many minutes/seconds of video are left. A memory full notice is shown after 20 minutes of video.

I took the camera back to CVS for “processing†and an additional $12.99. After about 30 minutes, they handed me a DVD. I couldn’t wait to take it home and see the results.

As expected, the video quality is low but acceptable. It reminds me of some webcasts. The frame rate seems normal but there is a fair amount of artifact especially in very complicated scenes (panning with trees and sun coming through). Color rendition is good and the camera adjusts fairly well for varying light levels. As with any cheap automatic camera, it can be fooled by backlit subjects. On a regular television, the quality is not that bad. It is worse on a computer monitor. Interestingly, the video is slightly smaller than the television screen and there is a small black bar surrounding it. Sound (mono) is surprisingly good. I filmed some cumulus congestus and could easily see cloud detail. Inside shots were acceptable. When the DVD is started, there is a menu with a thumbnail to play the whole DVD. There is a very brief pause between each segment. There is also a menu with thumbnail images from each segment that can be played like chapters. My DVD had about 40 sections. The DVD could also be played in the computer. There are separate and much more compressed files that also generated (corresponding to each video segment) for e-mail. These video files can be played in the windows media player but the compression is too much. (240x180; 242 kbps) I was not able to load the larger main video segments into Premiere Pro but Sonic did recognize them. They are “VOB†files.

I guess a good analogy is that the video quality of the disposable video camera is comparable to the photo quality of a disposable film camera. The video would be acceptable to Joe Bob who wants to film his kid’s birthday party but who has no need or cannot afford a video camera. Like a disposable camera, this may be useful for trips (ie a whitewater rafting trip, beach, hiking) where one needs a cheap light video camera that would be difficult to break and losing it would not be a big deal. I will keep one stashed in my car for emergencies. One never knows when a storm may occur and this video is better than no video. For a chaser with only one camcorder, this disposable would be a good back up but in the long run, buying a used Hi8 or even VHS camcorder as a back up would be more cost effective especially if space/weight is not an issue. Total cost of my experiment: $42.98 plus tax. With the cost of several of these, I could buy a used 8mm/hi8 or VHS and have better quality video. Finally, this may be fun for kids or for hackers. Watch the web, I am sure there will be hacks available for this video camera.

I guess one should try the camera at least once before deciding whether to keep one for long term use/emergencies. There will probably be better versions in the near future.

Bill Hark

Addenda: The CVS photo person told me these are fully recycled except for the batteries.
Sounds like it would be perfect to keep in the glovebox for use when regular cameras are left at home, after an accident, seeing a big dust devil, etc.
Does it use it's own batteries? Any batter life indicators?
after an accident, seeing a big dust devil, etc.
Does it use it's own batteries? Any batter life indicators?

It has its own batteries. I didn't see any battery life indicator. I presume the batteries last longer than the video. It would be nice to know how long the camera can sit dormant and still be used.

Bill Hark