earable cameras are all the rage for those looking to document their lives on a daily basis and use photos in their “social media” life. The Narrative Clip was one of the first of this new genre — although it had a different name when first revealed — and fulfills the basic function of being unobtrusive and ubiquitous. Once out of the package and charged up, it’s ready to be used, although a bit of time perusing the online manual will provide more details than the booklet included in the box.
The Narrative Clip itself is extremely small and bereft of controls — with the exception of a double-tap on its front activating the camera’s “shutter,” it decides when to shoot (every 30 seconds or so). There is a small rubber stopper covering a micro-USB slot and a series of LEDs on one side — these indicate when a picture is manually shot, the charge of the Narrative (the more LEDs blinking, the higher percentage of charge) and functions when connected to a computer. When the Narrative is being used, these can all be ignored and don’t call attention to themselves — which is really good since the whole purpose of the camera is to capture what you are doing while you are doing it without unduly attracting the attention of others who are “in the way” of the shooting that is going on. The 5MP sensor turns on automatically once the lens is exposed to light — leaving the Narrative Clip face down deactivates it, which also happens when it’s confronted by light levels too low for it to work in.
A smartphone app provides a series of services — but being able to view what the Narrative was shooting in real-time was not one of them. So when I had initially placed the camera on my shirt lapel — the images being shot were “aimed” too high up, rather than the straight across that I had wanted. But I wasn’t able to see any of this until the photos that had been shot had been saved to the “Cloud” using the included software (both Mac and PC available). That’s because the “Cloud” servers took what was uploaded into my online account and performed GPS data work on it. By offloading this, the internal battery can last for up to 2 days at a single charge (and the 8 GB of internal storage hold thousands of pics).
While the photos were being uploaded through the USB connection, the battery was also being charged. When done, I could now see the images on the app listed in a timeline that took all the pictures and created “keyframes” or what the Narrative considered to be the highlights that occurred during the time it was active. I should add that for safety’s sake (and when no network is available to upload the images), what the camera has “seen” can also be saved directly to a local hard drive. The Narrative can be used without the “Cloud” but this seriously inhibits the app’s functionality, as then you must manually right the pictures, add GPS yourself, etc. The first year of “Cloud” use is free — additional years are $9 per. The app also allows clicking on the “timeline” to start the images moving across on their own, and you can save individual photos to the smartphone’s photo library (in this case, an iPhone 5).
Another reason I wanted it on my belt was that I kept worrying that if I couldn’t see the camera it might fall off (at $249.00, that would be one expensive loss). But the clip holder on the back of the Narrative Clip is strong enough to keep it in place once it has gripped something so this is not a worry. It also takes some getting used to so as to avoid covering the lens with your hand when you give it a double-tap. Also the focus is fixed so extreme closeups are out: when I had gotten down on the floor to greet my dogs, they were too close for the camera to capture. But the Narrative Clip had shot my opening the door to see the two of them waiting to greet me (or maybe it was because they were hoping for a late afternoon biscuit…). The camera also exhibited some “grain” in the image when the light levels were low — pictures taken in my buildings underground garage which has only a few fluorescent lights throughout, for example. But the 70 degree angle of view provides a realistic view of what the person wearing the camera is seeing: it doesn’t look unduly wide angle and certainly there’s no fisheye distortion at the picture’s edges.
Bottom line: Documenting one’s life on a daily basis may seem to be a bit narcissistic, but so what? The Narrative Clip provides a fun and effective means for capturing what a person does without requiring any hand-holding, and makes distributing photos to social media of what the person has done more relevant.