With all the phones being used in classrooms as impromptu document cameras, it’s refreshing to see a dedicated doc-cam that not only delivers a high-quality image and is easy to use but is inexpensive enough to get one for every classroom. In other words, forget about $600 document cameras in the classroom because IPEVO’s $139 VZ-1 HD outperforms cameras costing much more.
At roughly half the size and weight of doc-cams from Epson and Samsung, the black VZ-1 folds-up and is easy to carry between classes. It is powered by an included USB AC adapter and cable. Press the bright green power switch to start it up and it takes the VZ-1 a few seconds to display the image.
The device’s camera head lacks a lens cap, but when folded it fits securely into the base, protecting the optics. Unfold its articulated arm and the VZ-1’s camera can sit as far as 13-inches above the target while providing a generous 12.75- by 8.5-inch field of view. It can get as close as 2-inches to an object and remain in focus. The camera swivels 270-degrees, allowing it to be rotated to the best orientation, which makes positioning the camera quicker and more exact.
It has a manual focus control, but the camera’s auto-focus was quick and accurate. The autofocus mechanism works well on a variety of items, but is overly sensitive to being shaken or jostled, even on a sturdy table. The camera has a built-in two-element LED light, but its brightness can’t be adjusted and can produce a hot spot in the image if you’re not careful.
While the camera head lacks an optical zoom, you can move it up and down to adjust how much of frame is filled. Able to capture full HD video and send it directly to a projector, the VZ-1’s 5-megapixel camera can be set to 800 by 600, 1,024 by 768, 1280 by 720 or 1,920 by 1,080 resolution. I actually prefer to set it to Auto Resolution and let the document camera set its output to match the projector it’s connected to.
There are advantages to connecting the VZ-1 to a notebook that’s linked to a projector with the included Presenter software and USB cable. The pay-off is that the detail captured is increased to as much as 2,592 by 1,944 resolution, the camera’s limit. It is transformed into one of the sharpest doc-cams around, but as the resolution rises, the video delay does as well.
The software works with a PC or Mac computer and can run full-screen on a computer. It allows you to take a screen shot at any time, but not annotate the screen or capture a video stream. It makes up for the camera’s lack of a zoom lens with a 6X digital zoom set up for getting close.
A bonus for the software is that it can mirror the image both vertically and horizontally. Oddly, for such an advanced device, the VZ-1 uses a VGA cable to transfer the video stream to a projector rather than an HDMI or DisplayPort one. It also lacks a microphone or audio-in jack.
A good idea is to get IPEVO’s $69 Wireless Station. It connects to the camera’s USB port and allows the doc-cam to be used with an iPad or notebook without a cable. You can annotate and highlight items on-screen.
Over the course of several weeks, I used the VZ-1 with a variety of targets, a Dell M110 projector and an Acer R7 notebook. It was easily overwhelmed by bright light so I kept the blinds down on sunny days. It worked well with magazine articles, maps and books as well as for showing the displays of tablets and calculators. It was also adept at projecting how to perform a dissection, a chemistry lab and even for capturing writing on a pad of paper with a Sharpie for showing how to solve an equation or edit a sentence. In other words, the VZ-1 can turn just about anything physical into a lesson and can make the blackboard jealous.
In the spirit of more for less, the VZ-1 outdoes document cameras costing three- or four-times more with high-quality images and the ability to use a projector directly or a notebook. In other words, it’s time to put your smartphone back into your pocket or bag.
+ Flexible camera head
+ Can drive projector or notebook
+ Auto-focus lens
+ LED light
+ HD+ resolution
- No optical zoom
- Lacks microphone or audio jack
- Sensitive to shock