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First Blood – Creative Labs Dual Mode PC Cam 550



DAVID (about 16 years old), awfully handsome, scrawny little Korean kid, with his FRIEND (probably same age), definitely not as good looking, but probably a good friend like JERRY, but not entirely sure, stand, waiting in line for an errand that David cannot quite recall.
FADE OUT (I guess):

I carried the Creative Labs Dual Mode PC Cam 550 with me everywhere. (pictured, not Jerry)

Whoever I was with, I remember we were in a long line to the cashier and along the way were clearance bins. And in one of the bins was a small mountain pile of Creative Labs Dual Mode PC Cam 550’s packaged in hard plastic, looking like a cheap snack. I believe the cameras went for less than $20 because at that point of my life I was lucky to even have a $20 bill in my pocket. Thinking it was a sweet deal, I picked up the dang Dual Mode 550 armoured in rock hard plastic and purchased the damn thing…first blood!

The early 2000’s was a simpler time when cars played cassette tape and speakers looked like this.

The Creative Labs Dual Mode PC Cam 550 is a peculiar camera. It doubles as a webcam or as a point and shoot with a built-in flash, internal battery and memory. You can’t really find any information about it on the internet anymore other than basic specs from Creative Lab’s Amazon product page or a CNET review. However there may have been different versions of the camera, or the CNET review is just straight up lying as it says it requires 4x AAA batteries. Maybe my memory is a bit fogged up from the chronic smoke but I don’t think my Dual Mode 550 ever required triple A bats. One thing for sure is that the camera damn sure looked like this:


creative lab’s amazon product page description

Creative PC-CAM 550 gives you webcam functionality and digital camera mobility for a price that's easy on your wallet.
Looking for a powerful, but compact dual-camera? The Creative PC-CAM 550 offers you exactly that. Use the PC-CAM 550 to chat with the extended family or friends network via the built-in webcam at your home PC computer, and when it's time to go mobile, grab the PC-CAM 550 for digital portable convenience. Day or night, the PC-CAM 550 won't miss a shot with its auto strobe flash and 8MB of PhotoSafe memory.
Use the bundle of accompanying software to make your PC-CAM 550 a powerhouse of functionality. Install Ulead Photo Express MCE and Ulead VideoStudio along with Microsoft NetMeeting and your PC-CAM 550 can now edit photos and videoconference with just a few clicks. Send digital still shots via email to friends and family, or use video email to connect with online penpals.
There's no limit to your imagination with the powerful, compact PC-CAM 550. Quality webcam images mingled with high-quality digital portability make the PC-CAM 550 a simple decision.
-Extensive still image capabilities of 88* images at 1280x960, 88 images at 640x480, or 195 images at 320x240
-8MB of PhotoSafe Memory keeps images secure in case of battery drainage
-640x480 CMOS Sensor
-Easy to follow LCD displays for total control
-Self-powered desktop USB connectivity - no separate power source required
-Built-in strobe flash with auto mode
-Optical viewfinder makes it easy to snap and shoot.
-Shot timer and rapid shot settings opens up your imagination.
-With software interpolation 
Blur. You get used to it.

Lets be real, this isn’t a good camera. It was packaged in unflattering hard plastic, there was a bin full of them on clearance, and one of them was ultimately bought by a broke Korean teenager for under $20. It sports a terrible fixed focus lens (probably plastic), it didn’t make any ergonomic sense (it used to hurt my hands when shooting for a long period of time), and it was too big and heavy for what it was. At certain points I was even ashamed to bring it out because there were cooler, sleeker cameras that my friends were using.

It does terribly with direct sunlight.

It is what it is though, and the Creative Labs Dual Mode PC Cam 550 has played an important role in my life -it really did. I literally took this thing everywhere I went. The camera was bigger than my hands and weighed a bunch, but yet I trooped it out to take shots every day. It was in my backpack to school, sitting next to my plate during dinner, and bulging out of my cargo trunks when I was out hanging out with my friends. This shitty camera may have been technically obsolete by the time I purchased it, but it allowed me to develop my interest in photography like a patient perfectionist Japanese sensei.

Fixed focus makes things intriguing.

I never wanted to be a photographer -it was all just for fun. Little did I know that this dingy little camera was slowly training me in its own little way. One of the greatest feats about this camera is that it doesn’t come with a review pictures function or an option to expand its memory. The only thing it showed on its primitive LCD display was battery life, jpeg resolution, and remaining shots. It sort of made you be a little bit more precautious when you’re out and about like an old 35mm film camera would. But to be fair, it wasn’t exactly like walking around with 3-4 stocks of 35mm film since built-in memory is free and developing images just meant a USB connection to the computer. Still, it was very helpful in making me more cautious about each frame I took.

In the beginning, I was shooting recklessly; as you rightfully should. But each day, surely enough you start to learn the consequences of said reckless behavior. Especially since the camera was not ergonomically friendly to start with; every day was a commitment. Then you realize how short you are on with 180 shots a day -which is crazy to fathom in terms of film stock.

Seriously. Does it matter what kind of camera you are wielding when the moment happens?

The primitive nature of the camera begins to humble you. Maybe this isn’t the best time to shoot. But then again, maybe this is the only moment to capture. The only way to find out was to return home and finally look at the images you shot. This moment in capturing and reviewing your photo is so important that I feel like it is completely lost in this digital age where everything is instantly transferred from device to device. There’s definitely a greater appreciation in reviewing with limited images as well as time committed to develop it. It is one of the main reasons why nowadays I’m shooting more film. It just doesn’t feel the same anymore. However, all in all, this camera has trained me to become very calculative with my shooting.

Memories don’t live like people do.

I often tell my friends that because I take photos, I have a photographic memory. From time to time when I’m backing up my old drive, I would run across an old photo and I’d share it with a friend. Almost always they don’t remember that moment and most likely what happend that entire day, but I can go beat by beat how that fateful day went. This is one of the reasons how photography became a big part of my life. I felt like a vault keeper of memories among my friends. And I was fearless about it. When I say I took my camera everywhere I mean everywhere. I swam across a lake with my camera above surface while I paddled my body through the water with my other arm. How much the camera costed didn’t matter to me as long as I captured a moment I knew I would look back at with pride. By the way, that lake swim with the camera was with my spanking brand new Nikon D3s. It costed $5500 which I worked for all summer the previous year to purchase it.

Just flexing.

Teenage fever.

When I was in first year university, I finally decided to upgrade my Creative Labs Dual Mode business into a DX DSLR. I figured that I’m not that serious and I still strictly liked it as a hobby. My second blood will be in another post in the future, as well as my third blood that is the D3s mentioned above. But lets put all of this in perspective. I was very, very happy with shooting with a dumb ass point and shoot camera that was the Dual Mode PC Cam 550 for YEARS. I always tell my workshop students: photography is a habit. It doesn’t matter how good the technical quality is if you can’t tell a deep, sentimental story behind it.

After all, a good story is all it takes to make it a good picture. Truss, fam.

What does quality mean without substance? A blurry picture of my best friend and I when we were teenagers.

I been meaning to start a personal diary for a long time. Finally, I took the step to write a post about my first camera. I will make more posts about the stories behind the photos. Especially my early photos with said Dual Mode PC Cam 550. I took a good 2-3 years of photos with it, and as poor the quality is I wish to counteract it with nostalgic stories behind each frame.

It’s been a long time dream project. ‘Youthful Vengeance’ is coming. Stay tuned.

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