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Review: Play House Construction & the Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR Time Lapse Camera

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Some things should be left to the professionals. huo_h

That was the first thought that struck me as the man in the 18 wheeler started to unload the 21 boxes of play house that my wife bought for our kids.  Or, perhaps better stated, that my wife bought for me to assemble for our kids.

Now, I don’t begrudge my children their fun, but this was 21 boxes of two-story play house.  The issue was not my general handiness around the house, I can build a bookcase, table, chairs, and can decipher IKEA directions with the best of them.  The issue was the 21 boxes, the fact that it would have to be done in the evenings and weekends until it was done, and the 21 boxes (that includes the bucket full of bolts, screws, washers, nails, locking nuts, and nails).  I was looking at a lot of time that I could otherwise have been doing something like mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, and generally doing everything else.

Ah, but there was a bright side, I had just gotten the Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR time lapse camera to review.  I could use the camera to record my building of the structure and kill two birds with one stone.

That was not what occurred.  Instead, the two birds, in true Hitchockian style, nearly did me in.  I will cheat a little here by saying the end results for both were fantastic, but the process… oh, the process.

You see, when you buy the sort of play house we bought, it comes as discrete modules.  You buy the crow’s nest, you buy the slide, you buy the trapeze, etc.  Each module (and each subset of many of the modules) comes with its own set of directions, and no set indicates the proper order in which to tackle things; there is no single master set of directions.  It isn’t just bad planning, it is immensely bad planning.

Sure, you can sort most of it out, but you regularly find yourself finishing a nearly impossible task only to find out, six steps later, that you can’t find a piece you need.  So, you move on to something else and finish that.  Then you move on to something else, and then yet another thing.  Eventually you get to the module that says “remove part x” and, shockingly, it was part x that you needed and couldn’t find earlier, thinking you had run out because you, properly, followed the directions.

To be more specific, let’s say you install dozens of arch braces which sit between the uprights, provide support, and space everything out appropriately.  Genius, because that allows the main structure to exist.  You then build a module which requires an arch brace but you don’t have any more because they all went into the main structure.  So, you build three other modules and eventually you get to one that says “remove the arch brace in this part of the play house.”

Ta-da!  You now have the arch brace you needed before but which didn’t exist.  You couldn’t have known that was going to happen.  There is no overarching set of directions for what you’ve bought and you didn’t see that one line in the six-inch stack of directions (really) when you checked it out before beginning.

So, that was how the play house went.  More or less, it was also how the camera went.  This could again be a case of some things being better left to the professional (my contractor was able to get the roof 15 feet into the air with ease), but to the average individual, it isn’t terribly easy to operate.

One of the main selling points of the Brinno seems to be that “It is shockingly simple; just start filming with the push of a button!”  You could go that way, but if you do, you’re liable to get disappointing results (see the first video).  It should also be noted that it is because of this statement that I figured I, a pretty tech savvy guy, could work it out.

There are several menus which have to be played with and, honestly, the largest shortcoming with the camera is that they’re incredibly difficult to navigate.  The makers of the camera have gone for a simple look and that means a minimal number of buttons, many of which are dual use but only labeled for one specific purpose.  So, you blithely assume that the “TIME” button adjusts the time.  It also scrolls down on the menu system, with, once you’re in the sub menu system, “MENU” scrolling up.   If, under the main menu you scroll past what you want, hitting the time button to try to cycle back around not only kicks you out of the menu when it gets to the end, but then pushes you into the menu for what the button is actually labeled.

As for the time that the time button adjusts, that is how often you want a frame (or set of frames) to be recorded.  You adjust the number of frames recorded at a time under the menu button, but not just under the first set of menus, under the Settings subheading.  Why time gets its own button and number of frames and the main set of menus in the menus section only allows you to go into the settings subsection, adjust focus, and see how much free space you have makes little to no sense.

One would also surmise that adjusting the focus would be a simple task.  One would surmise incorrectly.

For reasons  to which I am not privy (and if anyone out there spends tons of time with stuff and could explain it that would be awesome), when pulling focus, you aren’t treated to an LCD screen that is exceptionally yellow.  The camera doesn’t record yellow, when you go actually start the recording process it isn’t a yellow view of the world, but when you go to pull focus, the screen is yellow.  It is also zoomed in which ought to help you focus on whatever the middle bit of your shot will be.

It doesn’t.

The LCD screen isn’t of the highest quality and zooming in and turning things yellow makes the shot unclear.  Trying to correctly focus the camera becomes exceptionally difficult at that point, especially when you consider the fact that you focus the image manually (not with the time and menu buttons), using a screwdriver to adjust things.  Attempting to sit the admirably lightweight camera wherever you want it for the shot, and adjust the focus with a screwdriver while looking at the poor LCD image is not the simplest of tasks.

Please, don’t mistake these issues as coming from someone who didn’t spend time with the manual, much as with the play house, I spent quite a lot of time with the manual, one just has to keep referring to it to find where any of the menus are and how to appropriately adjust things because the device itself isn’t intuitive, even once you know what you’re doing.

That though is all the learning curve, isn’t it?  What are the results?

The Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR time lapse camera offers excellent images.  Once you know what you’re doing and can properly adjust everything, you’re going to absolutely love the results.

The camera has 1.3 megapixels and features resolution up to 1280 x 720.  There are times when the image could certainly stand to be sharpened/enhanced using video editing software, but there isn’t any included.  There isn’t supposed to be, the point is out of the box simplicity.

I love the camera.  It is a mere 60 grams, it has a wide angle lens that records 112 degrees (other lenses can be purchased), and the lens can be tilted up or down in the housing as well.  Once you know how to use the menus they won’t be any less frustrating, but they do offer a wide range of options in terms of how often you want it to snap a picture and how many frames to record a time.  Plus, it puts it all together huhuifor you.  It only requires four AA batteries, takes a standard SD card, and it’s easy to grab the finished file off of it.   It can be used as a webcam when hooked up to a computer and the booklet, which is constructed for the average person, offers up handy tables about what settings will work best for what you want to do.

In the end, the Brinno and the play house are far more alike than I thought they would be.  The end result on both is something with which I am immensely pleased, but the process was less than satisfactory.  In both instances there were multiple times when I wanted to call the manufacturer and just ask why?  Why would you set it up this way?  Why would you make people go from point A to point B via point X?

Using the Brinno and building the play house both take a whole lot of practice to get good at.  Happily, with the Brinno, you can keep shooting until you know what you’re doing, the play house you just have to struggle through until it’s done.  Happily with the play house, you never have to build it again, but I’m quite certain that if I put the Brinno down for a month the process of figuring out how to make it work once more will be almost as frustrating.  Still, once I work my way through the buttons, I end up with some great pictures.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • fflyer165

    Great review… the menu is tricky, but once I learned it, things were easy. I did upload the new firmware for the PRO from Brinnos site so now I can set a start – stop time and use the EYE Fi card to connect with the PRO across a network. Very cool.

    • markus

      Hi fflyer,
      I’m thinking about getting the TLC200 Pro + EyeFi, but I’m hoping you can clear this up for me: If I set a timer from 08:00-12:00, will it record a small video daily, which I can then download via EyeFi on a daily basis? Or will it record just 4 hours once and then reset?

      Cheers!