Children interact poorly with adult cameras. At best, an adult camera is confusing and annoying to a child – and at worst, your expensive camera ends up with impact damage, liquid incursion, or the ever-familiar fingerprint(s) on the nano-coated front element. Unless your child is good at reading menus (and some adults are not), your old point-and-shoot becomes a throwaway. It is highly more likely that your iPhone will become a target.
Santa Claus brought a Fisher-Price W1458 this year. Prior to its unwrapping, we had no idea that something like this existed. In our day, a toy camera was either a 110-style wooden box with a rotating “flashcube,” or at best, a Tomy Snappy Shots that simulated instant pictures – it had six plastic pictures that when wet, revealed pictures. In an odd bow to coater-style Polaroid film, the camera had sponge inside. Children of today fare much better, apparently.
The Fisher-Price is, oddly, a real camera. And by real, one means, “takes digital pictures.” The imager is a SQ Tech SQ907B, a basic VGA (640×400; 0.3 Mp; 100kb files, 1,000 fit in memory) camera that has a fixed-focus f/2,8 meniscus lens (sitting in a very recessed cone, with an entrance pupil that small fingers will have trouble entering). The camera appears to have a sole ISO of 60, a fixed aperture, fixed focus (4 feet to ∞), and shutter speeds running from 1/10 to at least 1/600 sec. For what it is worth, this imager is used in other things, like about 20 other brands of child cameras and some deer-hunting cameras. There are implementations with and without flash, and it appears that Fisher-Price dropped the flash feature (although intuitively, you would think you would want flash, small children could misuse it at close range).
In terms of handling, the camera a solid brick of plastic (as thick as and slightly taller than an Argus C3). The end caps and bottom are rubberized. The viewfinder is an interesting binocular design with the two oculars at about the spacing of a toddler’s eyes, and they are in a projecting binnacle that allows an adult nose to fit underneath (grown-up digital camera manufacturers, note…). The screen is a 1.5″ square LCD. The controls are quite simple: an on/off button, up and down arrows for digital zoom; left and right arrows for navigating past pictures (there is no model “play/review” switch – hitting these triggers playback, and touching the shutter button puts the camera back in shooting mode), a red “X” button for deleting (press twice), and a shutter release. There is close to zero shutter lag (in no small part due to the fact that it does not focus).
In operation, it is simple enough for a child – and the entire reason why this review appears here is to make a point: that user interface is very, very important on consumer cameras, and Fisher-Price has nailed it without going to the absurd lengths of the Leica M typ 60. There is no date setting, no manual ISO, nothing to get in the way of youthful glee. There is, however, a spring-loaded door to protect the mini-USB connector (this camera does not use SD cards, and you have to supply your own USB cable) and a screw-protected battery compartment to load three AA batteries.
As to image quality, let’s put it this way: on an iMac Retina 5K, the thumbnail in Photoshop is pretty close to the same size as the whole picture. With a base ISO of 60, you can expect tons of motion blur – and noise when the light drops too low. But just like consumer digital cameras of the early 2000s, if you can work carefully, it actually works. You can see the digital zoom in one of the pictures. Not pretty. But considering that this a toy designed for children, it does the job. This type of camera may be the next PXL2000 when it comes to the low-fidelity cult.