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The Oregon Scientific ATC3K Action Camera is a bit like the Jeep Wrangler of digital camcorders. On paper, the bare-bones digital camera is only capable of capturing VGA video. In a civilized world filled with pocket HD camcorders, that's not a particularly impressive feat.
However, take the ATC3K into the rough and tumble great outdoors and you'll find that its rugged construction, waterproof design, and compact size allow it to be used in conditions that would instantly void the warranty of more complex and more delicate pocket cameras.
The ATC3K is a tapering tube style camera. Measuring 4.25 inches long and 2.25 inches thick at its thickest end, the camera is quite portable. With a rubberized bumper surrounding the lens and solid, waterproof construction (up to 10 feet), it's also quite rugged.
At the business end, the ATC3K's small recessed lens is tucked behind a raised rubber ridge and a plastic shield. Along the top are a monochromatic LCD screen and three rubberized buttons for record, power, and menu. To prevent accidental presses, the buttons must be held for a second or so to register an input.
At the rear end of the device is a twist-off cap sealed with a pair of rubber o-rings that covers the battery door for the two AA batteries that power the device, as well as the SD card slot, video out port, and a Mini-USB port.
Included with the ATC3K is a plastic mounting ring and base grip that the camera can be inserted into to connect to any of the included mounting options. The ATC3K kit includes a handlebar grip, a Webcam stand, and a helmet grip that can be used with one of the two Velcro straps or the silicon rubber head strap the unit ships with.
Also included is a CD with Windows drivers, a carry bag, an AV cable with RCA connections for video and monaural audio, a USB cable to interface with a PC, and a pair of AA batteries.
The ATC3K's main feature is its capability to record video at up to 640x480 pixels and 30 frames per second in an AVI format. Video recording is triggered using the record button on the top of the unit for 2 seconds to start the capture and again to stop. People are given the choice of VGA (640x480 pixels) or QVGA (32 0x240 pixels) resolutions using the devices menu.
A 32MB internal memory will hold up to 47 seconds of VGA video or 1.5 minutes of QVGA video, if you're in a pinch and forget your SD card. However, to get the best use of the device you'll want to pick up an SD memory card (not included). The device will store up to 120 minutes of VGA video on a 4GB SD card (the largest readable size).
The menu system of the ATC3K lets users adjust capture resolution; delete unwanted files; enable/disable audible button confirmation (beeping); adjust the audio recording level between low; high, and off; and set the date and time for file time stamps.
When connected to a television or monitor using the included RCA cables, the ATC3K can playback stored media or send a live video feed. When connected to a computer via USB, the ATC3K gives the user a choice between displaying the files stored on the device and functioning as a Webcam. The unit only includes Webcam drivers for machines running 32-bit versions of Windows, leaving 64-bit users and Mac users out of luck.
The ATC3K seems most stable when used with the included tube grip on, for example, bicycle handlebars. We had difficulty securing the ATC3K in any other configuration that didn't yield a good deal of vibration or shake. The 3K's bullet-shape puts its center of gravity a few inches in front of the mounting point when using the strap-based attachments, causing the lens to shake about considerably.
Although the ATC3K is about the same size and weight as the more expensive ATC5K, the 3K feels more balanced and exhibits considerably less shake when using the strap-based mounting options. The 3K's ring mount rotates more easily that the 5K's locking ring and features neat ridges molded into the ring, the end cap, and the camera body, which makes it very easy to line the camera up with the bracket in 90 degree intervals.
The ATC3K's construction dictates that this is a device that should be used outdoors and its video capture reinforces this sentiment. In sunlight, the video captured was crisp and saturated. However, using the ATC3K indoors, at dusk, or on an overcast day yielded mixed results ranging from muddy and poorly exposed to plain dark and unwatchable.
Transferring 1GB of video from the device's SD card slot using the integrated USB 1.1 port took a staggeringly slow 30 minutes, during which the 3K needed to be powered using its batteries. So, you may want to invest in a faster SD card reader to speed up file transfers and save on batteries.
The ATC3K is a very easy device to pick up and start using. Its rugged construction and waterproof design also contribute to the 3K's Design score. Its more generous front rubber bumper make the 3K feel even more durable than the 5K.
The ATC3K wins back points in the Features category with its Webcam and live monitor functions, but it loses major points in the Performance category for its issues with poor image exposure and low light performance.
Ultimately, the ATC3K is only a decent camera. Its strongest asset is that it's a tough little camera that can take a pretty good beating from Mother Nature. At $149, it goes head-to-head with the GoPro Hero. The ATC3K's LCD interface icons are easier to understand than the GoPro Hero. However, the ATC3K is considerably larger than the GoPro Hero and less evenly balanced, making the ATC3K more difficult to stably mount and more prone to being caught on obstructions. Additionally, Oregon Scientific doesn't have as broad a selection of mounting options.