Oregon Scientific ATC5K review: Oregon Scientific ATC5K

A 32MB internal memory will hold up to 47 seconds of VGA video, 1.5 minutes of QVGA video, or 175 VGA still photos 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 ATC5K lets users adjust capture resolution; preview captured media; 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 ATC5K can playback stored media or send a live video feed. When connected to a computer via USB, the ATC5K gives the user a choice between displaying the files stored on the device and functioning as a Webcam. The Webcam function only works on machines running 32-bit versions of Windows, leaving 64-bit users and Mac users out of luck.

The ATC5K seems most stable when used with the included tube grip on, for example, bicycle handlebars. We had difficulty securing the ATC5K in any other configuration that didn't yield a good deal of vibration or shake. The 5K'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.

The ATC5K'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 ATC5K indoors, at dusk, or on an overcast day yielded mixed results ranging from muddy and poorly exposed to plain dark and unwatchable.

The 5K's sensors seemed to take a few seconds to adjust to changing light, resulting in 2-3 seconds of blown-out, overexposed imagery when, for example, transitioning from an indoor to an outdoor environment. While using the ATC5K as a Webcam, we could see the exposure of the captured image shifting from dark to light as the unit tried to keep up with the changing amounts of light caused by moving our head about.

Transferring 1GB of video from the device's SD card slot using the integrated USB port took a staggeringly slow 30 minutes, during which the 5K needed to be powered using its batteries. So, you may want to invest in an SD card reader to speed up file transfers and save on batteries.

In sum
With its color LCD, the ATC5K is a very easy device to pick up and start using. Its menus are well designed and easily navigated. The rugged construction and waterproof design also contribute to the 5K's design score. However, the ATC5K is considerably larger than the competing GoPro Hero and less evenly balanced, making it more difficult to stably mount and more prone to being caught on obstructions.

The ATC5K wins back points in the Features category with its Webcam and live monitor functions and the inclusion of an IR remote control, but it loses major points in the Performance category for its issues with poor image exposure and low light performance. At $229, it's also more expensive than competing models that capture better video, take higher resolution photos, and feature more mounting option. However, if you must have a live LCD viewfinder for your extreme photography, the ATC5K is one of the only ways to go.

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