The $30 Disposable Video Camera: A Useful Campaign Tool?

You ever shocked to learn about something that you realize maybe you should have known about before? (“What’s up with this Nirvana band — are they new?”) At NOI last week, I had one of those moments when Carly Dobbins-Bucklad, Pittsburg organizer and web guru for the League of Young Voters turned me on to the fact that CVS and Rite Aid both sell disposable video cameras and have for two years.

They retail for around $30 and take 20-30 minutes of video (saving each press of the Record button as a separate clip), and you can preview and delete clips all day long. The only catch is that you have to bring the camera back to the store to have the video pulled off the device and provided to you on a DVD (the retailer of course refurbishes the camera and sells it to another customer), bringing the total cost per use to around $45.

Carly’s used these neat little critters for advocacy purposes already (nice shaky camera work there —an homage to the French New Wave?), and I can see plenty of applications. Since they’re disposable and cheap, you could buy a dozen of them and spread them throughout the crowd at an event — similar to the way people leave still cameras on tables at wedding receptions — to get footage from within the fray.

Or, you could arm your volunteers or staff with cameras and have them collect footage for you (“In one minute or less, what would YOU tell Barak Obama if he were standing here). To get really fancy, you’d combine the disposa-cameras with still photos and video clips from people’s own cell phones or personal video cameras, uploaded to Flickr/YouTube and properly tagged with your event’s or your organization’s identifier.

I can think of plenty of other situations in which a mailed or packed disposable camera might be better than a full-fledged one — you could send them to activists in the middle of nowhere in the Third World, for instance, without worrying if your $500 camera is going to get trashed on the way. Think also of the applications in war zones or disaster relief — you’ll just need a way to get the device home to so you can get it back to Rite Aid. Tired of that limitation? People have of course figured out how to hack the little bastards and make them behave more like standard cameras.

These are cool little machines, but I suspect that they didn’t take off for mass consumer use because regular video cameras have become so cheap and because video capability is built into so many cell phones and digital still cameras. They’re good tools for us, though — check ’em out and see what you think. But maybe buy a tripod first, unless you’re dying to recreate the feel of À bout de souffle.


Written by
Colin Delany
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