The Autographer, a wearable camera that clips on to a bag or jacket, takes photos automatically, so there’s no need to frame a shot. Will Coldwell tested it on a short break to Berlin
People like to take photos. Lots of photos. Since the advent of the cameraphone it has never been easier to capture and share every moment of your life: from the mundane act of Instagramming your lunch to the bizarrely distasteful one of taking a selfie at Chernobyl. So in many ways, the invention of a camera that is never not taking photos seems like a natural progression …
Enter the Autographer, a cunning piece of wearable tech that silently snaps away while you go about your day. Launched last year, the sleek black machine, which looks a bit like a USB memory stick, is one of several “life-logging” gadgets to hit the market. Similar products include the Narrative, the Looxcie and Google Glass.
But what do cameras like these mean for the world’s most prolific subgroup of photo takers: tourists? I took the Autographer for a spin on a weekend break in Berlin to see if it was possible to have a holiday without (deliberately) taking photos, thereby putting my precious memories of the trip on the line.
The first test for the Autographer was an afternoon’s sightseeing. I clipped it on to my coat and set off from Potsdamer Platz towards the Reichstag. The camera, which is described as intelligent, is meant to know when it’s the right moment to take photos thanks to three sensors “connected by a sophisticated algorithm”. The sensors pick up movement around the camera, assess the light and even the temperature to try to optimise each shot. Built-in GPS also helps it assess the speed of movement and all this data is tagged to each photo, meaning you can track your travels through pictures.
I walked through the Holocaust Memorial and past the Brandenburg Gate. Strangely, despite loitering in front of the gate for some minutes, leaning my chest towards it in a awkward attempt to encourage a photo, the Autographer had other ideas: neither monument came up in that day’s footage. Perhaps the Autographer felt it wasn’t the right moment.
Still, I gained some nice shots of the Reichstag and the Berlin Wall Memorial, while the journey on the U-Bahn (Berlin’s metro) looked fresh and stylised, framed with a slightly bulging 136-degree fisheye view that should please anyone who grew up watching skateboarding videos. Wandering past the East Side Gallery – a section of the Berlin Wall in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg that is now a canvas for street artists – it was actually refreshing to be free of the compulsion to take a photo of every piece of graffiti, one that can plague amateur photographers such as myself.
I found this to be even more the case during a visit to Teufelsburg, the decaying site of Berlin’s cold war “listening towers” used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Soviet and East German exchanges in the 1950s. The ragged white domes combined with, yes, more street art, make it the kind of ruin-overload that photographers from around the world dream of. Unsurprisingly, most of the other people on the tour were clutching bulky DSLR cameras with zoom lenses, while I was left hoping the Autographer would do the site justice, and praying that I wouldn’t get a repeat of the Brandenburg treatment.
After the tour I linked the Autographer up to my phone via Bluetooth to have a look at the results. They were pretty good. None of the atmosphere is lost as a result of the jaunty angles and awkward framing. In fact, I don’t really feel like I could have done much better with the latest Nikon. (However, the Autographer’s £299 price tag may make it difficult to persuade someone to buy it over a more-conventional camera.)Nungwi Village
Playing back through the stream of photos on my laptop later, using the straightforward software that is supplied with it, I did feel like I had preserved a nice visual representation of the towers – and my visit to them – that I may have struggled to accomplish with a traditional camera. The Autographer makes it very easy to create a stop-motion video of your trip, which views like a rapid flashback of everything you got up to.
The Autographer also did well capturing a cycle ride across the city. The point-of-view shot, which included the handlebars, told a bit more of a story than a regular tourist photo of a landmark, as did the shots that had my hands fumbling with a crumpled map in the corner.Nungwi Village
One scenario where I felt a little bit uneasy having a camera clipped to my breast pocket, however, was while out in bars. It felt imposing at best, and creepy at worst. I don’t like to consider myself the kind of person who’s secretly photographing people on their night out. Still, one Berliner I was with pointed out it would be good for his friend who can never remember what he did the evening before: “He’s always like, oh my god, who was that girl I kissed? This would be quite useful for him.”
As it turns out, the Autographer, as with most cameras, doesn’t perform well in dark rooms filled with lots of people and flashing lights. After about 20 minutes in a club, feeling increasingly awkward, I took it off, bought a Vodka Mate and got on with the party. Some things are better left forgotten.
Flights were provided by easyJet (easyjet.com), which has flights to Berlin Schoenfeld from Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton, Southend, and Manchester airports from £19.74 one way