Exploring Walt Disney World with a Narrative Clip Camera

by on August 21, 2014 33 Comments

Filed under: Walt Disney World (FL)

During a recent round of retail therapy (don’t judge), I bought myself a new tech toy: the Narrative Clip camera. (Currently about $230 on Amazon, but if you were in bargain hunter mode you could probably find it for a bit less elsewhere.)

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As you can see, the Narrative Clip is a very tiny, passive camera that you clip (thus the name) onto your person, or anywhere else you like. The camera is roughly the size, shape, and weight of a Triscuit cracker. The camera has no buttons, dials, or controls of any sort, just a lens, the clip, and a little port on the bottom with which to connect a USB charge/download cable.

The only thing this camera does is automatically take one photo every 30 seconds of whatever it happens to see, as long as it senses the presence of light. The premise is that the Narrative is an unobtrusive way to document your day. You don’t have to think about taking photos of events or take notes about where you’ve been, the Narrative does this for you.

I could think of no better place to test this out than Walt Disney World.

Over the course of an 8-day trip, I wore the clip nearly non-stop, experimenting with different placements to see if it made a difference in the type of shots I’d get. One day I wore it clipped to a baseball cap; sometimes it was clipped to my purse; sometimes it was clipped to my shirt collar; and on a few strangely meta occasions, I wore it clipped to the strap of my large digital SLR camera. Other than choosing a location to wear the clip, I didn’t fiddle with it at all, mostly because there’s nothing to fiddle with. You can’t aim or focus, so what it sees is what you get. And it truly is small and light enough so that much of the time I forgot I was using it.

So now you’re wondering what the camera captured. Honestly, most of what it got was crap: shots of tree limbs, three dozen shots the back of the guy I was waiting behind at rope drop, a stranger’s foot, etc. Hundreds and hundreds of meaningless images. Beyond that, some of the photos it took were lovely, but fairly useless to me. For example, I randomly took several well-composed candid shots of a woman and her children waiting for a show to start. Their faces perfectly captured both the joy and exhaustion of a Disney vacation, but I’ll never share them because I don’t know who those people are, I don’t have their permission, they didn’t know I was photographing them, and it just plain seems creepy.

There were however, a few handfuls of photos that made me look at Disney World in a new way, seeing shape, color, pattern, or texture from a new perspective. Here are a few of my favorites (completely unedited other than cropping to make them fit tighter in this post).

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I particularly liked these three photos which show Mulan’s bun, the Beach Club facade, and a chair at Epcot’s France pavilion, all with heart shaped elements.

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Beyond the just vaguely interesting shots, were a few that I thought were legitimately nice.

I like the inadvertent juxtaposition of the "Star is Born" signage with the "Show Times" in the Times Guide.

I like the inadvertent juxtaposition of the “Star is Born” signage with the “Show Times” in the Times Guide.

This is the fake sky at the Studios Backlot Tour melding into the real sky above.

This is the fake sky at the Studios Backlot Tour melding into the real sky above.

I was filming the Voices of Liberty at Epcot and got a Narrative still shot of my DSLR camera screen. I liked the image of an image concept.

I was filming the Voices of Liberty at Epcot and got a Narrative still shot of my DSLR camera screen. I liked the image of an image concept.

 

Of course, you’re asking, “Is this thing worth it?” To which I shrug my shoulders and say, “Meh.”

During the course of a week the Narrative took thousands of photos, perhaps 75 of which I thought were somewhat interesting, and perhaps 5 or 6 that I might actually use for something other than this article. It’s not a great ratio.

If you’ve already photographed everything at Disney World a billion times and are looking for new perspectives, this might help. Or if you like tech playthings in general, you might have a bit of fun with a passive camera such as the Narrative. Otherwise, I’m not so sure.

If you do end up splurging, here are some tips and thoughts:

  • The camera has no on/off switch, to turn it off you have to cover the lens or put it in a dark place like your pocket or purse. If it has light, it’s taking pictures. This could lead to some awkward moments in restrooms if you’re not diligent about covering the camera. I usually forget I had it and did take lots of restroom shots, luckily nothing more troublesome than my own sweaty image in the mirror, but still, be careful.
  • The quality of images in bright outdoor light is fine. Almost everything indoors is washed out or grainy. Don’t expect that you’ll capture anything on indoor rides. The Narrative read the ambient lighting level on many rides as “dark” and turned itself off. You’re not going to get pictures of Pirates of the Caribbean or Peter Pan. Even the relatively bright Small World didn’t produce much that was usable.
  • There is no screen on the camera. You won’t have any way to check your work until you download your images.
  • There are two ways to store the photos: on your computer, which takes up a killer amount of memory, or in the Narrative cloud accessible only via a phone/tablet app, which may make some folks nervous.
  • In eight days of wearing the camera in very public areas, 8-12 hours per day, not one person noticed or mentioned the Narrative. This may bring to mind ethical “Big Brother is watching you” issues. As I mentioned earlier, I ended up with many pictures of strangers who didn’t know they were being photographed. Among these pictures were shots of other people’s children, which I am now deleting. When I’m at a theme park, I generally assume that I will be the background of someone else’s family photo, but not everyone is that aware. I’m still struggling with the voyeuristic aspect of this. For example, I used Katelynn’s photo above because she was a cast member doing her job, thus “on stage.” But I’m not sure she was aware that she was being photographed at the time, so I waffled about posting.

Is a micro camera like this something you would buy? Would you use it at a theme park? How do you feel about the ethical element of constant photography? Let us know in the comments below.

Edit 8/21/14 4:30pm: Based on reader comments, I removed a photo of a cast member. It was a flattering photo of a lovely young woman doing her job on stage, but I had not asked her permission to post.

Posted on August 21, 2014

33 Responses to “Exploring Walt Disney World with a Narrative Clip Camera”

  • Neat. I want one.

  • It would be fun and I’d consider it. But this particular unit is overpriced. I have a dashcam in my car the size of a pack of Tic Tacs that can do time lapse images that cost $100 with 32GB of memory. It’s not designed to be worn though. Ebay will probably have something similar for 25% of the price soon.

  • Such an interesting idea, and a bit more economical than the Google Glass option reviewed in another blog. Still, I’m not sure I’d have much use for it. I wonder if you could “rent” one….

  • I fall on the side of creepy. It’s disturbing that venturing out of your home makes you fair game to everyone with a camera these days.

    • I definitely see your point, and it is something I struggle with. I haven’t used it at home in NY for just that reason. I feel less anxiety using this at WDW because nearly everyone there has multiple cameras and people are taking photos everywhere. It’s virtually impossible not to show up in strangers’ photos when you’re in the parks. But again, I see your point.

  • Wow! I love the effect of the ‘low quality images’ (this is meant artistically).

    We so often see razor sharp, super focussed images in every day life and this very arty type of image has been hugely popular in the photographic art world with ‘LOMO’ cameras.
    The cameras ‘god bless them’, were never meant to be as variable in build and image quality, but those quirky images defined them as highly coveted and very affordable film cameras for Art students to make the best use of the cameras’ ‘enabling constraints’.

    Erin, I think you have popularized a new visual art form!
    Love it!

  • I like all kinds of technology and own several cameras including a GoPro that is fun to use. And when I am in parks it is pretty clear that many of the people around me are taking pictures in which I may be included- a necessary risk of being in a busy place like Disney World.
    I am gratified that you are “struggling with the voyeuristic aspects” of the narrative camera. But, honestly, the struggle should not be that difficult. Using a device like this in a place where kids and families might expect some sense of privacy provided by sheer numbers of guests is CREEPY. We might be willing to give up some sense of privacy in the parks with big data elements of MyMagic+, but we should not need to worry about people recording our images surreptiously. It’s not Big Brother I worry about. I worry about Big Pervert, like those occasionally tossed from parks for becoming to close to unaware young children or teen girls.
    You owe the cast member whose picture you took an apology. Touring Plans should not countenance this. And the Walt Disney Company should take strong steps to direct members of quasi-official groups like Moms Panel to avoid making the same mistake you have made. I will be sharing your blog with Guest Services.

    • I’m sorry you feel this way, and it’s obviously your prerogative. The camera was in no way hidden at any time. It was fully visible on my person, usually clipped to my shirt. There are no signs prohibiting photography in public areas of the parks, which is where I used it.

      It’s a product that’s readily available through major retail outlets. I got it because of an article I read in the Wall Street Journal, a major news outlet.

      I don’t think I did anything nefarious, clearly you disagree.

      • To point out how tiny and unobtrusive this camera is and then argue that people should be aware they are being photographed because it was “fully visible” is somewhat disingenuous.

        I am fairly certain no one thought it was a camera.

      • You violated a cast member’s privacy by publishing her photo. There are many products that are readily available to people. That you chose to post another’s photo without permission indicates the problem is in your sense of propriety, not the device. As you are a member of the Moms Panel, a quasi- official part of Disney, I have written to the company asking whether your activity was sanctioned. I have also messaged Len Testa that publishing the photo was wrong.

        • Are you joking? Or trolling? This seems like a non-issue to me. I could care less if there are pictures of myself or my kids taken knowingly or unknowingly in a crowded public place.

          • Had you seen the photo, now removed, it showed a single person in the frame. This person who was never made aware she was being photographed with a camera that Ms. Foster admitted did not look like a camera. I do not care if I might be in another’s photo as part of a general scene. But I would not want myself or you to have a reasonable close up taken and published online without consent.

          • I saw the photo before it was taken down. Still seems like non-issue.

        • I think that there’s a fine line between commentary and bullying to be honest Roger.

    • The idea that being in a large group of people should confer some type of privacy – especially a group where many people will be taking pictures and video – seems very bizarre to me.

      • Pretty sure he means that in a large crowded place you may end up somewhere in the background of a photo in passing, but not the focus of it like if you were in a group of only a few people. Hence the phrase “lose yourself in crowd.”

    • Wow Roger, you’re a hero. You’re one of those fierce internet warriors that sits by their keyboard all day waiting for something to be offended by. I’m so glad the internet has people like you to snitch on all the decent hardworking people who actually contribute something useful and different, god forbid that! I will be sharing your comment with my garbage man.

      • You’re quite the hero yourself, Bobby.

        Roger didn’t seem offended, just concerned about internet privacy. It is a real issue.

  • I think something like this would be great for writing trip reports. I love to document our trips but usually don’t get to it immediately afterwards. I don’t think many, if any, of the picture would be usable for any purpose other than sparking my memory of what we did that day. I do my best to make notes and take pictures of appropriate things, but there’s always sections of the day where I can’t remember what went on.

    • That was actually my main reason for getting the camera. I go to WDW so often that sometimes the trips blend together. I wanted a tool to help me remember specific events and the order in which they happened.

      • by Lisa Gilmore on August 21, 2014, at 6:24 pm EDT

        I could see another benefit of this being that you’re not constantly viewing your vacation through the screen on your camera or your phone, but actually “experiencing” it yourself with the device to just capture the moments as they happen but not filter the experience.

  • I do understand why people are concerned by such a tiny and covert camera, but I think that I’d rather become more aware of such technology through a reputable site like touringplans, who are merely pointing out what is on the market.
    Sure people may use such devices for the wrong reasons, but I can honestly say that I would trust my kids more in Orlando’s theme parks than any other place in the world.

    It’s a great debate though.
    Privacy is a curious subject when it comes to photography and much debated the world over.
    Just because you are in a public place, does not mean that you give up all rights to privacy.
    Nor does the size of a camera make privacy any easier or more difficult to protect.
    I would imagine that there are hundreds of pictures of my family on Facebook unwittingly ‘photo-bombing’ other guest’s snaps (taken with full sized cameras).
    If we are in the parks, we are fair game, I guess, whether we know it, or like it or not.

    Of course, the alternative, if we protest too loudly, is that we make Disney’s dreams come true, and the only cameras allowed in the parks are those of the Photopass photographers!

    This is a great piece of journalism; It has created debate!

  • Great debate! I expect that anytime I am in a public place whether at Disney World, the grocery store or my street corner that I am fair game to be photographed or filmed. The presumption that you are not constantly being photographed is an interesting one to me. Remember how quickly we had photos and video following the steps of the Boston Marathon bombers? Everywhere I look, there are cameras recording my every move. Maybe it’s a generational thing; having always grown up with technology, most of the time it goes unnoticed by me. Like it or not, any illusion that you have privacy in a public space is just a “figment of your imagination.” 😉

    • Constantly being photographed by security cameras and being surreptitiously photographed by someone you are interacting with in a professional capacity and having that photo posted to a commercial website listing your name and work location without your knowledge or consent are not really the same thing now are they?

      Being concerned about issues regarding privacy and personal safety isn’t really “generational.”

      • You bring up some more interesting points. I wasn’t thinking as much about security cameras as I was thinking about everyone around me with their Smartphones constantly photographing and filming everything. So much so, that it is now common for law enforcement to ask the community for any photos or video that they took near an incident. I completely agree that privacy and safety issues are not generational, but a rightful concern of everyone. I do believe, however, that younger generations don’t seem to feel that having their photos taken as much of an intrusion of that privacy. Selfies, Twitter and Instagram are prime examples of people posting anything and everything about themselves and others with and without permission. Some of these people have thousands of followers. I can only imagine and hope that as the devices become even more and more integrated into our lives, there will be even more debate about these important rights and issues. Thanks for the great argument! I’ve been missing my days of debate and mock trials! 🙂

  • You took some truly awesome photos. I love the new perspective of things. The beautiful chandelier photo is amazing. Where is this?
    Thanks so much for helping us live at Disney between our own trips.

    • Thank you for the kind words. The chandelier photo was taken at Tren-D, a boutique clothing store in Downtown Disney.

  • by Elizabeth Anderson on August 24, 2014, at 9:03 am EDT

    Thank you for informing us of the new products out there for us to document our vacation. Great article and great pictures.