As digital camera technology has come into its own, cameras have become much more affordable. In recent years, we have seen a bunch of gimmicky single-purpose cameras come onto the market. These cameras are not intended to be of the highest quality, nor are they intended to replace your primary (or even secondary) cameras. Instead, these are intended to be toys; they are experimental gadgets that often serve to inspire and create unique photographs. One such camera is the Midnight Shot NV-1 Infrared Camera, a point and shoot camera that just happens to have a infrared capabilities.
The Midnight Shot is not unlike any other point-and-shoot camera. It’s a small form factor, very easy to slip into your pocket, and it has the most basic of functions: Power, Shutter, Play, Zoom and some basic menu and navigation buttons. It features a 5 megapixel 1/2.5″ CMOS sensor (a crop factor of about 6) and a fixed lens with an 8x digital (not optical) zoom. The lens itself is actually more like a camera phone lens in that it has no telescoping parts. This is somewhat of a mild disappointment as a better lens would ultimately mean better image quality. Other cameras in the same price range feature higher quality lenses with moving elements and optical zooms. I suspect that there is a pretty good reason for using such a lens, and I believe that reason is the Infrared.
The Infrared (IR) capability of this camera lies in the lens’s bezel. Built into the bezel is a mechanism that allows you to switch between normal full-spectrum shooting and IR spectrum shooting. A 1/8th counterclockwise rotation moves an IR filter into place over the lens. Without the filter, the camera behaves much like a normal camera. But with it in place, everything except IR light is blocked.
The interface is a bit clunky and lacks some of the polish that we expect with even the most basic cameras on the market these days. The cameras menu system is not very intuitive and lacks basic features such as a delete function – or none that I could find, and the documentation is rather lacking. Possibly the best illustration of the nonsensical interface is the way you charge the camera. As with many cameras, the Midnight Shot charges the battery inside the camera through a USB style charger. However, even when plugged directly into the wall, you still need to select the “charge” option from a pop-up menu before it will even attempt to charge.
Some of my frustration with the use of the camera simply comes down to physical design. The directional buttons are quite small and difficult to use, especially for my clumsy fat fingers. The left arrow in particular is difficult to use as it is wedged between the action button (center button) and the frame for the LCD display. The built-in infrared filter is a fantastic asset to this camera, and one feature that truly makes the camera worthwhile, but sliding the filter into place is somewhat quirky. You would do so by rotating a bezel around the lens. The action is not a smooth one and its mildly difficult as the bezel is flush with the camera body and the raised bumps offer little help. One certainly couldn’t switch between normal and infrared shooting with gloves on.
In full-color mode, the quality of the photos is pretty good, despite it’s camera-phone like lens. I didn’t notice any significant aberrations or distortions, and the color rendering was fairly accurate. In infrared mode, the photos are in black & white. The infrared photos featured a lot more noise than the color mode, which is to be somewhat expected. However, the noise is significantly more noticeable with photos created with the Midnight Shot, as compared to other IR cameras. In general, the camera performs fairly poorly in low light. The inverse seems to be true when working in IR – the brighter the subject, the more noise it seems to reveal (I cannot say whether this is typical of the IR medium). To some extent, this is a limitation of the sensor. But I suspect a lot of noise is contributed by the camera’s firmware.
Photos created by the Midnight Shot are always saved in JPG format. There is no option to shoot in RAW format or any other format. JPG contributes, in part, to the noise. As you can see in the 1:1 crop to the left, a lot of the noise appears to be the result of JPG artifacts – data that gets lost when re-sampling for the format. This is exasperated by the sensor’s size. It is natively a 5 megapixel camera. It achieves it’s 9 and 12 megapixel but only with interpolation. Not surprisingly, the interpolation will add some noise, much of it in the form of JPG artifacts. From a strict pixel-to-pixel quality perspective, the camera performs best at it’s native 5 megapixel setting.
The poor photo quality is somewhat discouraging. In color, the noise is bearable. But that’s not the reason we’d be interested in this camera in the first place. In infrared mode, we would expect some noise – but the results from the Midnight Shot seems excessive.
Please note that all of the photos shown on this page were taken directly from the camera without any post-processing except to crop as necessary.
A Stumbling Block
I need to disclose one very important fact. In short, the sample Midnight Shot that I was using for this review is no longer functioning. One day, I was shooting some scenes and the camera stopped working. Without giving it much thought, I chalked it up as the battery losing it’s charge, and I set it aside to charge. Though the camera acted like it was, it never charged and would not power up once unplugged. Suspecting it was a faulty battery – batteries have been known to fail – I ordered a replacement battery. The good news is that the battery is the same type that is used by a number of Nokia phones, and so it wasn’t hard to find a replacement. The bad news: The battery didn’t help. I checked with ThinkGeek to see if they had heard of such a problem. Despite selling more than a thousand units, my situation was the first only time they heard of such a problem. So the problem is quite isolated (less than 0.1% based on what we know).
To that end, I feel that I was not able to complete a thorough review of the Midnight Shot. Unfortunately, this stumbling block has somewhat shortened our review. There are a few experiments we didn’t get to try. But we did get a good amount of time with it, and so I feel our review is complete and paints a good picture of the product.
It’s really difficult to look past the fact that the camera failed within a month of receipt. There were still a few specific conditions and shots I was waiting on, but one can’t do much with a non-functioning camera. I do believe we were unlucky with this one. And if what ThinkGeek says is true, you likely shouldn’t be concerned with a failed camera. All across the internet at several retailers, I haven’t found a single bad consumer review. It is unfortunate that the one time it failed, it failed for a formal reviewer.
Assuming that is a rare and isolated incident, I would have to say I really had a lot of fun working with the camera. It is of course advertised as a camera that can see in the dark – and it does that well. But we photographers know that it has many uses in daylight as well. The Midnight Shot serves as an economical way to achieve that. The only viable alternative would require sending your camera away to get permanently altered, certainly a costly solution. That doesn’t mean it’s a fantastic substitute for a fully outfitted IR camera. But at the price, it’s a viable alternative.
The part that really hangs me up is the photo quality. As I said, a little noise would be bearable. But I really feel that an IR camera should support some sort of loss-less format. For some, this is reason enough to ignore this camera in search for the next affordable infrared option. But for others, quality can be overlooked for the clear benefit of having IR capabilities. If you really want to capture scenes in the dark or if you wish to use this as a source for your digital art, than this may do the trick. But if you’re looking to shoot infrared landscapes in broad daylight, the Midnight Shot NV-1 falls short.
Things We Liked
- Infrared – but of course, that’s primarily the point of this camera.
- The ability to quickly switch between infrared and normal shooting – just rotate the bezel around the lens.
- Very small and compact – it’s a good pocket camera or a side-arm.
Things We Didn’t Like
- Interface Shortcomings – no delete function, clunky menus and settings.
- Lens – it’s a glorified camera-phone lens.
- Rear display does little justice for the photos.
- Mediocre image quality (it’s not the worst we’ve seen, but it’s not the best either).