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Friday, March 02, 2007

Creative Zen Vision W


There's a bit of a love affair going on between me and my Creative Zen Vision W. It's not a name that trips off the tongue easily, but its pretty damn cool gadget that happens to have some nice features for photograhers.

For a while, I have been looking for a iPod-like device that would also serve as a portable storage backup, or "image tank." I say iPod-like, the Ipod ruled itself out by not having some features I felt I needed, its limitations as image tank have been well documented by others.

I heard about the Zen Vision W towards the end of 2006 and bought one at the beginning of 2007. The Zen Vision W is an excellent portable entertainment centre, able to play MP3 audio as well as DivX and XviD videos on a screen large enough to be very watchable. The user interface is practical, though not exceptional. It is chock full of features and I am not going to go into them all, just focus on the ones that make it a decent tool for backing up photo's:
  • It has a built in Type I & II Compact Flash slot. As I still use microdrives, this is a very important feature for me.
  • It has a removable battery. If you plan using it a lot on a trip, you can bring pre-charged spares.
  • A reasonable 60 Gb of storage, provided you get the higher spec model.
  • A decent sized screen that covers pretty much the entire face of the device. The screen is a wide-screen layout (same dimensions as a Sony PSP) and is intended for watching movies, but as a side effect serves as quite a nice image browser.
  • It recharges from a standard USB cable, useful if one forgets to pack the power adaptor.

The Zen Vision W is noticeably larger and heavier than the current generation of ipods, but as long as you are using Compact Flash everything you need is built into the body of the unit - no need for additional adaptors or card readers, which makes the Zen both price and bulk comparable with the ipod once you have accounted for the extra accessories.

The large screen servers well as a photo-viewer and the browser will display 32 thumbnails at a time. No RAW viewer support, but the unit handled the 13-megapixel JPEGs from my Canon 5D without any difficulty. A single level of zoom is available, through the menu. This provides a scrolling window that covers about a sixth-portion of the image - helpful, but not really good enough to check for sharpness. Images can be rotate in ninety degree increments but the device was smart enough to pick the best orientation to fit the screen anyway. Exif information is viewable, again through a menu option.

The imported files are kept in a date stamped folder, separate from your other media. Whilst it is possible to sort through, rate and delete your images
on this portable device, the process is fiddly enough that I would imagine most would wait to do this on a PC.

I made a point to check the backup speed of the device, using different media:
  • 10 minutes to backup a full, 2 Gb "generic" CF card, holding 260 files (mix of RAW+JPG)
  • 27 minutes to backup a full, 4 Gb IBM branded microdrive, holding 430 files (mix of RAW+JPG)
The microdrive backup drained perhaps 20% of the battery power, from a full charge. Whilst I have not tested this, I anticipate being able to archive of about 16-20 Gb of data on a single charge. If I needed more, then carrying a spare battery would be practical.

There are very specialist photo storage devices that are purpose designed to support the photographer - they have the ability to preview RAW files, offer multi-level zoom and
slots for other card formats, but they are also more expensive. I would hypothesize that what most photographers want is a small device that will let them archive their memory cards quickly so the cards can be erased and re-used whilst "in the field" away from a PC. The Zen Vision W is well suited for this task, in my experience.

Importantly, the Creative Zen Vision W is the kind of gadget I would pack for any kind of trip/vacation, whether or not I am taking a camera. Because it has other uses, the odds are in favour of me having it with me when I run out of memory cards. If you are looking for a multi-purpose media player that doubles as a backup device, the Creative Zen Vision W is a good choice.

One final thought, before everyone rushes out and buys my preferred media player. The price of solid state memory has plummeted of late. Shopping around online, I find that, if I stick to generic brands, I could buy the equivalent 15x4 Gb memory cards at a cost only marginally more than the 60 Gb media center.

I wouldn't swap my media player, just pointing out that another solution to running out of memory cards is simply to carry more of them.

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