The Narrative Clip: A Tiny Automatic Camera You Can Take Anywhere
I am a photographer. And I drive my family crazy. What photographer doesn’t? “Wait! Wait! I have to get a picture!” “Hold on, let’s get a family shot here.!” “Oh Noooooo! I forgot my extra battery. The day is ruined!” You get the idea.
But what if you could have a camera with you all the time that took pictures every thirty seconds without you even having to think about it? YOU CAN!!!! It’s called the Narrative Clip, and it is fantastic.
I preordered a Narrative clip in early April. Then, I canceled my preorder because I thought I could do better with a GoPro. Then I sent back my GoPro because, frankly, it sucked as a camera, and I bought the Autographer. Then I sent the Autographer back because its photos were too distorted. And, finally, I re-preordered another Narrative Clip. I know. I’m ridiculous. But, I’m really glad I tried those other options, because once I got my Narrative, I knew I had the right device for what I wanted to do.
Every summer we travel to beautiful places and hike. During those hikes, I’m always fumbling with my camera and my iPhone trying to capture special moments. But this means making everyone else stop. With the Narrative Clip, I did less of that because I knew the Clip was recording our entire hike in thirty-second intervals and it was capturing things I was missing. I loved that! Of course I still stopped and took pictures. But I wasn’t as anal about it with the Clip on. And, I knew that I could take pictures with the Clip simply by double-tapping. More on that later.
The Narrative Clip weighs 7 ounces and measures 1.42 x 1.42 x 0.35 inches. It comes in white, dark gray, and orange and has a metal clip attached to the back. It was designed for “life-logging,” a relatively new phenomenon wherein people track their lives moment by moment. Some people do this with things like the FitBit, tracking the number of steps they take, each day, for example. The Narrative Clip keeps track of your life by taking a picture every thirty seconds. It can store up to 6000 photos and the battery lasts up to two days.
It’s a simple device with no buttons whatsoever. On the front is the lens; on the back is the clip. On the bottom there’s a tiny cover for the micro-USB port. On one side are four dots that light up to tell you how much charge your battery has and/or when you’ve successfully tapped to take a photo. The Clip comes with a micro-USB cord and that’s it. I love the simplicity of it.
For me, the Narrative Clip is the perfect traveling companion. I clip it on, and it records our adventures each day. I love seeing things in those pictures that I didn’t notice at the time—the flowers along the trail that I passed by without seeing, the expressions on my family’s faces during a boat ride, the random people that we talk to on our hikes. It’s really great to have a record of things I might not otherwise record.
The Clip takes 5mp pictures, so it’s not something that you can make 20×30 posters with. Plus, when you wear the clip, you’re typically moving (at least I am), so many of the photos come out blurred. Other photos are unusable because it was too dark, or your arm got in the way, or you’re seeing up someone’s nose. But, you always get some pictures that are keepers—photos you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. For example, we were at Emma Matilda Lake in the Grand Tetons and it started to sprinkle. So I put on my rain shell and zipped it up. I’d forgotten that I had put my Narrative Clip on the collar of my t-shirt. One of my favorite photos from that day is a picture where the zipper frames the pine trees. I never would’ve gotten that with a conventional camera nor would I have thought to.
The Narrative Clip also lets you take pictures whenever you want to. You’re not stuck with the thirty-second intervals. If you see something you want to take a picture of, you tap the Narrative Clip twice. I’ve found that my taps have to be pretty decisive in order to be registered by the Clip. If the lights come on, you’ve successfully taken a picture, though it’s hard to see them if you’re in bright sunshine. I’ve accidentally caught my finger in a few of the photos. All in all, though, it’s a great feature. No buttons to push, no focus to find. Just double tap and go on.
You do have to be aware of the clip’s placement. I found that on my collar it was too high. I tried wearing it with a necklace, but, um, because I’m female, the clip tended to be angled up toward the sky. Ehem. A short necklace works better. I found a leather one on Amazon for $9.00 and it works pretty well when I have nothing else to connect the clip to. For hiking, I found that the best placement was on my right backpack strap. The clip angled out a little bit, so it captured some of what was in front and some of what was to the side. I had to be careful to check its placement, because sometimes my pictures came out angled sharply.
After you’re done taking pictures for the day, you simply plug the clip into your computer via USB and the photos are uploaded temporarily to your drive. They are then transferred to Narrative’s servers to be collected into moments.
You can also choose to have the photos download to your hard drive, either in addition to uploading them to Narrative’s servers or instead of. I did this during the first part of our trip because we didn’t have access to wifi. The downside of this is (1) it takes up hard drive space and (2) the clip is constantly taking pictures even when it’s in your pocket. It’s in what’s called a “soft sleep” when it doesn’t have access to light, but it’s still taking pictures. I discovered, to my dismay, that many of the pictures on my computer were shots of blackness. I had to weed through those to find actual pictures. When you upload pictures to Narrative’s servers, those black photos are automatically filtered out. To put Narrative in a “hard sleep” you have to set it face down on a solid surface.
Depending on how busy Narrative’s servers are, your photos will be ready for viewing usually within an hour or two, but on rare occasions I’ve had to wait a few days. They are working hard to make the viewing time quicker. Once the photos have been organized on the servers into “moments” you’ll get a message on your phone (iPhone or Android) that you can view them in the Narrative app. The app automatically omits what it thinks are the bad photos and only keeps the better ones for viewing. But you can look at all of them if you swipe up and turn the “Trim Moment” button off. I always do this, because Narrative’s servers and I don’t always agree on what makes a good photo.
In the app, you can star pictures or unstar them, set one photo to be your cover photo for that set of photos, delete photos, download them to your camera roll, upload them to social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), or email them. You can select multiple photos at a time to perform actions on them.
I love receiving moments on the app. It’s like Christmas morning with all the surprising photos you get. I enjoy flicking through the pictures and going on a virtual-memory ride through the events of that day.
I usually save my favorite photos to my camera roll and use Snapseed to tweak them. Then I upload them to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I have been very pleased with the quality of pictures I’ve gotten.
The Narrative Clip costs $229 with a three-month subscription or $279 for a twelve-month subscription. The subscription gives you access to Narrative’s servers, and you get unlimited photo storage, access to your photos on your smartphone, and the magic of Narrative’s algorithms which choose the best photos and arrange them into moments. I balked a bit when I discovered that I would have to pay $279 and then renew my subscription after a year at $9.00 per month (= $108 per year). But you can use the Clip without a subscription, you just won’t get the benefits of the storage, algorithms, and smartphone access. I haven’t decided yet whether I will renew my subscription next year, but I doubt I will since I mainly use my Clip when we travel. $108 per year is just too steep a price to pay, even though I really appreciate Narrative’s magical processing.
I absolutely love my Narrative Clip, but nothing is perfect. The clip itself is pretty basic and only allows you to attach the camera to shirts, pockets, straps, etc. I would love to see some sort of frame that you could slide the Narrative Clip into and then attach to different mounts, much like you do with a GoPro camera. As a photographer, I would, of course, prefer that the pixel count be higher. I’m sure in subsequent iterations the pixel count will go up. I’m pretty happy with the viewing angle of the lens. I would not want it to be a fixed wide angle, simply because that brings in so much distortion (that was a major weakness of the Autographer). But, having magnetic mountable lenses would be really cool. So, if you wanted wide-angle or fish eye you could simply add a lens to the Narrative Clip and have special effects. So far, I’ve been very happy with how the Narrative servers process the photos. After working with them manually for the first few weeks of our vacation, I came to appreciate how the servers remove the blank photos and arrange the best photos in moments. But, the iPhone app could be better. I often found that changes I had applied to my photos (like starring or unstarring them) didn’t “stick.” I have no idea why. Plus, I had to work with the app over several days to figure out exactly what was happening when I selected or deselected photos (sometimes I didn’t realize I had selected more than one, for example). Fortunately, I never accidentally deleted photos, and overall the app works fine.
I highly recommend the Narrative Clip to anyone who (a) has a really interesting life and/or lives in a beautiful place, (b) does street photography (this little camera will attract very little attention), (c) travels, (d) loves life logging . Actually, virtually anyone can find a use for this camera. I haven’t run into any problems with wearing my Narrative Clip, and very few people even notice when I’m wearing it. But, I wouldn’t feel as comfortable wearing the camera all the time in every situation. Certainly, you need to be aware about privacy issues, and if someone is uncomfortable around you when you’re wearing the clip, then take it off. Oh, and, um, remember to take it off when you go to the bathroom.
Here are some of my favorite photos from our trip to the Grand Tetons; Moab, Utah; and Albuquerque, New Mexico using the Narrative Clip. I edited them in Snapseed to bring out color and detail.