They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, here are a thousand words about taking pictures.
A good video-surveillance system provides a broad record of your site activity. However, these video cameras won't provide an up-close view of a cut lock, damaged unit or a unit's contents for an upcoming lien sale. Furthermore, there are times you need to permanently store images of tenants, their cars and their driver's license. The solution is to use a compact camera. A compact camera is only as valuable as its ease of use and appropriateness for the task. A storage facility needs an extremely portable camera capable of working in almost any lighting condition.
The self-storage standard has been the brick-sized, $50 Poloroid OneStep. It holds a film cartridge of 10 pictures that self-develop in less than a minute. Instantly, you know if your picture was in focus. A newer alternative is the $65 Poloroid MIO. It is the size of a wallet, which is fitting since it produces wallet-sized pictures. However, Polaroid pictures cannot be e-mailed to a customer or anxious owner. Furthermore, Polaroid film does not store well, and after a few years, the pictures may begin to deteriorate.
An alternative solution is a disposable camera. A 27-picture unit with a flash sells for less than $15 at most convenience and drug stores. A one-hour photo service can develop the film, but the car trip and wait time is a nuisance. Some film developers will also provide a CD-ROM containing electronic representations of each picture. The images on this CD can be e-mailed as needed. Yet there is no determining before developing whether the images taken with a disposable camera are in focus. Once you develop the prints, it's too late.
A third option is an auto-focus camera. These start at $100 and, as the name implies, they help ensure each picture is clearly in focus. However, auto-focus cameras also require an outside film service to develop the pictures.
Each of these traditional cameras has a use limitation. As is often the case, electronic technology has provided solutions with instant printing, easy e-mailing capability and amazing portability. In this case, our hero is the digital camera.
As a gadget hunter, I was amazed by the $180 Casio wrist camera (model #WQV3D-8). It's a color camera your manager can wear on his wrist, Dick Tracy style. It stores 80 images along with brief picture titles. Being on the manager's wrist, it is always available and safe from theft. The manager can review each picture on the watch screen.
The wrist camera includes a timer, calendar and alarm mode that can display a saved image at a specific time. Since it's also a wrist watch, each picture is stamped with the correct date and time. To save battery life, the camera does not have a flash. Yet it does include a low-light mode and automatically shuts off when removed from the wrist. The images are low resolution (176-by-144 pixels) and the camera lacks an on-board flash, but for convenience, the wrist camera can't be beat.
Another option is the $80 CaptureView binocular by Meade, a company well known for its telescopes. The CaptureView is an 8x22 binocular with a miniature, on-board, auto-exposure camera that records the image you see. I found this camera extremely easy to use, and it has enough on-board memory to store 52 high-resolution (640-by-480 pixel) images. A similar version is sold under the name of Magpix-350. Like the Casio wrist camera there is no built-in flash, but binoculars are best used outdoors anyway.
Aiptek Pencam is an all-around wonder. The camera costs about $80 and stores 50 extremely high-resolution (1248-by-960 pixel) images plus a 10-second movie in DVD resolution. The camera automatically adjusts to the current lighting. The macro-focus lets you capture every detail of a damaged door latch, for example. Amazingly, this camera is only the size of a pack of cigarettes. If you want even higher image quality (160-by-1200 pixels), choose the $70 Mustek gSm@rt mini3. It stores 50 images plus a 10-second video. Unfortunately, both the Aiptek and gSm@rt lack a built-in flash.
Creative Labs PC-Cam 350 is smaller than a lighter yet packs a powerful set of features. The camera stores 20 medium-resolution (352-by-288 pixels) images or one 10-second movie. This camera includes a built-in flash and, at only $50, is a great bargain.
If you need the image quality of the gSm@rt with the built-in flash of the PC-Cam, choose the $150 Epsilon 1.3. It stores 20 high-quality and extremely high-resolution (1600-by-1280 pixels) images. It has auto everything, a color viewing screen, macro mode, microphone, speaker and movie-maker mode. The truly amazing part is it is no larger than a deck of cards. It is this author's recommended choice for self-storage facilities.
Of course, the usefulness of these amazing cameras does not stop at your storage facility. The Wrist Cam can make the most subdued owner feel like James Bond. The gSm@rt is never far from my pocket and the PC-Cam was a holiday stocking stuffer for my family.
Doug Carner is on the Western-region board of directors for the Self Storage Association. He is also the vice president of QuikStor Security & Software, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, digital video surveillance and corporate products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.quikstor.com.