I'm Not Cool Enough To Wear Snapchat's New Spectacles
The wearable camera's first-person footage is wonderfully — and surprisingly — personal. But Snapchat's new 3D effects don't add much.
Snapchat’s Spectacles are like GoPros for your face. The sunglasses’ two embedded cameras immediately capture photos and videos when one of the discreet buttons on the temple is pressed. Released today, Spectacles 3 is Snapchat’s latest model, and can now produce three-dimensional photos and videos with animated augmented reality effects.
For the past week, I’ve been testing the company’s new, quite pricey $380 face camera, which is currently available in limited quantities on Snapchat’s website. The new Specs seem to be the ultimate ~influencer~ wearable, designed specifically to create eye-popping imagery that will stand out in a social media feed.
For normals, the first-person footage captured by the Spectacles is wonderfully — and surprisingly — personal. But the new animated AR video filters don’t add much and, in fact, distract from intimate scenes.
The new Spectacles are unquestionably hip. They have steel, rounded frames like the kind that Natalie Portman wears in Léon: The Professional — and that typically only people with angular, Portmanesque faces can pull off.
The sunglasses snap elegantly into their case, which is also their charger. The Spectacles can capture up to 70 separate 10-second videos on a single charge. The case holds four full charges — enough for a "long weekend," a Snap rep said.
Unless a passerby looks closely at the glasses, or the LED light is blinking, they wouldn’t notice that there are two cameras onboard, which is largely the point.
Previous versions of Spectacles had a camera built-in on the right side and an LED light on the left to indicate recording. The Spectacles 3 have two embedded cameras on each side, with an LED ring around the lens that lights up when you capture photos and videos. Snapchat’s software combines the footage from the two cameras to sense the scene’s depth and project 3D effects, which can be applied to videos using the Snapchat app.
While you need the Snapchat app to import media from the Spectacles, sharing isn’t limited to Snapchat. The default capture is a circular video, but it can be exported in a variety of orientations and sizes, including a portrait (for Instagram stories), square, or 16:9 ratio.
I added one of Snapchat’s new AR filters to a video of my husband, Will, performatively biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. The filter is supposed to add neon arcs over what it detects as a road or pathway. The software did a good job of applying swirling lasers in the right places — but I genuinely can’t imagine ever adding these effects in earnest. They're reminiscent of the heavy-handed Hipstamatic filters people used in 2010, to make the then-low-res smartphone pictures look good.
And I love a good snap filter. They give you long eyelashes! They make your skin look amazing! They make presidential debates more fun! Kids love 'em! But these new Snapchat AR effects, which include confetti that drops from the sky, an overly-energetic bird that follows you around, and big blobs that float in space, don’t feel as interactive or clever as those face-focused options (though perhaps that’s because I’m a selfie-obsessed millennial). A Snapchat representative said new effects will be delivered regularly.
Snapchat had professionals — actual video directors and photographers — shoot with the new glasses (their videos below). The AR effects looked so artistic and clean in those pro videos that I couldn’t believe we were using the same devices. When I added the filters, the animations often appeared shaky and pixelated, like in this slightly overexposed scene of Will hanging laundry.
The 3D pictures, however, are a different story. They’re very cool. In the Snapchat app, you can wiggle your phone back and forth to get a sense of the depth. The exported version of the photo is a video that moves the image on loop, like a GIF.
Snapchat’s pro examples obviously look way better than mine. Again, this is a device that’s seemingly ideal for influencers, professional creatives, and the like. I could absolutely see a fashion blogger sharing 3D #outfitoftheday pics on Instagram.
Normals/non-creatives, like me, will find the new Spectacles’ 3D wizardry less compelling.
The Spectacles can only capture video in 10-second spurts, which is fitting for a typical social media browser's short attention span, but unsatisfying for those reliving intimate memories. Another downside is that the Specs' video quality is good, but not quite as good as my iPhone’s, especially when it comes to camera stabilization (or lack thereof). Unless you keep your head very, very still, Spectacles videos look shaky.
Yet another limitation is Spectacles’ nice weather–only form factor. I took the sunglasses out for a morning bike ride and, as is typically the case in San Francisco, a dense fog layer had rolled in overnight. While it was neat to capture parts of the ride I would never be able to with my phone, the Specs' dark, tinted lens made it difficult to see. I ended up stashing the Spectacles in my back pocket for most of the ride.
Snapchat’s headquarters are in Santa Monica, a beachfront city about 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles. So it’s no surprise that the Spectacles are sunglasses, and not eyeglasses, and work best in bright, well-lit conditions. (As I write this, on a mid-November morning, it is 81 degrees and sunny in LA.)
I also hesitated to wear the Spectacles in public, aware that people might think that a discreet wearable camera could film them at any time and invade their privacy. In 2014, a woman was attacked for wearing Google Glass, which were lensless glasses with a camera. A few months later, another Google Glass wearer had theirs smashed to the ground by a stranger.
But for private moments with close family members and friends, the Spectacles were delightful.
I was surprised at how personal the footage is. It’s all shot from a first-person perspective and, because the recordings are nearly identical to how you experienced and remembered them, they feel incredibly intimate.
Because the capture is hands-free, you can record many things you wouldn’t be able to with your phone: hiking, playing with kids, drawing, cooking, or virtually anything that requires working with your hands. Sure, you can strap a GoPro to your chest or forehead, but that requires a lot more gear and effort. With the Spectacles, you just put on the sunglasses and tap a button. You can capture moments without having to look at a screen.
Best of all: You don’t need the latest Spectacles to do that. The Spectacles 2 (much cheaper at $150) can do the same, plus they’re water-resistant, which the Spectacles 3 aren’t.