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Have Some Cheese with that Webcam

Cheese Webcam Booth will make you smile because it's fun and free and it works.

Since the launch of Linux Magazine TV (LMTV) in February of this year, my interest in video has increased beyond any reasonable limits. I’m obsessed with video and our efforts in this new area for us. For weeks I’ve tried to find a way to use my new Panasonic HM-TA1 pocket video camera for new LMTV entries and my own projects. Last week I discovered Cheese Webcam Booth (Cheese), which is the topic of this week’s article. Using Cheese is intuitive and closely resembles the Apple iPad2 Photo Booth app. The difference in price between Cheese (free) and Photo Booth ($499+ for the iPad2) is significant, which definitely gives you something to smile about.

The current stable version of Cheese is 2.32.0 and was originally part of Google’s Summer of Code 2007 and the Panasonic HM-TA1 is a pocket-sized, high-definition video camera. The Linux system is Ubuntu 10.10, 4GB RAM, AMD Athlon(tm) 64 X2 Dual Core Processor 4800+, and a 500GB SATA disk.

The Basics

The prerequisites for Cheese are: GNOME 2.28+, GStreamer 0.10, a camera with webcam capability, and according to the website, a brain. Optionally, you can install postr for Flickr support, f-spot for F-Spot support, and nautilus-sento for improved export functionality.

Download the source code from http://projects.gnome.org/cheese/download and compile it or use your distribution’s package manager to grab the latest stable version and install. The Ubuntu package installs as Cheese Webcam Booth under Sound & Video.

Getting Cheesy

When you first open cheese, your webcam is a real time video monitor. Figure 1 demonstrates the initial screen with its minimalistic interface.

Figure 1: Cheese + Linux Nerd = Broken Camera?
Figure 1: Cheese + Linux Nerd = Broken Camera?

As you can see from Cheese’s options in Figure 1, the default mode is Photo. To take a photo, click the Take a Photo button. Your new photo displays in the temporary photo display area below the live video window as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Cheese, Ken, and Mini Ken.
Figure 2: Cheese, Ken, and Mini Ken.

Your new picture isn’t saved yet. To decide its fate, right click the photo and click Open, Save As, or Move to Trash. Now that you know how to take a photo with Cheese, look at its options by clicking Cheese from the menu. As you can see from Figure 3, Cheese has few but powerful configuration options for photo, video, and burst mode.

Figure 3: Cheese Options and a Pensive Host.
Figure 3: Cheese Options and a Pensive Host.

The first two options, Countdown and Flash describe how Cheese takes your photo after you press the Take a Photo button. Countdown is exactly as described. You see a countdown from three before your photo is taken so that you can make those final tweaks to your hair. The Flash option flashes the screen in an attempt to emulate a camera flash. Cheesy, yes, but it’s up to you to use it or not.

You can change to Fullscreen or Wide mode for viewing the Cheese application. Neither of these settings have anything to do with recording in fullscreen or wide (16:9) mode.

Click Edit->Preferences to find more configuration parameters as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Miscellaneous Cheese Preferences
Figure 4: Miscellaneous Cheese Preferences

Change resolution, brightness, contrast, saturation, and hue options in this window. Burst mode is for taking multiple photos one after the other at a specified interval. Four photos, one second apart, is the default. The effect of burst mode is that you capture a series of photos to create a sort of “choppy” movie effect similar to a stop motion video.

To switch between photo, video, and burst, use the icons on the main screen.

Cheesy Effects

This is the part of Cheese that reminds me of the iPad2 Photo Booth app. Click Effects on the main screen to see the available effects. Figure 5 shows the different photographic effects. Effects are stackable. That is to say, that you can select multiple effects for some eerie images and movies.

Figure 5: Cheese Optional Effects for Photos and Video
Figure 5: Cheese Optional Effects for Photos and Video

For fun, I’ve demonstrated my favorite effects. Figure 6 is the Dice effect in the main photo Window and Warp in the temporary queue window.

Figure 6: Dice, Dice, Baby and a Little Warp.
Figure 6: Dice, Dice, Baby and a Little Warp.

Figure 7 demonstrates the Saturation effect and my favorite, Hulk is happily shown in Figure 8.

Figure 7: Ken-L Faces His Home Planet's Red Sun.
Figure 7: Ken-L Faces His Home Planet’s Red Sun.

Figure 8: You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry.
Figure 8: You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry.

Cheese is one of those programs that can burn an entire Saturday, if you aren’t careful. It’s fun and simple to use. It also just “works,” which makes users at any level happy. Have fun with Cheese and remember to post some of your own videos using it to LMTV as video responses. Yes, you can do that. Say, Cheese!

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