Snapchat’s Spectacles are like GoPros for your face. The stylish sunglasses’ two embedded cameras immediately capture photos and short 10-second videos when one of the discreet buttons on the temple is pressed. Released today, Spectacles 3 is Snapchat’s newest version, which can now produce three-dimensional photos and videos with animated augmented reality effects.
For the past week, I’ve been testing out the company’s new, quite pricey $380 face camera, which is now available in limited quantities on Snapchat’s website. It seems 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 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 usually 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.
Unless a passerby looks closely, or the LED light is blinking, they wouldn’t notice that the glasses had two cameras onboard, which is largely the point.
Previous versions of Spectacles had one embedded camera on the right and an LED light on the left to indicate recording. The Spectacles 3 has 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 uses footage from the two cameras to sense the scene’s depth and project 3D effects, which are applied to videos using the Snapchat app.
While you need the Snapchat app to import photos and videos from the Spectacles, sharing isn’t limited to Snapchat. The default capture is a round 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. 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 remind me of the heavy-handed Hipstamatic filters people used to make low-res smartphone pictures look good in 2010.
And I love a good snap filter. They give you long eyelashes and make your skin look amazing! They make presidential debates more fun! But these new Snapchat AR effects, which include confetti that drops from the sky, a very 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 (videos embedded 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 creators, and the like.
Normals will find the new Spectacles’ 3D wizardry less compelling.
The Spectacles can only capture video in 10-second spurts, which is fitting for a social media browser’s short attention span, but unsatisfying for those reliving intimate memories. Another downside is that the video quality is good, but not 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. A dense fog layer had rolled in overnight (as is typically the case in San Francisco) and — while it was neat to capture parts of the ride I would never be able to with my phone — the 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 sunny beachfront city about 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles. So it’s no surprise that the Spectacles are sunglasses 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 onboard. 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. I liked that you could 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.