So who's doing this reviewing then?
Well I've been building and flying or driving radio controlled models for over 40 years and during that time I like to think I've built up a reasonable amount of knowledge.
I'm also a qualified electronics engineer who has worked in radio frequency, analog, digital systems and software for more than three decades. In fact I designed and built my first RC set back in 1969.
For the past nine years I've also been involved in the design and manufacture of some rather sophisticated engine technology and UAV flight control systems.
So, chances are I've been there, done that and have a huge pile of tee shirts to prove it.
Right now I'm heavily into 3D flying and enjoy all aspects of the RC hobby. I may be old but I don't feel it.
In the Pipeline
Here's just a little bit of what's to come on this site...
RC explained: Demystifying terms such as PCM, PPM dual conversion, single conversion, full-range etc., this feature will explain it all.
Cheap Chinese Engines: Just how good are those cheap Chinese glow and gas engines that sell for half the price of their "brand-name" equivalent? I put several to the test.
Build your own radio gear?: Back in the old days, building your own RC gear was not uncommon and now the arrival of 2.4GHz has made it practical again.
Review: HobbyKing 720p HD video Camera
NOT SO GOOD
Dated: 11 June 2011
If you want to get some impressive video from your RC model then you're going to need a hi-definition video camera of some kind.
The range and variety of such cameras seems to be growing quickly and currently extends from those $40 HD keyfob cameras to the ubiquitous GoPro HD.
Now HobbyKing have a new offering that, at first glance, challenges those HD keychain cameras, while adding some interesting new features.
The "HD Wing Camera" as it's called by HobbyKing, is a compact HD video camera with a 5 megapixel sensor and a 1280x720p recording capability. So far so good.
Like the $40 keychain cameras, it can take a microSD/Transflash card of up to 32GB in capacity (HK's claim) and record up to three hours of video footage. What's more, you can vary the "quality" of the recording to best suit the size of card you're using and the length of time you expect to record for. Excellent.
What was most exciting about the claims for this camera is that it offers a video-out connection, potentially allowing you to use it not only as a recording camera but also as the one that feeds your video system.
The first thing I noticed on receiving the camera (apart from the fact that it doesn't come with any form of lens cap/protection during shipping) is that it is much bigger and heavier than the HD keychain camera.
This thing is 75mm long -- compared to a mere 50mm for the keychain cam.
The height and width are similar -- within a few mm of each other.
Also, whereas the actual camera, circuit-board and battery of the keychain camera are safely housed within a stiff plastic case, the "HD Wing Camera" looks awfully vulnerable. The camera lens itself extends well beyond the circuit board and I can see it being easily damaged in even a light crash.
The only real protection offered for the rest of the camera is a layer of clear heatshrink.
One of the thing that has made the keychain cameras and GoPro so valuable to model-fliers is their toughness. The "Wing Camera" is somewhat of a disappointment in this area.
The "Wing Camera" is also twice as heavy as the HD keychain cameras, weighing in at a little over 30g -- not something you'll be putting on your smaller models I suspect.
Mounting this camera may also be a bit of a challenge since it has no provision for such details. You could use velcro stuck to the heatshrink I suppose.
As I mentioned earlier, the "Wing Camera" has a video-out capability and that means you can watch your recorded video on any nearby TV set, so long as it has a composite video input connection. This ability to hook the camera up to a TV set or composite video monitor also makes it very easy to adjust many of the settings -- and there are a few.
This camera is much more configurable than the keychain units. You can turn the timestamp off and no, switch between NTSC and PAL video output, adjust the motion-detect recording settings and a bit of other stuff. However, while this is all very nice, little of it is really that useful for RC model fliers who simply want to get some good video from a model airplane.
It is a little disappointing that, although you can switch between NTSC and PAL for the video-out, all the recording is still done at 30fps -- which makes it difficult to integrate the resulting recordings into footage filmed at 25fps by a PAL camcorder when editing up something for YouTube or DVD. Most video editors will attempt to convert the 30fps footage to 25fps by performing what is known as a "pull-down" and that generally introduces blurriness and a degree of jerkiness to the footage.
A really odd "feature" is the vibrating alert which is triggered each time you press one of the three buttons that control the camera's operation. The vibration generator is a tiny electric motor with an eccentric weight on the shaft, placed near the camera itself.
The microphone is, strangely enough, placed right a the rear of the camera and pressed hard against the AV jack connector -- even though its wires actually run right back to the front of the camera where you'd expect a microphone to be positioned.
A quite large single lipo cell sits over one side of the PC board, covering much of the interesting circuitry.
The video files created by this camera are one of its biggest disappointments. Unlike the keychain cameras which use the very compact MP4 format, this camera creates motion-JPEG (M-JPEG) files in an AVI wrapper.
The lens is somewhat wider angle than the keychain cameras but not as wide as the GoPro HD, although a good degree of barrel distortion (typical of very wide-angle lenses) is apparent.
Documentation and ease of use
The camera is controlled by three tactile press-button switches soldered directly to the circuit board. No documentation is provided but there is a link to the manual (on a competitor's website) for another waterproof camera that uses the same board.
Once you've memorized which button does what (there are no labels) and what the various colored LEDs indicate, the camera is fairly straight forward to use -- but not as simple as the keychain cameras.
How does it perform
If there is one word that sums up this camera it is: disappointing.
What does this mean?
In short -- the video files are big and the footage varies from really bad to mediocre in terms of quality and rather large on a per-minute of video recorded basis. Such a shame.
I won't go into the details of why MP4 is better than M-JPEG but suffice to say, MP4 can store video with twice the quality in the same filesize, or use half the filesize to record the same quality of video as M-JPEG. By using M-JPEG, the "Wing Camera" creates very large files and requires a very fast microSD card to avoid stuttering and frame-loss.
As I had feared, the still-shots are also very poor with a seemingly uneven focus across the field of view. What's more, they're clearly being interpolated from a relatively small number of pixels as can be seen by the fact that the smallest resolvable object in such a photo image is several pixels wide and several pixels high.
Click on the images below to see them at full size...
Given the comparatively poor quality of the video as well, I'd be tempted to believe that this was simply a standard-definition camera with some software doing upscaling to 720p resolution. When compared side by side with the keychain camera as in the video below, the lack of resolution and inconsistent focus on the HobbyKing camera is stunningly obvious.
It's worth noting also that the HK Wing Camera produced a 172MB AVI file for the above footage, the HD keychain camera produced an much smaller 86MB MOV (MP4) file -- despite the obviously higher resolution.
As for the chances of using this camera as your primary FPV camera via a video link -- well you could do it but I would not recommend it.
The only way to get a "live" video-out" signal is to use the motion-detect mode in which the camera automatically starts recording when it detects movement within its field of view. Unfortunately, although it claims to be a 30fps camera, the actual frame rate of the live video output seems significantly lower than that -- with a noticeable blurring and delay as well. What's more, the resolution is very poor -- far worse than even the cheapest regular FPV video camera.
And, to put the final nail in that coffin, the camera stops outputting video for a whole second once the motion-detect recording time expires and won't start again until it detects movement above a preset and unchangeable threshold.
I'm also a little concerned about the reliability of the firmware in this camera since, on two occasions already, I've had to perform a reset because the device simply stopped working.
I was really hoping this would be a kick-ass way to integrate the functions of FPV camera and onboard video camera -- but it's not.
Worse than that, it's not even a very good camera for collecting onboard video.
It's big, heavy, awkward to mount, vulnerable to impact damage, requires the most expensive microSD cards to work and, on top of all that, the video it generates isn't even that good.
If I had $40 burning a hole in my pocket and I wanted an HD airborne recording video camera, I'd stick with the HD keychain cams. They're not perfect but far more suited to the job.
Sorry HobbyKing, I rate this camera (or at least the sample I purchased) as "poor".
- it's cheaper than some other options
- video-out makes it easy to set up
- big battery for long recording times
- too heavy for smaller, lighter models
- twice as long as an HD keychain camera
- vulnerable to damage in a crash
- video quality not so good (not real HD)
- needs expensive (fast) microSD cards to work well
- use of M-JPEG/AVI files limits video quality
- seems to need resetting too often
- Product: HobbyKing HD Wing Camera
- Purchased from: HobbyKing
- Price: around US$40
- Overall rating: 2/5
Updated: 20 Sep 2012
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