Sunday, February 27, 2011

Air Hogs Hawk Eye Review

Following on nicely from my review of the Sharp Shooter, it's time to once again take the skies, this time with a video camera strapped to my helicopter. Surely that should make it the ultimate spy toy, allowing you to sweep up on your enemies, snap a photo and then glide effortlessly away. Is that the case in reality? And am I any better at flying R/C helicopters? Read on to find out....

In terms of the helicopter itself it feels slightly heavier than the Sharp Shooter, with more thrust required to get it in to the air. When you're flying the Hawk Eye, this doesn't make as much difference, and you can still achieve a satisfying hovering motion by holding the thrust at just the right amount. You have two degrees of control so can go up / down and left / right which gives ample control for navigating around a room, but causes a slight problem for the spy fantasy.

You see, whilst you can hover in the air the helicopter is always travelling forward, making snapping a perfect picture a lot trickier than it would be if you could maintain an exact spot in the air. Air Hogs do make helicopters that allow this degree of control, so they probably felt the need to remove it from this model for fear it'd be one too many things to think about. It's a shame it's not there but hovering in the air and snapping a photo is plenty for a novice to think about, expert levels of control may have complicated things too far.

In other terms it has most of the advantages of the other helicopters in the range, with probably one of the coolest docking stations around. The helicopter has a USB port on its underside and you can slot this nicely on to the charging dock. A wire then runs from the dock to your PC / Mac and you've got instant access to the hard drive. This is a nice solution as you don't need any software, and can download the pictures as you would download data from a USB Stick.

Oddly the docking station only takes 3 x AAA batteries which is a lot less than the Sharp Shooter, but which provides a good amount of flying time, including the added drain that filming must take from the power.

In terms of the camera itself you can snap 5 minutes of video, which covers an entire flight, or over 100 pictures. You'd be unlikely to get that many photos in a flight, but it means you can grab photos, recharge and go back for more in one trip. Photos are stored at 640 x 480 pixels and video at 320 x 240, which is lower quality than most camera phones, as can be seen by the demo photo on the left.

A trade off in quality is to be expected for a device such as this, so it certainly won't replace your normal method of photography. Although as this video comparing a barbie camera to a Canon 7D shows, a low resolution doesn't always mean you can't get a lot out of the tech. I've put together a short demo reel of the Air Hog harassing my dog to give an indication of quality.

This is a static video, and when the Hawk Eye is moving you do get a slightly jerky quality to the video, especially when first starting out. This improves the better you get at controlling the Hawk Eye, so you've got to master the helicopter before you can really enjoy the art of filming with it.

In terms of build the helicopter seems to have been made with a different coating than the Sharp Shooter, so had a more plastic feel. The outer coating felt like I could tear through it, and as the power switch sits close to the edge of this coating, I felt just turning the helicopter on might damage the design. It still provides a nice cushion for the Hark Eye, for the many falls, and it's certainly durable, but it just didn't feel as slick to me in the design stakes.

This is mainly an issue close up, and the Hawk Eye is certainly cool to look at as it hovers in the sky. The big camera lens, is a nice focal point and there's a red / green light to show what is currently happening. As you stalk your prey it's important for them to know they're being filmed. The docking station has one button for video and one for photos, so you can tell what you're doing, even when the helicopter is facing away from you.

The Air Hogs Hawk Eye won't set the world of photography alight, and it's not the best R/C helicopter either. It's more of a James Bond style gadget. If you can get past the resolution, and learn the controls it's a fun challenge and a chance to live the dream of seeing what you can achieve with an eye in the sky.

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Every product on this site has been received for free, and given to me by the product manufacturer or their associated PR organisation in return for a review.

I have no other personal or business association with these companies, and all reviews are written truthfully and based on my own experience. If I hate a product I will say so (and have done on many occasions!).