Wednesday, 12 November 2014

NERF CAM ECS-12: Review

Whilst sounding more like an engine part than a toy, the CAM ECS-12 is one of the newest blasters in the NERF range and is also the first ever blaster to feature an integrated camera. With it becoming easier and easier to make and share home videos via the interwebs, this blaster will provide NERFers with the ability to record their antics and share missions and skill shots with their friends through social media.



This isn’t the first time NERF have ventured into the world of digital technology. There have been a couple of third party digital cameras boasting the NERF logo, but none of these could be mounted to your favourite blaster. I seem to remember at the time of their release, the community as a whole were a bit confused by this lack of foresight. Then we had the ‘Mission App Cradle’ which was released almost two years ago. Whilst it is a good product, most people were dubious about strapping their £400 smartphone to a £20 blaster just to make videos. The app that was designed for the cradle was good, but not enough to make me risk my iPhone in the cradle. Hopefully the CAM ECS-12 will provide a platform for people to video their battles but without the risk of damaging an expensive piece of equipment.

Overview


Out of the box, the CAM ECS-12 is an impressive blaster. A good size, a good weight and very well balanced. I hate to use the term ‘comfortable’ because it makes me think of slippers and a dressing gown but the CAM ECS-12 is a very nice blaster to hold. It feels solid and robust and the plastic feels a lot more rigid than that of other blasters.
The CAM requires 8x AA batteries to operate. 4 are used to power the blaster (much like a Stryfe) and 4 power the electronic gubbins that make the camera work. Strangely, there are two battery trays, one on the left hand side and one on the right. At first I thought this was really odd but the symmetry really helps with the blaster’s balance. The fact that both battery trays are also directly above the handle also really helps make this blaster feel really nice.


As a blaster, the CAM ECS-12 functions exactly like a Stryfe CS-6. It has two triggers, the smaller operating the flywheels and the larger trigger firing a dart. It is a semi-automatic blaster, meaning that one trigger pull releases one dart. For me this was a little disappointing but not entirely unexpected.

Performance


Performance wise the CAM ECS-12 is pretty impressive. It seems to shoot harder than my Rapidstrike but this could just be an illusion. I will be giving the blaster to Foam Data Services at some point for some proper testing so make sure you check back for that. For now it suffices to say that the ECS is a fairly effective blaster. It provides the reliable semi-auto fire rate of a Stryfe but gives you a much more robust and stable platform.

Camera


I have to admit, I was really sceptical about the camera in this thing. Boasting a 0.3 Megapixel camera recording 20 frames per second is pretty shoddy. To put that in perspective, the Nokia 7650 had an integrated camera of the same resolution way back in 2002.

As it turns out, my scepticism was justified and the image quality is awful. Below is an image captured with the blaster. Taken indoors, I think it pretty much speaks for itself. It is by no means dark in my house but as you can see from the image, the camera is really struggling to get enough light.

Please don't be startled, it's only MerryUnBirthday.

If you are playing outside on a sunny day then you will get on pretty well with it. If however, your battle is indoors or during darker conditions, then the CAM ECS-12 will really struggle to give you the image quality you’d expect for the money.

It’s not all bad news from the ECS’s integrated camera. When you switch it on, the camera makes a little robotic chirp as it boots up and displays the NERF logo, both great touches. I was also pleased to see that the 2.5” integrated screen also shows crosshairs on the image making it double up as a pretty cool scope. Sadly, these crosshairs don’t come out in the video which I think is a real shame.



The ‘Record’ button for the CAM ECS-12 is located in the blaster’s foregrip which is a great bit of design. It means that you don’t have to fiddle with any controls on the blaster during battle. You can record your gameplay without shifting position and missing a single shot. I wasn’t expecting this and I think it is a really neat feature.


The screen position on the blaster has caused me to be somewhat divided. On one hand it is great. When you look down the sights of the blaster the screen is right in your eyeline so you can ensure that your shots are always caught on video. The downside I have found with this is that it does give you a certain amount of tunnel vision. It would be all too easy to be drawn into the screen and only concentrate on what is in front of you, making it easy for an opponent to sneak up and tag you. I can imagine this effect would be reduced with training but the lure of the little screen is all too much for me!


The blaster comes complete with a 4GB SD card which I think is really generous. Coupled with the camera’s terrible resolution, you can record up to a maximum of 1 3/4 hours of video or 2000 images. Not bad really but I think I’d still rather have a better camera.

 

Additional Findings

It’s not often that I find something a blaster does that was probably not intended by the manufacturer. As it turns out, the CAM ECS-12 has a bit of a trick up it’s sleeve... Night Vision.

Without boring you all with science, the camera on the ECS is so cheap that the lens doesn’t have the infrared filter you usually find on cameras. Infrared light is invisible to the naked eye but it can be captured on camera.
I noticed that the ECS could ‘see’ IR when I was playing with it outside at dusk, experimenting with it in different light levels. I noticed that the floodlight on a nearby security camera was clearly visible on the blaster’s screen. I simply had to explore this further so I bought myself a cheap IR illuminator to see how well it would work.
On the whole it is a fairly effective night vision camera but the limitations of the cheap camera components make even this neat party piece tactically ineffective. You’d need a big IR light source to make it work as a viable night vision scope. The image below was taken in total darkness. What you are looking at is a toy tractor on my son's bookshelf.


Whilst messing about with the blaster, I also noticed that the hole in the stock serves as storage for an additional clip. Whilst a neat feature, the positioning is pretty awkward in terms of carrying the blaster.


Anything larger than a 6 dart clip will stick out like a third elbow and cause you all manner of issues, especially in a CQB situation. MerryUnBirthday and I even discovered another use for this feature. Could this be the worlds first Rhinofire with an integrated CAM ECS-12?


The jam door on this blaster is tiny. I purposefully jammed a dart and found that it was really fiddly to clear the dart. As you can see in this picture, the jam door only exposes the rear half of the mag so it’s actually a bit easier to remove the mag to clear the jam. This doesn’t do much for the CAM’s ease of use.



Conclusion

The NERF CAM ECS-12 is a great blaster. Aesthetically it is awesome, I really like it’s sci-fi looks and colour scheme. The build quality is top notch and the plastic feels a lot more solid and rugged than that of other blasters.

The way the camera is integrated makes it feel really high tech. Rather than a camera simply bolted on, the camera is a part of the blaster and a lot of thought has gone into how it would be used. There is no need to take your hands away from the trigger or foregrip so capturing your battle is seamless and intuitive.

Performance wise, the CAM ECS-12 is everything I expected. Data will be available soon but I can only imagine that it will be at least on par with the other Elite flywheelers.

You are going to get through batteries quickly with this blaster. If you use the blaster and camera a lot, you can expect to replace all 8 batteries every couple of weeks. If I were to make this my blaster of choice, I would be dropping around £12 a month just to run it. Something to think about if you are considering one.

Now, down the crux of the matter, would I buy one? More importantly, would I advise you guys to get one?
The short answer is... No.
To elaborate, Hell no!

Put simply, at £70 this blaster is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay overpriced for what you get which is a Stryfe (clip fed, semi-auto flywheel blaster) with 12 year old camera technology built in. I’m afraid I simply can’t deny the fact that you could buy one of these for £16 (at the time of writing this) and have a camera that has 3 times the image quality and could easily be fitted to any blaster you own.

Tape it to your Stryfe and you have a blaster with the same performance but much better quality camera, all for less than half the price of the NERF CAM ECS-12. If you drop it and smash the camera it'll hurt your wallet a bit, but you could buy an new one and still be making a saving against the ECS. As nice as the camera integration is, I’m not sure it’s worth the extra £40 and I’m sure that parents will feel the same way. I have been selling foam dart blasters for years now and I can spot a lemon from a mile away.

Side Note

These days it is getting easier to create and share videos on the internet. Products like the NERF CAM ECS-12 are a good example of people realising this and creating products that will facilitate users expressing themselves through this medium. In a way, the CAM ECS-12 is allowing users to promote the product themselves when they upload their blasting to social media. This in turn also allows the manufacturer to gather information on how their products are used, thus providing some incredibly useful feedback.
For these reasons there is no doubt in my mind that the NERF CAM ECS-12 is an important milestone in the NERF brand, I just think they’ve tried a little too hard and as a result, missed an opportunity to really give users another dimension of play.
Had Hasbro launched a rail mounted camera, I think they could have cleaned up. The product could be cheaper, better quality, more readily available (the smaller size of the product would take up less shelf space in store and therefore, any shop could carry it) but most important of all, it would fit any of the blasters that you already own. Think about it, rather than users promoting one product, they would all be promoting the whole range of blasters and the camera at the same time.
Fortunately, Buffdaddy NERF gave us a glimpse of something that could be the answer. It would seem that NERF have already been developing a ‘better’ product. I’m not going to go into it now, if this product sees a wide release then I’ll review it at a later date. If you want some more information, check out the NERF Reddit where a user called ‘rdewalt’ has the Elite camera in hand.





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