Impressions of the Syma S206, Mini-3 Channel, IR Helicopter

By the time it arrived direct from China I'd almost forgotten that I'd ordered the little Chinook Helicopter from eBay for $25 shipped. It took 21 days from purchase to arrival so was it worth the wait?

Syma S206 Nose Forward
Syma S206 Nose In
It certainly had some big shoes to full as I love my little S107: it is so maneuverable, fun and easy to fly as well as being virtually indestructible and easy to repair when you do eventually snap something. The S206 is a very different animal despite being another coaxial IR helicopter from Syma. I was expecting them to share more components than they do; they do share the same charging mechanism and battery and a couple of components in the rotor-heads and the controller is similar but beyond that parts look unique.

The S206 is a vaguely to scale Chinook transport helicopter with double rotors - a similar configuration to the real CH-47. Compared to the S107 the S206's fly bar and rotor blades are shorter but work in the same way with two motors per head providing lift and directional control. Two sets of blades makes the S206 handle very differently than the S107: I don't feel like I have such precise control of the S206 but it is very stable and easy to hover. It doesn't feel as nimble but it seems to be able to move forward quicker but this may be a symptom of the way I have the S206 trimmed. The S206 controller has two buttons as well as the rotary trim. The two 'inch trim' buttons allow you to set up the amount of forward or reverse momentum the S206 has at center stick. Of course, I have mine set up to be moving forward at center stick so I can have lots of forward momentum but this means that you have to apply reverse stick to get this helicopter to hover and you need to apply reverse stick as you lift off or the S206's ground effect will cause it to shoot forward into the wall.

The S206 is a little twitchy: you can have your hands off the directional control and sometimes it hovers perfectly - at other times it seems to get caught in a spin. This may be a result of the specific model I have - the non 'G'. The G version may be more modern and have a more sophisticated gyroscope to keep things neutral. My version with the smoked cockpit glass and mains charger may be a little more agricultural in its handling but it is still a lot of fun.
Symma S206 & Flight Helmet
Syma S206 backed my Helicopter flight-helmet

The way the S206 turns is very different to the S107. The S107 turns on a dime pivoting exactly around the drive shaft: with two drive shafts in play the S206 pivots less quickly somewhere around the middle of the fuselage. As usual with these 3 channel coaxial helicopters the S206 wants to turn faster to the right than to the left.

Because my S206 came direct from China the mains charger supplied did not fit in a standard US wall socket without an adapter (the price of saving a couple of bucks). Those that appear to know more than me about battery charging technology claim that the mains charger is a little brutish on batteries. Unfortunately, the mains charger that comes with the S206 is the only means to charge it: unlike the S107 the S206 controller does not have a charging cable. Luckily the USB cable that comes with the S107 works perfectly well on the S206. Flying and charging times are as advertised; 8 minutes flying time and about 30 minutes to charge.

From an aesthetics stand point the fuselage detail is fun although decals of rivets around the around the porthole windows and and the silver of the turbine engines is a little silly and unsubtle. It feels solid, maybe even a little heavy which may account for its performance; as the battery falls from full charge it takes more and more throttle to get it to lift and in the end it struggles to get off the deck at all. My only concern with strength are the wheels that look flimsily but are they taking the knocks although I try to avoid the kind of heavy landings I know the S107 would take in its stride. As the fuselage acts as a kind of soundbox the S206 sounds a little plastic when compared to S107, not that that means anything.

If the S107 is the cheap Miata roadster of the Syma line the S206 is the little import pickup. If you already have the S107 and you want something similar but a different flavor the S206 is a lot of fun and at $25 it's terrific value.

The Plastic Fantastic HDSLR Shoulder Support

Trying to work out what goes where
here you can see the position of the Zoom H4 
Let's take it as read that the DSLR used for making HD video is a beautiful but flawed compromise. This statement is true of almost every aspect of the format but nowhere more so than the form factor which is especially obvious when you take the camera off your tripod and try to hand hold it. For taking stills it is perfect but when taking video without the optical viewfinder available it is clunky and awkward. So an exclusive cottage industry has been built around the idea of making your HDSLR feel more like a real, movie camera.

If you have an unlimited budget there are some beautifully engineered rod and rails camera systems out there. Industry professionals may be able to justify a shoulder support that costs as much as their camera, it may even seem cheap to them, but to the rest of us working stiffs, it is an expense that is hard to justify. So, like many other enthusiasts, I was excited when the Adorama Shoulder Support surfaced for $45. If I'd waited I would have been able to get the same thing for about $10 less from Cowboy Studios but even on my meager budget this accessory was more than worth taking a chance on. When it arrived about a year ago I played with it a bit but it has taken me many months of occasional messing around to get to the point where I'm happy with this rig.
Plastic Fantastic HDSLR Shoulder Support
How I configured the cheap shoulder support for run and gun, one man shooting.
Here are the components I used, less the sound and camera gear of course:
Total $132.25

Hopefully the picture clearly shows how I assembled these components but, to summarize I attached the straight flash bracket and the shoulder mount included camera platform directly to the shoulder mount using a hardware screw. This makes the thing difficult to break down without a screw driver but what kind of geek travels without their Leatherman anyway? It also makes the contraption more solid and is necessary as the included finger screw will not reach through two accessories at once as I required. I then used the included offset to raise the camera up to eye level; if you're using the battery pack this component is not required. On top of that I put the quick release bracket. When I'm assembling this to use, the camera is the last component I put in place and the first I remove as the whole thing is a little unwieldy and difficult to put down. The quick release plate is also compatible with my video tripod which makes switching from shoulder mount to tripod a quick process. By taking your time and adjusting the angle of the offset and quick release plate and the forward and back movements of the release plate in the clamp it is possible to get the camera viewfinder in a really comfortable and natural position for filming. Take time over this and tweak it when necessary to prevent fatigue.

On the far right side (when you're wearing it) of the support I put a mini ball head I already had to which I can fit my Zoom H4 audio recorder. The ball head allows me to tilt the H4 into such a position that I can see the display while filming so that I can be sure I'm really recording sound and am not just on standby. From the line out on the H4, to the 5D mic in I use the Pink Noise cable to step down the signal level. From the headphone out I always have my cheap but wonderful Sennheiser HD 202 headphones - you should always be monitoring the sound you're recording to avoid any nasty surprises when you get back to edit your footage. When I'm using this shoulder mount I usually use the Rode Video microphone fed into the Zoom H4 although I can also use the Zoom's built in microphones when I need a stereo recording or wired Lavs or a hand held microphone if we're not moving around too much and are doing interview type footage.

The 'handles' are actually Pedco UltraPod II table top tripods which have a strong ball head which allows you to lock the handles in any position you want. They're not as strong as dedicate solid handles but they work and, like most of the components I used, they can be used for other things when you break the rig down. I slipped some offcuts of pipe insulation foam over them to make them more comfortable but, as most of the weight is taken on your shoulder and rib cage they are not used as much to support the rig as to balance it.

The only other tips I can think of are, if you leave your camera strap on, like I do, hook it through the shoulder rig when you mount the camera so it doesn't flop around and get in the way of fall into frame. I also removed the included pin and rings for the shoulder mount strap - I found that using it hindered more than it helped when moving around and trying to keep things steady. 

I also urge you not to blindly copy my setup but to experiment for yourself to find what works best for you. You should also practice using this rig and capturing test footage long before using it in anger. There's a lot to think  about in HDSLR video capture and wearing the camera on your shoulder adds a whole extra level of complexity and it takes time to get comfortable with it.

Antec 300 Review

Everything in place with plenty of room to breath
The last time I modded a PC case blue LEDs were new and expensive; rounded cables were hard to come by so we razor'ed and wrapped our own; the default PC case color was still beige; and a PC over 1gig was screaming. Then it became more expensive to build you own PC than it was to buy something with a guarantee and an OS from Dell or HP and cutting windows in the side of cases to show off the internal components seemed too geeky even for me.

So I buy my PC's off the shelf these days and then add components and upgrades as required. My current home desktop is a HP Pavilion m8407c. It's a couple of years old but its Core 2 Quad processor is still man enough for Lightroom, Sketchup and Sony Vegas which are the most heavy duty programs it has to deal with. I also might be the only person on earth still happy with Vista 64.

I couldn't resist my geek tendencies to light up the Antec 300
As usual, I have had to add components to keep my machine current: 8 gigs of memory with heat pipes pre-fitted caused an issue as the hard drive cage would no longer fit in position with a drive in place. The case was holding more hard drives than it was designed for and I needed to add another one - drives were just balanced in place as there were no more spaces to fit them properly. A chunky video card and new power supply were taking up much more space than the OEM components. Finally I had to admit that I'd outgrown the OEM HP case and so, unexpectedly, I found myself in the market for a new PC case for the first time in years.

Things have moved on a lot in the intervening time since I was overclocking my Celeron 233. I don't think you could buy a beige case even if you wanted one and 80mm case fans are reserved for the most frugal of cases. That said, I didn't want to spend a fortune on a new case that spends its time hidden under my desk. I wanted something with plenty of space for expansion without being monolithic. I wanted something quiet and understated. Surprisingly, I was spoiled for choice but I after reading a few reviews I plumbed for the Antec 300 for $60 delivered from Amazon.

Understated front panel
The 300 is much bigger than the OEM HP case but is still considered a mid or mini-tower. It's exterior is an elegant black and its front is a stylish perforated metal. Behind the front is a removable, washable filter and, although the case does not come with a power supply, it comes with a top mounted 140mm fan and a rear mounted 120mm fan. The side panel will also take a 120mm fan and the front will take two more fans. That's a lot of cooling; way more than I needed and I wanted the case to be quiet not sound like a spooling jet engine in a wind tunnel. I turned the two included fans down to their minimum settings relying on negative case pressure (air gets sucked in to the case by the air being forced out of the rear) to keep everything quietly cool. The interior is plain galvanized steel and many people of the interwebs seem to paint it black for better heat conduction they claim, though really it's because it looks cooler but who's going to be looking in there except me when I need to swap a drive out? Way too much effort for such little payback.

I wasn't even going to fit a fan to that side panel but I couldn't find a way to turn off the 3-wire case fan monitor in the HP bios so, to avoid a system nag on every boot, I installed the little case fan from the original HP case to the side via a fan adapter and a 3 wire cable extender. It is definitely not needed to keep the components within working temperatures and shame on HP for not making this fan's settings accessible in the Bios.

Apart from that little issue rehousing the HP internals into the Antec was relatively easy. There is so much more room to get your hands into the case when you're installing everything than in the compact HP case. The power supply fits on the floor of the case, well out of the way of the motherboard just make sure your power supply's cables are generous enough to be that far removed. I was using an Antec power supply I'd already bought to power a beefier graphics card so it wasn't a problem for me but the OEM HP power supply might be a different matter.

I did not have to remove the CPU or memory from the board before transferring it into the Antec which came with plenty on standoffs to get the motherboard properly seated. The rear panel from the HP surrounding the motherboard ports removes from the HP case and fits in the Antec to give a professional finish. There is plenty of room to route the cables tidily and out of the way of the main components. The only fiddly part of the installation is fitting the front panel lights and switches to the motherboard. If I were to do this again I would connect those wires before I screwed the motherboard into the case: the writing on the motherboard is too tiny for these old eyes and my fingers aren't dexterous enough to easily plug those micro connectors onto the pins of the motherboard. Luckily I got them in the right place first time and did not have to revisit that part of the installation. The front USB connectors were a much simpler affair.

The right side has a box to hide cables
obviously, I don't know how to utilize that.
Antec supply a bunch of thumbscrews with the case which are great for mounting the hard drives in a tool-less fashion. There's room for 6 standard 3.25" drives with ample air flow around them. There's also room for 3 optical drives and even 1 laptop sized hard drive on the floor though I've yet to work out why I'd put a laptop hard drive in this case. Although there is no built in method for isolating the drives from the chassis to reduce sound everything is so solid that HD noise is minimal - certainly better than the OEM case.

The Antec doesn't come with a card reader and the HP's is not a standard fitting. I could have bought a new card reader for not much money but I was trying to change as little as possible from the old configuration as I knew that worked. So it was out with the Dremel like an old-school modder to adapt a standard front panel blanking plate to take the OEM card reader. It's not the slickest job you've seen but it works. The only flamboyant touch I added was to light the front panel with a couple of blue neon tubes (cost $12). I leave them off 97% of the time only turning them on when people come over and visit the man cave. I guess I'm not as grown up as I like to think.

Conclusion: for $60 the Antec 300 is a solidly built and quiet case with lots of cooling and expansion potential. If you're in the market for a classy looking computer case it is hard to beat. If, like me, you're looking to rehouse a computer that has outgrown its OEM case it's a great choice but it would be equally competent if you were building a machine from scratch. After all this time of buying off the shelf PCs this case may inspire me to building my own again. It demonstrates the difference in quality between OEM and specialist components really well. Highly recommended.