Thomas Jacks Spy-Point FL-A and Pro-X Scouting Cameras
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- Last updated: 14/12/2016
The two Spy-Point scouting cameras that I am looking at here are the entry-level FL-A and the latest top-of-the-range Pro-X. Unlike the Spy-Point IR-A/B/C models, both these cameras feature a super-compact housing that measures just 4.5” x 6.8” x 2.8”, making them even easier to carry about, and even more discreet when in situ. The housings feature curved and serrated ridges at the rear to help them grip the tree they’re mounted to, security loops both at the back and between the two halves of the “clamshell” to take a cable lock, weatherproof seals, and cam-type clips to facilitate locking/opening. There’s also a threaded tripod mount built into the base of the housing: a real boon on those occasions when you want to monitor a trail in open country.
All this talk about housings hints at one of the unique features of these cameras: the internals (sensor, camera, flash, batteries) are built into a removable module that simply clips into the front part of the clamshell. This offers three major practical advantages. Firstly, taking the camera module out of the housing first makes the latter much lighter and therefore easier to mount to a tree – whilst simultaneously reducing the risk of damaging anything vital if you should happen to fumble the process. Secondly, it’s much easier to operate the controls with just the slender camera module cradled in your hand than it is to hold the entire housing or to do the same thing with it strapped to a tree. And lastly, on the Pro-X, which features a built-in, 3”, full-colour viewing screen, it’s very helpful to be able to move to a position where the screen can be shaded from glare and viewed in comfort without having to dismount/remount the entire unit.
As regards the Pro-X’s viewing screen, although it gives a good image with impressive colour, contrast and definition, and although it allows you to zoom in on still images, its function is still essentially to let you know you’ve got the camera set up in the right place and pointed in the right direction, rather than to permit you to identify individual animals or other fine points of detail: for that, you have to swap out the SD card and take it home, or at least back to the car, to view on a computer - or best of all, a nice big TV, using the cables supplied.
The screen has other benefits though, as in conjunction with the navigation buttons (up, down, left, right and OK) it provides a clear graphic interface that makes it really easy to set up, check and adjust the camera’s settings.
By contrast, the FL-A presents the user with a small, monochrome LCD display that shows only basic information: battery state (full-half-flat), time/date, and the number of images taken, though in set-up mode it also allows you to select high- or low-resolution options (3.0 or 4.0 MP) and to set the time and date.
The FL-A’s lack of a viewing screen needn’t be a problem, however, since these days many of us have mobile phones with the ability to play multimedia files and a data-card slot. All I needed to view the pictures and videos from the FL-A on my G1 phone, therefore, was a couple of extra Micro-SD cards and an adapter that would let me use them in the FL-A’s standard SD slot. Unlike a dedicated portable viewer – easy to use but just as easy to leave behind - chances are you’ll have your phone with you when doing the rounds of your cameras, so this is a neat solution.
OK, so the Pro-X’s screen is nice (but you can live without it), and the FL-A doesn’t come in camo (but you can paint it if you want), so why opt for the £399.95 Pro-X rather than the £159.95 FL-A? After all, both cameras are the same size and weight; both take SD cards up to 8GB; both have a detection angle of 95 degrees, a maximum detection range of 45’ and a dial to adjust the sensitivity of the PIR movement sensor; both have video modes that produce 15-, 30-, 60- or 90-second 680 x 480 AVI files and multi-shot modes that take an automatic sequence of up to 4 shots; and both offer several power options: 6 x AA batteries (lasting 2-3 weeks), a rechargeable lithium cell (not tested), or a 12V battery pack accessed via a dedicated port in the housing.
True, but there are differences as well as similarities, the most obvious – except for that big 3” screen - being the resolution, which on the Pro-X can be set as high as 12.0 MP. Whether you need an image that big/detailed is a moot point, but one can see how it could come in handy for facial or number-plate recognition, quite apart from allowing you to print out any really good shots and hang them on your wall!
Resolution isn’t the only difference in image quality, either, since the Pro-X sports an array of 46 infrared LEDs that produces a uniquely broad and even field of illumination, resulting in higher-quality night-time shots. Indeed, out of the box the FL-A only has a white-light flash, which gives colour pictures at night but at the expense of startling animals and revealing the camera’s location. Nevertheless, you can replace the standard flash unit with a night-vision module containing 35 IR LEDs (included in the package), and this performs remarkably well, though range and spread are inevitably more limited than with the Pro-X.
The Pro-X is faster too, with a “trigger time” (i.e. the time between detection and camera activation) of just 2.0 and 1.5 seconds with and without flash respectively. Though this might not seem significantly quicker than the FL-A’s 2.5-second score, it can mean the difference between having a fox centred in the frame or – at best - just glimpsing the tip of its brush as it disappears out of shot.
Other than that, it’s a matter of small refinements. The Pro-X will date/time stamp videos as well as stills, and also logs the moon state and the temperature (in either Centigrade or Fahrenheit). Its multi-shot mode is faster too, taking images at 10- rather than 15-second intervals. Plus you can set the camera to run by day, by night, or around the clock, to optimise its power and storage capacity, and even fit it with a rechargeable battery pack and plug it in to a solar panel that will keep it running pretty much for ever. There’s also a continuous mode that when selected automatically overwrites the oldest files as new images are taken, and a microphone that adds sound to video recordings. Oh yes, and you can even set the camera up to display its information in French (testament no doubt to its Canadian origins).
Overall, then, the Pro-X is the neatest, most sophisticated scouting camera I’ve ever used, and I can’t fault it, but unless you really need the high resolution it offers or something you can leave in place for months on end, the budget-priced FL-A ticks so many of the same boxes that when you consider you could buy two FL-As (complete with IR flash modules and the necessary cards and adapters to view their output on your phone) for the price of one Pro-X, it’s hard not to see this model as the best deal around.
Siting and Servicing Scouting Cameras
The most crucial factor in getting the most from any scouting camera is siting it. Look for recently-used game trails and set the camera up pointed along the trail so as to give it time to react to an approaching animal. Unless you particularly want pictures of rabbits, squirrels, jays, etc. don’t mount the camera close to the ground, and try to locate it so that it isn’t facing the rising or setting sun, which will trigger it even if there’s no quarry in view. It also pays to clear away any light vegetation from the target zone, since swaying grasses or twigs will also set it off, wasting power, storage space, and time when reviewing images. After aiming any camera, do a “walk test” to check that it detects you at a suitable point along the trail and adjust it if necessary before leaving. Personally I like to leave cameras alone for at least a week after siting them, to give the local wildlife time to get used to them. When I do visit them I’ll take a clean data card and a set of batteries with me, so they’re always 100% ready to roll again once I’ve left. Don’t neglect security either: choose discreet locations and lock the camera shut, and to its mounting point, with a sturdy cable.
Black waterproof housing with tree fitting, security loops and tripod mount. Removable camera for easier handling
Black or camo waterproof housing with tree fitting, security loops and tripod mount. Removable camera for easier handling
PRICE: £159.95 / £399.95