EZDok Camera (EZCA) Review
It bears noting that every time I sit down to write this review, I find some reason to put it off. The most common reason is that I’m having some issue with EZCA that I want to iron out—something I’m sure I just don’t understand, because it just can’t be the way this add-on works. First, I read the manual again. Then I go to the forums. Eventually, the answer always seems to be yes, that’s how it is, just live with it. If that sounds like an auspicious start to a review, let me add this: I love this add-on. L-O-V-E it. But as usual, love is complicated.
There are very few add-ons that I would consider essential to enjoying the flight sim experience. A good yoke, rudder pedals, and my TrackIR spring to mind. Without them, flying would be so diminished as to be barely worth the effort. And while EZCA doesn’t quite ascend to this level for me, it’s pretty damn close. I think that’s why I keep sticking with it through various frustrations; there’s so much raw potential to ratchet up the realism.
What is it?
First off, a quick intro to what this thing does. Essentially, it’s a replacement for the built-in FSX camera system. Every view you normally use, VC, exterior, fly-by, tower, can be re-created in EZCA. In addition, if you’re a TrackIR user like me, you have to remove FSX’s native ability to control your TIR unit and turn it over to EZCA instead. From then on out, the add-on calls the shots — quite literally. This is both EZCA’s greatest strength, and its biggest shortcoming.
What it Does Well
Handing over control of the views allows EZCA to introduce my absolute favorite feature: camera effects. The effects are what makes EZCA a must-have in my book. When dialed-in properly, camera effects do an incredible job of simulating real-world bumps, shudders, and the effect of gravity on the pilot during maneuvers. Ever since learning to fly for real, one of my chief complaints about FS is that aircraft seem to move through the air as if on rails. In the real world, the atmosphere is like a living thing, always shifting and changing, pushing and pulling against the airframe. Finally, with EZCA’s effects, the sim feels like this as well. It’s a difficult thing to write about, but easy to show. Here are some examples:
The effects are divided into three categories. RND (Random) movements are auto-generated, and are used to simulate things like ground bumps during taxi, and slight dips and rises during flight. DHM (Dynamic Head Movements) simulate the effects of specific actions on the human body, such as the bouncing that accompanies turbulence. These effects are driven by specific weather and physics events. CR (Camera Resonance) movements simulate camera jolt caused by events such as a hard landing. Make a soft touchdown, and the camera doesn’t move much – clap the wheels down hard, and things really get bouncy.
Each of these effects categories have multiple options for changing how they appear in-sim, which can be configured on a specific camera basis. For example, the shake of a touchdown will be less pronounced in a large, heavy jet than in a 172. You can configure the cameras to reflect that, which is pretty nifty.
Room for Improvement
Now for the negative. This flexibility comes at the cost of complexity. Working with EZCA is wonky, to put it mildly. Each plane you fly has to have its own cameras installed and configured, and while the add-on installs cameras for all the default planes, you’re on your own as far as add-on aircraft go. Unless I miss my mark, most of us spend almost all our time in add-on planes, which means a fair bit of configuration. The easiest way to add cameras is to export one of the default planes’ versions, switch to an add-on, and import the settings. As an annoying side note, importing a camera only sets its position; you have then import its effects separately. I hear this will change in an upcoming version, so hopefully that won’t be a setback for long.
Fortunately, custom cameras are easy to tweak once they’ve been imported. Just choose the camera, use EZCA’s key commands to move the view back and forth, forward or backward, and up or down, then click the edit camera key twice. From then on out, the camera assumes the new position and orientation.
This brings me to another annoyance: hot keys. Maybe it’s just my setup, but EZCA seems very hot-key intensive. I see why it needs to have keys for all its various movements and options, but the way the interface is set up, you also need to have a key or joystick button (or both) assignment for each individual view as well. I already had so many keys assigned to my various FSX commands that I had a hard time finding any available for quick use with EZCA. As a last resort, I pulled an old Belkin Nostromo game pad out of my closet and put it to use as an EZCA-only controller. That seems to be working fairly well. Using EZCA makes it obvious why the MS developers decided to have view cycling keys rather than a separate key for each view; otherwise there are just too dang many of them! Again, in fairness, the EZCA devs have said they’re adding camera cycling into an upcoming build, so that’s another problem that will probably fix itself.
Mostly, I fly from the VC. Because of that, my main focus when initially setting up EZCA was getting the VC views right. There are two other classes of view, however: external and world cameras. The external views are much like FS’s built-in options, with the addition of being able to modify the position, angle, and distance. World cameras are rooted to a specific spot on the globe, a feature that could really come in handy for video makers. However, world cameras also have significant restrictions that the developer says are FSX limitations, mainly that they can’t be altered much once set, and must be set individually by aircraft position, requiring a restart of FSX between each placement.
As it turns out, re-creating the FS camera system is a complex, multi-layered process. Given that complexity, I think EZCA does an admirable job. The interface needs some serious streamlining, and the documentation could do with a good going-over as well. The control panel that drives everything isn’t available in full-screen mode, so you have to drop into windowed in order to change anything, which gets old quickly. Also, I’m not convinced that the camera switching is much of an improvement over the built-in FSX method, and it seems as if a lot of EZCA’s functionality is tied up in reproducing something that already worked fairly well. Having said that, the camera effects are so over-the-top fantastic an improvement that I think it’s worth putting up with the rest of the niggles just to experience them. This video is a great comparison of flying with and without it:
As of version 1.15, there’s full support for TrackIR, and EZCA works with the head tracker hand-in-glove, expanding and enhancing its options. In fact, it seems to me that EZCA delivers much smoother head tracking than FSX did by default, which in turn makes flying seem more fluid.
The developer seems dedicated to improving the product, and is active and responsive on the support forums. That bodes well, and a I have no qualms about recommending EZCA. For anyone who has it, I’d be interested in hearing of your experience as well.