8 Here`s a tiny HD camcorder that has impressed me no end

8 Here`s a tiny HD camcorder that has impressed me no end
Tom Hardwick's
POSITIVE IMAGE
Here’s a tiny HD camcorder
that has impressed me
no end
How
dare anything this small and this cheap be so
good? How can something weighing 104 grams
perform so well when shooting high definition
movies and taking 5-mp stills? How can its microphone be so good?
Read on - we shall find out.
There’s a huge array of action cameras on the market today, most
of which I think are eBay rubbish. They’re sold as car cameras, helmet
cameras, as under-water cameras and all compete with the established
leader of the pack, the GoPro. But beware; read the specs and you’ll
often find that Lo-Def is the order of the day or that there’s no internal
battery or LCD screen. Worse, some record at 15fps, many charge high
prices and a lot give VHS quality images that aren’t worth bothering
with.
Do I need another camera? Probably not, but I’ve been looking for
an HD camera that I could take swimming, that would automatically
film every journey I make once stuck to my car windscreen and, as a
bonus, one that would take passable stills. A good built-in microphone
would be a plus, as would an LCD screen. I wanted a built-in battery and
an array of accessories to enable me to use it in a variety of locations. I
didn’t want to pay GoPro Hero 3 prices and then have to pay £70 extra for
the LCD viewfinder, so, after much internet searching and reading, I came
across this Chinese made SJ1000. It ticks all of my wish-list boxes and was
delivered to my door for £55.65 from an eBay seller in Hong Kong.
an impressive specification and will shoot full high definition mov
files using the H264 codec (1920 x 1080p/30) all the way down to a
miserable 640 x 480. It uses a single 1/3’’ CMOS chip and will shoot
5mp 4:3 images, with electronic image stabilisation should you wish.
It comes with a rechargeable Li-ion battery that runs the camera for
a solid 2 hours 12 minutes in full HD mode and it has control buttons
dotted all over it.
The camera
Take a look at my photo ‘What’s in the Box?’ I opened it and out fell
about 21 components, consisting of a vast array of brackets, stands,
clamps, straps, cables, ties, the camera itself, an under-water housing
(UWH), instructions, a car and mains charger. The camera itself is
about 2¾’’ high and somewhat resembles a smooth rounded pebble,
with a very wide-angle lens sitting in a small protrusion. I chose a
black one, but prettier versions are available in various colours. It has
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Film & Video Maker - October 2013
There’s a comprehensive menu that allows you to set the camera
up in various guises. You can loop-record so that when the class 4
Micro SDHC card is full (a 16gb card will hold just over 2 hours of full
HD) the camera will then over-write the earliest segment and continue
recording. You can set the camera up to film 3, 5 or 10 minute clips
and lock any one of them with a single button push to prevent it
overall exposure. It works well in low light - noticeably better than my
Crocolis (FVM April 2012) with its f/3.4 max aperture. The front panel
of the camcorder gets very warm - it’s an alloy pressing and forms the
camera’s heat sink.
Results
being over-recorded. Each recorded clip repeats the last second of
the previous clip, unlike many such cameras that leave gaps in the
recording. There’s a gravity sensor (you choose a 2G, 4G or 8G setting)
to automatically lock a particular clip if the camera detects a bump or a
crash of that magnitude. As a security camera it can be set to record for
10 seconds whenever it senses motion, and if the motion persists it’ll
continue recording. Clever, huh? I don’t know how it does this.
There’s auto or manual control available for the white balance and
the ISO, yet the camera always shoots at its maximum aperture of f/1.8.
The front element is very vulnerable, protruding very slightly from
its surrounding bezel making me feel nervous whenever I pick this
pebble up. Exposures are controlled by the shutter speeds and ISO in
combination. They vary from 1/33rd sec up to 1/10,000th and the ISO
from 50 to 900, such that you get grainier pictures with more motion
blur the lower the light levels you shoot in. Don't bother with the
useless anti-shake. The exposure bias – in third stop intervals up/down
to 2 stops - works well, but the meta-data has the + and the - reversed.
For most daytime car shooting the best results are at +2/3 stop
because with such wide-angle coverage the sky can unduly affect the
This is a camera that gives sharp images corner-to-corner. The multicoating is very impressive indeed and you have to shoot right into the
sun to get any flare in your shot at all. The video bit-rate is a high 15.25
mbps in full HD mode, so video blocking is very hard to spot. Exposure
changes are imperceptible, nothing like the Spanish Steps that other
cameras think is acceptable. All the frame grabs you see here are straight
off the timeline, no tom-tweaks at all.
The camera is shooting at 30 fps which will be interpolated to 25 fps
by your (PAL) timeline. Individual frames are therefore a mix of adjacent
frames (every 5th frame is pin-sharp) but even so, car registration
plates can be clearly read in pause. There are no dropped frames and
unbelievably the camera will play back these hi-def files at up to +/- 8x
speed (my big black desktop PC won’t). You can set it to show all your
stills as a slide show, choosing the on-screen time. It will also show the
first frame of every movie clip as a slide show too, so that you can find
the clip you want to see and immediately set it in motion.
Film & Video Maker - October 2013
9
Tom Hardwick
The audio recorded by the pin-prick of a mic is staggeringly good. I
recorded some rock music from my car radio and couldn't believe how
well the (mono) replay sounded through my desktop speakers + sub. On
another occasion rear seat passengers are clearly recorded chatting as I
drive. I’ve put up a short test video up on YouTube to show this camera’s
capabilities. http://tinyurl.com/lj8b35d
The JPEGs are pretty sharp using camera menu defaults. Leave the
w/bal on auto - it's far better than any of the presets though can wander
somewhat. The len's focal length isn't given (probably in the region of 2.5
mm). It has a very wide angle of view, easily seeing both my A pillars when
stuck to the top of my car's windscreen. It’s sharp all right, but the barrel
distortion is severe and Photoshop can only partially remove it. Mercalli’s
Prodrenalin (about £46) will stabilse your wobbles and remove the barrel
distortion should you wish. The supplied cable from your car’s 12v power
socket is fairly short and has to go 'direct' to the camera, somewhat
advertising its presence.
The under-water housing
There’s no tripod socket on the camera body, but there is one fitted
to the supplied UWH, making it easy to attach the camera to any of the
supplied brackets and clamps, or a conventional tripod or monopod of
course. The UWH has a flat plastic front window that gives sharp footage
under water yet (rather oddly) slightly vignettes the video and stills. Under
water this vignetting is reduced, but even so the image needs timeline
enlargement (8 per cent in air, 3 per cent in water) to remove it, and I was
pleased to note that I couldn’t spot any increase in flare when filming
against the light with the camera inside the housing.
Another oddity is that although the UWH has five buttons that
operate the camera’s various controls, there’s no button for turning the
camera on/off. I had to turn the camera on, pop it into the UWH, and
when the battery was exhausted take the camera out for recharging.
Not a big deal, and I see the latest UWH has rectified this omission. The
over-centre catch tightens the rear door against the silicon seal to make
the contraption waterproof but only so long as you don’t operate the
control buttons under water. I suspect one of the spring-loaded buttons is
letting in tiny amounts of water on my sample.
Using the camera
It’s quite difficult to hand-hold this little pebble of a camera but the
fact that it’s always opting for the highest shutter speed possible means
I never once experienced camera shake, even in low light.
The lens sees so wide it’s pretty easy to inadvertently get one’s
fingers included in the frame. The vast array of mounting options in
combination with
the supplied tool
kit means you
can attach it to
almost anything
once it’s inside
its UWH, but it
is a shame that
the UWH’s front
window is just too
small a diameter
and causes the
slight vignetting.
The 480 x 240 LCD
may not sound
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Film & Video Maker - October 2013
much and you’ll need pretty
good eyesight to pick out
all the icons, but it’s clearly
visible in daylight, and
useable in direct sunlight. Are
the Big Guns listening?
The camera is ideal when
used in the car to record
journeys because it’s a fitand-forget device. When
permanently connected to
the car’s 12v cigar lighter
socket it starts recording
the second the ignition
is turned on and takes a
moment to save the last
file to the card when the
ignition’s turned off. The card
is constantly over-written
from the beginning yet you
can save any number of 3 / 6
10 minute takes by pushing
the mode button at any time
– a key symbol on the LCD
screen shows that file won’t
be over-written. Any file can
be erased manually of course, and will disappear when the card’s formatted.
The camera is pretty discreet as you can see, and I’ve bought a longer
power cable (3 metres, £1.99 delivered) to run invisibly up the A pillar and
under the roof lining. The camera is held by a neat quick-release plate,
and this plate can be suction cupped anywhere to the windscreen or dash
panel. Alternatively one of the supplied self-adhesive pads can be used; I
prefer this as it holds the camera rock steady. The suction cup allows slight
vibrations to reach the camera and with a CMOS chip, quite noticeable jellywobble is the result.
In the 4:3 still camera mode it shoots 5mp images, it’s sharp from 4’’
to infinity so my windscreen heating wires are sometimes visible. There’s
a 4x digital zoom and
a variety of delayed
action times. Photoshop
can go a long way to
removing the barrel
distortion should you
wish, but under water
it’s near-on invisible.
Any straight lines
that pass through the
centre of the image
aren’t distorted at all,
of course.
Conclusions
I’ll say it again – how can a camcorder this cheap and this tiny be
so good? It’s far better than we have any right to expect, and if we take
away the vast array of clamps, straps, the UWH, two power chargers and
interconnect cables, what’s left over to pay for the camera? £40 tops I’d
say. The camera works well on roads lit only by my headlamps and this is
important as most car accidents occur at night or in poor weather and low
visibility. I want visible and audible proof that the accident I’m involved in
wasn’t my fault.
OK, there are one or two problems. The barrel distortion is there to
keep the images sharp at a realistic price-point, but it will upset purists. A
firmware upgrade might enable you to have the date displayed as dd/mm/
yy rather than always yy/mm/dd but it’s a minor point. I like my viewfinder
to stay on all the time, yet the camera always reverts to the LCD screen saver
mode after switch off - a bit of a pain. The vignetting inside the UWH is
just a silly design flaw, but some Mercalli smoothing removes it at a stroke.
As delivered the camera rather over-sharpens the image, but that’s menu
tweakable as are a lot of other things. The colour fidelity, exposure tolerance
and image sharpness from that tiny lens (working wide open all the time
don’t forget) is remarkable, and using the supplied HDMI cable the image
fills a 55’’ LCD telly with ease, and no apologies are needed.
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