Which is the best action camera for peanuts?
Just a few years ago, GoPro revolutionized the market with the introduction of the GoPro action camera: a good quality, small video camera that came with a water-proof (and as a matter of fact shock-proof) transparent case and a plethora of accessories that would allow you to attach the camera to virtually anything, from your helmet to the windshield of your car.
As it often happens, after an incredibly successful product hits the market, a wide array of more or less shameless copycats are produced by nameless Chinese manufacturers (and sometimes even by the giants of the industry). I personally tend to be wary of anything coming out of China, because of their very lax quality and safety laws. However, when it comes to electronics (and some other categories) EVERYTHING nowadays is made in China, whether it’s from a no-name brand or a giant like Apple. Because of that, I think with electronics it can be worth checking out the copycats to see if it’s possible to get a good product without spending the hefty price tag of the major brand.
I tested 4 cheap action cameras, with prices between $60 and $70, to see if there was a good GoPro alternative for a no-frills action camera that could take videos of comparable quality. Of the 4 cameras, 3 supported 4K videos, while 1 only supported 2K. This put most of the cameras in direct competition with the higher end, $300+ GoPro cameras, at least in terms of video resolution.
I tested all of these cameras by taking videos under the same conditions to have a direct comparison (with the exception of one, more on that later) and watched the videos side by side on my computer. I tested all the features, including the wifi connectivity. I also tested the transparent cases by submerging them in water for 12 hours, and I tested the sturdiness of the whole setup by throwing the cameras off a platform 30 feet above the ground (landing on soil, not concrete). I don’t advise doing any of this with your camera, but I like to be thorough and I wanted to see if these cameras could compete with the legendary GoPro ruggedness.
First off, let’s take a look at the Wimius camera. At $60 it’s at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of price, however, it boasts a 16MP sensor with video resolution up to 4K and pictures up to 16MP.
The camera comes with a bunch of accessories (bicycle mount, etc) that can be carried in the included rigid case. Nice touch. The camera also comes with the usual different kinds of protective cases: the waterproof one, the water resistant one, and an open case that simply allows you to mount the camera on a tripod or on one of the accessories. The Wimius comes with two 900mAh batteries and a separate battery charger (you can still charge them inside the camera if you choose to do so). I can get around 45 minutes of runtime per battery with the Wimius batteries, which is pretty standard for these cameras. The camera doesn’t come with instructions, so you have to figure out things on your own. Considering that most of these cheaper Chinese products often have Google-translated instructions that are barely intelligible, I don’t particularly care if the instructions are included or not. Sure, it would be nice to get an instruction sheet in proper English, but let’s not lose sight of the $60 price tag! There will be compromises to accept in exchange for saving a lot of money.
On the Wimius, the menu is is split in 4 sections and you can navigate through the options very easily. Additionally, to erase a picture or video, you just need to hold-press the OK button and you get the pop-up for erasing the video/picture.
Overall this is a very user-friendly menu that is designed to be easy to use. The downside is that the Wimius has significantly fewer features and settings than some other cameras. In particular, there is no way to adjust exposure, contrast, or pretty much anything about the videos except obviously for the resolution.
The wifi app also works ok (better than others like the Soocoo). What is really important is to get the right app. The product page instructs to download the “XDV” app from the app store. I was using an iPad and there were 2 apps: XDV360 and XDV720. NEITHER of them works with the action camera! If you are on an iPad you have to select “iPhone only” in the top left part of the screen and download the app that only says “XDV”. If you are on an iPhone or other smart phone this is probably not an issue.
I tested all the video resolutions, but focused on the 1080P and 4K as they are the most likely to be used (who wants to shoot videos low-res, right?). The first thing I noticed was that the Wimius seems to be set with an excessively high exposure and contrast. In bright day light the videos are a bit grainy and sunny areas are very often overexposed. The colors are very saturated, but the noise and overexposure really take a toll on the quality of the video. Additionally, there’s no anti-shake option in the menu, so if you are taking videos while you are walking you will notice it, even though the shakiness is not too bad. I really feel that if I could adjust the contrast and exposure to a lower setting, this camera would be pretty good, but unfortunately there is no way to do that.
When set to 4K, I noticed a slight choppiness in the videos. The product page claims that the 4K videos are taken at 30fps, and I suspect that the camera hardware has a really hard time capturing such a massive amount of data, which could account for the issues I described. I’m not 100% positive this is the case, but let’s say that I have a hunch.
Let’s now look at the Soocoo S70
The Soocoo S70 comes with only one battery, which is not ideal since all these cheaper action cameras have batteries that don’t last very long. The camera comes with a few accessories like a bicycle mount and a wristwatch-like remote, so that you can start the camera while it’s attached to your helmet or somewhere difficult to reach. The S70 is also different compared to most action cameras because, like the newest GoPro Hero5, it doesn’t have a separate protective water-proof plastic housing; the camera itself is rubberized and water-proof.
Eliminating the protective plastic housing is something that will likely be a divisive topic: some will love it, others will hate it. Personally, I believe that eliminating the plastic housing is a really bad idea, because the whole point of action cameras is to be rugged and be used under extreme conditions (otherwise you would use a normal video camera).
With the plastic housing, if you chip it, scratch it, break it, etc, you can always buy a brand new one for pretty cheap and the camera is unscathed. If you no longer have the protective case because the camera itself is water-proof, if you damage anything then you will be damaging the camera itself, which is bad news. This is just my personal opinion, maybe some of you love the idea of a slimmer, sharp-looking action camera, so your mileage may vary. One thing that I can say for sure is that the whole water-proofing concept was not implemented very well on this camera. The rubberized buttons are stiff and small, and extremely annoying to use. If you don’t have good nails to sink into the button, good luck getting through the options without getting frustrated!
The camera also comes with extremely poorly translated instructions, so they are pretty useless. Not a big deal, as mentioned before since there are compromises to be made.
The menu is pretty bad. All the options are on one page, so you have to scroll through everything to get to what you need. This also includes erasing videos and pictures. Definitely not user-friendly.
The included wrist remote also doesn’t work consistently; sometimes you can get the camera to start recording, other times you can’t. One thing is for sure though, unless you are really close to the camera, the remote will consistently NOT
work! It goes without saying that having a remote that only works sometimes is completely useless; if you had the ability to easily check the camera to make sure it was recording, you would not need the remote to begin with.
Lastly, the wifi software. The app you download to link a smart phone or tablet to the camera is quite bad. First, you have to find the right app (there are several Soocoo apps and not all work with the camera) and then, even after you do, the app is fairly buggy and poorly designed.
So far this camera had been less than impressive but that was nothing compared to the issues I experienced when I started using it. To put it bluntly, this camera does not record audio properly. And with that I mean that you can hold it in your hand, point it at your face and take a video of you talking, and in the video your voice will be so muffled that nobody will understand what you are saying! This is a known issue with these cameras, maybe not every single one has it, but there are other people experiencing the same problem. If you look up Soocoo S70 videos on Youtube you will see that others have the same problem with the audio, and there is also mention of this on some forums.
I originally thought that my camera was defective so I tried to communicate with the Soocoo customer service and this is when I understood that with Soocoo there is no customer service. The people responding to your emails do not understand what you are saying and their responses are below Google translator in terms of how much sense they make. Additionally, even when I was able to make them understand what the problem was and send samples of the videos, they were in complete denial of the whole thing!
Just to be really thorough, I navigated through their terrible website and I found a page with firmware upgrades. I upgraded my firmware (not that the customer representative would even suggest that) and after that the camera went from not having any intelligible audio, to having a muffled, but somewhat intelligible audio if you are speaking directly into the camera, but still no intelligible audio if the camera is not in front of your face. I installed the camera on my bicycle and took a video while riding around and speaking with as loud a voice as possible without outright yelling. The result is a lot of background noise and my voice is nothing but a whisper.
The most annoying thing is that, if you forget the audio, the video quality on its own is actually pretty good, so it’s a shame that the company put on the market such a flawed product.
Soocoo, the C30
The camera comes with instructions, but they are brief and very poorly translated, so they are 100% useless. You have to figure stuff out on your own by digging into the menu and trying things out. If you are someone who is into tech gadgets and you often don’t read the instructions because they are too boring (or is it just me?) and you can usually figure things out on your own, you won’t have any problem. The camera comes with 2 1000mAh batteries, which is a welcome addition since the Soocoo batteries last no more than 40 minutes (they actually last a bit less than the Wimius 900mAh).
The C30 also comes with a lot of accessories. Again, you have to figure out things on your own. Some are more obvious, others feel like you have to put together pieces of a puzzle to get them to work.
One thing that I would like to point out is that there are two different “doors” for the protective plastic housing. Reading some reviews on Amazon, I get the feeling that some people are not aware of this but the “doors” are different: one (the one that comes attached to the plastic housing by default) is completely sealed. In this configuration the camera is 100% water-proof, you can take videos under water and you don’t have to worry about sand or other debris getting into the camera. The downside is that the audio will not be great. Since the housing is completely sealed the audio is a bit muffled, but you can still understand if someone is speaking clearly. This option is best if you plan to submerge the camera underwater (where clear audio isn’t even possible, anyway) or when you want to be sure that your camera will be protected against anything. On the other hand, the second plastic door included in the package has two small openings on the sides. If you swap this other “door” into the plastic housing, you will still have protection against splashes, rain (unless it’s a tropical storm) and falls, but the camera won’t be water-proof, so you can’t submerge it, and if it falls on the ground some sand or dirt might get in from the openings. The upside is that the audio is significantly better than with the water-proof option. This configuration is the one I usually use when I’m not planning to do anything extreme, because it offers a good level of protection without sacrificing the audio. Lastly, there is a third option, which is to not use the clear plastic housing but instead mount the camera on the included black plastic holder. This configuration means the camera is not protected AT ALL, but you get slightly better audio than using the clear housing with openings. I would personally not use this unless you have the camera on a tripod or something similar.
Like with the other Soocoo camera, the menu is just one long list of options. Whenever you want to do something, you need to go through the whole thing, and surprisingly the erase video/picture option is neither at the beginning, nor at the end, so it’s fairly annoying to access. It seems like no thought has been put into making this menu easy to use. On the other hand, there are TONS of options and settings that you can control. First and foremost, you can activate the anti-shaking option.
This makes a big difference if you take videos while you are walking and works extremely well! Another cool feature is that you can set the angle between 70 and 170 degrees, so your videos don’t have to have a fisheye look. You can also set a lot of other parameters like contrast, exposure, white balance, etc.
The app, unfortunately, is the same poorly designed Soocoo app. Sometimes I was able to use it to start the camera remotely and stream video, and other times I was not able to successfully connect the camera to my iPhone. It could be that the latest version of the app is buggy and it will be fixed with the next update, but so far I have to consider this app inconsistent.
The video quality is where the C30 really shines, and considering that we are talking about a video camera, being able to shoot good videos is the most important thing after all. The videos are very good quality, significantly better than all the other cameras. First of all, when you activate the anti-shaking feature, it’s a night and day difference in terms of how stable the image is when you are walking. Additionally, the C30 does a much better job than the other cameras at adjusting the exposure when set to auto, and you can tell especially when you point it at the sky; it takes less time to adjust and it adjusts better than the others. I also really like that the colors are very close to how they look in real life, unlike the other cameras that tend to take videos with oversaturated colors that are very vivid, yet feel a bit artificial.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the C30 takes very good videos even at 4K; in spite of being set for 24fps, the video is fairly smooth, with none of the choppiness of the other cameras. Clearly the C30 has better hardware capable of handling the massive stream of data from the sensor when shooting in 4K.
All in all I can say that the videos from the C30 are comparable or even superior to the older GoPro Heros. The newest Hero5 might have an edge over the C30, but it costs more than 5 TIMES the price of a C30.
The Nexgadget comes with the usual accessories, bike mount, water-proof plastic case with additional water-resistant (the one with openings I mentioned before) “door”, etc. It only comes with one 900mAh battery, so that is a slight disadvantage compared to the C30 and the Wimius. It doesn’t have a stand-alone battery charger like the Wimius (so you have to charge the battery inside the camera) but it does come with a wall charger to connect to the charging cord.
There is an instruction manual which is, as expected, poorly translated and not very useful, but it includes an explanation of what the accessories are for and how to combine them. So if you are not very familiar with action cameras, it doesn’t feel like a puzzle as with the other cameras.
From the outside the Nexgadget looks like most of the other GoPro clones, but one thing that I noticed is that the battery port is fairly annoying to open, because it doesn’t have a spring mechanism like the others where you pull a little latch to release the battery port. On the Nexgadget you need to stick your nail into the opening slit and pry it open. Good luck getting it to open if you don’t have good nails or a handy tool around!
The Nexgadget has a software interface that is very similar to the Wimius; the menu is split in 4 pages that are very easy to navigate. It also has a few more options to adjust compared to the Wimius, which will come in very handy as you can see later. Like the Wimius, erasing videos and pictures is extremely easy and intuitive: you press-hold the OK button while you are scrolling through your videos and a pop-up appears to ask you if you want to erase that video/picture.
Additionally, when you press the on/off button to go through video recording, camera, menu, etc, you also have a slow-motion video recording option, which is pre-set for 720p at 120fps. You can get the slow-motion video setting with all the other cameras, but the Nexgadget makes it a bit easier.
As far as Wifi connectivity, the app is actually pretty decent and the pairing process fairly painless. It uses the same app as the Wimius so just make sure that the app you are downloading is called simply “XDV” and not “XDV360” or “XDV720”.
The Nexgadget out of the box suffers from very similar issues as the Wimius: there is no electronic image stabilization and in bright sunlight the videos are grainy and overexposed. As I mentioned above, the Nexgadget offers the ability to change the exposure, so I decided to play around with it for a bit. The results are very interesting; if when set to auto the camera tends to overexpose, with the exposure set to -2 the result is definitely better and the videos are no longer grainy and overexposed. At 1080p and 60fps, even though they still don’t look as good as the C30, they are still not too bad. On the other hand, with the exposure set to -2, if you are not shooting in bright daylight the videos are going to be noticeably underexposed, so you need to raise it again to 0 or +1. This tells me that it’s not that the camera is simply biased towards overexposure; when you tell the camera what to do the camera works reasonably well. The problem arises when the camera is left on auto, because in that case it’s pretty obvious that the software is not doing a good job at choosing the right exposure settings.
I also experimented a bit with 4K videos, and I quickly found out that, like with the Wimius, the Nexgadget Explorer1 can’t really handle 4K properly. The camera is sold as a 4K camera for obvious marketing purposes, but it turns out to be more marketing gimmick than a real usable feature. The 4K videos are choppy and noisy.
Lastly, the Nexgadget I tested also showed a bizarre effect when pointed towards the blue sky: a weird crisscrossed texture would appear on the side of the video. I’m not clear if it’s just the sample I’m testing that is defective, or if this is an issue with all the cameras. I took a screenshot while playing the video to show this phenomenon. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s a bit weird and annoying. I tried contacting the manufacturer, but their answer was just that it was because the sky during the day was too bright. Now, this is not really an explanation, because no other camera had this issue, even when pointed at the sky on the same day. When pressed further, the company rep. pointed out that the Explorer1 is their entry level camera, and that if I wanted better performance, both with the crisscrossed texture and with 4K videos, I should just get their top-of-the-line Explorer5, which costs $84 instead of $65. This answer confirmed the impression I got from the start with this camera: this is a product that was made cutting some corners to keep the cost down (like the battery port). It’s not a bad product, but I feel like it would have made much more sense if they sold their entry level as a 1080p camera and cut fewer corners.
To sum it up:
PROS: cheapest, comes with two batteries, the menu is user-friendly, comes with case for accessories.
CONS: videos are overexposed, 4K is not very usable, very few features
PROS: the videos are pretty good.
CONS: pretty much everything else, and the lack of usable audio. This camera is awful.
PROS: outstanding videos including very good 4K, electronic image stabilization, a ton of features and video settings, comes with two batteries.
CONS: the software is not very user-friendly, the company doesn’t have good customer support, the Wifi app doesn’t work reliably.
PROS: user-friendly menu, the wifi app works very well, once you set the exposure manually the 1080p videos are pretty good
CONS: comes with one battery, the 4K is not very usable, the automatic exposure doesn’t work properly, there is a weird issue when pointed at the sky.
Of the 4 cameras, the Soocoo S70 is by far the worst, because it just plain doesn’t work to capture video with audio. Because of that, I quickly narrowed down the comparison to the remaining 3. All 3 cameras have pros and cons, and there isn’t one that is absolutely flawless. Like I mentioned before, it has to be expected that a budget product will come with some compromises. Because of this, I decided to prioritize the features evaluated, and because we are talking about action cameras, I believe that the video quality is of paramount importance. When it comes to video quality, the Soocoo C30 wins hands down, and therefore it is the winner of this comparison. Yes, the menu is not user-friendly and the app doesn’t work reliably, but it takes great videos, and ultimately that’s what you care about when you buy a VIDEO camera. Considering that recently the price was dropped from around $80 to $65.99, I believe that the Soocoo C30 also wins the first place when it comes to the cost/quality ratio: it takes great 4K videos with image stabilization and it comes with 2 batteries, so it offers a lot of value for the price. Last but not least, if you get it on Amazon, you don’t have to worry too much about the company having bad customer service. If the camera is defective, Amazon has a great return policy and you don’t even have to deal with the representatives at Soocoo.
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