If the GoPro Hero5 Black is the current undisputed heavyweight champion of the 4K action camera world, the scores of cheaper rivals that are currently coming through the ranks are the young and feisty contenders for its crown.
But so far none of them has managed to topple GoPro’s relatively expensive offering, even if cheaper rivals claim to boast similar spec-for-spec attributes, proven sensors and comparable technology.
Cameras from Yi Technology (notably the YI 4K Action Camera), Olfi and Veho have come close in terms of design and performance, but have typically buckled in the final round.
Despite the scores of battered and bruised challengers before it, however, Chinese manufacturer SJCAM thinks it has what it takes to trouble the champ, and its latest SJ7 Star model boasts the sort of features that, on paper, appear to make it a contender.
- 4K video capture at 30fps
- 12MP stills (up to 16MP via interpolation)
- 166-degree wide angle lens
Like its GoPro rival, the SJCAM SJ7 Star offers an interactive rear touchscreen via which you can control most of the functionality. At two inches wide, it’s easy to view and to navigate.
There’s also the option to download the free SJCAM app, which is available for iOS and Android and connects via the smartphone’s Wi-Fi, for previewing shots and rapidly editing settings.
Expect plenty of video resolution options, with 720p and 920p at 120fps catering for the extreme slow-motion moments, 1080p at 120fps bumping up the resolution somewhat, and 2.7k at 60fps or 30fps and 4K at 30fps offering the sharpest footage.
The SJ7 Star matches the aforementioned GoPro pound for pound, and even records 4K natively (rather than via interpolation), meaning image quality and clarity are superior to the previous SJ6 model.
However, the twice-the-price GoPro Hero 5 still manages to keep the upper hand in a number of areas, including its built-in waterproof casing (there’s no need for a separate case any more), ProTune video options (the dream for anyone wanting greater control in post-production), HDR images and voice control.
The camera also packs gyro stabilization, which aims to digitally smooth out bumps in video recording, although this is only available in 1080p at 30fps or lower resolutions.
That means full 4K and 2.7K can feel bumpy, while super-smooth, super-slow-motion clips could be out of the question.
Design and accessories
- Three color options (black, grey and rose gold)
- Plenty of basic mounts in the box
- Waterproof casing included
There’s not too much to write home about in terms of design. The SJCAM SJ7 Star is a matchbox-sized action camera with all the glamor of, well, a matchbox.
It comes finished in all-over grey, or with a black (as seen here) or rose gold facade, but essentially it’s a small rectangular box with a tiny lens at the front, two rubber buttons (settings and power), a shutter button on the top and a touchscreen at the rear.
On the bottom there’s a small hinged door that houses the 1000mAh lithium ion battery pack, which isn’t as powerful as those found in the aforementioned rivals, including the Yi 4K and GoPro offerings.
The SJCAM SJ7 Star is fashioned from hard plastics and rubber, and feels fairly substantial as it is but the packaging contains numerous cases, including a waterproof case that allows the camera to be taken to depths of 30m.
SJCAM also includes a touchscreen hinged back door that can be used at depths up to 3m, but its plastic is far too tough and inflexible to allow proper use of the rear screen.
The casings and accessories use a GoPro mounting system, with many featuring 3M adhesive pads, but the plastics used feel cheap and brittle.
The waterproof casing, for example, uses a small latch and hinge mechanism for opening and closing. That tiny plastic hinge requires some pretty sturdy nails to open it the first few times, and the process can actually prove painful if your hands are cold or wet.