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The SJCam M20 – Full Review

The SJCAM M20 is the long awaited high end chinese competitor to the sominant GoPro Hero 4 Session. SJCam are predominantly known for their highly successful SJ4000 action camera which was one of the first high quality go pro alternative before the Xiomi Yi. This is there latest and greatest, lets see how it stacks up:

Initial Impressions

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The M20 comes in very and high quality white packaging and is well protected. Along with the SJCam you can get an optional remote which straps to the wrist and acts a convenient way of controlling the camera when it is firmly attached to a miniquad or a gimble etc.

The Box contains every single possible mount imaginable for the standard protective and waterpoof case so that you can take it anywhere anytime. You also get a USB cable for charging and a removable battery. What we do with our SJCAM 5000+ is have about 2 or 3 batteries which means you can change them out easily without having to charge them in the field. This for us is one major advantage over the inbuilt batteries of the Session, which we also have in house, though the battery life is good, you can still find yourself unable to film when it dies on you.

Applications on Miniquads

For the me the SJCAM have a simple trade off:

The light weight (55g) VS the awkward shape

13396888_1170247989694382_546603400_oFor me 55g for an action camera is unparralled in terms of weight and easily trumps almost all competitors on the market. In FPV every possible gram matters so to shave nearly 20g on the session the lightest GoPro competitor gives an unparalled edge in speed, aglitiy and flight time when running the M20.

However, the shape is a killer for a miniquad its taller than it is wide which makes it fundamentally unstable when strapping it on to a miniquad. I tried strapping it onto a ZMR with just a foam base for support and tilt (which usually works for a Gopro hero 3/4) but the M20 came off mid flight. I should note it took the fall very well. You can’t even cover the thing in zip ties, because the power button as well as the record button on top meaning you have to place the zip ties well.  The Long and the short of it is that you are going to need a decent custom 3D printed mount in order to safley put his on a minquad. However, it shouldn’t be too long before designs start popping up on thingiverse, the community is pretty solid at problem solving and sharing their solutions.

Aerial Photography Applications

Again its the same kind of argument shape vs weight. The weight is once again good for all multirotors but not as big an issue on the larger AP ones. Moreover, as far as I know there are no multirotor gimbles which would fit the M20s unique design without at least minor modification. However, if the popularity of this little camera picks up we could see some Gimbles start to crop up on the the market, just as they did for the Mobius last year.

Fixed Wing application

Now I must say I haven’t seen SJCAM advertise for fixed wing application, but it maybe worth it for them. I found the M20 a dream for fixed wing application and for once the awkward shape I’ve spent so much time complaining about played into its own. I popped it on an FT Krackan and ran an Micro USB out to the VTX. The light wieght of the M20 meant I barely had to shift CG to compensate and the the fact that the lense and the MICRO USB (as well as HDMI if you’re running digital) are so high up on the design and the battery is all in the bottom, it means it is bottom heavy and can be snuggly mounted into the foam with only the USB and the lens sticking out.

The Image quality

Now considering it’s an action camera I guess that this is the krux of the review and it Passes.  We found that the 2K medium FOV was a favourite as it showed a wide angle at high quality (30fps), and by only being medium FOV we found that it limited fish eye which was a good thing as one of the biggest issues with most action cameras is the horrific fish eye distortion which occurs with a wide angle lense.

We found that realistically 4K is still out of the question especially for Mini quads where 24fps simply isn’t enough, and found that there were perfectly good pictures at 1080p (60fps) and 2k (30fps). The Gyro stabilisation software has improved on the M20 compared with our 5000+. This means that you don’t have to run isolation dampaners and can afford to have your P gain a little too high, which is good for those who struggle to tune their quads. Of course there are limits the the level of vibration which it can take, due to it only being software, but it is better than nothing.

The Specs

M20done

General Brand: SJCAM
Model: M20
Type: Sports Camera
Chipset Name: Novatek
Chipset: Novatek 96660
Storage Max External Card Supported: TF 32G (not included)
Class Rating Requirements: Class 10 or Above
Display Screen size: 1.5inch
Screen type: LCD
Power Battery Type: Removable
Capacity: 800mAh
Power Supply: 5V 1A
Charge way: USB charge by PC
Working Time: 65min (WiFi on) / 75min (WiFi off)
Primary Info. Wide Angle: 166 degree wide angle lens
ISO: Auto,ISO100,ISO1600,ISO200,ISO400,ISO800
Video/Image/Audio Decode Format: H.264
Video format: MOV,MP4
Video Resolution: 1080P (1920 x 1080),2K(2560 x 1440)30fps,4K (2880 x 2160),720P (1280 x 720),VGA (640 x 480)
Video System: NTSC,PAL
Video Output : HDMI
Audio System : Built-in microphone/speacker (AAC)
Exposure Compensation: +1,+1/3,+2,+4/3,+5/3,-1,-1/3,-2,-2/3,-4/3,-5/3,0,2/3
White Balance Mode : Auto,Cloudy,Daylight,Fluorescent,Tungsten
Functions WIFI: Yes
Loop-cycle Recording : Yes
Loop-cycle Recording Time: 10min,3min,5min,OFF
WDR: Yes
Interface Type: Micro HDMI,Micro USB,TF Card Slot
Language: Cesky,Danish,Deutsch,English,French,Hungarian,Italian,Japanese,Korean,Norwegian,Polski,Portuguese,Russian,Simplified Chinese,Slovak,Spanish,Traditional Chinese,Turkish
Other Frequency: 50Hz,60Hz
Dimension/Weight Product weight: 0.054 kg
Package weight: 0.595 kg
Product size (L x W x H): 5.40 x 4.00 x 2.90 cm / 2.13 x 1.57 x 1.14 inches
Package size (L x W x H): 27.00 x 14.90 x 8.30 cm / 10.63 x 5.87 x 3.27 inches

Conclusions

For me the M20 is a highly capable camera. One which does everything required of it plus more. In essence what it comes down to is your application. For fixed wing uses and on larger quads where mounting isn’t much on an issue, then this camera is perfect. However, for miniquads (especially on the smaller end where the shaved weight of this camera will be quite advantageous) the shape makes it incredibly hard to mount. If this camera picks up we could likely see specialised mounts and cases cropping up on the Internet of things, however there is no guarantee.

At the end of the day this camera offers huge levels of functionality for a fraction of the price. It’s being sold by some vendors for as little as $120 which represents a significant saving over its biggest competitor the Gopro Session which typically sells at $220+. When weighing up the options we would say mounting is the biggest consideration, we have a Gopro session at Drone Insider and we have to say that for miniquad applications it is still better simply because of the shape.

Overall good pictures but let down by the shape 7/10

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