By Don Lindich
Week 52, 2016
Q. Is the SJCAM SJ4000 action camera still your top recommendation? Is there another action camera to consider?
-E.B., Pittsburgh, PA
A. Please note that the SJ4000 was never my “top recommendation.” My top recommendation would be a high-end GoPro camera selling for hundreds of dollars. However, I don’t recommend GoPro as a first action camera because they are expensive in general and the entry-level models are stripped down compared to competitors.
A lot of people buy expensive action cameras, don’t use them as much as they thought they would and end up selling them for a loss. (A search of my local Craigslist shows dozens of them for sale right now.) I think it is better to get your feet wet with an inexpensive model before dropping big bucks on one. The $79 SJ4000 produces beautiful video, has a rear screen and includes lots of accessories and mounts that are compatible with the GoPro system if you move up.
The SJ4000 is a great camera, but buying and owning one is a bit of a “you are on your own” experience. The camera has been so successful that the market is flooded with inferior counterfeits that look exactly the same, down to the packaging. I would never buy one from Amazon or eBay for this reason and have always counseled readers to only buy the SJ4000 from bhphotovideo.com or the official sjcamhd.com website. Buying at these places is the only way I know to be sure you are getting the genuine item. Even then, SJCAM does not seem to have any real US operation and when I looked for warranty information their official website said, “Please check with your SJCAM reseller to see what their warranty policy is.” That isn’t exactly reassuring, but at least it is only $79 and so far readers have not complained.
Another camera to consider is the $99 Monster Digital Villain.
It has a rear display and records 1080p video at 30 frames per second (fps) like the SJ4000, but also has WiFi and includes an even better bundle of accessories, including GoPro-compatible mounts, a 32GB MicroSD card and a USB card reader.
When it comes to the quality of the recorded videos, I still have to give the SJ4000 the win. The video quality is truly outstanding, actually unbelievable for the price and I don’t quite know how they do it for $79. Videos are clean, sharp, have great color and handle motion very well even at 30 fps. The video from the Villain was a bit behind in each area. It is satisfying, but won’t make you stare in disbelief the way you will with movies from the SJ4000.
The operating and ownership experience is exactly the opposite scenario. I’ve owned an SJ4000 for over two years now and still find myself fumbling through the menus. The Monster Digital Villain is extremely easy and intuitive to use, can be controlled with your smart phone over WiFi and also works as a dash cam. (The dash cam capability alone is enough reason to buy one.) The Villain is also a clear winner in support. Unlike SJCAM, Monster Digital is an American company with a robust reseller and support operation you know will be there when you need them. monsterdigital.com
On YouTube you will find lots of sample videos from each camera. Review some videos, consider the strengths and weaknesses of each model and decide what suits you best. There are different reasons to buy each one, and either way you won’t go wrong