It’s been more than a month since SJCAM India sent me the SJ5000X Elite for a review, and I have shot roughly 2000 photos and 200 videos with it for some 75 GB of total data. I’ve tried every mode, fiddled with every setting, and ridden with it through a variety of conditions. I’m now in a position to tell you exactly what to expect from this little action camera.
Below you can read my detailed SJ5000X Elite review, but before that there are a few things about action cameras and videography that you should know.
Should you even buy an action camera?
In almost all cases, the answer to that questions is NO.
A lot of people watch others post videos and sick photos on their social media accounts, and they think they should do it too. What they don’t understand is the amount of effort, time and money it takes to make good stuff, and they feel that just buying a camera will let them become the next Instagram star in a week, month tops.
Buying an action camera is the easiest part, here are the steps that follow.
- Buy mounts. You can buy sticky mounts, chest mounts, head mounts, suction mounts, clip mounts, third-person view mounts, all designed to show the world from your perspective.
- Buy extra batteries and memory cards. Most action cameras can only shoot for a total of 1.5-2 hours on a single battery, which isn’t enough for full-day adventures. Also, shooting at higher resolutions and frame rates fills up the cards very quickly.
- Spend hours trying to find the best way to position these mounts. Chest mounts usually block out the road, clip mounts are too shaky, suction mounts can fall off without warning, and sticky mounts are a pain to remove once set.
- Spend a large part of your trip worrying about how much battery life you’re left with, how many memory cards are full, is the lens dirty, is the angle good, while carrying your entire collection of straps, mounts and accessories on your back.
- Come back home with 5 hours of brilliant 2K footage, only to realize that your laptop is old and coughs like a smoker every time you try to play a video.
- Buy a new laptop.
- Try using the free video editing softwares available online, only to realize that they’re all useless.
- Buy a video editing software like Premiere Pro or Vegas. Spend weeks learning how to use it.
- Sit in front of your new laptop and watch your 5 hours of footage for 10 hours to find out the good parts.
- Put all the good parts together in the software, only to realize the video is 1 hour long.
- Cut off anything that isn’t totally epic. Realize the video is still 45 minutes long.
- Cut out every little pause in narration. Realize the videos is still 44 minutes long.
- Sleep over it, and delete most of the video the next morning to cram the infernal thing under 10 minutes.
- Realize you forgot to put music in the video, and your voice isn’t nearly as sexy on camera as it is in real life.
- Find some free music online and cut your video at strategic points to match the mood, add transitions, modulate audio, put some lens flare and strobes.
- Feel good about yourself and your life, even though you just spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours doing something that absolutely didn’t need to be done.
- Upload the video to Youtube and turn all the monetization settings on, just to make sure you become an instant millionaire with all that internet monies.
- Spend an hour watching Youtube upload your video, get stuck at 95% processing and then just stop for no reason. Re-upload multiple times before it goes through.
- Watch as a copyright complaint is filed against you by the music owner, even though the music was supposed to be “free”. All your internet monies goes to the music dude now, not that 76 views will make much to begin with.
- Sit in a corner with your arms around your knees and ask yourself, “Why did I ruin my entire trip to the mountains by staring into a 2-inch screen and not looking at the ultra-super-mega-high resolution stuff right in front of my eyes?”
It’s easy to look at other people’s work and think you can do it too, it’s hard to understand just how much effort it took to make something that beautiful. If you don’t have the time and the money to invest in the post-processing of a video, don’t buy an action camera. There’s no point in being distracted throughout the trip just to watch some random footage on your PC that one time you accidentally stumble upon your old hard disk with the forgotten data.
I know a lot of people carry action cams because they’re afraid of missing those epic moments and crashes. Trust me, such moments rarely happen. When they do, the camera is rarely able to capture them well. You’d basically have to keep the damn thing working 24×7 to get what you’re looking for, and even then it might take years for 30 seconds of glory.
All that effort is not worth it.
Should you buy a GoPro or something cheaper?
Like everyone else, I wanted to buy a GoPro. All the interesting people seem to be using it, and all the beautiful footage you can find is made by one. Some part of you realizes it’s all marketing, but you ignore that voice, like you always do.
I checked online to see the prices, and almost cried with laughter. I could go on a month-long trip with that kind of money! Just as quickly as the idea had started, it died. I made some fun of my experience on a Facebook post, and some friend of mine who had a GoPro lying around told me I could take it for a small amount, almost gave it to me for free.
And just like that, I had a shiny GoPro Hero2.
By today’s standards, it’s ancient. It’s fat, heavy, slow, and looks ugly, but I enjoyed shooting with it. I took it on a 4000 km motorcycle trip, which also included a track session. After shooting some 100 GB of data with it, all that came out after 3 months was a 3 minute video of me riding around the circuit, rest all was so completely boring I didn’t even bother to watch it again.
If I had spent the money to buy a new GoPro, I would’ve killed myself at this point.
There’s no doubt about the fact that GoPros take great footage, it looks sexy, has some brilliant colors, and some sharp clarity. However, none of those things are important unless you’re a professional videographer. After using the SJ5000X Elite for a month I find it surprising to believe that anybody actually buys GoPros.
For less than half the price, the 5000X Elite gives you similar level of quality. Yes there are plenty of things wrong with the SJCAM, but it can also do things the GoPro can’t.
Long story short, if you’re a beginner and you don’t even know if you’ll be into videography, don’t buy a GoPro. It’s too big an investment for a stupid little experiment. There are plenty of options available, although many of the super-cheap ones are just horrible. Use your brain, fix a budget, and find something that’s reasonably good, and not fake.
Should you buy one of the cheaper cameras from the SJCAM range?
SJCAM has a huge list of items in their catalog, to a point that gets irritatingly funny. There are at least a million different types of the SJ5000, a billion of the SJ4000. You also have special editions, + versions, M10s, M20s, Wifi ones etc., which is an extremely confusing and claustrophobic feeling to begin with.
However, just like any car or fridge or washing machine, it makes sense NOT to go for the absolute cheapest that a budget brand makes. SJCAM is the poor man’s GoPro, but their cheap items, especially their best-selling 4000s, can produce disgustingly bad videos. The reason for that is quite simple.
The most important part of any camera is the sensor, it’s the retina equivalent to the eye. The cheap SJCAMs use generic sensors, all of which suck. The optics in front of the sensor and the processing chips behind the sensor can only do so much with an inferior sensor.
If you buy a cheap SJCAM, make a video out of it, compare the quality with a GoPro and then curse all Chinese manufactured items for being stupid and useless, you are a moron.
The SJ5000X Elite that I used has a Sony sensor, which is leagues ahead of what you get in some of the other models. This means that even if the optics and the processing chips don’t do their job too well, you have the raw materials to improve the video in post-processing.
Should you buy cheap SJCAMs from Amazon/Flipkart/Snapdeal?
SJCAMs used to have a proud tradition of getting ripped off into ultra-cheap but fake products that flooded the market. Part of the fault lied with SJCAM, they didn’t label their products efficiently, which meant that anybody could put a few pieces of plastic together to make it look like an SJ4000.
After a while, they woke up and started packaging their products better, which helped reduce the number of fakes, but of course didn’t completely eliminate them. When you see that SJ5000X Elite on Amazon selling for 11,790, and the same SJ5000X Elite on the SJCAM India official website for 14,999, one of two things is happening.
- It’s a fake.
- It’s one of those cameras smuggled from China that comes with no warranty or support.
Now that we are clear on these items, let’s head on over to a comprehensive review of the SJ5000X Elite.
SJCAM SJ5000X Elite review: Positives
1. Value for money
When you compare the video/audio quality of the SJ5000X Elite to the competitors, the differences aren’t that obvious. When the compare the prices to the competitors, they are.
A lot of people have complained about the build quality of the SJCAMs, but I don’t really see what they’re talking about. It’s all plastic, doesn’t rattle, and looks sturdy enough. The battery door is flimsy for sure, but who cares? I’m much more concerned about the camera working like a camera rather than looking like one.
Add to that the amount of options and features that this camera has, which we’ll discuss soon, the SJ5000X Elite gives you incredible bang for the buck. A lot of people will never buy the SJCAM just because it’s made by a Chinese company, but I have no such qualms. Everything is made in China, just because GoPro uses a lot of white, non-asians to promote its products doesn’t make it better. All I’m concerned with is the final product I upload to Youtube, and I faced no issues in that department with the SJCAM.
2. Video Lapse mode
My favorite thing in this camera. I’m lazy, but I still want to do interesting stuff. Over the years I’ve shot many series of photos in my GoPro with the plan to join them all together in a software to make a timelapse. That never happened. With the SJCAM, you don’t have to do anything. Just push the button, and a timelapse video oozes out.
All you have to do is pick the resolution, and the interval between shots. I personally prefer 1 second gap between photos, makes the video slower, longer, and much less jagged. Remember that the longer the gap is, the longer you’ll need to stay at that place to get some decent sized video. A 10 second video with 1 second interval will be only 1 second long with 10 second interval.
3. Gyro stabilization
This is a very interesting feature, especially because no GoPro has it. An in-built accelerometer measures the shifts in the footage, and then the camera compensates for it. There a both pros and cons to this feature, but I’m glad it’s an option.
The good thing is that it can help you shoot decent footage in situations where otherwise the video will make the viewer vomit. Also, it greatly improves selfie videos, especially the ones where you’re walking as you talk.
The bad thing is that it narrows the field of view, because of which the video feels more zoomed in. Also, it can’t compensate for forward/backward motion, only sideways. You can read more about this feature here.
And one correction here, the Gyro doesn’t affect battery life. It’s all digital, so it shouldn’t. I came to know that only when I experimented with it.
4. Video/Audio quality
You can shoot at a variety of resolutions and frame rates. I tried everything from 4K 24 fps to 720p 120 fps, and the results are very impressive, thanks to the Sony image sensor.
The 4K resolution is interpolated, so I didn’t work with that much. Also, I wasn’t going for a film look, so 24 fps wasn’t useful for me. I mainly shot in 2K and 1080p, at 30 and 60 fps respectively. Both of them can be slowed down enough without creating any problems, and also look great on both mobiles and desktops.
When compared to a GoPro, the footage feels a bit less bright, a bit less colorful, and a bit less sharp, all of which can be easily fixed in Premiere Pro. The differences are quite unnoticeable in real life though, you need to put the frames side-by-side to see them.
One area where the difference is noticeable is the width, which is kind of curious. Both camera specs says the field of view is 170 degrees, but the SJCAM feels a bit zoomed in when compared to a GoPro, not sure why. Also, some GoPros come with a “Superview” mode, which enhances the wide-angle feel even more. This is not an option with the SJCAM.
The audio quality is not bad, acceptable. Things could’ve been much better with an external mic, but the default audio is workable. In some videos I kept the audio volume at 10, and although that made the sound quite clear, there also was a significant amount of noise attached. Keeping the volume at level 8 seems to be a good bet for all situations.
Overall, the video/audio output of the SJ5000X is good enough to be used in professional projects, and indistinguishable from a GoPro’s output for most eyes. The low-light capabilities of this camera are not too good though, as you’ll see in the video a few scrolls below, but then again I’ve never seen any camera be too happy at night.
The first thing that I noticed when I got the camera was how light it is. I mean yes the Hero2 is far too fat, especially with the screen attached, but this is light even when compared to their latest models.
The difference might not be much, but the SJ5000X Elite weighs in at 68 grams, while the Hero4 Black is 88. You wouldn’t even be able to notice the difference if both of them were in your hands, but I’m just trying to give you an idea of how close the Chinese lad has come to their American dad.
On the helmet, it feels quite comfortable to have it mounted on the chin. Of course the housing and clips and mounts increase the weight significantly from the 68 grams that the camera weighs, but all in all, it’s not a major nuisance against riding pleasure.
6. Battery backup
Here’s a small chart of the battery backup times along with the modes that I shot in. For all these experiments, the camera was charged to full, then recording was started, and the time was noted once the recorded had stopped automatically. The camera can still keep recording a few 30 second sections after it has stopped due to low battery, but that’s not included here.
[table id=13 /]
The SJ5000X Elite consistently delivers over 1.5 hours of backup from a single 900mAh battery, which is good enough. There are official SJCAM batteries available with 1500mAh capacity, which should significantly improve this backup time. Overall, with 2-3 extra batteries, you should be all set for a day’s shooting, no matter how long it goes.
One curious thing here is that if you shoot for 1.5 hours straight, you will not get just one file. The SJCAM limits a single recording to a maximum of 3.99 GBs, which for most resolutions means a video of roughly 20 minutes. I’m not sure why it is this way, maybe SJCAM have programmed it in there, or it was a limit of the memory card inside the camera.
Unlike the GoPros, where the camera is a separate thing and everything else is extra, the SJ5000X Elite includes a number of useful accessories in its base price. Here’s the list.
- Curved adhesive mount
- Flat adhesive mount
- Handlebar mount
- Frame clip mount
- Replacement waterproof door for housing
- Tripod mount and adapter
- USB cable
- 3 arms, 3 screws, and a J mount
- Cleaning cloth
Not bad eh? When I got my Hero2, the first thing I had to do was to go to DX.com and order some cheap mounts, which took a month to reach me, after which I was able to use the camera. The SJ5000X Elite comes ready to use out of the box, and that’s a nice thing.
8. Memory card
Unlike a GoPro Hero2, the SJCAM uses micro-SD cards for storage. This helps in 3 ways.
- If you’re in a hurry to post your photos/videos but don’t want to waste the battery on transferring them to your phone via WiFi, you can simply remove the card from the camera, put it in your phone, and you’ve got it all in there.
- Micro-SD cards are tiny as compared to the SDs that go in DSLRs and my GoPro, hence a bit space saving, although they can sometimes be hard to find inside the bag.
- Since they are used in mobile phones, micro-SDs are generally cheaper when compared to similar capacity SDs.
A negligible weight saving factor is also an advantage, but it’d be too small to notice on these already ultra-light weight gadgets.
9. Usable as a dashcam
The SJ5000X Elite comes with an option called “Car Mode”. SJCAM’s normal video mode comes with file looping too, but in Car Mode the files can overwrite each other if the space is full. Also, this mode is supposed to make the process of video capture automatic, as soon as you start the car, the video starts too, without any buttons to be pressed.
However, this dashcam mode is not useful at all times. First off, you’ll need to buy a separate housing that allows you to connect it to a USB from the outside, otherwise you’ll have to drill a hole in your housing, which’ll take away its waterproof capabilities. If you are not able to connect the camera to the power supply, you’ll have to manually switch it on and off, plus it’ll only shoot for as long as the battery lasts.
More importantly, dashcams are supposed to be small, discreet, so that you can just fit them once and then leave them there forever, silently doing its job day after day. The SJ5000X Elite is on the bigger side for a dashcam, and would attract attention from the outside. If you happen to park your car in the wrong neighborhood, the chances of it being there by the morning are slim.
It’s also on the heavier side for a dashcam, so mounting it properly is going to be a pain. I used a suction mount, but as you can see, that’s just asking for someone to smash through the window. All in all, the Car Mode is usable only in emergency situations, or as an add-on device to a proper dashcam setup.
The other option is the Motion Detection thingy, which is quite useless. The idea behind this seems to be that you can leave you car outside, and if someone does any major damage to it, the camera will capture it. However, there’s a big problem with that.
The detectors works only if the camera is on, which is monumentally stupid. The entire point of this mode is to keep the camera in battery conservation mode, and then start when needed. To use this feature, you’ll basically have to keep your camera on at all times, which is impossible.
The only good thing is that the video automatically stops if the motion ceases, I had expected it to go on till the battery was done.
10. Usable while being charged
Unlike my GoPro, the SJ5000X Elite can keep shooting while its being charged, which is killer awesome. This should be obvious, given the fact that it’s meant to be used as a dashcam as well, but if you want to use it while riding, you’ll have to get this accessory to make it work. If you’re are just trying to check out the settings, or do some experiments while the camera is charging, you can, unlike the GoPro, which’ll need to be unplugged.
SJCAM SJ5000X Elite review: Negatives
1. Unnatural hardware
Even though the button setup on the SJ5000X Elite is more or less similar to that on any GoPro, their method of functioning is entirely unintuitive, unlike the GoPro.
The SJCAM starts much easily as compared to my Hero2, which I think of as a good thing. In the GoPro, you need to hold the button up for a few seconds, here it just takes a small push and the thing starts. However, everything goes downhill from there.
In the Hero2, the buttons are easy to work with. You press the record button once, it starts recording. You press it a second time, it stops, no exceptions. With the SJCAM, things are surprisingly complicated. You press the record button, it starts, you press it again, it’ll do one of two things:
- Switch on the screen to show you what you’re recording, without stopping it.
- Stop the recording if the screen was already on.
What this means is that you need to remember what time you set for your screen to go off, and then based on that decide if your screen would be on right now or not, and then press the record button once or twice. As expected, this can become quite an issue, and I found myself with the camera recording away happily many a times, when I thought it was off.
The power button isn’t very helpful either. To mitigate the problems with the record button, I put the camera in “PowerOn Record” mode, which means that the moment the camera is switched on, it’ll start recording without any further inputs. All fun and good, until you want to switch the damn thing off. Logic dictates that pressing the power button for a few seconds should switch the camera off. No, that’s not what the SJCAM people believe.
If you press the power button for a few seconds while it’s recording, it stops the recording but keeps the camera on. Sometimes if you press the power button for a few seconds, nothing happens except the screen coming back to life. On other completely unexplained situations, I found that pressing the power button for a few seconds simply reset it back to default settings, which means that if you were shooting at 2K 30fps, your next video will be shot at 1080p 60fps and will have that ugly timestamp on it, without your knowledge.
The button problems are exacerbated by the lights. I have no idea why SJCAM decided to go with blue lights on their cameras, they are absolutely useless! Action cams are meant to be used in situations where you’ll not be able to focus on the camera for long, which means that they should display clear-cut information in as less a time as possible. The red lights of the GoPro do that magnificently, the SJCAM fails miserably.
There are 2 lights on the camera, one on the top, and one on the front. The one on the top is too dim for day-time use, the one at front is brighter, but is obscured by the camera housing, rendering it even more useless. While the camera was mounted on my helmet, I had to repeatedly look into the mirrors with total focus to understand if it was working or not. When it was mounted on the fuel tank, I had to cup my hand around the top light to get any idea of what it was doing.
The screen isn’t too bright either, and finding the perfect camera angle in it on a sunny day is tough, but that’s the case with GoPros as well, so I don’t think anything can be done there.
2. Unnatural software
Customers don’t know what they want – Steve Jobs
Well then, let’s give him every goddamn option there is! – SJCAM
If you thought the SJCAM camera range was confusing, wait till you get into the camera options. I have never seen so many options on a camera, even my DSLR feels inadequate in front of the SJ5000X Elite now.
I’m all for giving customers all the options and then let them decide what to do with them. I like to have control over my camera, don’t want it to behave exactly like the company wants it to. I like the fact that you can control the ISO in the SJCAM, I like that you can tweak the contrast, sharpness and noise reduction in-camera, I like that basic things like Bitrate can be changed by the user.
What I don’t like is the cluttered way everything is setup, and the plethora of options that are entirely useless.
- FOV is always OFF, no matter what mode you’re in.
- WDR makes your videos worse.
- Double File is a pointless option, given that you’ll never be able to connect to the phone app.
- Distortion Correction doesn’t do anything, not that it should. The distorted view of wide-angle cameras looks good, if I didn’t want it, I’d shoot with my phone.
- Audio as an option is pointless, what is the advantage of keeping it off?
- Time Stamp option makes sense in Car Mode, rest everywhere else it’s an ugly, undesirable addition.
- TV Out mode is useless, who watches unedited videos directly in their TVs?
- Underwater mode is useless, all it does it add a red tinge to the video, which I can do in post-processing.
- File format should be an option inside the settings only, not in the video menu.
- RAW photo option is useless, the files are unreadable in all commonly used photo processing software.
- WiFi is a gimmick that only drains the battery and nothing much else.
- Slow Recording mode is pointless, who wants a -8X video in VGA resolution?
- Motion Detection mode is hilariously useless, as discussed above.
The entire SJCAM interface requires a total rejig, many of the options need to be removed, others need to be clubbed together and moved to settings, and very few need to be available in the main video/photo menu. All that clutter confuses the user, and makes the entire process far more frustrating.
3. Long charging time
In my experiments, the charging time for the SJ5000X Elite came to roughly 5 hours when you do it directly from the camera and not using an external charger. It doesn’t matter even if you use high-output chargers either, the time remains the same.
5 hours from Low Battery to that red light on the back display going off is far too long. There’s something wrong with the charging mechanism inside the camera. I didn’t have an external charger, so I can’t tell you if that speeds things up a bit or not.
4. Unusable app
The SJCAM WiFi system and App are nothing more than gimmicks that serve no useful purpose. In the month that I used the camera, I was able to connect it to my phone only once, that too for a few minutes only. Even when that happened, it was nothing spectacular. The only use I can see for it is being able to position the camera perfectly in hard to reach places. However, the WiFi will eat into the battery like a hungry shark, which is why I never switched it on and always managed to find decent angles using only the screen.
The app is hilariously cheesy, feels like an unfinished school project. When I first downloaded it, I thought I’d brought some malware on my phone, it looks that bad.
In my opinion, it’s better to do something that you are good at, or not do it at all. Clearly SJCAM doesn’t have good resources for app development, so they should simply take it off as an option. Watching that hideous looking thing on my phone only makes the brand look worse.
5. Lack of mic slot
Motovlogging is the “in” thing nowadays. Strap the camera to your helmet, connect a mic, and talk random stuff while you ride. Everyone’s doing it, but nobody’s doing it on an SJCAM, because it doesn’t have a mic slot.
It’s almost unbelievable that a camera is selling in the market without that basic thing in there. External mic slots are mandatory, I don’t remember ever using a camera which didn’t have one.
The reason for their existence is rather simple, no matter how advanced your camera is, the microphone industry is a whole different thing altogether, and their products will always give better results with far more options.
The internal audio of the SJ5000X Elite isn’t bad, but it gets majorly affected by wind noise. With a mic slot, I could bring in the microphone inside the helmet, put on some fluffy covers on it, and voila, the irritating whooshing sounds are gone. Can’t do that with the SJCAM, for some weird reason that I don’t understand.
SJCAM SJ5000X Elite review: Verdict
There are plenty of things that can be improved about the SJ5000X Elite, and I hope they read this article and work on them. That’s part of the reason why there’s no swearing here, I wanted them to take me seriously.
However, for the price, the amount of features that you get, along with the accessories, and most importantly, the quality of the output video/audio, the SJ5000X Elite makes great sense, not just for beginner videographers, but seasoned Youtubers as well.
After reading my review of SJ5000X Elite, including the parts where I talk about the painful side of using an action camera, if you feel like you want to buy one, head over to SJCAM India official’s website and use the coupon code RIDER10 for a flat 10% discount on all cameras.
Here’s a gallery of the some of the photos I took with this camera. Most of them are video snapshots from VLC media player, only the tripod-selfie-on-a-rock is a photo taken by the SJCAM.
And here’s a complete playlist of everything I was able to make this camera that should give you a decent idea of what it’s capable of.