Review: MGCool Explorer Pro 4k Action Camera

About a month ago I was contacted by MGCool and invited to do a review of their Explorer Pro 4k, an action camera similar in size to the popular GoPro series of cameras.  I received a courtesy unit a few days later and have been giving it a good workout for the past several weeks.  Now it is time to share my thoughts and observations.

What comes in the box

The camera comes packaged in a nice waterproof case that allows access to all of the controls when the camera is enclosed. Also in the package are several accessories. These include a USB charging/transfer cable, a camera bracket and clip, a bicycle mount, two adhesive mounts (helmet, dash, etc), one 90 degree directional change adapter,  and a user manual. A big surprise was the fact that it came with a second battery, something I would not expect from a low-cost action camera – or any camera, for that matter.  What it does not include is a class 10 micro SDHC memory card that will be necessary to use the camera.  I already had one of these from another action camera, so I was set to go.

Features

The Explorer Pro 4k is equipped with a 170 degree wide-angle lens, and somehow manages to only display a very slight amount of fish-eye.  This is quite impressive, considering that my more expensive Xioami Yi has a narrower 155 degree lens and has a much more pronounced fish-eye effect unless I enable the lens rectification feature.  Also unlike my Xioami Yi, this camera has a two inch screen on the back of the camera, which serves not only as a viewfinder, but also allows you to navigate and change a wide variety of settings. There are number of different resolutions and frame rates to choose from.  You can also configure the camera for “driving mode”, which starts recording automatically when it receives power and shuts down when the power is lost. This, along with the auto-loop function, makes it suitable for use as a dash camera. In addition to taking standard photos and videos, it also has the ability to take slow motion shots and time-lapses. You can take slow motion shots in 720P, 120 fps (resulting video is 25% of normal speed), or 1080P, 60 fps (50% of normal speed). With time lapses, you can set it to capture a frame at intervals of anywhere from a half-second up to one minute.

All of the settings available on the camera can also be set using the mobile app, which connects to the camera using WiFi. The app also serves as a view finder if you want to control recording remotely.

Quality

You probably knew by the price of this camera that it was not going to be excellent at everything. Well, quality is probably the place where you see some difference between this camera and ones costing twice as much.  That’s not to say the quality is bad.  Considering the cost of the camera, there is little to complain about. Under optimal lighting, the quality is very good.  When you start to introduce challenges such as poor lighting or a lot of light variation (bright and dark areas), the quality suffers a bit.  I have noticed, on rare occasion, a small about of “jello effect”, or waviness, when the camera experiences vibration and it is enclosed in the waterproof case.  This is quite common among cameras in this price range.  On the other hand, a more expensive camera without image stabilization will still be shaky, but will not have the “jello effect”, thus making it easier to do some stabilization in the post-production process.  With the white balance mode set to the default setting of auto, I also notice that some shots have a slight “blueish” color tone, at least to my eyes.  However, the camera offers an option to manually set the white balance to one of several different modes to help with this.  Also, white-balance adjustments are pretty easy to make in post-production if you need to do that.  Please review the following photographs and YouTube clips to see the quality of this camera.

https://youtu.be/Y0XcvbRMdjY – Sample video captured at 4k, 30fps
https://youtu.be/JVstYF8ThgE – Time lapse with reasonably good lighting conditions
https://youtu.be/cXNvjp1KzEM – Time lapse with bright sun coming over the horizon

 

I also will be making a full review video soon and will link it here when it is complete.

Summary

The two best words to summarize my opinion of this camera are “Great value”. If you are a professional looking for an action camera to take top-quality footage, this camera may not be the one for you. But you probably knew that when you looked at the price tag.  On the other hand, if you want an inexpensive, feature-rich action camera with everything you need to get started, this camera is a great choice.

The Xiaomi Yi Action Camera

I’ve been wanting to purchase an action camera for quite some time, but was always too much of a tight wad to do so. Finally last month I got my hands on a Xiaomi Yi camera. This camera is another GoPro knock-off, but is one that gets pretty good reviews, and according to most accounts, gives the best video quality for the money. Unlike the popular SJ4000 camera, the Xiaomi Yi supports 1080p video at 60fps, and it can also do 120fps and 240fps video at lower resolutions.

Here are the items I purchased:

I did a video showing the unboxing and a number of sample clips and also a video showing how to use the Xiaomi Yi (the camera doesn’t come with English instructions).

My first impression of the camera is good. The fast frame rate lets me slow down shots without them appearing jerky. I’m hoping this camera will capture some nice underwater clips of catching and releasing fish when I use it for fishing videos on my Great Cove Adventures YouTube channel.

The 808 series of key-chain spy cameras


When it comes to dirt-cheap video cameras, the 808 series of key fob cameras must be one of the most popular. A large selection of these can be found on Amazon.com These cameras are designed to look like a vehicle key fob, and they do a great job of that.   Most folks would look at them and have no idea that you have a video camera attached to your key chain.  However, for many people, spying isn’t the primary use for these camera.  They are commonly used to capture areal footage from a model plane, helicopter, or rocket.  Because these cameras are lightweight, they work well for this purpose.

There are several models of 808 key chain cameras, and the video quality and price varies widely between these models.  The model is simply a number, usually between 1 and 24.  When you buy one of these, the particular model should be specified.  If it is not, be careful!  The lower models have very low resolution and video quality.  I got one of those to use with my model rockets to get areal footage.  You can see the quality (or lack thereof) by taking a look at my rocket videos, or the video taken from my radio controlled Sky Ranger airplane.  The cost for my camera was about $12, and I knew what I was getting.   However, there are some sellers that will sell you a low quality model for $40 or $50 – a big rip-off.

If you’re looking for a higher quality camera and don’t mind a higher price take, the 808 #16 and 808 #26 cameras are some of the most popular and give you 720p and 1080p video respectively.   In addition to the 808 series, there are also some similar cameras that have become very popular.  One of those is the Mobius Action Camera, which is similar in specs to the 808 #24 camera and will probably be my next camera purchase.