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.

Surface Pro 3 camera test – a disappointment

I recently had my first experience using the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Since I’m into photography and video editing, I figured the first thing I should do is check out the camera.

When I tapped the camera app, a view from the rear facing camera filled up the screen, and nothing else. No button or toolbars were visible to give me a clue how to use the app. So I tapped the screen, thinking that it might take a picture just like it would on my Moto X. Sure enough, it did. Next I tried to slide a finger up and down on the display to see if it would zoom like my Moto X does, but it didn’t. I tried using two fingers and sliding them apart to zoom, but that didn’t work either. After some more poking around, three buttons suddenly showed up along the right side of the screen. One was to take a picture, one to take a video, and one to take panoramic photograph. I’m not sure quite why a button to take a picture was included because tapping anywhere on the display appears to do the same thing. Pressing the video button started a video, so I took some test footage and pressed stop. The interface paused for a few moments, presumably to save the footage, before it allowed me to take another picture or video. After trying a few more video clips, I noticed that sometimes this pause would be non-existent, and other times it would take 30 seconds or more before it would save the video and let me proceed using the camera app. I found this rather baffling, but I assumed it was by design.

Then I looked at the footage. About two out of three clips had distortion or artifacts in the video. Some of the problems were minor, but in some cases the entire video was garbled and choppy. It seemed that the videos that took the longest to save were the ones that had the most issues.

After many attempts, I put together a camera test video, but I had to record some of the segments several times to get a usable video. As you can, even the clips I used had some distorted areas.

Has anybody else encountered these problems with the Surface Pro 3? If so, put your experience in the comments below. In the coming days I’ll be doing some more research to see if I can find more information on the issue or a way to fix it. If I can learn something, I will add it to this post at a later time.

Partners in Rhyme finds a resolution to my YouTube copyright frustration

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Partners In Rhyme

A few weeks back I described a frustration I ran into as a YouTube creator. To get the background story you should probably read that post first. Even though I had done things the “right way” and only used properly licensed stock music in my videos, I still got slapped with copyright claims on several of my videos from a company call IndMusic. IndMusic, as it turns out, has been a source of frustration for both composers who create stock music and video creators who license and use that music. As I mentioned in the previous post, I had reached out to Partners in Rhyme, the stock music vendor from which I purchased the music, to see if they would give me some help. As it turns out, they did. Within a day or two I got a response from Mark Lewis at Partners in Rhyme. He requested all the information surrounding the problem: the videos in question, the company filing the claim, and the music they were claiming as theirs’.  Mark worked with the author (and presumably with IndMusic) and all the claims were dropped a week or two later.   This adds a new level of credibility to Partners in Rhyme.  Not only did they sell me the stock music, they also stood behind it when things went wrong.  Thanks to Mark’s efforts, my cardboard boat fishing video is back online with the disputed music, and I’ve deleted the video with a different music track that I had temporarily posted as a workaround.  Speaking of cardboard boats, I also have produced a video on how to build one, and I have another blog post with a few construction details.

ContentID Madness: IndMusic, Partners in Rhyme, and my cardboard boat.

cardboard-boat-video-screenshotSometime late in 2013 I began to see articles and blog posts complaining of changes to YouTube’s ContentID system. The system is designed to flag videos containing copyright-infringing content and offer the owner of the content a chance to monetize the videos in question or have them removed from YouTube. I didn’t pay much attention as most of the complainers where YouTubers that were creating videos with in-game content. However, in the middle of December, the controversy paid a visit to one of my YouTube channels.

The channel is called “Great Cove Adventure Films” and is where I post videos of outdoor adventures such as fishing and hunting. In the space of three weeks, I received notification from Youtube that three of my videos contained copyrighted content. The videos effected were these:

Fishing from a cardboard boat
Channel Advertisement 11.23.2013
Catching bluegill on Fannettsburg Lake

The party making the claim is called IndMusic, a company that is becoming known for these sort of claims. Supposedly, the background music in my videos infringed on the copyright held by an artist they represent. The thing is, this music wasn’t something of questionable origin or something I ripped off a CD. I had purchased the songs in question in January 2013 from an apparently reputable company called Partners in Rhyme. The stock-music collection cost me $99 and was called Sacred Hymns. It included several soft instrumental hymns that I thought would go well with my outdoor videos. The receipt and license agreement from Partners in Rhyme clearly stated that I was purchasing the right to use these songs as background music for video projects. Furthermore, the license stated that Partners in Rhyme had the necessary authorization to grant me those rights, and that their agreement with me did not infringe the copyrights of any third party. So in spite of me acquiring this music the “right” way, YouTube was notifying me that IndMusic held the rights to the music and future revenue from advertisements would be shared with them instead of me.

Thankfully, YouTube allows a video creator to appeal. I took advantage of that and appealed the claim on all three videos. I explained in each of my appeals how I had legally acquired the music. In a few days IndMusic lifted the claim on two of the three videos. However, they didn’t lift the claim on my cardboard boat video. On January 17, 2014 I received a notice from YouTube that IndMusic had reinstated their claim on my video. I could file a second appeal, but this time the stakes would be higher. I would have to share my contact information with IndMusic, and they would be free to take legal action against me if they still felt that my video was infringing. In addition, if they turned down this appeal YouTube would place a copyright strike on my YouTube account. For a small-time YouTube creator, the risk is simply not worth it. I should be able to assume that my appeal would be granted, but since it was denied once it certainly could be denied a second time.

So what choice do I have? The video is still active, so I can just leave it there. However, all revenue sharing from it now goes to somebody who probably does not deserve it, basically rewarding IndMusic for filing a claim that appears to be invalid. So as soon as I can put different music with the cardboard boat video, I’ll be pulling down the old one and putting up a new one.

So who’s to blame for this madness? The short answer is, I don’t know. Are IndMusic and YouTube over-zealous in their copyright policing efforts? Did Partners in Rhyme sell me rights without proper authorization? For what it is worth, it appears that the stock music collection in question is no longer being offered by Partners in Rhyme. I left a voice-mail for them today (January 18, 2014), but so far I have not heard from them. I strongly suspect Partners in Rhyme is the innocent party, but they are likely the only company of the three that I’ll actually be able to have a conversation with.