Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III review

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II embodied everything a mirrorless camera should be: a high-quality camera that feels great in the hand, offers an extensive feature set with bags of control, and produces great images, yet doesn't take up much space in your bag. 

The new OM-D E-M10 Mark III looks to build on that success, and make itself your indispensable traveling companion. 

Features

  • Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor, 16MP
  • 3.0-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 1,037,000 dots
  • 4K video capture

Like the E-M10 Mark II that it replaces (and the original E-M10 Mark I for that matter), the OM-D E-M10 Mark III sticks with a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, but gets Olympus' latest TruePic VII image processing engine (used in the brilliant E-M1 Mark II), which Olympus believes will deliver improved low-light shooting performance.

A boost in resolution to 20MP would have been welcome here too, but perhaps Olympus was concerned that it might cannibalize sales further up the OM-D range.

The E-M10 Mark III sports the same highly effective five-axis in-body image stabilization system as the Mark II, which delivers a claimed four stops of compensation to reduce blur and shake in both stills and video. 

The new camera also retains the same 2,360,000-dot OLED electronic viewfinder that impressed us in the Mark II, along with the same 3.0-inch 1,037,000-dot LCD touchscreen on the back. 

One notable update is to the E-M10 Mark III's video capabilities, with the new camera able to shoot 4K video footage at up to 30fps, while it's also possible to shoot Full HD footage at 60fps.

Olympus has also overhauled the E-M10 Mark III's camera-assist shooting modes. iAuto mode becomes simply Auto, and promises to deliver sharper images in all scenarios, while the Scene (SCN) mode has been upgraded.

There's also now a Advanced Photo (AP) mode, allowing photographers to fine-tune images, as well as use the likes of Live Composite and Multiple Exposure without the need to dive into the camera's main menu.

Finally, the E-M10 Mark III's Art Filter (ART) collection grows to 15 with the arrival of a new Bleach Bypass effect. 

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Build and handling

  • Revised design and grip
  • Magnesium alloy construction
  • Weighs 362g

We've always been impressed with the build and finish of the E-M10 range, and the Mark III is no different. Constructed from magnesium alloy, the E-M10 Mark III has a solid, durable feel that certainly feels much more premium than DSLR rivals like the Canon EOS Rebel T7i (EOS 800D).

The shallow but effective front grip on the Mark II has been beefed up here, offering a more satisfying hold without compromising the E-M10 Mark III's diminutive proportions. 

The OM-D E-M10 Mark III retains the pleasing retro design of the Mark II, but with a few revisions once you look a little closer, most notably to the dials on the top plate. 

The retro-styled power switch carries over from the Mark II – pushing this beyond the power-up position pops up the flash – but the design of the three dials has been refined, with the main mode dial more pronounced.

As before, the shutter release is at the centre of the front-most dial and within easy reach of your index finger, while the rear and mode dials are easy to operate with your thumb. The mode dial doesn't have a lock, but as we've found with the Mark II, it isn't easily knocked out of position in use.

Autofocus

  • 121-point AF
  • Coverage across most of the frame
  • Face Priority AF and Eye Detection AF

The AF performance of the outgoing E-M10 Mark II impressed, and the system in the OM-D E-M10 Mark III is that bit better.

There's a boost in contrast-detect AF points, from 81 to 121, which combined with the addition of the latest TruePic III image processor should deliver snappier focusing speeds.

The OM-D E-M10 Mark III struggles to keep up with fast-moving subjects

While some rivals offer on-sensor phase-detect AF points to speed up focus acquisition, their omission here doesn't seem to hamper the OM-D E-M10 Mark III too much in single AF mode. Focusing is pretty swift, even with relatively poorly-lit subjects; the AF does slow down slightly as you zoom in, although that shouldn't be an issue with one of the many prime lenses available for the camera.

Tracking could be better though. While the sensor array covers a large part of the frame, the reliance solely on contrast-detect AF means the camera can struggle to maintain focus with even moderately fast-moving subjects. In short then, focusing is great for static subjects, but you're left wanting when it comes to subjects on the move.

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Performance

  • 8.6fps burst shooting
  • Mechanical shutter up to 1/4000 sec
  • 330-shot battery life

As far as burst shooting is concerned, the OM-D E-M10 Mark III gets a modest speed boost over the Mark II, from 8.5fps to 8.6fps. While that's only a marginal improvement, it's still quicker than the likes of Fujifilm's X-T20 (8fps), and noticeably quicker than either the Canon EOS Rebel T7i / EOS 800D (6fps) or Nikon D5600 (5fps). Buffer performance is pretty good too, at 22 frames for raw files, while the camera will keep shooting JPEGs until the card is full.

The five-axis image stabilization system performs very well – even using a shutter speed of 1/8 sec we were able to get sharp images, while provided you brace the camera properly it's possible to shoot at even slower speeds with good results. 

There’s nothing to complain about with either the EVF or rear touchscreen display

As we've experienced with other OM-D cameras, the auto white balance copes well with a range of lighting conditions. The same can be said for the E-M10 Mark III's metering system, with exposures in most cases very satisfactory. 

There's nothing to complain about with either the EVF or rear touchscreen display, with the electronic viewfinder's 2.36 million-dot resolution delivering a display that's nice and bright, and, more importantly, lag-free in good light. 

Battery life is about right for a mirrorless camera of this class – at 330 shots, it's 20 shots less than the X-T20, but compared to a rival DSLR like Nikon's D5600, which offers 820 shots on a single charge, it's disappointing.  

Image quality

  • ISO100-25,600
  • +/-3 EV exposure compensation in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments
  • 15 Art filters

The 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor at the heart of the OM-D E-M10 Mark III has changed little in the five years it's been available. For those wanting the best detail possible the 24MP sensors in APS-C rivals like the X-T20 and D5600 will deliver more satisfying results, but that's not to discount this sensor, which is still capable of delivering decent A3-sized prints. 

JPEG images at ISO400 hold up well. There's perhaps a hint of luminance (grain-like) noise visible at 100%, but nothing untoward, while there's a good level of detail visible in low-to-mid sensitivity range shots. Noise is controlled well up to around ISO6400, at which point some areas in JPEGs start to take on a slightly painterly appearance when viewed at 100%. Results at ISO12,800 and 25,600 are reasonable, provided you're only going to be using those images online.

  • Mirrorless vs DSLR: 10 key differences

Verdict

Going solely on out-and-out image quality, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III is left wanting compared to its rivals (though a boost in resolution to 20MP would have negated this a little). Image quality is still more than satisfactory though, and you'll be able to produce very nice A3-sized prints from your shots. 

But that's just one element, and you have to look at the OM-D E-M10 Mark III as a whole to see its charms. Its stylish design and solid-feeling body are much more satisfying than similarly priced DSLR rivals, while the compact proportions give it a distinct appeal over rivals.

The camera is easy to use for first-time users, while both features and performance will be sufficient to keep experienced users happy. The OM-D E-M10 Mark III might not be a massive leap forward over the Mark II, with much of the camera's specification remaining the same, but Olympus has refined and tweaked one of our favorite mirrorless cameras to make it an even more tempting proposition.

Competition

GoPro Hero5 Session review

GoPro overhauled its range of action cameras last year, adding more features to its 'entry level' point of view (POV) devices and further improving its top spec cameras to cement its reputation as king of the action cams.

Granted, there are now plenty of rival offerings that aim to tempt buyers away from the biggest name in sports and action shooting, but few can compete with the level of features and image quality offered by the Californian brand.

The Hero5 Session sits in the middle of GoPro's current camera lineup, borrowing many elements from its bigger Hero5 Black brother (which has just been superseded by the Hero6 Black), yet featuring the scaled-down simplicity and exterior packaging of the more affordable Hero Session.

It may sound confusing, and there's a big price disparity between the four cameras, but the key thing to note is that the Hero5 Session shoots in 4K at 30fps, like the Hero5 Black, while stills are captured at 10MP (as opposed to 12MP by the Hero5 Black) and it features GoPro's ProTune feature for easier post-production editing.

In short, it's easiest to think of the Hero5 Session as a Hero5 Black lite, albeit one without the handy rear touchscreen or the professional-grade performance. 

Features

  • 4K video capture at 30fps
  • 10MP still images
  • No rear touch display

GoPro knows its audience, which is why it can get away with offering a number of cameras over a range of prices with very similar features.

But for those wanting professional touches, such as ultra-sharp image quality via an all-glass lens, excellent low light performance and 4K filming at 60fps, then the Hero6 Black is definitely the camera to plump for.

That said, the Hero5 Session still manages to cram a hefty amount into its diminutive shell, including the aforementioned 4K at 30fps video resolution, ProTune options and other pro-grade features, not to mention voice control and excellent smartphone connectivity.

It is a lot more expensive than the near identical-looking Hero Session, but that camera doesn't support 4K video, nor does it sport voice control or the Superview, Linear and Narrow fields of view.

Features-wise, though, it's more useful to compare the Hero5 Session to its bigger brother, because side-by-side there's very little to separate the two bar a slightly reduced frame rate at certain video resolutions, the lack of RAW and WDR still image files, and the much more user-friendly rear touchscreen display.

The small differences in quality will be difficult to spot for anyone using the camera on a casual basis, but the fact that the Hero5 Session doesn't have a rear screen or an interchangeable battery will be reason enough for those using their camera on a regular basis to jump to the more expensive Hero5 Black or Hero6 Black.

Design and accessories

  • Features just two buttons
  • Simple design
  • USB-C connection

The Hero5 Session really is a masterclass in simplicity, as this small cube (it's only marginally bigger than pool cue chalk) features just two buttons and one side flap that houses the USB-C port and MicroSD card slot.

The shutter button on the top also acts as a power-on switch, and will start recording video automatically (if the relevant settings are activated) when depressed.

A much smaller, and infinitely more finicky button on the rear scrolls through the various menus and settings on the camera.

It takes a little while to get used to one-button control, and there will likely be multiple shaky video clips of feet and sky captured as users accidentally record when they merely meant to power-up the device.

However, things are much simpler when the Hero5 Session is linked to GoPro's app, which acts as both the rear screen (for setting up shots) and as a hub for browsing menus and adjusting settings.

The Hero5 Session comes with a small exterior housing – it can’t be mounted to anything without this

Just behind the big red shutter button is a small white-on-black display that displays the mode (video, photo, burst, etc), the number of files recorded, the battery level and whether voice control and Wi-Fi are activated.

If you don't have your phone to hand this is also the only screen via which you can adjust and navigate menus, which isn't exactly good news for anyone with imperfect vision, as it's so small, although it remains bright enough to use in the dark.

The Hero5 Session also comes with a small exterior housing – it can't be mounted to anything without this. But, unlike previous chunky plastic coverings, this is simply a thin plastic jacket that sports GoPro's recognizable mounting system at the bottom.

There's also a USB-C cable and a small selection of adhesive mounts to get you started, and in all honesty that's all that's really required with this miniature Hero.

The camera itself is so small and light that it's incredibly easy to stick it to the side of a bicycle helmet, for example, without the need for additional accessories. 

Regardless, the camera's exoskeleton (GoPro calls it a frame) is compatible with the vast array of GoPro accessories, which cover everything from floating selfie sticks to headband mounts and much more.

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Build quality and handling

  • Waterproof down to 10m (33ft)
  • Voice activation
  • Can be tethered to smartphone app

The fact that the GoPro Hero5 Session is essentially a small rubbery cube doesn't do much for its aesthetic appeal, but it does mean there's very little to go wrong.

One of the complaints we had about the Hero5 Black chiefly surrounded its interchangeable lens cover, which became damaged on our test model and started letting condensation in.

There are no worries with its smaller sibling, as the lens is neatly housed behind some reinforced glass that's secured by eight robust little screws.

In fact, the Hero5 Session feels like it can handle more punishment than its more expensive counterpart, and this is reflected in the fact that GoPro doesn't offer any additional housing.

Straight out of the box it's waterproof to 33ft (10m), which makes it perfectly suitable for most water sports, while the small and lightweight build means it can be easily mounted in unusual places to capture cool angles.

As previously mentioned, the lack of easily accessible settings can be a bit of a chore when you're out and about, while the simple task of flicking between video and stills capture is more time-consuming than it needs to be.

GoPro does throw in voice activation in this model, with the device responding to a list of commands such as "GoPro, take a picture" or "GoPro, turn off"; this makes switching between modes slightly easier, although if there are people around to hear you there's the risk that you'll appear to be muttering to yourself.

We found tethering the unit to GoPro's smartphone app to generally be the best way to tee up video and still imagery, and to adjust settings when out and about, but obviously this won't be practical in all circumstances – not many people take their iPhone surfing.

Unfortunately, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tethering going full steam we did find that the already-poor battery time was reduced considerably, and with no option to swap-out the battery filming sessions can be brought to an abrupt halt. 

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Performance

  • USB charging
  • GoPro app is comprehensive
  • Easy to produce engaging videos

We spent a long time with the GoPro Hero5 Session, taking it on hikes along Portuguese cliff tops to capture the local surf, attaching it to a motorcycle and putting it to good use at a local skate park, and the results were always impressive.

Granted, it can be annoying and fiddly to access menus using just the tiny screen atop the unit, but many users will find video and stills settings that work for them and just stick to those.

Tethering to a smartphone is an easy solution to interface issues, but it does have an adverse effect on battery life. Regularly having to find a power outlet to charge the device was probably one of the most vexing aspects of our time with the Hero5 Session.

Many users will find video and stills settings that work for them and just stick to those

The GoPro app is comprehensive, and allows for imagery and video to be browsed and downloaded to a smartphone for later editing in Quik Stories, arguably one of the simplest ways to produce engaging short films to date.

This separate free app requires the user to feed in the desired clips and the software will then do all the hard work, offering a variety of edit styles, background tunes and font types to create neat short films that can be directly uploaded to social platforms.

Image quality

  • Generally slick-looking video
  • New Linear mode provides less barrel distortion
  • No raw file support for stills

GoPro has a reputation for delivering some of the best video and stills image quality in the action camera market, and the Hero5 Session doesn't let the side down.

With ProTune, users can adjust color settings (GoPro Color or Flat for easier post-production), adjust white balance, shutter speeds, ISO limits and EV compensation settings to get the results they want.

Unfortunately, all of this has to be done via the app, which can be time-consuming, especially if the Wi-Fi connection between camera and phone is proving temperamental, although a recent software update should have corrected this.

There's also a burst mode that fires off an impressive 30fps at 10MP, which should prove invaluable for those wanting to grab the perfect shot of some high-octane action.

Still images are fine for snaps, but there’s no raw support

The same ProTune options are available for still images, while field of view choices include wide, with the classic GoPro barrel distortion, or Linear, which aims to reduce the fisheye effect.

The resulting shots look good, but the lack of a raw format option will be slightly annoying for those who like to enhance their shots in editing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop. 

Also, the more expensive Hero5 Black features a WDR (wide dynamic range) photo mode, which uses a similar technique to smartphone HDR technology to create perfectly exposed snaps, and it's sorely missed in this device.

That said, footage recorded in 4K at 30fps is as smooth and indulgent as you'd expect, while there are multitude options of frame rates and resolutions to suit most situations. 

Colors appear bright and vibrant, with good contrast between light and dark areas, while numerous field of vision modes makes it really easy to capture the action.

SuperView can feel a little extreme, but manages to cram in a remarkable amount of action for such a small lens, while the Linear and Narrow modes are good for those wanting to move away from the typical – and slightly tired – action camera POV.  

Finally, the additional noise reduction is noticeable, particularly during our high-speed motorcycle test, where the sonorous exhaust note was clearly picked out over the wind noise that usually blights action cams.

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Verdict

The video and image quality captured by the smallest camera in the GoPro range certainly belie its pocket-sized packaging. Clips appear vibrant and smooth, while stills imagery is crisp enough to feature on websites and social media with little or no enhancement.

A lack of a raw file option does reduce the scope for tweaking still images, but at the highest 10MP resolution shots are detailed enough to take into post-production software and print at a decent size.

The footage from the Hero5 Session is at the very top of the action camera quality spectrum, with excellent color definition, top-quality audio and a bunch of professional features that see this model creeping up on its larger and more expensive Hero5 Black model.

Granted, for those wanting full control over their video and the best image quality possible, the Hero5 Black or new Hero6 Black are the GoPros to go for, but the Hero5 Session is lighter and more portable than those cameras, and almost as good at capturing the moment.

As an action camera to pack for your travels it's very difficult to ignore, and as a back-up to support the Hero5 Black or Hero6 Black on larger shoots, and for capturing tricky shots where only a small and easily mounted camera can get the job done, it's perfect.

The lack of rear screen can be frustrating, the battery life is pretty poor and GoPro's voice command system is a little erratic, but the lack of such features is reflected in the price – and what you do get for your money is pretty impressive.

Competition

GoPro Hero 6 Black

Looking at the tiny GoPro Hero 6 Black, it's nearly impossible to tell it apart from last year's GoPro Hero 5 Black. Luckily, there are plenty of noteworthy differences on the inside.

The Hero 6 has GoPro's first custom chipset, aptly named the GP1 processor, enabling 4K video at 60 frames per second (fps) and super-slow-motion video in Full HD at 240fps.

There's also superior dynamic range, better low-light performance and improved image stabilization, while offloading your footage is now three times faster over a 5GHz Wi-Fi connection. It makes a difference.

Check out our unboxing of the GoPro Hero 6 Black below.

We tested the GoPro Hero 6 Black out for a full day at GoPro's 'Extreme' launch event, and we'll upload more footage as we process it. Here's what we think so far.

Design

The GoPro Hero 6 doesn't look any different from the Hero 5, and that's a good thing. This action camera is a discreet as ever with a very small front logo, on this otherwise black-on-dark-gray device. You can't even see the logo when the camera is wearing its frame.

It's compact too, extremely durable, and finally waterproof (down to 33ft or 10m) without the need for a housing.

It has a 2-inch touchscreen on the back that allows for replay video and photos, and it uses what seems like the world's tiniest touch-based user interface. It comes with a sturdy plastic frame that allows for all sorts fun camera mounts.

The entire design is incredibly tight, snuggly fitting the microSD card right up against the user-swappable battery (confirmed to be the same battery as the Hero 5, which is nice for cross-compatibility). GoPro has packed a lot of camera into this old design, and we're even more impressed with it here.

Video and photo quality

This is where the GoPro Hero 6 sets new benchmarks. We were able to shoot 4K video at 60fps, and dial the slow motion back to 120fps at a 2.7K resolution and 240fps at 1080p.

The GoPro Hero 6 Black is built for catching action incredibly fast.

Everyone else who wants to record video at a normal frame rate will benefit too. Hero 6 has beefed up image stabilization, which slightly crops footage to reduce shakiness. It's noticeable, but don't throw away your GoPro Karma Grip as software-based stabilization can only correct so much.

Low light has always been a GoPro shortcoming, but the Hero 6 also delivers improved dynamic range, giving it better image quality both indoors and out (and everything in between). All of this comes thanks to the GoPro Hero 6's processor.

Interface and apps

The Hero 6 Black takes uncompromised video, but offloading that raw GoPro footage has increasingly been a pain due to large file sizes and older phones. The company is tackling this with a three-pronged approach

This new camera, and updated mobile operating systems like iOS 11, support a new video codec: High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). It can halve file sizes, and that's going to save both your iPhone's internal storage and camera-to-phone transfer time.

Second, transfer times were faster in our early testing, and that's thanks to the fact that the Hero 6 utilizes the 5GHz wireless frequency, which can be three times faster than what we experienced on the Hero 5.

Third, QuikStories returns as a way to transfer and compile your footage into a automatic video collage. It adds video, photos, transitions and even music. The best part is it's fully editable if you want to make changes. 

Taking GoPro video isn't the hard part. Transferring hours of 4K 60fps video and 240 fps super slow motion movies can feel like a chore. 

The Hero 6 Black does a good job at chipping away at the tasks involved. But we still find offloading and editing action camera footage still takes practice and discipline. There's a reason it has such a dedicated fan base.

There's still more to be done though. Although it's easy enough to switch the frame rate to 240fps stationary, it's not nearly as simple when you're speeding down a dirt path through the woods in the middle of a bike ride. 

We'd rather have voice controls allow us to say "GoPro, record a slow motion video." The GoPro Hero 6 supports voice commands, but it's not part of the command list yet (just "GoPro, record a video" works).

Early verdict

GoPro Hero 6 Black is instantly the best action camera you can buy based on the specs. The big highlight is 4K at 60fps and super slow motion 240fps at 1080p footage in such a small, versatile action camera make it a cinematic marvel.

At $500 or £500, though, the Hero 6 Black is $100 or £100 more than its now price-reduced predecessor, the Hero 5 Black. And that's before you factor in all of the mount accessories you can to buy.

Is slow motion video worth the extra money? No, not for most people. But everyone will be able to take advantage of the improved image stabilization, wider dynamic range and better low light performance. The faster transfer speeds and small file sizes are a good universal perk as well. That's worth the step up in price, even if everything looks the same on the outside.

  • The 10 best action cameras you can buy right now

Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K

There was a time when the idea of getting a 4K-ready drone for a price that didn't require you to remortgage your home was the stuff of a madman's dreams, but the rapid advancement of this particular field of gadgetry means such opulence is now well within the grasp of even casual aerial photographers.

Drones like the Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K are paving the way for a low-cost revolution by offering professional-standard video recording that doesn't cost the earth. The Q500 4K captures excellent footage, comes with a wide range of extras and is easy to get in the air – and it offers all of this for a fraction of the cost of its more famous rivals – with some caveats, of course.

Price and availability

If you're shopping on a budget it's possible to order the most basic Q500 4K package from as little as $700, but the more feature-rich bundle – which includes a robust flight case and other goodies – retails for around $800 direct from the manufacturer. If you're in the UK you can expect an almost like-for-like conversion on price, although some retailers are selling the bigger bundle for less than £700. 

Design

Unlike some of its more expensive rivals, the Typhoon Q500 4K has a lightweight plastic chassis to keep costs down. This means the drone is more likely to incur serious damage in a collision, but for those shopping on a tight budget the trade-off is likely to be acceptable.

The top half of the drone is dominated by its four rotors, while the 4K gimbal-mounted camera sits directly underneath. Batteries are loaded into a compartment on the rear of the unit, and two helicopter-style skids protrude from the bottom, complete with soft foam pads to ensure a comfortable landing.

There are five lights on the Q500 4K – one on the underside of each rotor, with a fifth light on the rear so you can see which way the drone is facing when it's in the distance.

Build and handling

Because Yuneec has opted for a largely plastic build as opposed to metal or carbon fiber, the Typhoon Q500 4K is astonishingly light – especially when compared to the likes of the DJI Inspire 2, which is of a similar size.

However, it's clear that Yuneec's offering isn't going to perform as well in a straight fight with a brick wall or tree. While we mercifully avoided any serious bumps during our review period, we dread to think what a high-speed collision could do to those plastic arms; with a little pressure it's possible to flex them quite dramatically, which would hint at a drone that isn't designed to withstand excessive force.

Thankfully, once it's up in the air such issues are largely forgotten; the Typhoon 4K proves to be an agile and responsive drone that's a joy to control, thanks to the bundled ST10+ Personal Ground Station controller. Festooned with buttons and boasting two incredibly precise analog sticks, the Android-based controller presents a drone's-eye view of the action via its 5.5-inch touchscreen, while flashing up important information during flight.

Unlike so many other expensive drones on the market, this controller features a built-in screen so you don't have to tether your smartphone to the device; the result is a much more elegant solution, albeit one which requires a massive amount of time to fully recharge – our ST10+ was connected to the wall socket for around four hours before it was totally topped up.

With user-friendliness in mind, Yuneec has even gone so far as to include an SD card, which contains the user manual and some informative videos which not only show you how to unbox the unit, but how to charge it, how to install the props and how its flight modes and features work.

Performance and battery life

The lightweight frame of the Q500 4K provides decent stability when in the air, although it's not quite as rock-solid as some of DJI's top-line offerings. Even a light wind is enough to cause the drone to wobble, but thankfully the footage captured by the gimbal-mounted camera isn't affected.

The drone's built-in GPS system means it can hover on the spot for prolonged periods without drifting, while the autonomous modes – such as 'Follow Me' and 'Watch Me' – are easy to activate, and take some of the effort out of flying.

Follow Me does exactly as you'd expect: the drone automatically tracks the position of the ST10+ controller, while Watch Me fixes the drone's camera on the pilot, irrespective of where it's flying.

Both modes performed superbly, but it's worth noting that unlike more expensive drones, the Q500 4K lacks sophisticated collision-avoidance systems. It maintains a safe distance between itself and the person controlling it, but will happily smash into other nearby objects if you're not careful on those controls.

The Typhoon Q500 4K comes with two 5400mAh batteries, each of which offers around 20 to 25 minutes of flight time, depending on what activities you're engaged in – using the autonomous modes will drain the battery quicker than simply controlling it manually, for example.

The battery has to be physically removed from the back of the drone in order to charge it, and charging time clocks in at around two hours, which makes the fact that you get two batteries in the more expensive bundle quite a bonus – it means you're getting as much as 50 minutes of flight time when you venture out into the field, and it's even possible to plug the battery charger into your car's cigarette lighter for topping-up on the road.

Video and photo capture

1080p might have been a big deal in the world of drone-based photography a few years back, but now it's all about 4K. The Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K can manage ultra-high definition video at 30 frames per second, but if you're willing to take a drop in quality you can record 1080p at 60fps, as well as capture slow-motion footage at a whopping 120fps.

Still images from the Typhoon 4K’s CGO3 camera have very good dynamic range

The drone's CGO3 camera is mounted on a 3-axis gimbal, and boasts a 115-degree field of view, with the resultant footage impressively free from distortion or warping around the edges. The only negative we experienced was a weird effect around the sides of the picture when shooting directly into the sun, although we have to admit we didn't have the bundled UV filter installed.

Photographs are equally impressive thanks to the 12-megapixel sensor, and because there are dedicated buttons on the ST10+ controller, alternating between video and still image capture is a breeze.

We liked

For such a reasonable price, the Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K really does pack in a lot of features. The 4K video footage is excellent – even if it's not 60 frames per second – and the ability to effortlessly switch to 1080p slow-motion capture allows even the most inexperienced of flyers to record some amazing footage.

The autonomous modes are easy to master, while the bundled ST10+ controller's built-in screen is something of a rarity, even in high-end drones. Finally, the Q500 4K is agile and responsive in the air, making it fun to fly.

We disliked

If you're used to drones that feel like they could withstand a direct hit from a bazooka then the Typhoon Q500 4K might seem a bit flimsy and cheap; the body is almost entirely plastic, and we're not sure it would survive a full-speed collision with the branches of a tree, let alone something more solid.

The drone's lack of advanced object avoidance systems means you need to be quite careful in busy or built-up areas, and it's also a shame that the battery lasts, on average, for only around 20 minutes, and takes so long to fully top-up.

Verdict

The Yuneec Typhoon 4K may not have as many features as some of the leading drones on the market, but its lower price point will be particularly attractive for novice aerial photographers.

While the plastic bodywork is off-putting, there are plenty of positives here, including the superb ST10+ controller with its built-in screen, superb image quality and above-average maneuverability and responsiveness.

SJCAM SJ7 Star

If the GoPro Hero5 Black is the current undisputed heavyweight champion of the 4K action camera world, the scores of cheaper rivals that are currently coming through the ranks are the young and feisty contenders for its crown.

But so far none of them has managed to topple GoPro's relatively expensive offering, even if cheaper rivals claim to boast similar spec-for-spec attributes, proven sensors and comparable technology.

Cameras from Yi Technology (notably the YI 4K Action Camera), Olfi and Veho have come close in terms of design and performance, but have typically buckled in the final round.

Despite the scores of battered and bruised challengers before it, however, Chinese manufacturer SJCAM thinks it has what it takes to trouble the champ, and its latest SJ7 Star model boasts the sort of features that, on paper, appear to make it a contender.

Features

  • 4K video capture at 30fps
  • 12MP stills (up to 16MP via interpolation)
  • 166-degree wide angle lens

Like its GoPro rival, the SJCAM SJ7 Star offers an interactive rear touchscreen via which you can control most of the functionality. At two inches wide, it's easy to view and to navigate.

There's also the option to download the free SJCAM app, which is available for iOS and Android and connects via the smartphone's Wi-Fi, for previewing shots and rapidly editing settings.

Expect plenty of video resolution options, with 720p and 920p at 120fps catering for the extreme slow-motion moments, 1080p at 120fps bumping up the resolution somewhat, and 2.7k at 60fps or 30fps and 4K at 30fps offering the sharpest footage.

The camera also packs gyro stabilisation, which aims to digitally smooth out bumps in video recording

The SJ7 Star matches the aforementioned GoPro pound for pound, and even records 4K natively (rather than via interpolation), meaning image quality and clarity are superior to the previous SJ6 model.

However, the twice-the-price GoPro Hero 5 still manages to keep the upper hand in a number of areas, including its built-in waterproof casing (there's no need for a separate case any more), ProTune video options (the dream for anyone wanting greater control in post-production), HDR images and voice control.

The camera also packs gyro stabilization, which aims to digitally smooth out bumps in video recording, although this is only available in 1080p at 30fps or lower resolutions.

That means full 4K and 2.7K can feel bumpy, while super-smooth, super-slow-motion clips could be out of the question.

Design and accessories

  • Three color options (black, grey and rose gold)
  • Plenty of basic mounts in the box
  • Waterproof casing included

There's not too much to write home about in terms of design. The SJCAM SJ7 Star is a matchbox-sized action camera with all the glamor of, well, a matchbox.

It comes finished in all-over grey, or with a black (as seen here) or rose gold facade, but essentially it's a small rectangular box with a tiny lens at the front, two rubber buttons (settings and power), a shutter button on the top and a touchscreen at the rear.

On the bottom there's a small hinged door that houses the 1000mAh lithium ion battery pack, which isn't as powerful as those found in the aforementioned rivals, including the Yi 4K and GoPro offerings.

The SJCAM SJ7 Star is fashioned from hard plastics and rubber, and feels fairly substantial as it is but the packaging contains numerous cases, including a waterproof case that allows the camera to be taken to depths of 30m.

SJCAM also includes a touchscreen hinged back door that can be used at depths up to 3m, but its plastic is far too tough and inflexible to allow proper use of the rear screen.

The casings and accessories use a GoPro mounting system, with many featuring 3M adhesive pads, but the plastics used feel cheap and brittle.

The waterproof casing, for example, uses a small latch and hinge mechanism for opening and closing. That tiny plastic hinge requires some pretty sturdy nails to open it the first few times, and the process can actually prove painful if your hands are cold or wet.

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Build and handling

  • Responsive touchscreen
  • Accessories feel cheap

Charging the SJCAM SJ7 Star, and transfer of files, is taken care of via a standard mini-USB cable, which is good news if, like us, you have loads of cables hanging around.

We found that GoPro's use of the newer USB-C cables meant we had to keep the provided wire under lock and key through fear of losing it and not being able to charge the camera. Not so with SJCAM.

There's no visual indicator to show that the unit is charging when it's switched off, meaning the screen has to be activated if you'd like to check status; an indicator on the front of the camera wouldn't go amiss.

Once fully charged, the SJ7 Star starts up quickly, and there's very little delay between start-up and recording or shooting, although the one-button shutter means it's a little more fiddly to switch between stills and video.

To do so, you have to swipe left or right on the rear touchscreen, or swipe up to access the various modes, including self-timer, video lapse and burst photo options.

Accessing this menu is quick and easy, with the touchscreen proving responsive, but exiting menus and clicking on the smaller icons can be fiddly, and often takes multiple attempts.

The various mounts are simple and intuitive to use, while the thumb screws tighten and loosen without a struggle – an issue that typically blights cheaper cameras.

There's also a handy universal mount that screws into most tripod systems, for those who fancy getting creative with timelapse photos or who simply want steady video footage, although the SJ7 Star will have to be placed inside one of the provided cases first.

Performance

  • f/2.5 lens
  • Sony IMX117 sensor and Ambarella A12S75 chipset
  • Gyro stabilisation only at 1080p at 30fps and below

For this particular test, we took the SJCAM SJ7 Star out cycling, attached it to a car during some high-speed tyre testing, and packed it in a rucksack for a sunny hike along the beach.

Cycling is always a good workout for any built-in image stabilization, and in this case it's very easy to see the results with the technology activated, as it resulted in smooth footage when attached to some shaky handlebars.

The SJ7 Star also supports a quick capture mode, which sees video begin recording when the camera is switched on, although annoyingly this isn't the case when the camera goes into standby mode.

Here, the shutter must be depressed once to wake the camera up, and then again to take an image or start recording.

A recent firmware update has improved a number of handling issues, such as the slow-reacting touchscreen menus and some crashing, while app functionality is greatly improved.

On that note, the app is a nice addition to the overall package; it borrows many elements from the GoPro stable, including the design and layout, and it works well and proves easy to navigate.

The SJ7 Star creates its own Wi-Fi network, which you can easily connect your smartphone to in a matter of seconds. Once connected, the app then allows all of the settings to be adjusted, video resolutions changed and files browsed and downloaded to the device.

It feels a lot more intuitive to adjust settings via the app, as the small touchscreen on the back of the camera can be fiddly to use, and it's irksome to constantly have to remove it from one of the protective housings.

Expect battery time to be depleted much quicker when Wi-Fi is activated, though.

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Image quality

  • Sharp and colorful video
  • Plenty of resolution options
  • Stills suffer from barrel distortion

Video quality from the SJCAM SJ7 Star is pretty good. Bright blue skies appear vibrant and image detail is good, even at 1080p and 30fps; there is some grain, and edges aren't particularly sharp, at this resolution, but that's to be expected.

There's an almost bamboozling number of resolution, frame rate and view angle options to chose from, but we found that 1080p at 60fps seemed to offer the best trade-off between image quality and file size, while it offers good flexibility in post-production.

Unfortunately, there isn't an option to shoot the video flat (to allow for greater flexibility in post), nor is it possible to capture stills in raw. That said, only minor tweaking in Lightroom was needed to create some nice imagery, even at 12MP resolution, although barrel distortion in stills is a big issue.

Still files look pretty good as long as you don’t mind serious barrel distortion

The latest GoPro features a dual microphone set-up, which does a great job of cutting out wind noise for an improved soundtrack. The SJ7 Star's lack of such technology is noticeable, and the audio captured on a blustery ride was pretty much unusable.

You'll only get around 50 minutes of footage when shooting in 4K resolution, but this produces by far the best picture quality of all the settings.

We rode around with the camera mounted the back of our fixed-gear bicycle on a sunny day, and were impressed by the vivid colours and sharp detail. In the clip below t's possible to make out the tiniest patterns in the tarmac, even when travelling at speed.

But the lack of image stabilization at this resolution is a big drawback, as the 4K footage would have been far more pleasant if the annoying scuttle and shake produced by an uneven road surface was digitally reduced.

Editing and apps

  • Basic app functionality
  • Doesn't allow in-app editing
  • No video preview option

Unfortunately, neither the SJCAM SJ7 Star nor the app allows for any editing, with the app serving only as a tool to download clips and stills to a smartphone and correctly line up a shot.

That said, the app is extremely simple to use, and we found that our iPhone 7 had no problems connecting to its built-in Wi-Fi, although it would occasionally drop signal, forcing us to re-connect.

It is possible to review still imagery and video, as well as download selected files to a device, although the app requires video to be downloaded before it can be previewed, which is a pain.

The lack of in-app editing could prove a stumbling block for some potential buyers, as the likes of GoPro and YI Technology understand that not everyone has the time to sit down and put a slick edit together, and so offer easy solutions for creating neat clips that can be instantly shared via social media.

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Verdict

Native 4K is impressive in a camera at this price point, as is the rear touchscreen and the liberal spread of cutting-edge features, but there are a couple of things that let the SJCAM SJ7 Star down.

The lack of image stabilization when shooting in 4K will likely disappoint anyone looking to capture professional-quality imagery, while GoPro's ProTune settings are naturally a big draw for those looking to get creative in the edit.

It's also not possible to shoot still imagery in raw, and the rear touchscreen can be slow, and irritating to use on a regular basis. However, we experienced a similar sensation with the far pricier GoPro Hero5 Black, and a firmware update did make it more responsive.

We were impressed with the overall video quality, especially when stabilized at 1080p, while the still imagery was sharp and perfectly acceptable for lower-resolution use cases after a few minor tweaks.

Granted, the SJCAM SJ7 Star lacks some of the cool features of the GoPro, such as voice activation, GPS and the ability to make quick and easy video clips via a smartphone app, but it delivers strong footage at a fraction of the price.

Competition