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.

  • The 10 best GoPro and action cameras you can buy right now

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.

  • The 10 best GoPro accessories

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.

  • The best free video-editing software

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

Photo Of The Day By Kacy Joshi

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Peaks Aglow” by Kacy Joshi. Location: Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.
Photo By Kacy Joshi

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Peaks Aglow” by Kacy Joshi. Location: Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Joshi describes the image as, “First morning light rays illuminating Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks.”

Photo of the Day is chosen from various OP galleries, including Assignments, Galleries and the OP Contests. Assignments have weekly winners that are featured on the OP website homepage, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To get your photos in the running, all you have to do is submit them.

The post Photo Of The Day By Kacy Joshi appeared first on Outdoor Photographer.

iPhone 8 Plus deals and pre-orders: here are the best prices in the US

The iPhone 8 Plus is now available to pre-order, but you shouldn't overpay or at least gets something for free if you're going to buy it for full price. Here are the best deals on day one.

The iPhone 8 Plus has been announced as a typical upgrade to last year's iPhone 7 Plus. Thankfully, that means it comes with a price in line with that upgrade. The iPhone 8 Plus starts at $799.

The iPhone 8 Plus might come at a higher price than the iPhone 7 Plus, but it also comes with a larger starting storage. It's the biggest phone in size, but at least it's cheaper than any of the iPhone X deals.

  • See the iPhone 8 Plus deals at T-Mobile
  • $300 off a iPhone 8 Plus at Verizon with trade-in
  • 50% off an iPhone 8 Plus lease at Sprint
  • 32GB iPad for $99 with the AT&T iPhone purchase

See also: iPhone 7 deals | iPhone 7 Plus deals | iPhone SE deals | Samsung Galaxy S8 deals | Galaxy S8 Plus deals

iPhone 8 Plus price: how much will deals cost?

With a starting price of $799 in the US, Apple delivers the 5.5-inch base model with a decent spec bump without giving it too much of a price bump.

The best news is that Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and other US carriers will offer iPhone 8 Plus deals at launch for new customers. 

They'll also break the price into monthly payments, so you'll likely be paying $33 a month for 24 months if you go with a carrier like Verizon.

The best money-saving plans: Verizon plans | T-Mobile plans | AT&T plans | Sprint plans

When can I buy the iPhone 8?

On top of the price, Apple announced the release dates for the iPhone 8 plus.

Today is Apple's official iPhone 8 launch event. iPhone 8 Plus pre-orders will start later this week, Friday, September 15. As usual, it's the Friday directly after an Apple press conference.

Keeping in line with past releases, the iPhone 8 Plus will then be available to purchase the following Friday, September 22.

Then, you can take your $799 and head down to a carrier to get your new iPhone 8 Plus.

TechRadar predicts the best iPhone 8 deal

While Apple gave us the price of the 64GB iPhone 8 Plus model, it didn't mention a price for the 256GB model during its launch event, but the price is now on Apple's website. To get the increase in storage size, there's a $150 increase, hitting a high $949.

You'll experience less sticker shock if you opt for the $33 a month over 24 months price, or about $26 a month for 30 months with AT&T for the 64GB iPhone 8 Plus. Unfortunately, you may have to wait for those installment deals to show up.

If you have a phone to trade in, you might get an even better price. So far, T-Mobile is offering $300 off the iPhone 8 Plus with an eligible trade-in, and its throwing in free enrollment in the iPhone upgrade program. It will also sell the Apple Watch 3 with 3 months of free wireless service. Other carriers are also likely to offer trade-in deals soon. 

  • See T-Mobile's iPhone 8 Plus deals here
  • Read more about the iPhone 8

iPhone 8 deals and pre-orders: here are the best prices in the US

Apple's iPhone 8 is now available to pre-order. Here's where you can get the best price for iPhone 8 on T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.

It's not as expensive as we first thought it would be. The iPhone 8 that Apple announced this week alleviated fears that the base model would come with a $1,000 price tag. The new iPhone 8, instead, starts at $699 for a 64GB model.

The iPhone 8 is simple upgrade from last year's iPhone 7. As such, the price hasn't increased too much, though it's a little more expensive likely due to the increased storage of the base model. 

More important than any of that: how can you get the best iPhone 8 deal on launch day, or simply find it in stock? Let's make sure you have all of the answers for today.

  • See the iPhone 8 deals at T-Mobile
  • $300 off a iPhone 8 at Verizon with trade-in
  • 50% off an iPhone 8 lease at Sprint
  • 32GB iPad for $99 with the AT&T iPhone purchase

See also: iPhone 7 deals | iPhone 7 Plus deals | iPhone SE deals | Samsung Galaxy S8 deals | Galaxy S8 Plus deals

iPhone 8 price: how much will deals cost?

The iPhone 8 won't cost $199 – the usual subsidized new iPhone price every year since the iPhone 3G in 2008. This is the iPhone 10th anniversary edition and it's going to be extra special.

Apple announced two sizes for the iPhone 8: 64GB and 256GB. The smaller size is $699. The larger 256GB model will come with a $150 increase to the price, bringing it to $849.

The best news is that Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and other US carriers will offer iPhone 8 deals at launch for new customers. They'll also break the price into monthly payments.

iPhone 8 price increase: how you can save money

Since the iPhone 8 didn't increase the base price much over the iPhone 7, the carrier deals won't change much either.

We therefore expect the iPhone 8 to cost $29 a month for 24 months from carriers that offer simple installment plans.

That's going to differ at AT&T, where contracts can be extended to 30 months for a slightly smaller monthly price, or T-Mobile, which may ask for money upfront, then give you the appearance smaller monthly payments that way. Verizon is our go to for natural pricing, split evenly over 24 months.

You can save money by looking into becoming a new customer on launch day. All carriers are currently running promotions, promising around $300 for new sign-ups, or avoid paying Early Termination Fees with your current network.

The best money-saving plans: Verizon plans | T-Mobile plans | AT&T plans | Sprint plans

When can I buy the iPhone 8?

Apple's official iPhone 8 pre-orders start Friday, September 15. The actual release date is a week later, on Friday, September 22.

Though you should be ready to part with $699 we'll update this guide with any new deals that show up an offer a better price or perks that ease the high price of a new phone.

TechRadar predicts the best iPhone 8 deal

Since the price of the iPhone 8 is still high at $699, and it goes even higher for the 256GB model. That can be a lot of cash for someone to drop all in one go.

You'll experience less sticker shock if you opt for the $29 a month over 24 months price, or about $23 a month for 30 months with AT&T.

If you have a phone to trade in, you might get an even better price. So far, T-Mobile is offering $300 off the iPhone 8 with an eligible trade-in, plus it will sell the Apple Watch 3 with 3 months of free wireless service with it. On top of that, people who pre-order the new iPhone 8 will be enrolled in the iPhone upgrade program for free. Other carriers are also likely to offer trade-in deals soon. 

  • See T-Mobile's iPhone 8 offers
  • Read more about the iPhone 8

I just bought a $1,000 iPhone, and wasn’t even the iPhone X

Move over, iPhone X. My bill for the new iPhone 8 Plus was over $1,000 today, according to my Apple Pay receipt. My iPhone 7 Plus confirmed the payment with an audible chime, indicating my bank account has been depleted of funds.

Yes, Apple announced that its new iPhone 8 with a 4.7-inch screen would cost $699, but I wanted the larger iPhone 8 Plus with a 5.5-inch screen. That's an additional $120, with Apple's price for it now totaling $799.

Proof is in the final price

But wait, I didn't want the entry-level iPhone 8 Plus with 64GB either. I wanted the 256GB version, since I'm at 72GB right now even with iCloud storage to offload files. That's another $150, making it a not-so-grand total of $949.

Oh, and add in lovely New York sales tax of $84.22, and it's actually $1,033.22 in the end. Those are some iPhone X prices right there.

I have one week to decide 

Truthfully, I want an iPhone X. However, it doesn't ship until November 3 and there's no guarantee I'll get it then. Supply is going to be extremely limited.

But, really, this is the one I want.

But if you're fooled into thinking the iPhone X will cost you $999 like Apple announced on stage this week, don't forget to factor in the larger storage and any sales tax.

I can always take this iPhone 8 Plus back. Apple has a very liberal return policy of 14 days, no questions ask. I just can't break the phone in between next Friday September 22, the official release date, and October 6, the last return date.

I may need to get an iPhone 8 case before next Friday. 

  • Check out our hands-on iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X reviews