SJCam SJ7 Star Action Camera Review
For a price that is half that of the latest and greatest GoPro (the GoPro Hero6 Black), the SJ7 Star is a lucrative choice for anyone interested in shooting action photography or videos.
The SJCam SJ7 Star is an action camera made by SJCam and provided to us by GearBest. This is a Chinese made action camera designed as a direct competitor to the GoPro Action Camera.
The SJ7 Star is widely considered by many action camera enthusiasts to be a genuine GoPro competitor. Action cameras are getting popular by the day with more and more new brands coming into the fray.
A bunch of these are nothing more than cheap knock-offs of the original GoPro; which is still the most popular brand by a fair margin. However, there are some really good rival brands that are also coming on to the market. One of these brands is SJCam. They offer a number of action cam models. The M10 Wi-Fi, the SJ4000, the SJ5000 and so on. The SJ7 Star is the latest.
Related Post: GoPro Alternatives
The SJ7 Star offers:
- internal 4K / UHD recording with sound,
- built-in video-lapse recording and time-lapse recording without the need for external tools.
- It also has a 120 fps full HD 120 fps recording option which is played back in normal speed to produce some stunning footages of everyday moments.
These and more features make the SJ7 Star one of the best action cams in the market and a worthy competitor to the GoPro HERO5 Black.
Let’s dive right into the features of this camera and find out more about it.
The design of the SJCam SJ7 Star is decent and in trend of the other cameras also manufactured by the company. It is reminiscent of the GoPro. The large front element of the lens is intimidating. The problem is that in providing an ultra-wide (almost fish-eye) perspective 166˚ the front element of the lens bulges out. That means very few lens accessories will actually work with the camera.
The overall design is minimalist. It is functional and simple. Not too many buttons and dials. Just a power button and a settings button at the front. Plus, there are a couple of LED lights that indicate – that the camera is switched on and that it is recording. The other light will change color when Wi-Fi is switched on.
When Wi-Fi is turned one light at the front of the camera will blink intermittently in white. The other light will stay fixed. When Wi-Fi is not turned on both lights will remain fixed blue.
A shutter button that initiates video recording / or takes a still image sits at the top panel. The microphone is also at the top panel sharing the real estate with the shutter button. The rear of the camera is dominated by the 2″ LCD touchscreen. The black bezel looks beautiful against the lit screen.
There are two tiny lights on the left of the rear panel. They both turn blue when you turn on the camera. When you start recording they blink on and off. When you plug in the USB cable to your laptop, the lights turn blue and pink.
Feels fairly solid in the hands despite it being lightweight. Nothing like some of the other plastic cams that I have held in hand and then put them back on the shelf. The metal casing is actually good. The only gray area is the plastic front which also houses the power and settings buttons and the lens. Would I be awfully worried about this? Not really. If you are using the waterproof housing then it will bear the brunt of any knocks that may be induced during the course of your work.
Sensor, Video Resolution and Stills
The sensor inside the SJ7 Star is a 12.4 megapixel Sony IMX 117 CMOS unit. It is capable of recording internal 4K (UHD) videos as well as full HD videos at varying frame rates. Internal 4K is recorded at 30 fps, 2.5k is recorded at 60 and 30 fps and full HD is recorded at 120, 60 and 30 fps. There is also a 720p HD option. But I am not you do not want to use that.
There are a variety of still and video capturing options. We’ll learn about them as we go along. All images are recorded in JPEG format and all videos are recorded in web-ready mp4 format. This makes it very easy to upload your videos straight to social media.
Low Light Capabilities
In one word not great. I have shot under fluorescent light indoors and the amount of grain is horrible to say the least. The amount of grain is big enough to make me think twice attempting to shoot again in low light situations. The best conditions to work with the SJ7 Star is on bright sunlit days or at least outdoors where there is a lot more light to go around.
The SJ7 Star comes with a 3.8 V 1000 mAh battery. Full power should last a little more than an hour of recording (120 mins as per the SJCam website). Battery power will however, depend on the ambient temperature in which you are operating the camera. Ideally, if you are planning to shoot for long duration, you can connect the camera to an external power source while recording. I have used the cam connected to my car while recording 4K video as well as connected to a powerbank while recording continuous stills. They both worked well. I have however, faced one problem while recording in the Car DV mode. It has been discussed under the heading ‘ Recording While Charging’.
The SJ7 Star comes with an array of mounting tools, 3M adhesive patches, a water-proof housing, a sort of plastic harness that allows the camera to be used as a dashcam leaving the USB port open to connect to a car charger and a special back cover that allows touchscreen functionalities even under water. Plus, the box also comes with a micro-fiber swipe, USB cable and a manual.
A rubber lens cap is also provided. This is supposed to protect the front end when the camera is inside your bag. Mine does not offer any real value as it keeps coming off when I turn the camera backside up. I might as well put the camera inside the waterproof housing when travelling. Just to ensure that the camera does not knock its lens out of action and that I have maximum protection.
Optionally, you can get the SJ Smart Remote which is a wristwatch design that allows you to wear it on your wrist and control the camera from a distance. You also have the option to buy the external microphone that SJCam makes for the SJ7 Star. This one will allow you to record crisper sound to go with the video footages.
Major Settings of the Camera – Video Resolutions
Let’s discuss at length the various settings possible on the SJ7 Star. Let’s start with the Video Resolutions. This is self-explanatory. This allows you to choose the video recording resolution. The highest resolution possible on the camera is 4K @ 30 fps and in 16:9 aspect ratio.
The minimum resolution is 720p @ 30 fps SV. Of course at the lower resolutions you also have the option to record at higher frame rates. The maximum you can shoot at is 120 fps at full HD which gives fantastic results in good light, really slowing down any action. There is a 240 fps option at 720p as well.
4K video is my favorite recording resolution as it helps me upload high quality recordings to YouTube. 4K becoming the standard these days with more and more people looking to invest in 4K TVs a higher resolution allows more quality conscious (and resolution hogging) consumers enjoying your videos. Of course for those on slower connections will be able to enjoy the lower-res versions of your videos.
Video quality is between Normal, Fine and Super Fine. I have experimented with all three and it is Super Fine for me.
FOV (Field of View)
Field of View denotes how much of the scene the camera records. The lens has an ultra-wide angle field of view of 166 ˚. That means it records just short of fish-eye perspective. The problem with using such an ultra-wide angle perspective is that the edges of the frames are heavily distorted. For using as a Car DV reorder, this is probably a good idea as in that case it records A- pillar to A – pillar perspective. Provided however that you are ok with the distortion.
For recording your ownself, for vlogging or other purposes, you should use the slightly lower field of view. The lower field of view basically cuts the edges of the frame and that also takes care of the barrel distortion. The Narrower view the lesser is the distortion.
Slow Motion will only work with 1080p (full HD mode), in 120 fps or in one of the sub-full HD options (720p 240 fps). For all other video resolution, the option will be deactivated. When you record in these high frame rate options playback happens in normal frame rate. This is when you have those beautiful slow-motion videos straight out of the camera.
Auto Low Light
Auto Low Light is more like an ISO setting. Choosing this option will compensate for the lack of light in a scene. When you choose this option the camera will compensate for the lack of light in the scene by locking the frame count and ensuring that it shoots a better picture with the available ambient light.
The Gyro Sensor will work to stabilize the jerks that you normally see when recording videos. In real use situations, the gyro stabilization works very well indeed. It smoothens out the video.
Detection mode is detailed under ‘Bypassing the Problem of Fast Card Error’. This mode is basically for recording videos when the car is parked somewhere and you are not comfortable keeping it there unattended. Under this mode when the camera detects movement in front of it, it springs to life and makes a quick recording before going back to sleep again.
Dual Files is for editing advantages. Two versions of the same recording will be saved. One of them will be in the selected resolution, the other will be in a lower resolution. I did not use this feature at all as all my videos were recorded in the desired resolution. I can also get confusing very quickly with several clips.
Video Stamping as the name suggests will just timestamp the date and time information. It is not mandatory to put the day and date stamping in the video. It depends on your requirements and the footage that you are shooting. I usually put the time and date information when I mount the SJ7 Star on my car, not when I am recording myself for a vlog. As I mentioned above this is optional.
Option to choose between 1 and 60 seconds as interval between each recording. The final output will be a single mp4 file that will combine all the footages together.
Loop recording basically is about recording small clips of a fixed duration. That duration can be 1 minute, 3 minutes or 5 minutes. This continues till the camera battery has charge or you don’t turn off the camera. However, the problem with loop recording is that when the memory card is full the older videos will be overwritten.
So, if you have a small capacity memory card, your older videos, in case they are important will be gone. Ideally, chose a larger capacity memory card (32 GB or larger) to ensure that your older videos are not overwritten. Also, make it a point to download and store your videos on an external storage platform.
If you have this mode switched on a red car icon will appear fixed on the screen. In this mode the camera will turn on automatically, when you turn on ignition in your car, provided the camera is connected to the car’s power outlet via a car charger.
Microphone volume gives you the option to choose the microphone volume settings, keeping it at 100% picks up almost everything in the vicinity. That may not be too great. Especially when you are shooting in windy conditions. The mic will pick up the swooshing sound of the wind against it. Keeping it at something lower is advisable. If you plan on using this camera for the purpose of vlogging, I would recommend using an external microphone. SJCam sells a nice stereo cam which you can pick up. It connects to the USB port of the camera and records crisp sound along with the videos.
Major Settings of the Camera – Photo Size
You have a choice between 16 megapixels (4608 x 3456 pixels) to 3 megapixel (2048 x 1536) image resolution to shoot with.
One thing that you should know about first up is that all images above 12 megapixel are interpolated. That means the images are up-scaled. The original sensor is of 12.4 megapixel only. You shouldn’t be too bothered by the image capabilities of the SJ7 Star unless of course you are considering using it for time-lapses. I mean you can shoot stills with this camera no doubts, but then with an in-camera JPEGs there is no option to do any major post-processing with this camera.
Just like in video. There are three option to choose from – S.Fine, Fine and Normal. I’d keep this is in S. Fine without changing anything.
Long Exposure is what the name suggests, a long time frame for which the sensor remains exposed to the light (i.e., the shutter remains open to receive light). I have discussed the fundamentals of long exposure before. Please refer to that articles for more details. On the SJ7 Star, there are options to choose between Off, 1/30 sec, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 and 60 seconds. 1/30 sec does not exactly qualify as a long exposure. Anything 1 sec or more certainly does.
Enters the day and or date into your pictures, if that is something that you want.
Triggers the shutter mechanism and captures an image after a certain delay (decided by you). Nothing to elaborate.
Shoots several frames per second when set to this mode. The number of frames that you want the camera to shoot depends on you. You can choose between 3, 5 and 10 seconds depending on your preference. Comes in handy when shooting fast action and you want to capture as many shots as possible so that you can capture the zenith of the moment.
Time-lapse photo is an interesting technique that I have detailed before. Here the SJ7 Star allows you to select a specific interval after which the camera will trigger and make a picture. These images are then auto combined to produce a time-lapse sequence that you can share. The minimum interval is 3 seconds and the maximum is 60 seconds. The best use for this feature would be for capturing sunsets, sunrises, a busy thoroughfare even a busy promenade.
Three sharpness options, Strong, Normal and Soft. I keep it at the default Normal. You can change it as per your preference.
Several white balance options allow you to play around with what settings you want to have when shooting stills. I leave it Auto for the most part as it helps keeps things simple. The latest firmware V 1.21 offers RAW shooting options. That is a great addition to the SJ7 Star. Now you would be able to shoot in RAW and then dial in the right white balance and do a whole lot of other adjustments as well.
EV Value is basically the same thing as exposure compensation. Just like in exposure compensation in the Aperture priority mode, dialing in an EV value increases the exposure time. It is the same thing is using a slower shutter speed. You have the option to use EV adjustments to the tune of +0.3, +0.7, +1.0, +1.3, +1.7 and +2.0. These are micro adjustments to the tune of 1/3 stop each step. +1.0 and +2.0 denotes a full one stop and full two stops of increase in the quantity of light intake respectively.
Sensor sensitivity control. ISO settings go from 100 all the way to 1600. There is an Auto mode as well wherein the camera selects the ISO automatically. I prefer to leave it at Auto because that takes care of one of the exposure parameters.
Finally, metering modes denote the extent of the frame that the camera would be using in order to measure the amount of light in the scene. This term is distinct from the term metering, which suggests the actual process of evaluation of the light value in a scene. There are three metering modes – center, multi and spot metering.
Real Life Usage Tests and Some Major Concerns and What I have discovered while I tested the device – 4K video recording
As a 4K action camera, the SJ7 Star gets a resounding thumbs-up. No denying this is a useful camera for whatever sports or activity that you might be into. 4K recording quality is crisp. It takes a bit of getting used to with the settings and stuff. You will have to spend some time fine tuning the settings that work for you.
Related Post: Review of the 8se Firefly Action Camera
The resolution, quality, and sharpness are the three main settings that you have to work with. Just leave the resolution at 4K 30 fps, quality at S. Fine and Sharpness at Strong and you will have excellent quality videos all day long.
If you are not an avid videographer but simply are someone who would want to record his / her activities, the SJ7 Star lets you do just that thanks to a large number of mounting accessories provided in the box, including a tripod mount.
Once you do get a hang of things, the SJ7 Star becomes an integral part of your camera bag.
Full HD video recording
Full HD video recording also yields impressive results. The sharpness factor needs to be noted. My initial reaction when shooting in full HD was not very impressive. However, I quickly realized that my sharpness settings were not correct. With the sharpness corrected, full HD video resolution was better. Even then, given the preference, I would always go for 4K even if it means that I fill up my memory cards faster. The qualitative difference is way too much.
Slow motion Videos
Slow motion videos will work only with the full HD and 120 fps mode only. Unfortunately, there is no option to shoot 4K slow-motion.
The 2″ LCD touchscreen is tiny but functional. It allows you to control all of the functions of the camera.
However, the fact that it is so small makes life difficult if you depend on it for a majority of the functions. Especially, under bright sunlight, the sun’s glare can make the LCD screen somewhat difficult to see and work with.
I prefer to use my smartphone paired with the camera via Wi-Fi to do those quick adjustments from time to time.
Additionally, it would be better if you can get yourself the SJCam remote. That will allow you to initiate recording or stop the camera remotely with just a push of a button.
The user interface of the SJ7 Star is simple but it gets the job done. It reminds me of accounting software that I learned to use some two decades ago as a C.A. student (the equivalent of CPA in the US).
All I had to do was hit ‘enter’ and ‘escape’ to get into an entry module or leave the module. The interface of the SJ7 Star reminded me of that. It is simply quite basic. If working the interface on the LCD touchscreen does not work for you, try pairing your smartphone with the SJ7 Star and you will have a much easier time.
Having said that, the interface can sometimes be a little too frustrating to use if you depend on the touchscreen. I had issues while trying to shoot 4K and then switch to full HD and then on to slow motion.
At first, the camera refused to comply and record anything. Maybe it is a momentary glitch. After a few minutes of frantic check and recheck that I have applied the right recording settings, I rebooted the camera and it worked just fine.
The SJ7 Star will get extremely hot, when in use as well as when charging. The first attempt at using the camera was scary as the metal body became disconcertingly hot. But then my attention went to the transparent back cover that said,
“The metal body temperature will increase after long time charging or working. But not affecting the normal usage you may rest assured to use.”
I am not a big fan of devices blowing up on my face and I would be very unhappy if someday airlines decide to bar this device because it heats up quickly while in use.
Recording While Charging
An external power source, your laptop, or a car charger will be able to charge the SJ7 Star while it is recording. I have so far tried not to plug it to an AC main socket. It charges slower than usual but prevents any power surges from affecting the camera/battery.
I will get one of those charging docks later on. When connected to a laptop the screen will flash three options – Charge, External Power and Mass Storage (USB). When the device flashes this window select ‘External Power’. This will ensure uninterrupted recording.
Having said that. I have, however, faced issues when I have turned on the ignition in my car with the camera connected as a Car DV Cam. The car turns on and the device failed to turn on or turned off intermittently when I turned on the ignition after a long wait at a red light.
I sincerely hope that the latest firmware update V1.21 has resolved these issues. When connected to a car charger or a power bank you can simply keep recording without any issues (unless you turn the ignition on and off intermittently). A thing to note, however, is that the SJ7 Star can get pretty hot if it is recording while charging.
The optimum video resolution is 4K in 30 fps and in 16:9 format. That is the default that the camera comes in with. Video Quality is S.Fine by default too. I tinkered with the settings (of course I did). This is because of the 2GB memory card that I was testing it with and wanted to extend the recording time for testing purposes. To make matters worse the Sharpness setting was set to Soft. Here is a video that I shot with full HD 16:9 and in 30 fps.
As you can see from the results yourself, video quality is really soft. The sound recorded on the above test video is via the built-in mic. I had set it to around 80%. SJCam does sell an external mic which plugs into the USB slot of the camera.
But things were better as soon as I changed the settings to 4K 30 fps and Strong sharpness.
Common Issues: Low-Speed Card Error
The low-speed card error is a common error that you will face on most action cameras including the SJ7 Star if you are using anything other than at least a UHS 1 card. This happens because the SJ7 Star records at a pretty high speed (bit rate) and your memory card is unable to keep up with the recording speed of the camera. Try to get a MicroSD card with a speed rating of UHS 3. Ideally a 64 GB card. A UHS 3 card (with V30 rating) will record videos at a sustained speed of 30 MB/s. It is perfect for recording 4K / UHD videos for minutes on end.
There are a number of issues of using a low-speed card. The major issue is the Low-Speed Card Error that I mentioned above. This will result in your camera not recording for more than a minute (something like 56 seconds as it happened with me) of video and then stopping after flashing the above error. I did try to bypass the problem. I have detailed what I did below, imagining some of you might not be having a fast card or are plain lazy to not buy one.
Bypassing the Problem of Low-Speed Card Error
I tried to bypass the problem to prolong the recording using the old card that I have and the solution seemed to be this –
- Set your camera to Loop Recording and set the recording interval to 1 minute.
- Set the Car DV mode to Off
- Switch off Detection. Switching on Detection
- Turn on Wi-Fi on your camera and connect with your smartphone.
- Turn on the video recording from your smartphone
The camera will start recording videos normally. As the card speed is slow, the camera will buffer the video as it keeps recording. When the buffer gets completely filled the low-speed error will flash and video recording will stop. But here is when the magic happens. After a few seconds of wait, the camera will resume recording videos normally again. Of course, the whole process will repeat itself.
Added – In my Second Attempt I was able to record videos with the Car DV mode and the Detection Mode switched on. I am not a big fan of the detection mode. In anyways it is unnecessary when you are driving or when you are cycling or moving about. This mode is perfect for setting the camera on standby when you are parked somewhere. The only time probably when I will use it. When the camera detects any movement in front of it, it immediately makes a short clip of the action and then after about 9-10 seconds goes back to sleep again.
This is, however, not a full proof solution and it might not work in your case, depending on the app or the phone you might be using. I was using an Android phone running Nougat. The only full proof solution is to connect the camera to your smartphone using Wi-Fi. Your device will then be able to bypass this problem. This is what will happen – the SJ7 Star will flash the Low-Speed Card error and then stop recording. After a few seconds, the recording will turn back on automatically.
The Easiest Solution
I can understand if you’re thinking that this is too much for you to handle. Find a better, faster MicroSD card which will ensure that you have uninterrupted recording and as well as continuous loop recording without any issues.
The SJ7 Star comes with a USB 2.0 Mini – B 5 pin port. It also comes with an HDMI port. The camera comes with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. There is one slot for a MicroSD card.
Memory Card Type and Capacity
The box specifications states that you can slot in a MicroSD card of a maximum capacity of 128 GB. However, that has to be within a small selected list of cards. Most 64 GB cards should go well as do most 32 GB cards. Don’t fret if you don’t have a high capacity card.
I have already detailed how you can work around the problem elsewhere in this review. Having said that, for best results always use a UHS 3 rated card and a 64 GB one just to be sure. This ensures sustained 4K / UHD recording without any issues.
Some users have complained that certain 128 GB cards have failed to work with the camera. You can check out for some compatible 64 GB cards. A 64 GB card would give you about an hour worth of 4K video recording.
The SJ7 Star comes with built-in Wi-Fi capacity. This is great for the purpose of pairing your smartphone or tablet with the camera. This also serves the dual purpose of your smartphone controlling the camera as a remote. You also get screen pairing and pretty much get to control all functions of the camera using your smartphone. One particularly cool feature being able to do this is you can use the SJ7 Star as a surveillance camera, as long as you are within the Wi-Fi reach and the camera has a steady external power source.
Transferring Files from your camera to your smartphone
Transferring files from your SJ7 Star to your smartphone is easy. Open the SJCam App (details about the SJCam is discussed under the section – ‘The SJ7 Star App) on your phone. You will be greeted with this window.
Tap on the pairing image on the top. The app open up another page where you have a camera icon. Tap on the camera button. It opens another page where you will see the view that the SJ7 Star sees.
Tap on the image thumbnail button on the lower right corner of the camera. You would be taken to the page where you can see all the videos that have been recorded.
You can now select the ones you want to download to your smartphone and tap the download icon on the extreme right corner.
This is also the place where you can see the images. You have to toggle between the Video and Image options to get to the desired option on this page.
Once you have downloaded the videos you can now move to watch them on your phone. Please note if your phone doesn’t support 4K all you will see is a black window when the video is played.
Only the audio will be played back (if audio has been recorded). You can select to delete a recording or flip back to the previous window to watch the rest of the videos.
I must say that it is quite a task to see the videos you recorded on the rear LCD screen. The screen is so tiny! Additionally, the menu options on the camera are pretty much basic. The app is no better. The only thing is that accessing the settings on the app is much easier.
The SJ7 Star App
Downloading the SJ7 Star app ensures that you have a way to connect to the camera remotely just using the built-in Wi-Fi on the camera. Simply download and install the app on your Android or iPhone, turn on the Wi-Fi on your camera and find the SSID on your wireless connections option on your phone. The default password is 12345678. You can change it though. This is what you have to do.
Changing the Wi-Fi (SSID) Password
Press the Wi-Fi Password menu option. It will show a page which contains the default password. You can navigate the letters (upper and smaller case), numbers and special characters by pressing the ‘+’ or ‘-‘. ‘Del’ erases the last letter and ‘OK’ appends the selected letter from the active row.
Once you are done simply press the back arrow and the new password will be saved. It is imperative that you change the password as the default password is easy to guess. Anyone within the Wi-Fi range of the camera can access your camera and download images and videos.
The app is ideal for remote shooting or for remote transferring of files. The menu functions mimic those on the camera interface. It is much easier to manage the options on the mobile app than on the interface. Even then connecting and working the camera through the app can be jittery at times. It fails to connect at times. At times when switching between options the app freezes.
Should You Buy the SJ7 Star?
For a price that is half that of the latest and greatest GoPro (the GoPro Hero6 Black), the SJ7 Star is a lucrative choice for anyone interested in shooting action photography or videos.
Both the GoPro Hero6 Black and the SJ7 Star comes with a 12-megapixel sensor. It shoots native 4K videos at 30 fps. In that sense, it loses out to the GoPro Hero6 Black as it shoots native 4K at 60 fps.
The footages recorded by the GoPro are smoother in that sense. Another interesting feature of the GoPro Hero6 Black is that it can be operated by voice. The SJ7 Star does not have that feature. If you ignore those two, the SJ7 Star is a formidable action cam.
The box comes with a number of mounting tools which means you have ready options to mount to your bike, your car, your skateboard, surfboard and anything else you might fancy.
Plus, the waterproof underwater housing ensures that you can take it down 30 meters (90 feet) to shoot stills and videos on your recreational dives. Undoubtedly, the price point makes this a choice that you cannot ignore.
If you are on a budget, the SJCam SJ7 Star makes great sense to buy.