SJCam SJ8 Action Camera Review: A Good (and Cheap) GoPro Alternative

In a market where one company dominates, the SJCam SJ8 action cam aims to stand out by featuring a Retina touch screen, and image stabilization at a lower price than the GoPro Hero 7. The SJ8 also turns out good-quality video with accurate colors, but doesn't do quite enough for us to recommend it over the market leader.

Design

Like the GoPro Hero 7, the SJ8 Pro has a relatively plain and uninspiring design compared with the Yi 4K+, whose carbon-fiber face makes it the best-looking action camera. There are only two physical buttons on the exterior of the SJ8 – a power button on the upper right side and a shutter button on the top, which features a ring that glows blue.

On the front is a small, rectangular, 0.97-inch screen that shows the mode, battery life remaining, space remaining on the card and recording status. For those who use the SJ8 as a POV action camera and can't see the rear screen,  this addition is a nice touch.

One nice accessory that SJCam includes in the box is a secondary back for its waterproof housing that lets you use the touch screen, even when wet, although does not work underwater.

Unlike the past few iterations of GoPro, which are waterproof by themselves, the SJCam requires a plastic housing for protection from water, dust and the occasional bump. Unlike Yi’s cameras, SJCam includes the case, as well as a number of mounting accessories, both for the GoPro-type mount on the plastic housing and the tripod screw mount on the bottom of the camera.

A door on the bottom of the camera encloses both the battery and the microSD card slot. A USB Type-C port on the side of the camera with a plastic door can be used for charging, file transfer and even connecting an external microphone.

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It seems that the SJ8 Pro can be a little picky with USB cables used to charge the camera. I found a few cables around my apartment that, unfortunately, wouldn't charge the camera. Others, however, including the cable bundled in the box, wouldn't have any issues.

Ease of Use

Overall, the SJ8 Pro is intuitive to use. When removed from the case, I could easily make changes to settings using its beautiful, high-resolution Retina touch screen. Additionally, if you are not planning on going more than 10 feet underwater, the secondary back could be used to control the camera in the case as well.  

Unfortunately, the font is quite small on the bottom edge menu so, like me, you may need to go deeper into the menu to confirm your settings. SJCam offers two different user interfaces – the Classic interface is a text-based list, while the SJCam interface are square icons with text underneath. While the first is easy to use, I preferred the latter.

I took the camera out to the beach on a sunny day  and the sky was a beautiful blue color without being too oversaturated, while clouds appear white in contrast.

Unlike other cameras that prompt you to choose a field of view, typically notated as wide, normal or narrow, the SJCam allows users to zoom in or out to customize the field of view using a "+" or "–" on the touch screen. However, this zoom function is available only when image stabilization is turned off.

One nice accessory that SJCam includes in the box is a secondary back for its waterproof housing that lets you use the touch screen even when wet, although it does not work underwater. However, this secondary back reduces the waterproof rating to just 10 feet,  versus 90 feet (30 meters) with the traditional back. While it was not perfect and it doesn't work underwater, it was a nice addition that I've never seen other manufacturers include.

Video Quality

The SJ8 Pro can record video up to and including 4K at 60fps; I was most impressed with its color reproduction. In a video I captured on a sunny day at the beach,  the sky was a beautiful blue color without being too oversaturated, while clouds appear white in contrast. The waves lapping up on the beach are not clear, but you can easily make out the grains of sand and the foam as the water receded.

When lighting conditions were less than ideal, footage turned a little grainy and while passable, certainly didn't pop the same way.

To test its Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), I mounted the SJ8 Pro camera to the handlebars of my bike and went for a ride. EIS certainly helped minimize shaky footage; without it, the video was so jittery as to be unwatchable. But with EIS turned on, the video was certainly an improvement, though not as good as the Yi 4K+. What I've found from previous action camera reviews is that certain sports or activities that have less hard jarring, like surfing or wakeboarding, will produce significantly better quality videos.

Bottom Line

The SJCam SJ8 Pro is a decent alternative to the GoPro line, at a slightly lower price. It offers video capture of 4K resolution at 60fps, electronic image stabilization, an assortment of accessories and easy-to-use touch-screen interface, though it does have a few mild downfalls. At $249, it's about $40 more than the Yi 4K+, which has a better design and a better selection of features. Keep in mind, though, that if you want to take the YiCam underwater, you'll also have to shell out an additional $40 for its case.

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The GoPro Hero7 Silver ($234) is another good alternative; while its video maxes out at 4K/30 fps, it doesn't need a waterproof case and doesn't have issues connecting to Android devices. Ultimately, SJCam's SJ8 Pro is a good action camera but not a great one.

Credit: Tom's Guide