Q: Is the SJCAM SJ4000 action camera still your top recommendation? Is there another action camera to consider?
A: The SJ4000 was never my "top recommendation." My top recommendation would be a high-end GoPro camera selling for $300 or more. However, a lot of people buy expensive action cameras and end up not using them as much as they thought they would. Before dropping big bucks on something that sits gathering dust, I think it's better to get your feet wet with an inexpensive model. But I don't recommend the entry-level GoPro models because they are stripped down compared with competitors.
Which brings us back to the $79 SJ4000. It produces beautiful video, has a rear screen and includes lots of accessories and mounts that are compatible with the GoPro system if you move up.
Just be sure you're getting the real thing. The SJ4000 has been so successful that the market is flooded with inferior counterfeits that look exactly the same, down to the packaging. I would never buy one from Amazon or eBay for this reason. I have always counseled readers to buy the SJ4000 only from bhphotovideo.com or the official sjcamhd.com website. Buying at these places is the only way I know to be sure you are getting the genuine item.
Even then, you will be on your own. SJCAM does not seem to have any U.S. headquarters, and when I looked for warranty information, the website said, "Please check with your SJCAM reseller to see what their warranty policy is." That isn't exactly reassuring, but at least you're investing only $79, and so far readers have not complained.
Another camera to consider is the $99 Monster Digital Villain. Like the SJ4000, it has GoPro-compatible mounts, a rear display and records 1080p video at 30 frames per second, but it also has Wi-Fi and includes a better bundle of accessories.
When it comes to the video quality, I still have to give the SJ4000 the win. The quality is truly outstanding, and I don't know how they do it for $79. Videos are clean, sharp, have great color and handle motion very well. The video from the Villain is a bit behind in each of those areas.
The operating and ownership experience is exactly the opposite scenario. I've owned an SJ4000 for over two years and still find myself fumbling through the menus. The Monster Digital Villain is easy and intuitive to use, can be controlled with your smartphone over Wi-Fi and also works as a dashcam. (The dashcam capability alone is enough reason to buy one.) The Villain also is a clear winner in support. Unlike SJCAM, Monster Digital (monsterdigital.com) is an American company with a robust reseller and support operation.
You will find lots of sample videos from both cameras on YouTube. Review some of the videos, consider the strengths and weaknesses of each model and decide what suits you best. Either way, you won't go wrong.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.