You can pick up this camera from the SJCAM India official site with a 10% discount by using the code RIDER10.
Before we begin this, I would like you to understand something I’ve said repeatedly in my articles, but is rather easy to miss.
I am not an expert in anything, and when I say that the SJCAM M20 is the best budget action camera in the market right now, that is nothing more than my opinion, based on the narrow set of experiences I have with action cameras, in an even narrower set of circumstances.
When you are out in the market to buy an action camera then, I would like you to take my opinion as a very small component of the entire critical argument you should have with yourself, and hopefully you’ll slowly learn to apply the same logic to all your future decisions, big and small.
As far as action cameras go, I have talked in detail if you should even buy one or not in the beginning of this review, along with other useful info about the SJCAM buying and camera options, and I’d like if you go through that.
Motorcycles, wives, and action cameras are real easy to get, but living with them is an entirely different domain.
I would also like you to know that I didn’t buy this camera, it was sent to me by SJCAM India. It is extremely rare that I get something to review from a manufacturer, and the SJCAM people were unbelievably nice to me, and thus it is not impossible that my review is biased, which should be all the more reason for you to not take my word for anything.
Having said that, I was extremely impressed by the way this camera worked for the 2 months that I had it with me, and even more impressed by the amount of abuse it took, without trouble. I shot more than 50 GB of footage with it, and here is one example of the final product I was able to create.
Throughout this review I’ll try and give you more examples of what this camera is capable of, and here’s my detailed review of the SJCAM M20, starting with the negatives first, since they are nothing too serious.
SJCAM M20 review: Negatives
1. Cluttered interface
This one has continued from the 5000X Elite review, as will a number of other negatives. My criticism of the unbelievably stupid UI of SJCAMs was absolute, however, since then it has been pointed out to me that Git cameras are even worse in this department, hence comparatively the M20 is not bad.
My complaint with the software is very simple, it is entirely disorganized and very unintuitive. There are far too many options, many of which don’t even do anything, and all of these options appear separately in all the sub-menus, which is just idiotic. I do not know why it was designed this way, but it can be vastly improved in a few very simple steps.
2. Unintuitive button actions
This negative is also carried forward from the 5000X Elite, however the issue is made worse due to the way the design of this camera is. The problem with the 5000X Elite is that the buttons work in mysterious ways, one click of the start/stop button may or may not start/stop the video, depending on the state of the screen, apart from the mood the camera is in. With the M20, there’s an additional issue.
Both the power and start/stop buttons are on the top of the M20, unlike the Elite, on which one is on the front, and the other on the top. Now picture this, you are looking at your camera in the mirror, trying to press the start/stop button to finish the video off. What button should you press? Both of them look the same, and even if you generally remember that this one is for power and the other is for video functions, many a times you end up looking at the camera in a mirror, and that confuses things even more.
The side buttons work fine though, even if their number has been reduced to 2 on the M20 from 3 on the 5000X Elite. It is possible that I didn’t face much issues with the side buttons because I never bothered with the WiFi, which is activated by the same “up” button.
3. No external mic input
No surprises here either, the universal hate for 3.5mm mic jacks that the SJCAM people share is visible in the M20 too, however this issue leads to greater problems in the M20 than it caused in the 5000X Elite.
Since the M20 doesn’t come with a mic jack, this camera gets automatically taken off the list for anyone who is serious about Motovlogging. Although I find Motovlogging to be a rather awkward and half-assed way of getting your point across, its popularity in the last few years cannot be ignored.
4. Bad audio quality
In continuation of the last point, the M20 suffers even further in the audio department because of the way the internal mic is setup. Here’s a video example of what I’m talking about, although I must warn you that the following footage may be disturbing to some viewers.
Okay then, apart from the weirdness and the psychotic brain activity, I would like you to focus on how the audio changes with respect to the position of the camera. Most action cam internal mics are more or less omnidirectional, which means that no matter what orientation you hold the camera in, upside down, face up, backside, the audio volume remains fairly consistent. This is not the case with the M20, which might be so because the mic is recessed deep inside the camera body, with openings only under the screen.
The bigger problem is that even if you do hold the camera in the correct position to get the maximum audio output, it is still quite sucky. If you keep the internal audio volume at anything below 9, you can’t hear anything, at all. If you keep it at 9, you can hear a bit of sound, but nothing workable. If you keep it at 10, you can clearly hear the sound, but with the addition of a massive amount of noise.
Overall, the audio quality of the M20 is by far the worst I have ever found on any camera.
5. Low intensity lights
As you might have already noticed, the faults in any SJCAM run through the entire family, and this is no exception. The 5000X Elite’s blue light was simply invisible, the M20’s yellowish orange light is a bit better, but still falls far short of the way it should be.
In bright light, I had to bring the camera right to my eyes to know what was going on. Things were even worse when I was wearing my helmet and goggles. It must be added that my eyes are absolutely shit, hence it is possible that you may not face similar levels of pain while using this camera, however I’m sure that if the lights were brighter, things would be better for everybody, not just visually impaired cunts like me.
6. New mounts
With the M20, I also got to try out some of the new mounts SJCAM has added to their lineup. There was only one positive in this experience, in the form of a sticky mount that could rotate on its axis, I had great fun with that. Everything else is either pointless, or destructive.
It appears that SJCAM people decided to kind of flatten their mounts a bit, which I don’t really understand the need for. The main problem is their new J mounts, and the way they are supposed to clip inside the sticky mount. In my opinion, what SJCAM has done is a clear case of trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
With a normal GoPro J mount, you pinch the two arms, and slide the thing out of the sticky mount. Has worked awesome for centuries. To remove the new SJCAM mount, you have to lift the front top section, and then slide it out. The problem is that no matter how much power you put in, the damn thing doesn’t move. I only saw this miracle happening once at the hands of the guy who distributes SJCAMs in India, every attempt that I made to dislodge the fucker ended in a failure.
SJCAM M20 review: Positives
1. Exceptional gyro stabilization
I would rather let the video do the talking.
If you weren’t impressed by the stability of that footage, you should be. This video was shot at the Motovation dirt track near Hyderabad, and it’s rough. I was quite certain of not getting any footage at all, but the final result really surprised me.
I’m not sure if it’s a hardware or a software upgrade, but the gyro stabilization of the M20 feels substantially better than that on the 5000X Elite. Like on the Elite, using the gyro doesn’t seem to affect battery life at all, which is why I used it in all situations, except when a wide field of view was most important.
2. Nice video quality
This is what matters in the end, a camera that doesn’t help you publish good final footage is good for nothing, no matter how much it costs or what gimmicks it has. I generally shot at 1080p and nothing higher, simply because my laptop can’t process anything beyond that. Here’s a short clip of what I was able to do with this camera.
I am not a high-level videographer, and for me the camera delivers more than what I need. The colors are awesome, the stability is great, the footage is smooth, and the overall feel is realistic. The way this camera handles sudden changes in brightness could be improved, but that problem happens with all cameras.
Low-light video quality is nothing special though, there’s a lot of noise, diffraction, and overall the footage doesn’t feel usable for any artistic requirements. It still could be used for safety purposes though, for example a dashcam.
3. Great value for money
This, for me, is the biggest reason why I feel the SJCAM M20 is the best budget action camera in the market right now. You get a camera with some amazing capabilities, plus a bunch of different accessories, plus warranty and support, and all for the cost of a second-hand GoPro Hero 3.
The battery life is not bad, some 1.5 hours, and you can swap batteries easily, while being able to use the camera as it is charging. It doesn’t take too long to charge either, unlike the 5000X Elite. It weighs nothing, looks discreet, and does everything an action cam is expected to do. For the more fashion conscious out there, you even get the option of colors, plus a selfie stick.
4. Remote connectivity
One of the main reasons why the software and hardware of the M20 did not frustrate me as much as the 5000X Elite’s did, is because of the remote that came with the camera. Thanks to the remote, you no longer have to slither through the options on the cam, just the 5 buttons on the remote do it all for you. More importantly, the buttons on the remote work much more intuitively than the buttons on the cam. For example, pressing the power button shuts the camera down, irrespective of the state of the screen.
You can mount the remote on your handlebar, or wear it as a watch, or just leave it on your selfie stick. In every situation, it makes the act of using the cam into a delightful experience. I think the M20 is sold bundled with the remote by default, but if you do get to choice to buy it or not, buy it, it changes everything.
5. Light weight
The M20 weighs 55 grams. For comparison, the GoPro Hero 5 session weighs 73 grams.
When mounted on the helmet, you barely even notice it. Due to its low weight, it remains much more stable on mounts around the motorcycle. I personally prefer the shape of the M20 as against the shape of the 5000X Elite, it just feels more streamlined, better in every way.
6. Usable as a dashcam
Like all SJCAMs, the M20 can be used as a dashcam, since it comes with loop recording and a dedicated car mode. Like all SJCAMs though, it is not really a good idea to use them as dashcams for a number of reasons.
They are not discreet enough, are too easily noticeable from outside the car. They are mainly designed to be used for adventure, hence the mountings will need some special attention. Also, dashcams are supposed to be setup once and then left there for good, if you plan to rotate the M20 between dashcam and riding duties, you will most likely find yourself frustrated.
SJCAM M20 review: Verdict
The M20 is one hell of a device, and here are my suggestions to the SJCAM people about how they can make it even better:
- Add some mark on the housing and the camera that makes it easy to differentiate between the power and the start/stop button. For example, you could add a red mark next to the power button on the housing, and same on the cam itself.
- Convert all the lights on the camera into bright, red colored lights. Also, increase the frequency of their blinking a bit, the time between them turning on, off, and then on again is too high right now.
- Add a goddamn mic jack.
- Clear up the interface, delete options that are not important, organize those which are into one single menu setting.
That’s it, you do this and what you get is the ultimate action camera money can buy.
You may have noticed that I didn’t talk about the SJCAM app at all throughout this review, this is because I didn’t use it even once. With the remote, I never felt the need to fiddle with the WiFi and connect the app, and on top of that the SJCAM app is quite shit, as I found out while using it with the 5000X Elite.
Overall, I highly recommend this camera to anybody who is new to adventure videography, or just wants a cheap, lightweight alternative to a GoPro. Below is a small playlist to give you an idea of what this thing can do, and I hope that helps you make your decision better.