UPDATE MAY 23, 2017
Yesterday I received an e-mail from SJCam with an update on this issue. Here’s a portion of the text from that e-mail:
Recently I’ve been reviewing the SJCam SJ7 Star action camera. Part way through testing it became inoperable. How did this happen?
The photo on the right above shows how the front of my SJ7 became warped and distorted, causing the camera to be unusable. Unlike the top, sides and bottom of the camera body, the front is made of plastic, not aluminum.
The front of my SJ7 became deformed some time during 3 hours of use as a dash camera. I was using it with the battery removed and powered by a USB power bank. It was mid-afternoon in Georgia, USA. Outside temperature was about 29°C (85°F) with the A/C running in my vehicle and one stop of about 30 minutes with the windows rolled up. I was recording in 4K.
One can only speculate as to why this happened. Because the camera was mounted on the windshield of my vehicle the sun was shining directly on it. Was the front of the camera unable to withstand the heat of the sun?
Did the internal components of the SJ7 overheat, causing the front to deform? If yes, how did the camera continue to record video without any files being corrupted and why weren’t the circuit boards inside the camera deformed? When I removed the camera face and looked inside I could see no evidence of overheating.
In accordance with the official User’s Manual I had removed the battery before using it as a dash cam. This is addressed on page 18 (VIDEO RECORD – Page 2) of the manual. When I discovered the warping I immediately disconnected the camera from the USB power bank. I’ve since confirmed with SJCam that there’s no prohibition against using a power bank with the SJ7. Afterwards I tried to install the battery but due to deformation it no longer fit in its compartment.
I tried connecting AC and DC adapters and the power bank again but the camera wouldn’t turn on even though Car DV mode was on. (With Car DV mode turned on, the camera should power up and begin recording as soon as a live power source is connected.) I tried using the camera’s power button after connecting to an external power source but because the faceplate was so warped it wouldn’t work. I now have a brick.
In follow-up emails, SJCam strongly advised users to remove the battery from their SJ7 before using it as a dash cam. The SJCam e-mail described it as “an additional layer of safety”. They also said that they were looking into changing the faceplate material, improving ventilation and perhaps modifying firmware.
So, is this a failure of the plastic material used for the camera front? Is it a failure of the protection circuit that shuts down the camera in the event of overheating? Is it a shortcoming in ventilation? Is it some combination of these?
There are tens of thousands of action cameras being used as dash cameras. How many reports of warping and deformation have you heard of? Personally I’ve heard of two including this one. No doubt there are more but surely this isn’t a widespread problem, is it?
I have four other action cameras that I’ve used as dash cams and I’ve never had a problem with them. I’ve used them in higher temperatures for longer periods of time than the SJ7. Indeed, I’ve been using the SJ7’s sibling SJ4000 for 21 months as a dash cam without a hitch.
Until and unless SJCam actually implements the changes they say they’re looking into, I strongly urge anybody thinking about buying an SJ7 to reconsider their choice. Even if I hadn’t had the deformation problem I would not have recommended the SJ7 as I make clear in my abbreviated review.
In the comments below I would like to hear from anyone who has had a problem with their SJ7 action cam regarding deformation, warping or overheating for any reason. I’d like a better understanding of how widespread this problem might be. In the meantime I hope current SJ7 owners will keep a close eye on their cameras to ensure that they don’t have the same issue.
The camera I was testing was provided by SJCam. I was assisting to beta test their firmware and offering other suggestions about the camera, packaging, manuals and website.