Today we’re here to review one more tiny action camera – SJCAM M20, advertised as the smallest camera SJCAM has ever made. The small-sized camera I reviewed was the AEE MD10 and this one is no bigger.
Personally I love the SJCam brand. My first action camera was the SJ4000 and with this latest camera SJCAM has made a great product. With the M20 model they used a 16MP sensor by Sony and usually when there’s a Sony it means there’s good quality. The thing about this sensor is that it’s tinier than others, it’s back-illuminated and has lower power consumption. So as George Clooney says in a famous TV ad, “What else?”.
I think it’s time to show you the camera so let’s do it!
The M20 has all the specs to be a great camera, probably one the best and cheapest on the market, so let’s see product specification in our traditional table.
- Image sensor
- Size (L x W x H)
- Max image resolution
- Video resolutions
- Video compression format
- Image format
- Car camera
- Remote controller
- Video Stabilization
- External Mic
- SJCAM M20
- Novatek 96660
- Sony IMX206 16MP
- Weight : 67 grams / 2.36 ounce
5.40 x 4.00 x 2.90 cm
2.13 x 1.57 x 1.14 inches
- 1" LCD
- 16 megapixels (4608*3456)
4K @ 24fps (2880*2160) interpolated
2K @ 20fps (2560 x 1440)
1080 FHD 1920*1080 @ 60fps
VGA 640*480 VGA 848*480
- JPEG / RAW
- USB, HDMI
If you’re curious about what’s included in the box, here you go: the unboxing video!
Like all other SJCam’s it’s full of accessories – look at them!
- M20 SJCam
- Waterproof case
- Base mount
- 4x Screws
- 1x curved M3 mount
- 1x flat M3 mount
- 1x floating curved M3 mount
- 1x floating flat M3 mount
- USB cable
- 1x Cloth
- 2x SJCam stickers
- 1x Manual
An optional remote control is available but wasn’t included with the camera I tested.
The rotating mounts are interesting accessories. They allow 360° movement while installed on the M3 mounts.
Design and Build quality
The M20 camera has an easy and practical design because it has the essential buttons for navigating without problems. This is a classic SJCAM feature, one of the many reasons I like their cameras. These cameras must be easy to understand with an immediate visible impact and the M20 has all of this. By the way if you can see a comparison between all SJCAM models in this article.
The camera is very light to the touch but solid – there are no “dancing” buttons or slack ports. The front of the camera is made with a rubber surface to ensure a perfect grip and the rest of the camera is made by the classic striated plastic.
The buttons are good too. The two on top are concave to provide a better grip for your fingers and on the side are the usual SJ arrows to navigate the menu. The WiFi button is also on the side. As always the accessories are good quality for a cheap camera.
Buttons, Lights and Ports
Here’s a description of the buttons, lights and ports:
- 1 – Recharging LED
- 2 – 3rd Recording LED
- 3 – Lens
- 4 – Recording button
- 5 – 2nd Recording LED
- 6 – Power button
- 7 – micro HDMI
- 8 – micro USB
- 9 – microSD card
- 10 – Scroll down arrow
- 11 – Mic
- 12 – Scroll up arrow/ WiFi key
- 13 – Screen
- 14 – 1st Recording LED
- 15 – Power LED
On the screen we can find a lot of details:
- Distortion correction (On/Off)
- HDR (On/Off)
- Mode (Photo/Video)
- Resolution/Frame rate
- Audio (On/Off)
- Battery Status
- Gyro (On/Off)
- Memory Left
Unlike a lot of similar cameras the M20 has good software. It’s very stable and has no problems. The menu is perfectly intuitive and easy to use thanks to the nearby buttons. The display is completely visible in any condition and even in full light it allows you to read the menus and OSD without problems.
As I said before, this camera has great software, very intuitive and very stable. The menu has two modes, Video and Photo, changeable with just a click on the power button, and by a full menu with other modes and options:
- Video/Photo Mode -> These are the main modes switchable by pressing the power button
- Playback -> Here you preview photos and videos you captured
- Video Lapse -> This mode is to make a video in time lapse
- Slow Recording -> This mode is to make slow motion directly with the camera (-x2/-x4/-x8)
- Photo Lapse ->This mode is to make a photo lapse (3s/5s/10s/20s)
- Burst Mode -> This mode is to make 3/5/10 photos consecutively
- Underwater Mode -> In the mode the camera changes the color palette to optimize underwater colors
- FPV -> You can choose between LCD/FPV/LCD+FPV
- Motion Detection -> In this mode the camera starts recording if it detects movement in front of it
- Car Mode -> In this mode the camera turns on automatically when the car starts and turns off when you turn off the car (obviously the camera must be attached to the car charger)
- Remote Control (On/Off/Pairing)
In “Options” we can find tons of settings but some of them are completely useless. Let’s see all of them:
… Yes, these are absolutely too many settings, I agree…
- Resolution – You can chose between 4K@24FPS, 2K@30FPS, 1080P@30/60FPS, 720P@120/60/30FPS, VGA@240FPS
- Loop Recording – You can chose to cut the clip every 3min/5min/10min/Never
- FOV – You can chose the Field of View Narrow (70°) /Middle (150°) /Wide (166°)
- WDR – It makes a little color correction (On/Off)
- Gyro Sensor – It is the Gyroscopic stabilization (On/Off)
- Audio – This is the setting of the camera audio (On/Off)
- Volume – This is the regulation of the sensitivity of the Microphone (1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10)
- Time Stamp – It is the time/date shows
- TV Mode – NTSC/PAL
- OSD Mode – It shows icons and information on the display (On/Off)
- Video File Format – You can choose the format of videos between .mp4 and .MOV
- Bit rate – You can choose the amount of the bitrate between High/Medium/Low
- Double File – The camera create two files of the same video, the first with the right resolution and quality and a second one with a resolution 600×450 having horrible quality (On/Off)
- PowerOnRecord – The cameras turn on when it is on recharge
- Image Size – This is the size of the photos: 16M (4608×3456) /14M (4320×3240) /12M (4032×3024) /10M (3648×2736) /8M (3264×2448) /5M (2592×1944) /3M (2048×1536) / 2MHD / VGA 640×480
- Quality – This is the quality of the images (Fine/Normal/Economy)
- Sharpness – You can choose the sharpness of the images (Strong/Normal/Soft)
- White Balance – Auto/Daylight/Cloudy/Tungsten/Fluorescent
- Color – Normal/B&W/Retro/Warm/Cool
- ISO – Auto/100/200/400/800/1600
- EV – -2.0, -5/3, -4/3, -1.0, -2/3, -1/3, 0, +1/3, +2/3, +1.0, +4/3, +5/3, +2.0
- RAW – RAW is a particular format of photos that doesn’t compress the images, so it allows to see a perfect photo (On/Off)
- Distortion Correction – This mode corrects the distortion on the edges of the FOV (On/Off)
- License No Set – Camera name
- Date/Time – You can adjust the date and time
- Auto Power Off – Off/3min/5min/10min
- Keypad Tone – On/Off
- Light Set – Here you can set the number of lights that turn on while recording or just when the camera is on (1/2/3)
- Screensaver – 30sec/1min/3min/5min/Off
- Frequency – 50/60Hz
- Rotate – It allows you to rotate 180° the video (On/Off)
- Logo Watermark – On/Off
- Language – English/
- Wifi SSID – Name of the Wifi network
- Wifi Password – Set the password of the Wifi camera
- Delete – Delete current file/all files
- Format – Formats the memory card
- Default Settings – Cancel/Ok
- Version – The version of the firmware
As you can see the M20, like all other SJCam cameras, has too many settings and some of them are completely useless. For Bit rate, quality and sharpness there’s no difference between the higher and lower settings so… they are simply useless.
The M20 has 5 different resolutions: 4K@24FPS, 2K@30FPS, 1080P@30/60FPS, 720P@120/60/30FPS and VGA@240FPS. Let me say right now now that some of these frame rates are false. First of all I noticed that the box says “2K cam” and not 4K because actually it’s not a real 4K. In fact on the side of the box the SJCam says “4K interpolated”. At this point I thought all the other resolutions and frame rates were right because if they were honest with the 4K then there’s no need to lie about the others. Well, I was wrong.
The real resolutions and frame rates are:
This is a practical example of false 720P@120FPS and a real one:
Same thing for the false VGA@240FPS and a real one:
This is absolutely ridiculous because the M20 has a processor that can make the claimed frame rates so I don’t know why SJCam decided to tell this HUGE lie.
Okay, apart from this annoying thing, let’s talk about how this camera really records videos.
First of all I want you to remember that this camera has a Sony sensor. In fact the video results are very, very good with incredibly true colors. This camera works great in every condition, even at night! I found just a little “problem”; it’s not a real problem but it could be annoying for some. In this video focus on the sky:
As you can see the sky literally pulses. This is because the camera focuses the image in the middle of the field of view (FOV). It works to make the center as good as it can so the “pulse” is nothing more than a light variation to always make the center perfect. Personally I don’t care for this, at least for my needs, and I understand if some people could be annoyed with it.
Another great thing about this camera is the Gyro sensor. It makes a huge difference in stabilization at the cost of a little bit of field of view. To understand how much “space” it takes, this is a little comparison:
In this dashcam test notice how the gyro follows the movement of the car while it turns:
It makes very stable images without any optical stabilizers:
But the gyro also has a limit. In fact when there’s too much shaking it’s better to disable the function in order to avoid the blurring effect:
To my own huge surprise this camera allows you to see in dark conditions thanks to the back-illuminated sensor.
However there’s still a problem with the amount of noise in the images. It’s very annoying because of the lack of details.
I also discovered that in night conditions the frame rate is lower than in full light condition. That means that when the camera is set to 1080P 60fps it’s actually 30fps.
This is a good action camera, maybe one of the best I’ve ever tried, so the problem with the frame rates is a shame. I hope they fix it in a future firmware upgrade.
This camera can shoot incredibly good photos, probably the best I’ve ever seen after the Eken H8R. It shoots 16Mp photos with a great resolution.
The only problem is the common problem of “painting”: the far details seems like they’re made with a paint brush. This problem is minor because these kinds of cameras are not made to shoot photos like a real camera.
By the way, the general impact is great, even in back-light as you can see.
I also want to show you the difference between the FOV variation:
The only real difference between “Tiny” and “Medium” is the quality. Tiny has very bad quality and medium has normal quality.
As you can see above, whether photos or videos, the colors look great but there’s a lot of noise when shooting at night.
I’ll be honest with you, all the videos above were made with the audio settings on default, i.e., on a scale from 1 to 10 it was set to 7. Luckily I found it just in time to record the audio test and show the differences between volume 1 and volume 10 at various car stereo levels.
The volume set on “1” is near to mute – you literally must scream into the mic to hear something. With the volume at “10” it’s sometimes too sensitive, enough to hear scratching yourself while driving! I advise you to set this parameter to 8 or 9, neither more nor less, to have a good audio level.
As you can hear the audio is good. It’s not made to record an EP but it’s versatile enough to use it in every situation from a concert to school to a talk with your friends.
The results of the battery test are:
- 4K, 24FPS – 101 minutes, 16.4Gb
- 2K, 30FPS – 100 minutes, 21.3Gb
- 1080p, 60fps – 84 minutes, 17.9Gb
- 1080p, 30FPS – 120 minutes, 17.4Gb
- 720P, 120FPS – 120 minutes, 25.1Gb
- 720P, 60FPS – 120 minutes, 15.7Gb
- 720P, 20FPS – 123 minutes, 8.62Gb
- VGA, 240FPA – 143 minutes, 19.8Gb
The recharging time is 105 minutes
That’s good performance for a 900mAh battery. I noticed that the last quarter of the battery takes more time to finish so if you’re at that last quarter you can still shoot some more videos.
WiFi and App
The WiFi and app are other two strong points because I never found any problems with them. The WiFi has a perfectly stable connection and the app is clear and easy to use.
As part the options for the video/photo modes and video/photo time lapse we can change a lot of settings:
- Cyclic record
- Date stamp
- Video time lapse settings
- Image size
- White Balance
- Capture mode
- Default settings
- Auto power off
- WiFi name
- WiFi password
As you can see there are more settings than with other cameras and this is good because it allows you to change them from a distance.
In Playback settings you can see the files on both the camera and phone.
On this menu you can choose to download files from the camera to the phone or to delete files. This works particularly well because the transfer rate easily reaches 2Mb/s.
With the M20 I can say that SJCAM has made another good camera. It’s cheap, easy to use, has a good battery and stable software. The only notable cons are the issue with the FPS (I hope they will correct it with the next firmware upgrade) and the huge amount of noise in night images. I think that for $119 you can’t ask for anything more.
- Good video quality
- Great photos
- Great stabilization with the Gyro on
- Great battery performance for a 900mAh battery
- A lot of accessories and good build quality
- Very small camera
- App and WiFi perfectly stable and easy to use
- Good audio (only with a high sensitivity setting)
- A lot of noise in low-light conditions
- Problems with frame rate (doubled frames in 120 FPS )