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SJCAM SJ20 review

 A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the lenses showing against a blue backdrop.
A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the lenses showing against a blue backdrop.

SJCAM SJ20: Specs

Starting price: $229
Max video resolution: 4K/30 fps
Slow motion: 1080p/120 fps
Rear screen: 2.29-inch LCD touch screen
Front screen: 2.3-inch LCD touch screen
Size: 2.7 x 2.1 x 1.2
Weight: 5 ounces
Water resistance: 16ft (4.8M)
Battery: 800 mAh

The SJCAM SJ20 is Chinese manufacturer SJCAM’s flagship action camera. According to SJCAM’s website, this camera forms part of its  “Professional Action Cameras” lineup, suggesting it is aimed at people looking to produce top quality footage of their high-octane endeavors. Indeed, SJCAM’s press material calls the SJ20 a “breakthrough in motion capture technology” which offers “an unparalleled blend of advanced features”. Those are some weighty, if rather vague, claims.

If one were to take SJCAM’s pomp seriously and accept the SJ20 is indeed a “professional” action camera, then as a flagship it’d be up against the two best action cameras around right now: the GoPro Hero12 Black and DJI Osmo Action 4. That would be an unfair fight — both utterly demolish the SJ20 in every single regard. Of course, in reality the SJ20 is not a “professional” action camera (let alone a breakthrough in motion capture technology), nor is it specced or priced as one. At nearly $230, the SJ20 is competing with the ageing (but still fantastic) GoPro Hero10 Black, which likewise demolishes it in every single regard.

To save you some reading, this is an awful action camera with virtually no redeeming features and a complete waste of money. However, if you’ve suffered a blow to the head and are dead set on it, read on for our full SJCAM SJ20 review.

SJCAM SJ20 review: Price & availability

The SJCAM SJ20 costs $229 / £179. In the U.K., £179 undercuts pretty much everything remotely recent from larger-name rivals. In the U.S. though, the SJ20 is priced only $20 less than a GoPro Hero10 Black — our favorite action camera from 2022.

A photo of SJCAM accessories, including a knuckle duster mount
A photo of SJCAM accessories, including a knuckle duster mount

Hilariously, SJCAM also offers a knuckle duster mount, for anyone interested in documenting their crimes.

For $249, the SJ20 is available as a “Pro” kit, which includes a battery grip, supposedly providing up to 8 hours of battery life. We weren’t supplied with this, so tested only the basic kit at $229 (which includes a smaller external battery).

The standard kit comes bundled with two different housings, a waterproof case and a few different mounts, so you’ll have a handful of mounting options straight away. All use a standard fork mount, so accessories will be cheap. Hilariously, SJCAM also offers a knuckle duster mount, for anyone interested in documenting their crimes.

SJCAM SJ20 review: Design & controls

The SJ20’s standout features are its double lenses — it is the first action camera in the world to use them, according to SJCAM. One lens is intended for daytime usage with a maximum f/2 aperture, while the other is for nighttime usage with a wider f/1.3 aperture (a wider aperture lets more light hit the sensor so provides a brighter picture). SJCAM says this makes the SJ20 a top low light performer.

A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held in a person's hands with the lenses showing against a blue backdrop.
A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held in a person's hands with the lenses showing against a blue backdrop.

The camera features a front selfie screen as well as a larger rear touchscreen, which should make it a viable tool for vloggers. Both are low quality and unresponsive to the touch, often requiring multiple taps.

It’s a chunky action camera with the additional battery installed, measuring 2.7 x 2.1 x 1.2 inches but weighing a moderate 5 ounces.

A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the USB-C and cart port showing against a blue backdrop.
A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the USB-C and cart port showing against a blue backdrop.

The external layout of the SJ20 is baffling. There’s one hatch covering the SD slot and USB-C port, which is completely blocked by the additional battery. To change the memory card, plug in an accessory or charge the device, you first need to remove the external battery, which is frustrating. When trying to charge the external battery (which can only be done through the device), this results in you having to remove the battery you want to charge in order to get the cable in.

SJCAM’s menu isn’t too bad. It’s ugly but simple enough to navigate and has a good range of settings to tweak. I found it much easier to navigate by changing the UI skin from “Classic” to “SJCAM”.

A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the rear screen showing against a blue backdrop.
A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the rear screen showing against a blue backdrop.

Build quality is acceptable. It’s far from premium-feeling, but doesn’t come across too cheap or hollow. That said, the SJ20 gives off a distinct ‘unnamed Amazon brand’ vibe, so I’m still not sure I’d trust it to hold up well long term.

The SJ20 is waterproof down to only 16 feet, around half the depth of today’s flagships and also the older GoPro Hero10 Black. We don’t usually compare in-case tests, as there are lots of cases out there that provide different levels of waterproofing, however in the interests of finding something positive to say, it is worth mentioning that the SJ20 comes with a waterproof case that can go down to 130 foot (the GoPro waterproof case goes to nearly 200 foot, although is an additional purchase).

SJCAM SJ20 review: Image stabilization

The SJCAM SJ20’s image stabilization is not the worst I’ve seen — at the time of writing that honor goes to the Akaso Brave 8. I tested the SJ20 on my motorcycle on some bumpy British country lanes. As you can see from the video below, footage is a little shaky, but acceptable, with the camera absorbing most of the bumps and footage remaining relatively smooth.

For less rigorous activities and handheld shots, as demonstrated in the two low light videos below, the SJ20’s image stabilization is again up to the job, allowing smooth panning. That said, it won’t be giving the GoPro Hero12 Black or Insta360 Ace Pro a run for their money any time soon — both feature excellent stabilization.

SJCAM SJ20 review: Video performance

The SJCAM SJ20’s video performance is very poor. Even though this is a budget brand, I was expecting better than the results I achieved.

The exposure metering is off. The camera could not handle the bright daytime testing, blowing out much of the sky while leaving the shadows too dark to make out. Colors were dull and unpleasant. Despite the SJ20’s supposedly breakthrough optics, footage is not that sharp, with sunlight causing ugly flares and optical distortions. Overall, recordings feel much closer to dash cam footage than “professional” action camera video.

The SJ20 does not record 4K footage above 30p (60p is available at lower resolutions), which will result in fast-paced video looking choppy. For similar money, the GoPro Hero10 Black offers 5.3K/60p.

Low light performance is mixed. Firstly, as you can see from the test footage above, the low light lens with the wider f/1.3 maximum aperture is unpleasant — it’s slightly brighter than footage from the other lens, but full of optical distortions, fuzziness and blown out highlights. The narrower f/2 lens (seen below) is cleaner, albeit with a slightly darker image. When viewed in a smaller window, low light footage is passable (at least more so than daytime footage), but again optical performance is generally quite poor so when blown up on a larger display, it too looks awful.

The SJ20 only records in 3 minute snippets, presumably to prevent overheating. This isn’t necessarily bad. If you like dealing with numerous smaller clips in post-production, it might suit your workflow better than a single larger file.

A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the USB-C and card slots showing against a blue backdrop.
A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the USB-C and card slots showing against a blue backdrop.

Annoyingly, on a couple of occasions, the SJ20 corrupted video clips, meaning they were unusable. This could be down to the camera or, more likely, the cheap-looking SJCAM-branded Micro-SD card supplied with it. I would always recommend using a card from a reputable manufacturer (this is good practice in general).

SJCAM SJ20 review: Audio performance

The SJCAM SJ20’s internal microphone is the worst microphone I’ve ever experienced. As you can hear from the motorcycling footage, audio is tinny, muted and just generally horrible to listen to. It seems to change in volume randomly, too.

The audio is no better when standing still without wind buffeting — as demonstrated in the nighttime footage above, background noise is barely discernable, and the music playing from a speaker nearby (easily audible in real life) seems to have been captured simply as a high-pitched squeal.

SJCAM SJ20 review: Smartphone app

The SJCAM smartphone app is woeful. Just signing up so you can connect the camera is a challenge. The smartphone app prompts you to register with a link, which takes you to a login page with no registration options. I entered my email address to sign up, which was met with the response: “Do not send mail frequently” — very helpful.

A screenshot of the SJCAM App login page, showing a warning message.
A screenshot of the SJCAM App login page, showing a warning message.

After some trial and error, I worked out under my own steam that I needed to sign up via the SJCAM website, which I did. Eventually I managed to connect the camera, which required handing over way more permissions to my iPhone than I was comfortable with. The app has an extremely ugly UI, crashes regularly and seemingly provides little additional functionality or features. After frequent crashes, I gave up and deleted it.

SJCAM SJ20 review: Battery life & overheating

The SJCAM SJ20 is listed by its manufacturer as having 60-180 minutes of battery life. The specs supplied to us didn’t specify which resolutions or frame rates these figures applied to. It’s difficult to test SJCAM’s claims in the first place, because the battery display doesn’t appear to distinguish between the internal or external battery. I just charged them both for a whole afternoon to make sure.

A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the lenses and removable battery showing against a blue backdrop.
A photo of the SJCAM Sj20 being held up with the lenses and removable battery showing against a blue backdrop.

The SJ20 managed to shoot close to 70 minutes at its maximum 4K/30p resolution, which surprised me given it is only an 800mAh cell. The external battery gave around another hour, putting total time at around 120-130 minutes, so in the middle of the company’s estimate.

The SJ20 didn’t overheat during the back-to-back internal and external 4K/30p battery tests — a rare positive — although it and the Micro-SD card were warm to the touch afterwards.

SJCAM SJ20 review: Verdict

The SJCAM SJ20 is the worst action camera I’ve ever used. In fact, I’d go even further and say it’s the worst piece of tech I’ve ever used. Interestingly, SJCAM also has a “Budget” range, so supposedly makes cameras even worse than this one. That’s a low bar to limbo under, but after testing the SJ20 I believe if any company can do it, SJCAM can.

Our 1* rating is defined as “laughably bad”, which sums up the SJCAM SJ20 to a tee. Sure, it has average battery life and acceptable stabilization, but make no mistake: buying the SJCAM SJ20 would be a total waste of money. And a lot of money at that — $230 is a ridiculous price for a camera this poor.

If you have around $250 to spend on an action camera, I would advise you to invest in a reputable brand and spend $20 more on a GoPro Hero10 Black, which outperforms the SJ20 in every respect.