Xiaomi Mi A1 (5X) In-Depth Camera Review

A little while ago I made a review of the Xiaomi Mi A1 and I had a lot of good things to say about the phone as well as a couple fairly minor criticisms. I suggest watching that if you’re considering this phone. But one thing I didn’t go into detail about was the camera, and since that’s sort of my area of expertise I wanted to do an extended video on it. First of all, I want to say that this is a $200 smartphone so I don’t expect perfection; and in daylight the phone is a perfectly competent shooter with a wide dynamic range (detail in shadows and highlights), accurate color and straightforward user interface. But at night that story changes and if you, like many phone camera users, find yourself shooting the majority of your pictures indoors or in non-ideal lighting, you may want to consider something else. Many older flagship models, such as the LG V20, have far superior cameras to this phone and only cost a few dollars more.

Camera App

Ease of use

Lets start the camera app itself. The camera app is actually one of my favorites that I’ve used to date because of its simplicity. The main interface has basic options only: flash, HDR, portrait blur mode and several filters. Under the options button, there are other choices and the advanced manual mode. If you prefer manual mode, there is no way to have the camera default to it, but it does have a full range of options including shutter speed down to 1/15 second (no long exposure), ISO, white balance and focus.

Tapping anywhere in the frame will lock focus and sliding up or down changes brightness, if you don’t like what the camera has determined for you.

Taking photos in normal mode is fast, with minimal shutter lag. Turning on HDR however introduces up to one second of lag as you can see when I wave my hand through the frame here. There is no automatic HDR mode so it’s up to you to turn it on for the situation.

To record video requires two presses, since the video mode is separate from photo. Click the video button, wait a moment for it to load then hit record to start. There are far fewer options and modes with video, and there is no way to take video with the secondary zoom lens.

Still Photos – Main Camera


Daylight is where this camera excells and the difference between this phones camera and other mid and high end smartphones is quite small. The vast majority of people will be very happy with how this phone shoots in the day. The A1 produces nice colours and it has a fairly broad dynamic range. Photos are vibrant, if occasionally on the blue side. By default there is a lot of contrast and photos are over sharpened. Thankfully there is an easy way to tweak both of these settings to your personal preference. If I were to generalize I would say that the vast majorit of photos I take with this phone turn out good, with only a few turning out excellent.

Low light

Anything other than broad daylight and this camera starts to fall apart fast. Unfortunately, due to the lack of optical stabilization, it is significantly harder to take clear, non-blurry photos with this camera than it is with other smartphones that have stabilization. This was one of those things that I did not think about until it was gone, and now that I am missing it, I really miss it. Photos start to get grainier as the light goes out, and indoors or night shots lack detail and look noisy – that is, when they’re clear. This was the first time in years I found myself taking multiple photos and praying one would turn out where I could read text on signs, or if I was taking photos of labels to send to friends it was guaranteed I would need to shoot two or three to get them clear enough to read. My LG G4, which was cheaper than this phone, has way better low light performance.


Surprisingly though, flash photos look really good so long as you’re within about 2 meters of your subject since that’s all the flash can illuminate reliably. The flash is more of a pinkish tone than other phones (which tend to be more white). In my opinion this results in natural skin tones, whereas the whitish LEDs of other phones I have tested next to this one end up a little bit green. As with most phones, the flash is positioned so close to the lens that there is a lot of red eye, and there is no way to easily remove it with the phones built in Google Photos app.

Still Photos – 2X Main Camera


Daylight is the zoom lenses forte, seeing as it too does not have optical stabilization. Photos shot in broad daylight or overcast look decent, with good colour overall and minimal noise. I wonder why Xiaomi used a different sensor than the main camera, as the main camera has more detail and a better colour and noise profile overall but again I think that this is something the majorit of people won’t be concerned with as it does provide a little resolution bump over using digital zoom.

Low light (doesn’t work!)

The only way to use the secondary camera in low light is in manual mode. If the A1 determines it is not bright enough out (as in, not broad daylight), it will default to using digital zoom instead of the secondary camera. I found myself often wondering if the photos in overcast looked poor because the camera was shooting with its secondary sensor that is not as good as the primary one, of if they looked poor because it was shooting with the primary sensor and using digital zoom instead. This can be rather frustrating – and it kind of defeats the purpose of having the secondary lens. Why not just have a single, better quality camera instead of two mid range sensors? I guess to be trendy? Nonetheless, if you force the camera to use the secondary lens in low light you will see why it tries to default to the wide lens with digital zoom: photos are very noisy and lack most detail.

Portrait Mode

Because the portrait mode uses the secondary camera, Xiaomi handily warns you that it may be too dark if you are indoors or it is night time. Portrait mode works decent in daylight, cutting out most background details although occasionally it does accidentally blur some hair. In anything other than daylight, since it uses the lower quality secondary sensor, it is subject to the same limitations mentioned above. That is to say, people look weirdly noisy while the background is artifically blurred and it makes for unappealing photos overall. But yeah, as long as there’s enough light, great!

Still photos – Selfie Camera

In the day, the selfie camera takes competent photos. The focus is tweaked to fairly far away from the camera so to get the best photo I found I really had to stretch out my arm. Once I did that though, there was an adequate amount of detail on my face and the camera did a good job handling tough situations like bright backlighting.

Indoors it’s not too bad either as long as there’s a decent amount of light, and at night it’s not the worst selfie cam I’ve ever seen. Its primarily best for daylight shooting though.

Video – Main camera


Basic resolution tests show that this camera is capable of shooting real 4K at 30 FPS and real 1080p at 30 FPS. Slow motion has a lower frame rate. While video has a decent amount of detail, it tends to be extremely contrasty and overall darker than I would like. There’s no way to adjust the contrast of the video, like there is for the photos, so you’re stuck with what Xiaomi has decided is good for you. To be fair, it’s far from the worst smartphone video I’ve ever seen as it does offer true 4K. I just wish that there was an option to tweak the contrast like there is for photos as it feels like this camera is capable of doing way better than it currently is.

To show you what I mean, here is a still photo processed by the camera with no colour editing. And then here is a video in the same situation. The dark parts of the video are much darker and the bright parts are much brighter and the colour is different. If the video camera did what the photo camera did I would definitely be giving it more points.

Low light

The camera maintains a decent amount of detail in low light by lowering the shutter speed well beyond the required 1/30 of a second for video. This results in moving objects getting blurry and the video looking like it is skipping occasionally. But honestly it’s not that bad because there’s minimal noise and as long as you’re holding the camera dead still you can make out details.

Lack of electronic stabilization

Even though the cameras do not have Optical Stabilization, Mi could have included electronic stabilization but unfortunately that did not happen. It makes walking and talking with this camera quite difficult. Most of these tests I had the camera resting on an object or on a tripod or using a handheld stabilizer because I didn’t think you all would want to watch ten minutes of me shaking the camera. Again, this is something I didn’t realize I’d miss until it was gone. I thought it was a give-in for smartphone cameras.

Audio Quality

The biggest issue, with video though, is the garbled background noise. I actually waited until the Android 8.0 update on this phone to see if they fixed the issue, but it is still there for me. Any sound processed by this camera seems to be subject to a strong noise reduction, which results in car noise sounding like someone is shaking a bucket of nuts and bolts. Watch the video to hear it for yourself.

Autofocus hunting

There are two autofocus modes with video: continuous autofocus and tap to focus. I highly recommend leaving the camera on tap to focus as the CAF mode tends to be fairly sensitive and jump between focus points. The autofocus is not smooth.

Video – Selfie camera

Video with the selfie camera is similar to photos with the selfie camera.


The camera overall is competent in daylight but in mixed lighting results are much poorer. Unfortunately bad lighting is from my experience, 75% of what cell phone photos are taken in. So yeah, the Mi A1 is a competent phone with a decent camera for a mid-range device, but is it really worth your money? If you’re the kind of person who uses the camera a little and the rest of the phone features more, it is a compelling device, but for the avid photographer, look elsewhere.

Blueskysea B1W Dashcam Unboxing and Review

The Blueskysea B1w dashcam is based on a Sony sensor at a budget price. While the camera firmware needs some tweaking since it’s on a first firmware revision, this camera has a lot going for it for the price: 1080p at 30 FPS in h.264, a Sony sensor, and a compact form factor. It is also based on a capacitor which usually means higher reliability in hot and cold weather.

Note: The video samples are based on an older firmware version and may not represent how the video currently looks.

Full review coming soon.


Ele Rexso Explorer Dual Screen Action Cam

Purchase Link from Gearbest

Skip to video samples: 2:14

The Ele Rexso Explorer Dual is a interpolated 4K action cam based on the Novatek NT96660 processor and an unknown image sensor (likely the Omnivision OV4689, since some spec sheets say “IMX179” but the IMX179 has not been combined with the NT96660 before. This is just a guess, however, so please don’t take it as truth). Externally the camera is near identical to the Firefly 7S, but the video results are quite different. I love this wine-red color it comes in too.

The camera shows promising early results for a Novatek camera. It doesn’t suffer from the blue white balance that many cheaper NT96660 cams do. Additionally, it has real 1080p60 and stabilization. Although the stabilization isn’t as strong as some competitors, it does beat out the SooCoo C30. My copy of the camera processes video slightly soft so I am going to check if it needs to be refocused before doing the final review, or if it’s just the way the camera processes video.

Stay tuned for the full review.


SJCam SJ360+ Review

Hardware and Unboxing

Video Samples

The SJCam SJ360+ has a decent design with a form factor that doesn’t require a mobile phone – but that’s about all it has going for it. Unfortunately SJCam chose internal hardware that is only capable of low quality 360 videos, and the result is an output that looks similar to a early 2000s cellphone. In anything but the best light, aggressive noise reduction kicks in and removes any detail. Still photos suffer similarly.

Overall the SJ360+ feels  rushed to market and unfinished. I highly recommend a minimum of 4K for 360-degree video, with 8K being the ideal. I have not tested it yet but video samples from other reviewers make the Mijia 3.5K Panorama Camera seem like a promising budget choice.

Budget 4K Showdown – SJCam SJ7 Star vs Firefly 8s vs ThiEYE T5e vs Xiaomi Mijia 4K

Budget 4K Camera Showdown

All of these cameras are so close and the differences in how they process video are so minimal, that what you should look for while watching is which camera processes exposure more appealingly to you, which camera has the most appealing audio to you and which cameras user interface will work best for you. No matter which you buy you’ll end up with a camera that has decent video quality.

Click here to learn how to update the Mijia to English menus.

Camera links

Firefly 8sAmazon.com || Gearbest International

SJCam SJ7 StarAmazon.com || Canada Amazon || Gearbest International

Thieye T5eAmazon.com || Amazon UK || Gearbest International 

Xiaomi Mijia 4K Gearbest International

MGCool Explorer 1S Review

The Explorer 1S is your standard run-of-the-mill Novatek action cam without many improvements done to the default firmware. The video quality is decent in most situations but the gyro doesn’t seem to work. The cam has the potential to live up to other cameras that are a bit more expensive but that would require firmware updates on MGCool’s part (which I don’t currently expect).

Links to buy:

MGCool 1S:
USA: http://dreki.tech/1s-amazon
International: http://dreki.tech/1s-gearbest

SooCoo C30:
USA: http://dreki.tech/c30-amazon
International: http://dreki.tech/c30-gearbest

ThiEYE T5e (real 4K):
USA: http://dreki.tech/t5e-amazon
International: http://dreki.tech/t5e-gearbest

ThiEYE T5e Review

Summary: Despite a few little issues with the stabilization and a slight size difference with other action cams, the T5e is an excellent value, from a pure image quality perspective.

Continue Reading

Lightdow LD-4K First Look and Initial Impressions

This is yet another fake 4K camera based on the Novatek NT96660 processor and a Sony sensor. It does 1440p @ 30 FPS or a weird almost unusable 2880×2160 @ 24 FPS. Despite my critical comments in the video this cam does have some good things about it: I noted that this camera has a wider dynamic range than a few other Sony/NT96660 cams I’ve tested before meaning that bright and dark areas retain details better instead of getting too dark or too bright, but in many cases the video is almost hazy/greyish and colourless especially in direct light. Also the gyro and 60fps modes don’t exactly work. I’m going to play around with some firmware and see if I can find something better and/or hack together something workable then get back to you with a full review.

But is it worth $30? Yes, because at this price it is practically disposable. It’s remarkable that this hardware can be priced so low from a domestic seller. But at its regular price of $50, my advice is to spend a little bit more on something better such as the SooCoo C30.

LD-4K on Amazon.com
SooCoo C30 on Amazon.com

Viofo A119S Review

The Viofo A119S is a low profile dash camera based on the A119 form factor however there are two main differences: the camera uses an updated lens with a narrorwer field of view, and it contains a Sony imaging sensor that is capable of a max resolution of 1080p at 60 FPS.
Continue Reading

Meike MK320 Review

The Meike MK-320 is a compact hot-shoe flash featuring TTL functions and tilt/spin capability. It runs off of two AA batteries. This flash is also known as the Neewer NW320.

When I first mounted the flash on my camera I thought it was broken because the TTL function was not exposing correctly, however I realized that the camera didn’t initially recognize the flash so I had to pull it off and put it back on. Once I did that the camera recognized it fine. When you first put it on at any shoot though, you’ll need to pay attention to make sure the camera is properly recognizing it as it seems 1 in 6 times the camera didn’t see that a flash was mounted so the flash was just firing at an incorrect brightness.

Comparing this flash to the built in one on my D750, they’re about the same power, but where the benefit of this is in its diffusion and ability to bounce the flash off of the ceiling or walls. Because the flash face is larger, the light is smoother, and there’s less harsh reflections on skin. Included in the case is an additional diffuser that helps even more. I’m also fond of the LEDs that it includes for video mode, however, they don’t really illuminate all that much to be useful beyond a few feet. Exposure with TTL is good, perhaps a little bit on the bright side at times. Manual mode is easy to adjust functions and slave mode works fine.

Build quality seems reasonable at this pricepoint. All the buttons have a nice click to them and the plastic feels solid. With the 2 AA batteries inserted (you’ll need to provide your own), the flash has a decent weight to it. Not as much as a big flash mind you, but this is the type of device for someone who wants something more compact, so that’s a win.

This flash is small, so it is not a master of heat dissipation while repeating flash. Don’t fire too many in succession otherwise it will pause to cool down.

Overall it would make a better addition to a micro 4/3rds camera or a point and shoot than a standard full size DSLR. I wouldn’t personally use it in professional situations, but for the type of person who wants something to mess around with it’s cheap, compact and works decently once the camera recognizes it. My honest recommendation though: if you want to spend less and don’t mind a full size flash grab the Neewer VK750 II. It has more power, better TTL accuracy and a built-in zoom function (USA Link | Canada Link).