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GoPrawned: MGCOOL Explorer ES Action Camera Review

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  • GoPrawned: MGCOOL Explorer ES Action Camera Review

    MGCOOL Explorer ES Action Camera Review
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  • #2
    Tech Specs:
    • SoC: Allwinner V3s
    • Sensor: 2Mp 1/2.7” Galaxycore GC2023 (3 μm pixel)
    • Lens: Wide-angle 170-degree FOV (diagonal)
    • Display: 2-inch LCD TFT screen, 320x240
    • Video resolutions and format: 3200x1800 15 fps, 2688x1520 30 fps, 1920x1080 60/30 fps, 1280x720 120/60/30 fps. MP4 file format.
    • Photo resolutions: 16M/12M/8M/5M/2M
    • Connectors: microUSB
    • Wireless features: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
    • Additional features: UVC webcam, 4x digital zoom
    • Storage: microSD up to 64GB
    • Battery: removable, 3.7v Li-ion 1050mAh
    • Dimensions: 59.3 mm * 41.2 mm * 25.1 mm (30.2 mm with lens)
    • Weight: 61 g (43 g without battery)
    Last edited by fatcat; 05-11-2017, 07:10 PM.


    • #3
      Package and Accessories

      The package is very compact and lightweight, its dimensions are 108 mm * 108 mm * 103 mm (~1.2 L of volume), the weight is 410 g. The package is made of black high-quality cardboard.
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      The cover has two stickers on it.
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      The camera is inside the waterproof box which sits in a bed made of protective foamy material. All accessories are inside the box which can be found underneath.
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      Accessories set bundled with ES camera can be considered as not very excessive. It includes a plastic bracket with two 1/4" tripod screws, a clip for it, a bike mount, a 90-degree mounting adaptor, a microUSB cable and a couple of flat adhesive mounts. Explorer ES camera comes with a detailed user's manual printed in English.
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      Last edited by fatcat; 05-11-2017, 07:14 PM.


      • #4
        Camera Design

        The camera body is made of black plastic, the front panel is covered with soft-touch material. The protective lens rim is black and its outer diameter is 20.6 mm. The front panel has a simple clean design with only the following markings on it: 'MGCOOL' logo and 'EXPLORER ES' logo. Luckily there is no '4k' is mentioned here. Camera feels solid and the materials applied do not raise any questions.
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        MGCOOL Explorer ES has one design feature which is rare for the most of action cams - its lens does not protrude any forward and is protected against scratches and dents by the lens barel.

        Explorer ES action camera uses popular among Allwinner V3/s-series based products Ilitek ili9341 LCD driver. It works with 320x240 2-inch LCD display with ordinary viewing angles, colors become inverted when you turn the camera to the left. Brightness is enough for shooting under different lighting conditions. The screen is not touch sensitive and is covered with two layers of protective film.
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        The front panel has the power / mode button, it is also used for navigation through the menus. The shutter / ok button is located on the top. The left side has two buttons on it: up (short press - wifi, press and hold - digital zoom in) and down (short press - mute, press and hold - digital zoom out).
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        There are two LED indicators located on the back side of the camera. The red one lights up when the battery is charging, the blue one is permanently on when the camera is powered up and blinks during video recording. Another blue LED is on the top, it lights up when the camera is turned on and starts blinking after switching on the WiFi connection.

        A microUSB socket and a microSD card slot are located on the left side. Note that this camera has no HDMI output port and like other V3/s-based products it lacks AV-OUT as well.
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        Removable battery compartment is located on the bottom of the case. Its door has no latch and is detached apart when open and seats safely when closed. Battery dimensions are 33 x 29 x 11 mm, the weight is 18 g. Battery is compatible with the most common “SJ” form-factor. The battery capacity is marked as '1050mAh 3.33Wh'. The battery case is made of plastic and all the markings are printed directly on it without any sticker like it can be found on the most others action camera batteries. Another thing to mention here is that Explorer ES cam stays fully usable after connecting to an external USB power source. You can record videos and shoot stills with this cam while charging. Explorer ES has a dashcam mode, which powers up and starts recording when a power source is connected and stops recording and shuts the camera down when the power is off.

        Fully charged battery gives about 2 hours of continuous shooting in 1080P30 mode with LCD on and Wi-Fi off.
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        Last edited by fatcat; 05-11-2017, 07:22 PM.


        • #5
          Functions and Settings

          Video modes

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          Encoding profile: [email protected]
          Audio: mono, AAC 8kHz 15kbps

          * - HFOV can’t be measured due to wrong sensor readout settings.

          User interface and Settings menu

          The user interface is similar to many other Allwinner V3 and V3s based action cameras.
          Boot and shutdown logos show the same 'MGCOOL' text logo. The only difference is background color - it's white for boot logo and black for shutdown picture.
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          The OSD indicates current mode, resolution, card status and remaining space (in Gb), battery level, current date and time, audio recording and looped video icons. Short press of the front button sequentially switches between following working modes: Video (opens by default), Photo, Playback and Settings.
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          You can get access to camera settings after pressing the OK button in Settings mode. The settings are grouped into four sections: Video, Photo, General and System settings. You can switch between them with the front button. The fifth item (the one on the very right) switches the camera back to the shooting mode.
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          Almost all menu items available are pretty obvious to use from their names and options, so I put some ♦ notes only for a few of them. There are some wrong named text entries, so I replaced things like 'Close' to 'Off' here.

          Video settings
          Video Resolution: see the table above.
          Recording Sound: Off, On
          Time-lapse: Off, 0.5s, 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, 30s
          Loop recording: Off, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 5 minutes
          ♦ If set to 'Off' the video length will be limited by 15 minutes for all video modes.

          Photo settings
          Photo Resolution: 2M, 5M, 8M, 12M, 16M
          ♦ The sensor is 2 Megapixels so only the 2M setting lets shooting stills without any interpolation.
          Timed: Off, 3S, 5S, 10S, 20S
          ♦ This option sets shutter delay
          Auto: Off, 3S, 10S, 15S, 20S, 30S
          ♦ This option sets photo timelapse interval
          Photo Quality: general, good, very good
          ♦ Sets JPEG quality to 60, 80 and 95 correspondingly

          General settings
          Exposure: -3 - +3 EV in increments of 1
          White Balance: Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent Light, Fluorescent Light
          Driving Mode: Off, On
          ♦ If enabled the camera will turn on automatically when the power source is connected and will switch off when it is removed. This option also sets ‘Loop Recording’ to ‘2 minutes’ and enables ‘Auto Shutdown’ feature.
          WiFi: Off, On
          Light Source Frequency: Auto, 50Hz, 60Hz
          LED Indicator Light: Off, On
          Auto Screensaver: Off, 10s, 20s, 30s
          Auto Shutdown: Off, 1minute, 3minutes, 5minutes
          Time Watermark: Off, On
          ♦ This option sets date stamp for both photo and video modes

          System settings
          Language: Chinese, Potrugese, English, Japanese, Korean, Russian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish
          Date-Time: date and time settings (Use Up/Down buttons to change value, Shutter to switch between input fields)
          Format: prompts to format memory card
          Reset To Factory Setting: prompts to reset camera settings to defaults
          Firmware Version: shows camera model, current firmware version and date (Model: Explorer ES, Version: ESV01, Updated: 20170412)

          WiFi connection

          The camera switches into wireless access point with 'Explorer ES' SSID and '12345678' password after the short press of the Up button. The strength of the Wi-Fi signal is very good, it allows remote controlling the camera with a smartphone from reasonably long distances.
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          USB PC connection

          A mode selection prompt appears after connecting the camera to a PC with a microUSB cable. There you can choose between USB Mode, PC Camera and Charging Mode. The first mode is used for file transfer. The camera in this mode is recognized by PC as a standard USB storage device.

          Selecting the 'PC Camera' mode (use the wifi button to change selection and the shutter to confirm) enables web camera mode. Webcam is a standard UVC device with 720p30 (MJPEG) video mode.

          The last ‘Charging Mode’ turns the camera on with or without battery in place.
          Last edited by fatcat; 05-11-2017, 07:30 PM.


          • #6
            Mobile Apps, Firmware Updates and Other downloads

            MGCOOL Explorer ES Android App Google Play link
            MGCOOL Explorer ES for Apple devices

            Firmware updates can be found here:

            Video and Photo Quality and Samples

            The M12 lens used in MGCOOL Explorer ES provides really wide 125-degree horizontal FOV for 2.7K and 1080P video modes; FOV values for all other modes can't be measured as something is wrong with sensor read-out settings and the picture is not centered. Click image for larger version  Name:	15-fov.jpg Views:	1 Size:	113.1 KB ID:	3973

            A - 1800p and 720p modes, picture is cropped and not centered
            B - 2.7k and 1080p modes

            It has visible out-of-focus problem on the right side of the picture and it becomes even worse after the camera heats up (for example in direct sunlight). Click image for larger version  Name:	heating-up.gif Views:	1 Size:	148.5 KB ID:	3974

            The sensor resolution is 2MP so both 1800P (3200x1800 = 5.7MP) and 2.7K (2688x1520 = 4MP) modes are interpolated (upscaled) and can't be concerned as anything useful.

            Modes with 60 and 120 framerates use frame skipping under any lighting conditions. The camera duplicates every second frame for 720P60 and 1080P60 video, the 720P120 footage lacks 3 of 4 consequent frames.

            So it turns out that 1800P, 2.7K, 720P120, 720P60 and 1080P60 modes are far away from recording any quality videos. Moreover, the sensor read-out problem mentioned above adds 720P30 to this sorrowful list. As a result Explorer ES camera has only one practically useable video shooting mode - 1080P30, the bitrate value for it is 13.7Mbps which is rather low, but still normal if you don't need to process your footages on PC.

            MGCOOL Explorer ES is one of the first Allwinner platform action cameras based on Galaxycore GC2023 CMOS sensor, it doesn't use BSI technology, but its pixel size is 3x3 μm (Sony IMX179 has much smaller 1.4 μm pixels) and potentially it can perform good under low-light conditions.

            Here you can see how it compares against basic V3+IMX179 camera (100% crops from 1080p30 videos). Click image for larger version  Name:	vs-gif3.gif Views:	1 Size:	375.1 KB ID:	3975

            Fullsize IMX179 GC2023

            From this side-by-side comparison I can say that GC2023 sensor is not so good in low light like it should for its pixel size. However, it has low noise level and I think that MGCOOL engineers can improve its performance with firmware updates.

            The quality of stills produced by Explorer ES camera is not impressive and the same is true for other Allwinner based cams, however, these stills can be used for any nonessential use.

            Raw (not processed) video and photo samples:

            Dashcam usage example of ELE Explorer ES camera:


            • Affordable price
            • Very wide lens
            • Lens protection
            • Good battery life
            • Solid build quality and good materials
            • Standard battery form-factor

            • Only 1080P30 video mode is useable
            • No HDMI out
            • Lens is out-of-focus in the right side of the picture and it gets worse when the camera is heated up
            • Poor bundle
            • Low photo quality

            Where to Buy

            Black or Silver front panel
            Last edited by fatcat; 05-12-2017, 05:35 AM.


            • #7
              ES cam side-by-side compared with MGCOOL Explorer Pro action camera.
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