The action camera market has recently seen the release of sub-$100 cameras that are capable of recording 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second (fps). This is a significant milestone for those of us who like to strap these cameras to fast-moving RC vehicles. In addition the uptick in video performance, these new cameras also provide live video-out feeds with very low latency. This could have a significant impact to the way that many pilots configure their FPV systems.
I reviewed one of these cameras, the Foxeer Legend 1, a few weeks ago. This time I'll be looking at the RunCam 2 ($99) The Legend 1 and the RunCam 2 have very similar video performance specs. Aside from the aforementioned 1080p/60fps setting, both cameras are capable of 1080p/30fps and 720p at 60 or even 120fps. While the highest resolution of the Legend is 1296P/30fps, the RunCam nudges just a little higher at 1440/30fps. With such similar video specs, the primary differences between the Legend 1 and RunCam 2 boil down specific design features and user-interface…and those differences are significant.
It is not my intent to compare the RunCam 2 and the Legend 1 head to head. I can tell you up front that they are both good choices. The Mobius remains a contender as well if you don't need the fastest frame rates. While this isn't a camera shootout, certain comparisons are unavoidable. You'll see a few as you keep reading.
Design of the RunCam 2
The RunCam logo is "Born for RC fanatics." Even though action cameras are used in countless different applications, the RunCam 2 is apparently tailored to the specific needs and wants of RC users. The first aspect of the camera that points to this specialization is the bright orange color. Most other action cameras are black or silver (the RunCam 2 is available in silver as well). The orange will presumably be easier to find when the camera is thrown from its mount in a crash. Thankfully, I have not yet tested that theory.
This camera is very similar in size and form factor to both the Legend 1 and the Mobius. At just under 50 grams, it falls between the other two cameras weight-wise. But they're all within a few grams of each other.
A replaceable hood provides some protection for the lens of the RunCam 2. I'm sure that this feature is most appreciated by quad racing pilots, since those cameras tend to endure frequent beat downs. A replacement hood is included with the camera.
One of my favorite things about the RunCam 2 is that is uses a removable battery. The 1S-850mAh LiPo is accessible through an access panel on the back end of the camera. This feature means that you no longer have to worry about running the battery flat while out at the flying field. You can just pop in a fresh battery and keep going. Expect to get 60-90 minutes of recording time per charge. Spare batteries are $10 each.
Also located under the rear panel is the micro-SD card slot. I've had cards pop out of cameras during a crash – never to be seen again. So this is another welcome feature. The RunCam 2 will accepts cards up to 64GB
The RunCam 2's micro-USB port is also located at the rear of the camera. It is accessible even with the panel in place. This port is used to charge the battery and transfer files. It is also the means for tapping into the camera's live video feed.
The RunCam 2 Package
Several RC-friendly features are evident as you examine the accessories that are included with the RunCam 2. There is a plastic cradle which holds the camera very snugly. A snap-in attachment allows the cradle to interface with ¼-20 studs, as found on most tripods. An optional cradle attachment interfaces with GoPro-type mounts. A third mounting option is to use the included self-adhesive Velcro swatches. There are also two Velcro straps that can be used for extra security.
I placed the Velcro on the top side of the camera so that it could still fit into the cradle. A little bit of strategic shaping of the Velcro prevents it from interfering with the buttons or LED. This arrangement leaves all three mounting options (1/4-20, GoPro, Velcro) wide open. These are the same mounting methods that I regularly utilize with my Legend 1 and Mobius. The difference is that I had to fabricate custom parts to achieve the same mounting flexibility with those cameras.
The RunCam 2 comes with a cable to interface the video-out feed with a video transmitter for FPV flying. An additional plug on the cable allows you to power the camera with a 5 to 24-volt source. There is also an adapter that converts the video plug to female RCA so that you can connect the camera directly to a video monitor.
Configuring the RunCam 2
There are two buttons that control the operation of the RunCam 2. The larger power button turns the camera on and off if you hold it down for several seconds. This same button operates the shutter with a quick press. Long presses of the Wi-Fi button are used to toggle between the video, photo, and menu modes. A short press of the Wi-Fi button will activate or disable the camera's Wi-Fi signal.
Two options are available for configuring the parameters of the RunCam 2. One way is to put the camera in its menu mode. This brings up a GUI that is visible through the video-out feed. The two buttons are used to navigate the menu and make selections. While the GUI is easy to use, not all of the camera's configuration options are accessible with this tool.
An alternate setup method is to enable the camera's Wi-Fi and connect it to your smart phone via the RunCam app. The app also provides a real-time view through the camera lens. I wouldn't attempt to use the Wi-Fi video link for FPV. The range is pretty short and it has noticeable lag. It is great, however, for seeing a preview of how your shots will be framed when you mount the camera.
Many aspects of the app are intuitive and easy to sort out, while others are rather confusing. For instance, there is only one photo mode on the camera, but there are two independent menus for setting up the photo options. One is used to set up a shutter timer while the other is used to set time lapse options. These two options are exclusive, so how do you know which one is tied to the photo mode on the camera? Beats me. I always test after making a change to be sure that the intended settings took hold.
My preferred arrangement for these types of cameras is to have the video mode set to 1080p/60fps and the photo mode set to time lapse shooting on a 5-second interval (the Mobius and Legend actually provide two video modes and a photo mode). I ran into a problem with the RunCam 2 while trying to utilize this configuration. Whenever, I configured the time lapse options in photo mode, it would also affect my video mode setting. If time lapse is enabled for photos, it shoots time lapse photos whether the camera is set to photo or video mode. The only difference is that in video mode the photos are stitched together to create a .mov video file. Photo mode saves each shot as an individual .jpg file.
I wasted an entire video recording session and subsequent troubleshooting trying to figure out what was going on. Now that I understand what the camera is doing, I can work around it to get the results I want. But I'm convinced that it isn't supposed to be this way…especially since saving as a movie or individual photos is an option within the time lapse menu. It must be a bug in the app or firmware that will hopefully be resolved.
I've been focusing on the negative aspects of the RunCam app, but overall it is a useful tool. I really appreciate being able to make setting changes, preview my media, check the battery status, or even format the memory card without plugging into my laptop. With a few tweaks to fix the previously mentioned anomalies, the app will be a slam dunk.
Shooting with the RunCam 2
All of my recording thus far has been with the white balance and exposure parameters in their default settings. Overall, I am happy with the results. It is interesting to view footage that it shot simultaneously with the RunCam 2 and Legend 1 (also with default settings). There are obvious differences in how each camera attempts to optimize the specific lighting environment. I feel like the RunCam 2 produces more natural colors in bright light, but loses contrast in the shade. I think the opposite is true of the Legend 1. The differences are subtle. Without the contrasting footage placed side-by-side, you may not even notice.
As with the Legend 1, I've been using 1080p/60fps for most situations. I've also been experimenting with 720p/120fps for improved slow-motion clips. Watching the 120fps footage in real-time pushes the limits of my laptop's video processing, but it doesn't pose any problems in my video editor.
Most FPV models require an analog camera to feed a low latency video signal to the FPV gear, while a separate camera records video. The relatively low latency of the video output on the RunCam 2 allows it accomplish both roles on moderately fast models. I have tested this capability while shooting at 1080p/60fps. RunCam claims that the video signal latency is only 60ms in this setting. Independent tests appear to support that claim. I was flying a reasonably slow model and I never felt like there was any noticeable lag between my control inputs and the response I saw in the goggles.
When shooting at 720P/120fps, the latency is said to be as low as 40ms. That latency value is knocking on the door of some analog cameras, although I don't think it's quite low enough for really speedy FPV models such as quad racers. I have a new FPV model in my queue waiting to be built. It will definitely be a faster airplane, but still nothing crazy. I'm planning to install the RunCam 2 in it to try FPV with the 720p/120fps setting. That should prove interesting.
Now that I have a selection of small action cameras, I tend to pick and choose them for each application. I've lately found myself grabbing the RunCam 2 more and more. The camera's RC-friendly features often tip the balance in choosing the RunCam 2 over the Legend 1 or Mobius. Just knowing that I can swap batteries at the field is usually the clincher. The interface app has some problems that make it frustrating to use, but hopefully those issues are temporary. Until the fixes come out, the app is still manageable. I'll be doing a lot of shooting with the RunCam 2 in the coming months to really push its limits and see what it can produce.