I’m a bit of a fan of kickstarter and from a photo point of view have generally been happy with what I’ve received with the exception of the Robert Hamm’s disappearing Box Cameras.
But a new kickstarter digital camera caught my eye. A 4K vlogging camera to challenge the likes of the Sony ZV-1 or Lumix G100 for early bird less than a $100USD.
But just how good is this ? There is now a product preview video that answers a lot of this and led me to cancel
Budget or Bodge it ?
Let’s be clear this is in some ways an interesting proposition. This ticks the boxes for a current handheld vlogging camera. Lightweight capable of 4K video and with a tiltable screen that you can see front on. Plus up to 48MB for stills ! All for less than $100 USD !!
That’s a KS early bird deal. But even at the estimate full retail of $169USD for basic camera this sounds groundbreaking
And they will probably deliver on all of that (although as we’ll see the 48MP is bending it a bit). I’m now not sure the experience is great
And there is actually some good hardware behind this. so much so I touch a flutter and initially backed it. But as we’ll see there were some red flags but I initially waved them off.
And then about 2 weeks agos another product showcase video popped up. I did some thinking cancelled soon after.
I’ll get to that later
Amkov ? – must be new to be on KS like Reto or the New Yashica ?
Amkov have been around for a while. The company website suggest their founder first set up a factory in 2007 and the Amkov name was registered worldwide in 2013. Amkov or to give its full name Shenzhen Amkovery Tech. Development Co., Ltd is based in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen sits just North of Hong Kong and dubbed China’s Silicon Valley. Currently it’s ranked by wikipedia as the 14th most productive GDP Metropolitan area in the world at the time of typing.
Amkov’s about page is brutally honest about the company’s up and down but basically they ended up producing more budget digital and kid digital cameras.
One of these is the R2 or the CDR2, the HD predecessor for the Kickstarter camera (so called R3-4K likely later the CDR3). The R2 offers a lower top resolution and HD video.
So What’s the spec of the Amkov
No surprises here the core spec is not exactly cutting edge nor is it new. It’s a sensor launched in either 2016 or 2017 more commonly seen in smart phones.
Sony IMX386 Exmor RS sensor – Older Smartphone underpinnings
I give credit to Amkov. Often with cheap cameras you get no idea what the sensor is. and to find it’s a Sony is no surprise. Sony are one of the biggest makers of camera sensor in the world. Nikon are not alone in using them for much of their Mirrorless and dSLR line up including the D5, D500, D850 and the Z7 II and some claim Z9. Canon use them in P&S.
This is a bit lower league however. This a 12 MP 1/2.9″ 1.25μm CMOS sensor is pretty widely used. Not in cameras but smartphones. and it has been used in some reasonable gear. Notable phones like the 2017 Motorola Z (yup the one you could mod with a hasselblad zoom lens kit) and the 2018 Moto Z2 Force Edition shipped with it. It can still be found in budget and mid range phones today. Even my Google Pixel 6 is rumoured to use it one the ultrawide lens.
And on these cameras it is quite capable. Here is a shortclip from the Moto Z at 4K 30fps (the sensor is capable of 60fps but Motorola and several others throttle it to 30fps)
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It’s pretty good footage from a high end phone. Of course the module found it way on to lower end phone like this 4K footage from a Meizu MX6. The footage is not quite as good but still reasonable and may be down to in camera and other hardwear. That’s clear with the massive difference in sound.
Other Sensor details
The sensor unit has Phase Detection Autofocus but no on chip stabilisation. Some phones added the latter but we have no idea about the Amkov although the video later implies none. I asked Amkov via Kickstarter how the camera autofocused and got no reply.
Amkov don’t declare the standard focal length but it is on the camera 3.95mm 1:1.8 (equivalent to about 28mm lens full frame). The wide makes sense for what it is but will apply some distortions at this price.
But actually the core hardwear could be up to the job
Hang Amkov said up to 48MP a minute a go
You’re paying attention. Welcome to my first red flag- interpolation.
Interpolation is used when you take a set of data and use it to create a larger set of data. In photography that data is the original recorded pixels of an image which are processed to produce a larger image. It was common on older digitals and is still seen on some toy cameras or some more scammy cameras like the Protax FHD.
It is used in post to blow images up (especially for metres tall banners used for advertising) but not in camera
And really with 12MP this camera doesn’t need interpolation. Amkov picked to widely used vlogging cameras for comparison. But the Sony ZV-1 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-G100 both have just 20MP resolution. there was no need. You can obviously turn this off but…
This points to slightly budgetary tendencies and worrying that Amkov have not been upfront on KS (my protax at least points this out on the box). they have indicated this is the case on their Facebook group but only in comments.
Okay that Moto footage looked okay for a small sensor.
And this is the weird thing. If you shoot digital for still or arty film making big sensor make sense. Less noise, better low light and the ability to make shallow depth of field for dreamy shots.
But for vlogging you can chuck the last point out the window. You want a bigger depth of field. You’ll likely want to have the subject (usually the vlogger) and the background in focus. Big sensors need big heavy & expensive cameras so actually many vloggers use phones or small action cameras.
The Sony (1″) and the G100 (the micro 4/3) are still smaller than APS-C or full frame but are 5 and 12 times bigger in surface area and sit in a sweet spot between small smartphone sensors and the big boys
So the small sensor seems reasonable enough
And the rest of the Amkov’s spec
So the other big selling point in the flippable screen. But be aware this 3″ IPS panel is only a 640×360 resolution. That’s not even VGA but a 16;9 ratio format called Ninth HD (nHD). That so called as it’s exactly a 9th of the size of HD. It is pretty low by modern standards but not awful. It doesn’t fully articulate
The core camera has just a 800mAh which only offers 40 minute shooting time. My Google Pixel 6 phone has 4,614mAh battery !!That said that is comparable to actual recording times of the ZV-1 (45 mins) and the G100 (35min via EVF).
The Amkov Pro pack ?
At also has an optional powerbank grip. This looks like a Osmo like gimbal at first glance but is just a mini tripod with powerbank built in. Amkov claim it can take battery life up to 4 hours. Of course we don’t now if that is continuous or real life shooting.
The camera says it is compatible with existing lenses but in reality it has a filter screw. you can add screw in adaptor lenses.
This allows the pro kit lens to be used (the kit comes with the powerbank grip, an external mic and the lens). The external lens looked familiar and then I realised I had one. It is one of those cheap screw in lenses you get on Wish et al for a few quid which provide both a wide effect and a macro filter . This was another red flag as these are poor uncoated lenses. That kit adds $40USD premium
Storage is by micro SD (aka TF) cards with up to 128GB supported
So What caused you to cancel ?
The niggles were there from the start but the sensor was up to the job and folk make vlogs using smartphones like my Pixel 6.
But the limited data. Lack of demo shots. Interpolation. The dodgy accessory lenses and the dodgy English on their Facebook page. The warning signs were there. I asked about its AF but got no reply.
There have been no decent independent reviews. This clearly a camera that pretty much is ready to ship out so why no pre production test reviews ? Granted that has been a thing of late on KS. However as someone whom has pre tested new gear it is reassuring to see someone has tried these things out in the real world. For camera film and accessories that remains much more common. I have even been fortunate to test pre production cameras like the Lensfayre Snap LF35-M. These give you a chance to see actual results and some views
Their promo video shows a slow mo of a man sailboarding (around 1.05 in). Trouble is this camera has either a wide angle or that screw in very wide angle lens. So to get that close with no telephoto you’d need to be in the water with either the world’s tallest tripod or on a boat. So where is the movement ?
But I nervously lived with all that until..
The Final Red Flag of the Amkov
But then they dropped a better video on the Kickstarter page. They given it to Cymye Midori, a China based Vlogger. She’s one of those vloggers that demos new kit. Often you just see an unboxing and a spouting of the claimed spec. But credit to Clymye – She used the camera.
I dropped the camera almost straight after the video
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I later came across The Amazing adventures of Miles‘s youtube review of the the predecessor R2. It kinda told me much the same.
Do you think it fake or what ?
I still believe it will deliver the headline 4K vlogging experience. Its just from the demo shots not going to be great. It just doesn’t look like it takes as good results compared a mid range smartphone with the same sensor from 5 years ago.
Video Killed the Cam ?
Cymye’s video was pretty helpful. Before she starts using it you see the cheap accessory lenses in detail. There is also pointless fake dial, I suspect to give the impression of more expense.
The still are all a bit soft. The wide lens distorts notably and makes the edges very blurry. There is a lot of processing artefact and the camera struggles in low light with not great latitude. I suspect she shot at either the up to 48MP or 24 MP setting which doesn’t help (we see the later on the screen). The fringing is noticeable too.
It is telling the video is notably worse than the camera she films herself with (? insta360 action camera). Again it is better with the lens kit off but there is a lot of artefact on motion. The sound quality is okay on camera but awful when she plugs in the mic. And there is no image stabilisation
Look at the footage and go back and compare it to the Motorola Z footage. The Moto footage (and even the Meizu) looks way better.
And the final nail in the coffin was the random dates appearing on some shots. Font look familiar?
Something like this maybe ?
That’s from the un-named scamera I bought on wish. To be clear I do not think the Amkov offering is a scam like that. But it looks like Cymye had the same issue of the date popping up when she didn’t want it. This makes me suspect we have the son of that awful interface.
Final Thoughts & Alternatives
I backed out as the image quality did not look great and the reviews of it predecessor did not inspire confidence. At $169 retail (about ~£135) Whilst I can’t by a new camera to match that spec I can pick up a 1080p shooting CSC or dSLR like the Panasonic Lumix G5 with enough cash left for lens. And these will be vastly better at that resolution. But in fairness to Amkov 4K seems initially a struggle to match.
At the end of the day Amkov offers a camera that for less than $100USD on the kickstarter will take 4K video. It might not be great quality but you can’t compete against that price tag with a traditional digital camera
Or so I though..
Go Pro-tastic ?
Turns out some of the cheap go pro clones have similar spec for less. I don’t have access to these. But they are thankfully widely reviewed. As luck would have it, Digital Camera Review (DCW) did a review of budget Go Pro alternatives earlier this month. Ignore the DJI, Olympus and Osmo models listed if you want to go truely cheap. These hit 4K and even 5K and include image stabilisation. The budget go pro market is a massive rabbit hole of models but the DCW is a good starter.
Some in the DCW list, like the Asako Brave 7 LE, even have a front facing screens ideal for Vlogging. The Brave 7 LE is widely reviewed not just on DCW but on Tech Advisor and others with test footage. Also there are quite a few YouTube test footage/reviews like here or this.
It retails on Amazon and other sites for less than £140 GBP near enough the list price for the basic Amkov.
And whilst it is far from perfect has some neat features such as image stabilisation, waterproofing, remote and phone app control. It doesn’t match up to market leading cameras but at less than the Amkov at list price it seems a better bet. And at least you know what you’re getting.
Ring a ding ?
And then there is the smartphone. New granted will be over £100GBP but some of last years Midrange phones with 4K support has dipped under 200 quid. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro for example is sim free for £189 from the likes Argos. And that’s.. erm a smartphone with a whopping headline108MP still sensor and enough reviews of it’s [pros and cons (notably the lack of stabilisation at 4K). If you can settled for HD (1080p) then tons of phones will meet your needs with both front and rear cameras hitting including many less than £100.
Of course you can by plenty used high end 4K capable smartphones (I found the Moto Z for just £70GBP with warranty). You could pocket the leftovers geta cheap stabilisation gimbal and even an external mic for the price of the Amkov.
If you must Don’t Go Pro
If the the thought of the Amkov does appeal I’d skip the pro pack. The External Mic sounds is worse. And the lens kit is not worth it. The only worthwhile bit is the tripod/charger bank with remote but you can add this on separately