Runcam FPV camera Review

sSky1
Runcam Sky (original version)

Now that I have basically one of each of the Runcam lineup, I’ve gone all technical and done an apples to apples review. The original ‘Sky’ cam features the Sony Super HAD II 1/3″ sensor, and Runcam claims 650TVL resolution. The Sky2 features the Sony EFFIO-V 1/3″ sensor, and Runcam claims 800TVL resolution. And although it’s a bit of a different animal, I also compare the new Runcam HD camera/recorder, since a lot of people like to use this type of device for both recording and FPV.

Form Factor

The original Sky cam, as well as the slightly updated version, is in an enclosure, and is smaller than standard size board cams. The case is metal so it’s a little heavy, but personally I think this makes it more durable. The camera comes with a 4 wire cable which

sSky2
Runcam Sky2

breaks out to a 4 way joystick and button controller, composite video on BNC connector, and DC in on a barrel jack. I saved this cable so I could access the menus in the future. For FPV use, they give you a second cable for connecting to your video transmitter.

The Sky2 is a full size board cam without any enclosure. There are a lot more wires and connectors coming out the back, which I am guessing are for the joystick button controller. It’s too bad they didn’t mux in all those signals like the Sky 1. I guess if I need to get back into the menus on the field, I’ll have to figure out where all the original connectors went in. Not a big deal really.

 

sRuncanHD
Runcam HD

The RuncamHD is basically a clone of the popular Mobius cam. It’s a 1080p action cam that also has a composite video output. It has an internal battery, so it can run standalone, but will also take external power in, and output video on a dual purpose mini-USB connector. They also include cables to allow direct connection to some video transmitters.

 

 

 Color

sSky1-color
The Sky 1 color was a little oversaturated, enough to where the reds would bleed over. For the record, the lighting was indoor fluorescent.

 

sSky2-color
The Sky 2 was less saturated, but still a little hot. It did a lot better on keeping the colors from bleeding. Note that on both the Sky 1 and the Sky2, they have some issues with fine B&W lines turning into color hues. This is an effect of the bayer pattern used in CMOS sensors. Usually software algorithms are used to remove these, but both cams exhibit slight flaws here.
sRuncanHD-color
The Runcam HD by far has the best color rendition. The color accuracy is the best, and there is no evidence of bayer distortion. This is because the sensor is more like 2500×1600, so the image is already above HD, and reducing it down to standard def resolutions is an easy pixel decimation.

 

 

Image Geometry

All of the cams suffer from some level of barrel distortion. Many action cam manufacturers like GoPro will correct for this in software. But with the board and FPV cams, the fact that they ave interchangeable lenses makes this difficult because it gets worse as you go wider.

sSky1-chart
Runcam Sky (original version)
sSky2-chart
Runcam Sky2
sRuncanHD-chart
Runcam HD. In this case, I think they could have done a better job with correction of the geometry since the lens size will not change.

 

Resolution

Before I make all the FPV cam manufacturers sound like a bunch of liars, let me just say that I understand the specs race. None of these cameras can actually achieve the TVL rating they claim. What they do is pass down the spec by the sensor manufacturer, and call it good. The reality is that because of the way standard def composite video works, the way modern flat panel TVs work, not to mention other devices people put in between like video transmitters and receivers, it’s impossible to ever achieve these specs.

The TVL number means TeleVision Lines. This number refers to the maximum number of vertical lines that can be resolved using a standard resolution chart, which I happen to have. The resolution chart has gradually finer lines which are marked. I didn’t mess with focus on any of the cams. The distance to target was around 18″ for all. All of the cams were direct connected to a Toshiba 27″ LCD on the composite input. This is also a limitation because a digital TV will digitally sample the analog video signal, and scale it internally. If the sample frequency is too low, you loose resolution. They only way to see more would be with an analog TV set. I haven’t had one of those in years, so we have to make due.

sSky1-rez
Sky 1 resolution chart close up. 400 TVL is very clear, 500 is a mess. I would say it is more like 475TVL.
sSky2-rez
Sky2 resolution chart close up. You can see the EFFIO-V sensor does a little better. 500TVL is decently clear, but not much more. This could be the limit of the TV or the camera. No practical way to tell.
sRuncanHD-rez
RuncanHD. There are clearly some problems here. We know that the TV is at least good for 500+ TVL on it’s input. But here it looks like we’re getting less than 300TVL.

Conclusion

The Sky 1 cam is now updated in a silver enclosure, which looks like it may be plastic now. This may help in the weight dept. Overall it’s a good camera, but the color rendition could use some help. It’s price is $30.99. I got in on the original launch price of $19.99, so I really got my money’s worth on that one.

The Sky 2 appears to have a much better sensor, and for $34.99, it’s definitely worth the extra $4. I think the world would be better served with an enclosed product though. Typical FPV’ers are going to put these cameras were no naked electronics should go, so a bare board could be a liability.

This really isn’t a complete review of the Runcam HD and it’s HD recording capabilities. For this article, I’m just comparing it’s composite video output and how suitable it is for FPV. In that context, it’s not good. Although the color was great, the resolution is a more important factor for FPV. I would even throw away color completely to get more resolution, if I could. Another factor I didn’t discuss because it does not apply to the Sky and Sky 2, is the lag on the output on the HD model. Since the Runcam HD is a HD recorder, the composite output is coming out of a processor IC that has the image at least 3 or 4 frames behind real time. I didn’t measure it but I would estimate it to be 100-200mS lag. HOWEVER, at $49.99, it’s a great HD recorder, and has GoPro like images at 1080p30 or 720p60.

So my bottom line is, out of the three cameras, the Sky 2 is the best FPV camera, picture quality, and price. Here’s a link to get yours:¬†http://www.runcam.com/

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