RunCam 3 (In-Depth Review)
When it comes to features and performance, GoPro may rule the roost in the compact action camera market so what do you do when you need Session-like features at just $100? Get a RunCam 3, of course. Costing only a third of its GoPro rival, the RunCam 3 delivers plenty of value for those seeking a bargain deal.
Although the RunCam 3 may not have the exact range of features that the Session has, it has all the essential ones that drone pilots need. Features such as voice control, full weatherproofing and 4K video are missing but what you get with the RunCam 3 is image quality that is on par with the Session (some say better), a similar form factor (it is compatible with Session accessories) and 1080P video at 60fps.
- Video resolution:
- HD 1080P @ 60fps
- HD 1080P @ 30fps
- 720P @ 120fps (claimed but unconfirmed)
- 720P @ 60fps
- 2MP stills
- Video format: MOV
- AV output: NTSC / PAL
- 155 degrees FOV (narrow, medium and wide FOV options in app)
- Lens with 6 glass elements
- Wide Dynamic Range
- Time lapse feature
- Built-in WiFi module
- RFI shielding
- Dual microphone system
- Supports up to 64GB micro SD cards
- 5V 650mAh battery (built-in)
- Dimensions: 38 x 38 x 37.5mm
- Weight: 66g
When I first got my RunCam 3, it developed a problem with its power button which refused to power down the cam after it was turned on. This happened after I had turned it on a few times. Clueless as to how I could turn it off, I had to do an impromptu teardown of the unit which somehow let to my RunCam 3 powering down on its own after one of its ribbon connectors was detached.
After reassembling the unit, the problem seemed to have vanished for reasons unknown. The teardown made me realize that the RunCam 3 can be a bit tricky to disassemble and if you’re not handy at fixing very compact and tight gadgets then you’d be better off not disassembling it.
For most people, the seemingly obvious approach when it comes to tearing down the RunCam 3 would be to remove the four screws holding the back panel. This is not the right way since the back panel is connected to the main board via three small ribbon connectors. The only way to remove the internals without detaching these ribbon connectors is to open the front of the cam which is held in place by four screws. To gain access to these screws, you need to first remove the glass protector by gently prying it open. With the screws removed (they’re hidden underneath the black stickers), the internals can be pushed out from the main casing.
The RunCam 3 is held together by 3 aluminum parts — the main casing and the front and rear panels. For this reason, it has excellent RF shielding since there are very few gaps for noise to escape from the internals and affect other electronic components on a drone. Other action cameras (such as the SJ4000 pictured below) that feature mainly plastic casings are notorious for spewing out a lot of radio noise. That’s not the case with the RunCam 3. With its excellent RF shielding, it’s about as quiet as a library around the cam body.
The RunCam 3 may not have full weatherproofing like the Session but it sure is well-built. The three aluminum parts ensure it can withstand impact from hard crashes while the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 lens protector at the front does a good job in protecting the lens and keeping dust at bay. RunCam sells the lens protector glass separately which is good for pilots who crash frequently and break their glasses. There is also a silicon cover for the micro SD card slot although the micro USB port lacks a cover. Due to its heavy use of aluminum, the RunCam 3, at 66g, is actually slightly heavier than its bigger predecessor — the RunCam 2.
Speaking of the SD card slot, the latest batch of RunCam 3’s have improved slot design which features a small aluminum ramp that prevents memory cards from slipping into the casing like in the first batch of Runcam 3’s. Accidentally losing your memory card in your cam body is no longer a risk with the latest version.
Despite its highly compact design and ability to take good videos, the RunCam 3 user manual states that it should never be used as a dashcam. The reasons for this are because of its highly cramped internals, the unit tends to heat up quite a bit when operating which could cause damage to the battery and circuit boards. Unlike the GoPro Session, the RunCam 3 was designed mainly for RC planes and multirotors which provide good airflow and cooling for the heat it produces.
I’ve tested the RunCam 3 indoors and in static situations and found that it does heat up quite a lot, especially at the rear. I suspect this heat has caused the audio chip on my RunCam 3 to stop working although I’m not entirely sure of that.
Overall, the RunCam 3 is quite well built despite not being fully weatherproof and should be able to take on the rough and tumble of FPV racing and hard crashes.
The RunCam 3 features a wide angle lens with 6 glass elements and a field of view (FOV) of 155 degrees. Via the RunCam app, the FOV can be set to wide, medium or narrow to suit different user needs. One key feature is its ability to shoot HD 1080P at 60fps which make it highly attractive to FPV racers. It is also capable of shooting 2MP stills. The unedited sample image below was shot from my balcony with WDR turned off at medium FOV.
Another key feature is Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) which is well implemented. Although images lack contrast and saturation when WDR is turned on, they show significantly more details in the highlights and shadows — an important feature to have when you’re doing some fast FPV flying through tight spaces such as forests or abandoned buildings.
Audio is handled by a dual microphone setup — one microphone is located at the top while another is located at the rear. Although audio recording worked the first few times when I recorded video, it stopped working altogether after a while and I still can’t figure out why. I suspect it’s due to the extreme heat generated by static use of the camera during my initial tests of it.
Besides photos and videos, the RunCam 3 is also capable of capturing time-lapses and burst stills. The camera’s 650mAh battery gives it an operating time of about 1.5 hours when filming at HD 1080P @ 30fps.
Besides impressing many with its ability to take 1080P videos at 60fps at this price point, the RunCam 3’s image quality is another thing that have got many reviewers raving about. Several side by side comparisons with GoPro’s Session have shown that the RunCam 3’s image quality is surprisingly similar to its more expensive rival. Some even claim it is slightly better. Since I don’t have a Session available to make a direct comparison, I can’t confirm on this.
Here are some full resolution unedited sample images (with WDR turned on) and video taken with the RunCam 3. Take note that there is no audio in my sample videos (to be available soon) since I have yet to figure out why the microphones stopped working. Although official product details claim that the RunCam 3 is capable of shooting 720P at 120fps, I am unable to see that option in the app despite having updated to the most recent firmware.
Since the RunCam 3 lacks an LCD display, the RunCam app is the only way you can have full control of it. The app connects to the camera via WiFi and gives you control of all its features. You can also view and manage files taken by the cam.
Images and videos taken are stored on the micro SD card on the cam but they can be downloaded to your smart device via the app over WiFi. Firmware updates for the camera can also be done over WiFi via the app.
At just a fraction of the price of a GoPro Session, the RunCam 3 offers plenty of value and excellent performance. It can shoot HD 1080P video at 60fps which makes it an attractive option for FPV pilots. It also features very good WDR, image quality and good casing design. The all aluminum casing and excellent RFI shielding makes it almost noise-free where radio interference is concerned.
The only issues I can see so far is some inconsistent quality control. My unit’s power button started failing on the first day of testing and soon after that the dual microphone system stopped working. Despite these issues with QC, the RunCam 3 is still a highly attractive buy. If you can do without the bells and whistles that the GoPro Session has, then I highly recommend the RunCam 3 for its excellent value and performance.
The RunCam 3 is currently available at GearBest for $103 shipped. Take note that due to patent issues with GoPro, some online retailers will not ship the RunCam 3 to the US.