Just how much abuse can one humble little action camera survive?
We took a low budget action camera and had a go at finding out…
A few months ago we were approached by a client who had a problem. They needed to get footage of fire but the companies they’d previously used hadn’t been able to get close enough to capture the footage.
One of our key strategies was a backup, budget, action cam. The plan was simple – we’d get a low price camera for those situations where we wanted to get the shot, but we didn’t want to risk our kit. The Wimius Q1 fit the bill. At £37.99 it hardly broke the bank and with 1080p video the footage quality would do what we needed. It wasn’t going to be a GoPro, but it didn’t have a GoPro’s price tag either. We nicknamed it ‘Sacrificial Cam’ and set it to work in all those places other cams feared to go.
Job One – The Body Cam
It’s first task was simple. Our specialist body cam (rated to work up to 1000°C for short periods) was delayed in the post. So, we strapped the Q1 onto a firefighter and sent them off to get up close and personal with the flames under a car bonnet.
It did a decent job and got us some nice shots of the extinguisher in action.
Job Two – The dashboard fire
Clearly this was too safe for our little Q1. So, for its next task, we strapped it inside a car and set the dash on fire. Again it performed well, but the temp inside the car wasn’t going to build up over the duration of the fire, so it wasn’t that high risk. We got a good shot from it, but then smoke and steam obscured the lens.
Job Three – Heptane Pan Fire
Thinking we should really put it to the test we used it in the next fire.
Heptane is the most explosively flammable petrol on the planet. When it burns in air it’s at over 1500°C. We know this because our thermal cam maxes out at 1500°C and it was reading off the scale. It’s so hot that you can see the flame retardant equipment this fire fighter was wearing smouldering.
The Q1 was around 10 meters from the Heptane pans for these shots. The risk wasn’t extreme, but I definitely quit before the Q1 did. A mild respect for the little dude started to grow.
Job Four – Magnesium Fire
This was a small test, but an interesting one in terms of seeing how the Q1 coped. Heat isn’t the problem. The issue here is just how bright the light from burning magnesium gets. We didn’t want to risk burning out the sensors on our big cameras, so the pressure was on for the Q1. Would it cope, or would the sensor be burned out by the brightness of the light?
For reference, the crew had to face away from the fire while it was going on because magnesium is bright enough to cause permanent damage to your eyes.
The Q1 handled it like a champ.
Job Five – Compartment Fire
Once more unto the inferno little Q1, this time at a new location.
We needed to capture the intense heat bloom that would erupt from the opening doors of the closed compartment fire we were filming. With the doors shut the room temperature at ceiling height would have been around 750 degrees. So far the Q1 had survived everything we had thrown at it, so we figured what the heck and tucked it right into the corner of the room on the floor. We wished it luck. Then shut the door.
Around 30 minutes later a firefighter walked out of the compartment with a very sombre expression on his face. From behind his back he lifted out a rather sad and charred looking Q1.
Well, it was immediately clear it had been a bit more than “warm” at floor level. But had we got the shot? Was the Q1 really dead? The case had clearly taken the worst of it and the front face of the camera had shrivelled up in the heat.
The little micro SD card seemed ok so we popped it in the laptop, and sure enough, we had footage. Some pretty good footage. It’s last gift to us before it succumbed to the inferno.
Job Seven – The wheel cam
So seeing as fire clearly couldn’t destroy a Q1, we decided to try a different tact, and test it out at Rockingham Speedway by attaching it to a 150mph race car. Scorpio Motorsport wanted dynamic footage of their Radical SR3 racing cars, the kind of shots you often see in video games.
One of those angles is on the front left corner of the car, looking back. An insane place to put a camera, ridiculously close to the floor and to the crushing tyres, so guess who was volunteered for the job.
At this point, we had also invested in a second Q1. So we mounted that on the tail spoiler facing backwards.
Two cameras, two ridiculous places to put them.
On the first 25 minute session, the Q1 managed to capture around 15 minutes of footage, before a random piece of track debris hit the back and smashed the catch off, leaving the back door to fall open. The only thing holding the Q1 to the car was the tiny USB plug sticking in the side of the camera, like it was clinging on for dear life. We managed to salvage some great footage though.
So what’s the verdict
We can’t answer our original question. Despite raging fires and hitting it with racetrack debris at up to 150mph, we still haven’t killed it. We’ve got some cool shots out of it though.
The image quality isn’t up to a GoPro, but then you can buy 14 Q1’s for the price of a single GoPro 5. That means you can risk putting them in crazy places without worrying too much about their survival.
With a recording time of up to 90 minutes it makes it a camera you can leave running without having to do regular battery changes, something that GoPro’s can be very annoying for. It also comes with a bucket load of straps and fastenings, which give you way more options than a standard out of the box GoPro.
For £40 it is what it is, and I remember, when I was getting it out of the box, thinking it didn’t feel very solid. How wrong I was.
Get one, sooner or later on a shoot, you’ll be glad you did.