MGCOOL (previously known as Elephone ELECam) is releasing a bunch of new action cameras. One of them is the low priced MGCOOL Explorer series, their entry level model. The EKEN H9 is quite famous in that price range, so I wanted to take a closer look. Let’s start with a comparison:

 EKEN H9/H9RMGCOOL ExplorerMGCOOL Explorer ProMGCOOL Explorer 1S
eken-h9-symbolMGCOOL ExplorerMGCOOL ExplorerMGCOOL Explorer 1S
Sensor4 MP Omnivision
OV4689
8 MP Sony
IMX 179
8 MP Sony
IMX 179
12 MP Sony
IMX 078
ProcessorSunplus 6350Allwinner V3Allwinner V3NT96660
FOV170°70°,110°,140°,170°170° (less distortion)70°,110°,140°,170°
4K Resolution25 fps (interpolated)15 fps (interpolated)30 fps (interpolated)24 fps (interpolated)
2K Resolution30 fps30 fps30 fps30 fps
HD 1080pmax. 60fpsmax. 60fpsmax. 60fpsmax. 60fps
HD 720pmax. 120fpsmax. 120fpsmax. 120fpsmax. 120fps
Display2" TFT (320*240)2" TFT (320*240)2" TFT (320*240)2" TFT (320*240)
Battery1050mAh1050mAh1050mAh1050mAh
Wifiyesyesyesyes
Image Stabilizationnononono
Remoteonly H9Rnonono
PortsmicroUSB, micro HDMImicroUSB, micro HDMImicroUSB, micro HDMImicroUSB, micro HDMI
A/V out via USBnononono
Mic in via USBnononono
Dimension59 x 41x 24mm59 x 41 x 29mm59 x 41 x 29mm59 x 41x 29mm
Mounts & Caseincludedincludedincludedincluded
Price39.99 USD36.99 USD38.99 USD58.99 USD

 

MGCOOL Explorer is the same price as EKEN H9, but has some interesting features. Explorer offers a 8 MP Sony sensor, compared to the 4 MP Omnivision used in H9. The frame rate in 4K is just 15fps, compared to 25 fps on EKEN, but it’s interpolated anyway.

Compared to MGCOOL Explorer the Explorer Pro offers a better lens, called “Sharkeye” lens which is shows less distortion. Due to the lens there is n FOV selection.

In contrast the Explorer 1S shows several changes. With its 12 MP Sony Sensor is offers the sensor with the most MP available.

 

MGCOOL Explorer vs MGCOOL Explorer Pro vs MGCOOL Explorer 1S

MGCOOL Explorer vs MGCOOL Explorer Pro vs MGCOOL Explorer 1S

 

MGCOOL Explorer series

Sensor:
MGCOOL Explorer and Explorer Pro feature a 8 MP Sony IMX179 sensor, a 1/3.2″ CMOS backside-illuminated image sensor. This sensor is not widespread among action cameras but is found in several smartphones such as OnePlus 3, several Huawei and Lg models.

MGCOOL Explorer 1S features a larger 12  MP Sony IMX078 sensor, also used in EKEN H8.

Processor:
Explorer and Explorer Pro hold an Allwinner V3 SOC processor, found in some other action cameras like V3 sports camera.

Explorer 1S features a Novatek NT96660 sensor, same one used in many action cams such as Git2 or SJCAM SJ5000x.

Video Resolution & Frame Rate:

  • 4K  – (3840 x 2160) – 15 fps (interpolated)
  • 2K – (2560 x 1440) – 30 fps
  • 1080p – (1920 x 1080) – 60 / 30 fps
  • 720p – (1280 x 720) – 120 / 60 / 30 fps

4K resolutions is just available in 15fps, which is too low for a smooth video. Anyway it’s interpolated (upscaled from a lower resolution), real 4K cameras are at least double the price.

Explorer 1S has a better framerate in 4K resolution, 24fps, but is still interpolated.

Video Format:
.mp4 format, .h264 codec.

Photo:
Max. photo resolution is 16 MP, which is upscaled from the 8 MP sensor. File format is .jpg.

Explorer 1S will give you better results with the 12 MP sensor.

Display:
All MGCOOL Explorer series cameras feature a 2″  TFT Screen with 320 x 240 pixel resolution. That’s about the same as comparable action cameras.

Battery:
The battery got a capacity of 1050mAh which lasts for 80 min. video recording in 1080p.

Storage:
microSD card support for cards up to 64GB; Class 10 is recommended.

Connectivity & Ports:
Wifi
You can connect Explorer camera to MGCOOL App (available for iOS and Android).

MGCOOL Explorer App

MGCOOL Explorer App

Ports
On the side of the camera you’ll find microUSB & microHDMI port
as well as microSD card slot.
Currently I’m not sure if A/V out via USB is possible,
Mic-in via USB is not available due to the microUSB port.

MGCOOL Explorer - available in black & silver

MGCOOL Explorer – available in black & silver

 

Colors:
All MGCOOL Explorer cameras are available in black and silver.

Dimensions & Weight:
Weight: 55g camera;
Dimensions: 59 x 41 x 29mm.

Accessories:
Explorer Packaging includes a 30m waterproof case, camera bracket, clip, Bicycle mount, 2 adhesive mounts, adaptor and manual.

MGCOOL Explorer - included Accessories

MGCOOL Explorer – Accessories

 

Body, Buttons and Ports

MGCOOL Explorer - Front- and Backside View

MGCOOL Explorer – Front- and Backside View

 

The body of the MGCOOL Explorer (as well as Explorer Pro and Explorer 1S) is the same size as the SJ4000 and EKEN H9, so you can use their accessories as well. On the frontside of the camera there is the power and mode switch button. The camera’s top side holds the shutter button, which also acts as select button when browsing the camera’s menu, and a LED indicating recording.

MGCOOL Explorer - Video Mode

MGCOOL Explorer – Video Mode

 

On one side you’ll find 2 buttons to navigate the menu. Pressing the up button during video or photo mode activates wifi. You can remote control the cam with an iOS or Android app. On the other side, there’s a microUSB and micro HDMI port as well as the micro SD card slot. Cards up to 64 GB are supported, class 10 is recommended. Above there are holes for the microphone.

Almost the whole backside of the camera is covered by the large 2″ LCD display. Next to it are 2 LEDs .
On the bottom there’s the battery door. MGCOOL Explorer comes with a 1050 mAh battery. The size and shape of the battery is the same as the batteries for SJCAM or GitUp.

MGCOOL Explorer - 1050 mAh Battery

MGCOOL Explorer – Battery

 

Functions & Settings

When you power up the camera by long-pressing the button on the front, it will start in video mode. A small icon on the top left side of the screen will show you that you are in video mode. The current settings (e.g. 10180p60fps) are displayed next to it. By short-pressing the power button you can cycle through the modes of the camera: Video Mode – Photo Mode – Slow Motion – Library and Settings. To enter the settings press the shutter button which will also act as select button. You can navigate the menu by pressing the up and down buttons on the side of the camera. By pressing the mode/power button you’ll to the next settings folder. The 4 settings folders refer to video, photo, camera and device settings:

MGCOOL Explorer - Menu: Video & Photo Settings

MGCOOL Explorer – Menu: Video & Photo Settings

 

Video Settings

Video Resolution:
You’ve got the following options:

  • 4k – 15fps
  • 2,7K – 30fps
  • 1080p – 60fps
  • 1080p – 30fps
  • 720p – 120fps
  • 720p – 60fps
  • 720p – 30fps

There is no option to select PAL mode which will give you 25fps (and a multiple of that) and also no option for 24fps.
Explorer Pro and Explorer 1s offer a higher bitrate in 4K, hence it is also interpolated.

Recording Audio:
You can turn on/off audio recording.

Time-lapse:
The interval options are: Close (=off), 0.5s, 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, 30s and 60s.

Loop recording:
When you select on of the options: 2 min, 3 min or 5 min, video files with respective length are recorded. Once your SD card is full the oldest files will be overwritten. This mode is meant for using MGCOOL Explorer as a dash cam. Btw you can record videos while the camera is connected to a power source via USB.

Slow Motion:
You can either choose 1080p with 60fps or 720p with 120fps. When recording in Slow Motion mode the playback of the video on the camera is in slow motion.

Motion detection:
When you switch this option on, Explorer will start recording when there is movement within the picture. Although you have to stop recording manually.

FOV (field of view):
You can choose Close (off), wide, middle or narrow field of view:

(FOV selection is not available on MGCOOL Explorer Pro)

MGCOOL Explorer - FOV: wide - middle - narrow (frame grabs)

MGCOOL Explorer – FOV: wide – middle – narrow (frame grabs)

 

Photo Settings

Photo Resolution:
The options are:

  • 16 MP (Megapixel)
  • 12 MP (= sensor size of Explorer 1S)
  • 8MP (= sensor size of Explorer & Explorer Pro)
  • 5MP
  • 2MP

Since the sensor is 8MP (12 MP for Explorer 1S) I recommend this setting. When selecting a larger resolution the photo will be upscaled. All photos are taken in 4:3 format.

Timed:
This option describes the self-timer which can be set to 3s, 5s, 10s or 20s.

Auto:
Auto equals photo time-lapse mode with the optional intervals 3s, 5s, 10s, 20s or 30s. Great to have both options doing a video or a photo time-lapse.

Drama:
Drama mode equals Burst mode. You can select 3, 5 or 10 pictures taken per second.

MGCOOL Explorer - Menu: Camera & Device Settings

MGCOOL Explorer – Menu: Camera & Device Settings

 

Camera Settings

Exposure:
You can select: +-1/+-2/+-3 to correct the exposure of your camera manually.

White Balance:
The available selections are Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent Light or Fluorescent Light to match the color temperature.

Wifi:
Besides using the up-button you can also switch on wifi with this menu item.

ImageRotation:
You can flip the image in case you mount your camera upside down. That feature is not possible with many other cameras such as SJ5000X or Git2 – I heard that is due to the Novatek chip used in these cameras.

Driving Mode:
Powers up the camera and starts recording once the camera is connected to a power source, needed for using MGCOOL Explorer as dash camera.

Light Source Frequency:
You can select 50Hz, 60Hz or Auto.
I guess it controls the shutter to avoid flickering as the frequency in lighting is different in several countries. (US 60Hz, EU 50Hz).

LED Indicator Light:
With this option you can turn off all LED indicator lights.

Screen Saver:
A nice option which shuts off the display to save battery: off, 10s, 20s or 30s.

Auto Shutdown:
Same for the camera itself. You can select a time and the cam will turn off automatically when in standby: off, 1 min, 3 min or 5 min.

Time Watermark:
Using this option the time and date will be displayed within your photos or videos.

 

Device Settings

Language:
You can set the menu language to English, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Deutsch, French, Spanish, Polish, Netherlands, Portuguese,

Date – Time:
Make sure to enter the right info when using the time stamp option.

Format:
To format your SD card.

Reset:
To get your camera back to factory settings.

Firmware:
To display the current firmware version. My cam was delivered with version: “Explorer V1.0” dated 8.3.2017.

 

MGCOOL Explorer Pro vs MGCOOL Explorer 1s - Menu

MGCOOL Explorer Pro vs MGCOOL Explorer 1s – Menu

 

The menu of MGCOOL Explorer 1s looks different to the ones of Explorer and Explorer Pro.

 

Price Comparison / Retailer:

MGCOOL Explorer

MGCOOL Explorer Pro

MGCOOL Explorer 1S

 

Conclusion

MGCOOL Explorer is an interesting camera in the low price segment. A price range where EKEN H9 is very popular. For a few extra bucks you get a 8 MP Sony sensor instead of the 4 MP Omnivision sensor used in EKEN H9. There are some issues with EKEN H9 in terms of firmware upgrades and app connectivity. If MGCOOL Explorer runs more stable it could be a better choice.

After testing the camera it seems the firmware runs more stable than EKEN H9. On the downside the video quality is not as much better as I would have expected from the better sensor. During recording I noticed that sound lags a bit behind. Here’s a comparison with EKEN H9, see yourself:

 

Demo Video

Here’s my review of MGCOOL Explorer and a comparison with the similar priced EKEN H9

 

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