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If you want a cheap action camera that shoots excellent video without any bells and whistles, then this is the camera for you! Don't buy it if you're after slow motion or a wonderful user experience.
The MGCool Explorer 2C is a tiny, $80 action camera. It has a built in stabilizer, is waterproof, and can shoot Ultra-HD 4k video. It’s cheap, but do you get what you paid for?
The Explorer 2C will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used a GoPro before. Its tiny size measures 60mm x 40mm x 30mm, or 75mm x 70mm x 45mm in the included waterproof case.
Capable of shooting 4K video at 30 frames per second (FPS), 60FPS in 1080P, or up to 120FPS in 720P – all with built in image stabilization. With a 2.0″ touchscreen, and Wi-Fi for remote control via the Android or iPhone app, it’s certainly not lacking in features.
Inside the rather elegant box, you get a raft of GoPro compatible accessories and mounts. The camera comes with a waterproof case, along with a battery and USB cable for charging — no mains charger is included.
Battery life is good enough to last about one hour of 4K shooting, or an hour and a half of 1080P video. The camera gets warm when in use, but not enough to be concerning. As the camera is charged via Micro USB, it’s possible to connect it to a USB power bank, and run it for hours or even days at a time, something which is amazing for extra long timelapses.
A HDMI output is very useful, but image quality from this is very poor, and it can only really be used for a quick preview of your shot. You won’t be able to get a better quality recording by using a HDMI capture card, for example.
The Explorer 2C can be controlled in a variety of ways. Four physical buttons located around the camera provide basic menu navigation, along with start/stop recording and power on or off facilities. All of these buttons are accessible when in the waterproof case.
The touchscreen works very well. A simple, but dated menu system provides access to every function. This generally works well most of the time, but it cannot be used when in the waterproof case, and it has a few flaws.
When shooting timelapses, it’s nearly impossible to tell if you are still recording, or if you are even recording at all. There’s no flashing red “now recording” light, either on screen or physically. You have to look at the “time elapsed” indicator, and assume all is well.
This interface also has a mini panic if you insert an improperly formatted memory card. These bugs are not huge problems, but they are things to keep in mind.
The third way of controlling the camera is through Wi-Fi and the mobile app. While this generally works well, and provides access to functions impossible to configure with the waterproof case on, it could be better. Not all the features are accessible, and it can be a little on the slow side. Still, the live preview can be very useful.
I was very surprised by the image quality from this little camera. 1080P and 4K video are both excellent! A choice of lens styles are available, from super wide to narrow field of view (FOV). These can be freely changed regardless of what video mode you are shooting in — not something all GoPros can do!
While image quality is generally good, like all action cameras, it struggles in low light. Shooting outdoors during the day, even with clouds around, produces good results. Shooting indoors, or during any dimly lit event causes problems. ISO is pushed up to compensate, but noise and digital artefacts abound. Still, low light is a particularly difficult situation to film, and many cameras struggle with it.
While this camera supports high frame rates, or slow motion, I don’t recommend you use it. Filming 1080P in 60FPS reduces the image quality, and 120FPS in 720P is appalling — it’s terrible quality, and not worth using at all.
Filming underwater is surprisingly good as well. Shooting in a dirty pond on an overcast day produced the following results — quite surprisingly:
As someone who owns several GoPros, along with many other action cameras, I’m a big fan of timelapses. The Explorer 2C makes shooting them very easy. You can easily choose from a range of image intervals, and image quality (mostly) matches that of video.
Strangely, the maximum timelapse resolution is limited to 2.7K — a bit off 4K, and I’m not sure why this is so limited. Shooting one image a minute is far less intensive than 30 per second, so a 4K timelapse should easily be achievable.
What good is a cheap action camera if you can’t beat it up a bit? I have no doubts that this little camera would be totally destroyed by a moderate shock, but the chunky plastic waterproof case shields it from all harm.
To really test it out, I took it on a little adventure. I first clamped it to my shovel and cleaned up some molehills. I then attached it to my wheelbarrow and accidentally smashed it into the ground (I promise it was an accident). I buried it in said molehill dirt, and then washed it clean under the tap. I subjected it to skateboarding mere millimetres off the ground and through puddles, where again, various collisions took place.
This little camera took everything I could throw at it. Granted, the external case handles most of the shock, but it shows no signs of giving up. The only problem I had is that occasionally, on a cold wet day, the inside of the case fogs up, drastically reducing visibility for the camera. This isn’t really the fault of MGCool — it’s just physics.
Should You Buy the MGCool Explorer 2C?
Absolutely, with conditions. Such a cheap camera produces really good image quality for a bargain price, just don’t push the lighting too far. The fancy features are a bit of a gimmick, but it keeps on shooting 4K, no matter what you throw at it. While mobile devices such as the iPhone 8 or Pixel 2 produce better images, you can’t exactly throw them around now, can you?
If you’re not a fan of GoPros, but want something a bit fancier than the Explorer 2C, then take a look at our review of the Yi 4K+ — a cool action camera, but one that is significantly more expensive.
If you’re considering purchasing an Explorer 2C or other action camera, then make sure you read our guide to action cameras first, and let us know in the comments what you use yours for!