Vastly Improving The Battery Life On Cheap Action Cams

At one time, GoPro was valued at over eleven Billion dollars. It’s now on the verge of being a penny stock, because if surfers can make action cams and video editing software, anyone can. Action cams are everywhere, and one of the cheapest is the SQ11. It’s a rip-off of the Polaroid Cube, has a non-standard USB socket, a tiny battery, and the video isn’t that great. It only costs eight dollars, though, so [pixelk] decided to vastly expand the abilities of this cheap camera for a Hackaday Prize entry.

The major shortcoming of the SQ11 action cam is the tiny battery. Reportedly, it’s a 200 mAh battery, but the stated 1-2 hours of runtime bears no resemblance to reality. The solution to this problem, as with most things in life, is to throw some lithium cells at the problem.

[pixelk] disassembled the SQ11 action cam and 3D printed a much longer enclosure meant to fit a single 18650 battery. There’s a protection circuit, so that’s fine, but there’s still a problem: the charging circuit in the camera is tailored for a 200 mAh battery — charging an 18650 cell would probably take a day. That’s no problem, because this enclosure leaves the battery removable, for easy recharging in an external device.

Does this make the SQ11 a good camera? Marginally, yes. If you need to record video for hours and hours, you won’t be able to do better than an eight dollar camera and four dollars in parts.

20 thoughts on “Vastly Improving The Battery Life On Cheap Action Cams

  1. Action cams based on the Allwinner V3 can be had for $30 and they are fairly decent. Most are able to shoot 4K20FPS video. The typical mod for the V3 cams is to improve their lenses.

    1. I was able to improve a knock-off action-camera’s image by simply focusing it. The factory was kind of sloppy there. You have to disassemble the camera far enough (for mine it was just to carefully pry off the front plate) so you can scrape off the glue locking the lens, and can screw the lens in and out while monitoring in real time.

    2. That’s the thing yeah, those SQ cams are good because they are tiny and weigh 8-12 grams and can be put on small drones, so adding a heavy battery defeats the saving grace of them and you are very likely better off with a cheap action cam.

  2. Awesome… these are so cheap and compact. Do the SQ11’s overheat or get real hot like the SQ8’s?

    I picked up a SQ8 two winters back and other than overheating or at least getting hotter than I prefer… am still amazed at what the little camera device can do on its own if not overheated.

    I recently picked up a GoPro Hero Session 4 with a shattered outer lens and claimed inner broken lens for $39. Found the inner lens or sensor noted as bad were not. Bought two outer lenses for $12 and a microSD card and have an interesting camera that works great and looks like someone already hacked a way to gather the WiFi video stream though can be improved upon: https://github.com/KonradIT/goprowifihack I’ll try to document what I’ve done on video then put on youtube once I get back to working on.

    Back to this SQ11 project. Can a TP4056 be used to charge the 18650?

    The TP4056 might fit in the case even and you can add a barrel plug or connector for solar as well as a more advanced switching circuit like this instructable does with just a SPST switch (note: not sure why a SPDT switch is referenced and of course replace the USB power booster with camera): http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Solar-Battery-Charger-1/

      1. Yeah, there were a few broken lens ones available and the price dropped on the last of those listed by “everything4parts” on eBay and looks like they all sold. I bought the cheapest one and was amazed worked so well. The Sandisk 64G Extreme MicroSDXC card from “fat_tion” at $25.65 and new set of GoPro lenses cost almost as much. Found an Original GoPro Standard Frame Mount for Hero Session for $9.99 and also picked up a Camera 52mm Circular Polarizer CPL Filter Lens Set for Gopro Hero4 Session LF715 for about the same price. I was planning on making this an SLR camera, like I did with the logitech C920, though found the inside lens ok so figured I’d invest in the later two items.

        I got ripped off on a prior purchase where someone hacked (so he reported at least) into “meesh96” and listed a “GoPro Certified Refurbished HERO5 Session” for $63.99. The item payment was “unclaimed” in paypal and reported on eBay though now I see I have the return option and just returned and sent a message to the seller… though I also see the payment claimed in paypal where paypal mentioned when on the phone with them that the payment will automatically refund after 30 days if unclaimed. Blah!

        “adamd5819” is the only one I am seeing from a quick eBay search of broken GoPro’s and his are more expensive though are the Hero session 5.

        I did pick up one of the 4K “2”Ultra-HD 4K 1080P 60FPS Wifi Cam Video Action Sports Camera Waterproof TL73″ like the Xiaomi Yi and also the amazingly small “Black Mini Wireless HD 1080P Hidden Camera WiFi Module DVR Video IP P2P Recorder” and a “Smallest mini screw 1000TVL HD CCTV color spy hidden pinhole micro camera IRAA” about the same time. They’re not the best… though for the price… effective for the work I needed them to perform at the time.

        Looks like the Xiaomi Yi 4K has a nice sensor and better twice the fps. I was looking to two years back to see if someone came out with a firmware upgrade to improve the cheaper 4K I bought… though didn’t see at the time. Mainly a color balance adjustment was needed from what I could tell to improve quality, though may be limited to the sensor specification.

        1. I got scammed on eBay as well, if the seller notices they got scammed they refund you, that’s what happened to me.
          Seeing HERO5 session at $63, that’s a big red flag, they normally go for 150-200 used.
          I had several GoPros over the years, the first ones could be hacked via a file, but GoPro removed this feature on the newer ones, but we still have WiFi and their smartphone app and command API which I documented (and your referenced in your first comment :)). GoPro missed the boat on cheap full view cameras for DIY projects. Xiaomi Yis are nice, I have the first one and the Yi 4K. My Yi 4k has an issue where only the left mic records. The Yi 1 is still a good camera and they go for $50 now which is a steal, with the new firmware it can record 2K 30FPS, and with a bitrate hack it can record 100MB/s.

          1. I have to wait and see. Seems suspicious now the amount is claimed in paypal and wasn’t refunded prior. Not sure the kind of hack that occurred… if even did. Looks like eBay will step in now after 30 days also.

            I get used to donation pricing from shopgoodwill.com, their stores as well as craigslist.org and other places like garage sales and am used to low pricing on some items depending on location. Since cybercrimes enforcement increased… I get this false sense of safety online compared to say ten years ago where the internet was like a wild west of scam spam and stolen goods for sale. I’m used to fixing items also since rarely are they in like new shape at the low prices… even if only aesthetic reasons like in the wealthier communities great deals I’ve found.

            Your github site and other review sites are awesome. Man, you sure did some neat work. Thanks a lot. That is great work and deserves your own article write up on HaD if they didn’t already other than the autoexec that looks like has broken links now.

            Are the Hero 3’s an earlier hackable and do you know what model(s) and/or serial numbers GoPro ceased the ability to hack?

            Thanks for passing on the info on Xiaomi Yi’s. I didn’t know about them and reads like they have a 4K that does 30fps with a good sensor. Might be a great article on HaD also regarding you demonstrating the new firmware to record 2K 30fps and a bitrate hack to record 100MB/s.

            I wonder if there is some simple repair if there is another mic on the camera that needs some wire cleared from being pinched or solder reworked? I’ll have read into to see if anyone has done a tear down on those cameras.

            The Yi 1 looks impressive also for the price.

          2. Depends on your needs – I hacked older GoPros for more interval in timelapse mode. The hack is available for HERO 3. For HERO4 you need a modified firmware to run scripts. Hero 5 and onwards have gpauto file support, which can lead to some of the old hacks working on the newer cameras.
            I now focus on making WiFi APIs, this works on all cameras and leads to crazy experiments.

            The Yi 1 can be improved a lot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew0mNpk-IkM
            https://www.diyphotography.net/hack-100-yi-action-camera-beat-gopro-hero3-silver/ (50 MB/s not 100MB/s sorry)
            The Yi 2 4K is also a great camera, but only having 1 button and relying too much on the screen for user interaction pushes me to the Yi 1. The Yi 1 is also a great camera for FPV, since there’s a video out cable for it.

    1. After 8 hours of continuous recording (on the 18650-modified SQ11), the heatsink was hot to the touch, but you could still comfortably hold it. Maybe it would be a problem on a really hot day, but so far it wasn’t bothersome.

      There’s still plenty of space left in the camera “head” to install a better charging circuit like a TP4056. I just didn’t have any practical form-factor board on hand. I can imagine one could easily add a charging board + proper usb connector. Even if it wouldn’t fit (which might be the case if you add a barrel plug) nothing stops you from modifying the case ;)

      1. Read as others were having issues with overheating of the SQ8’s and wasn’t sure about the SQ11 which looks impressive for the price.

        A smaller plug could be used for the solar panel connection based on max power output of solar panel.

        Thanks for the feedback.

  3. While were at it: Are there low cost cameras out there who have low latency, while capable of streaming 4K at >20fps? At the moment i use a Logitech BRIO together with a Kurokesu-Kit to use C-Mount Lenses. Id like to get my hands on a suitable videocamera with a bigger image-sensor but they arent nearly as cheap as a Logitech BRIO.

  4. This camera is super neat! I love how compact it is, compared to my big camera lol That will make this an easy grab to go when I go somewhere I dont want to drag my large camera. At first I found this camera to be a bit confusing, as I do with most electronics, but as always I run to youtube for a few videos on this model. Took it out for a test the other day, and got some really nice results. I am going to carry this little baby nearly everywhere I go!
    Appreciate it!

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