Action cameras have been quite a fad since the past few years, and continue to do so even today. That being said, what has also increased is the number of action camera manufacturers entering the market, leading to better products and competitive pricing of course.
One such action camera is the Firefly 5s, which I am going to review. So here we go!
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: Specifications
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: Pictures
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: Box Contents
Here is what is included in the package:
As you can see, no waterproof case or mounting accessories are included in the box. That being said, you can buy them separately (GoPro Hero 3 accessories may be used, but slight differences in the up and down button placement may not allow you to operate these two buttons when using a GoPro Hero 3 waterproof case).
An interesting inclusion though, is an AV cable, which makes this action camera apt for RC flying enthusiasts, who want to have an FPV experience. How this works is: you mount the Firefly 5s to your RC drone/airplane/helicopter, connect the AV cable to a video transmitter (needs to be bought separately) which streams video to your smartphone or any other compatible device. You have the option to choose NTSC or PAL as the video output standard.
One nice inclusion is a USEFUL user manual. I emphasize the word “useful” because it explains in detail, the function(s) of each button, along with a brief description on what each settings option on the Firefly 5s actually does. I haven’t seen too many other Chinese action cameras shipped with such a neat manual, so this is a welcome addition. Moreover, a soft rubber lens cap is provided too, protecting the lens from scratches when not in use.
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: Design and Build
The Firefly 5s dimensions are the same as on the GoPro Hero 3. But the up/down buttons are placed differently. Coming to the build, the Firefly 5s is made up of good quality plastic, with a rough texture to it for good grip. The buttons feel sturdy and provide great feedback in the form of slick resonating clicks at the press of any button.
The front of the Firefly 5s action camera houses the lens, with the power button placed besides the lens. Surrounding the power button is a circular blue LED, which lights up while charging and when the camera is switched on. Above the power button is the 0.65-inch OLED screen.
The top of the camera houses the OK/Shutter button, with a circular blue LED surrounding it as well. This blue LED blinks when video recording is on, or lights up when a photo is clicked. The left side features the up/down (WiFi) button, while the right side houses the mini-USB/AV port, and the HDMI port. Note that the USB port is an almost redundant mini-USB port, and not a micro-USB one.
The front of the Firefly 5s houses the removable 1600mAh battery, while the bottom has a microSD card slot.
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: User Experience
The Firefly 5s comes with a minuscule 0.65-inch screen placed at the front of the camera besides the lens. The screen being an OLED one, obviously does not preview what the camera is capturing, making this camera more suited to FPV enthusiasts. However, you do have the option of controlling the camera and previewing the video from your smartphone (more of that in the WiFi section).
The first gripe I initially had was the placement of the screen at the front besides the lens. This is a departure from the more familiar rear-side placement of the screen on most action cameras, which certainly needed some time to get used to. But once I got accustomed to it, the experience was not that bad.
I shall not go into minute details of the functions and the outcome of each button press, as the manual successfully does its job there. All in all, it is really easy to operate the Firefly 5s, with hardly any learning curve needed.
In brief, pressing the power button cycles between video and image recording mode, while the up/down buttons cycle through the various settings.
In the image capture mode, you can see the image symbol, the resolution, the number of more pictures that can be clicked considering the free space on the memory card, and the FOV (Large/Medium/Small). If you have selected burst mode or interval mode, then a corresponding symbol is displayed.
In both the above modes, the screen displays the date and the battery status. To sum up, I think the screen displays enough details, except live preview of course.
Coming to the screen, it is sadly unreadable in direct sunlight. To make matters worse, the two blue notification LEDs aren’t too bright either, making it difficult to operate in the sun.
To switch on WiFi, you can either press the up button for 3 sec or enable it through the menu. Once enabled, the WiFi password is displayed on the screen. Use this password to connect the Firefly 5s to your Android/iOS smartphone. You will need to download the “Firefly” app on your smartphone to sync your camera with your phone. Once synced successfully, open the app. You should now be able to see the live preview on your smartphone, which comes in handy, more so because the Firefly 5s does not show the live preview on the camera itself. Surprisingly though, there is noticeable video lag (1-1.5sec) between the camera and the transmitted video on the phone, which is not acceptable.
From the app, you can direct the Firefly 5s to record videos, capture still images and play/download existing files. As far as changing the settings from your phone, all you can do is change the resolution, enable cyclic recording, clear cache and format the microSD card. I honestly expected a lot more customizing options in the app.
In all earnest, the app needs overhauling in almost all aspects, as it feels truly incomplete in its current avatar.
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: Video
The Firefly 5s action camera does full-HD video recording, stores videos in the .mov and has a plethora of customization options. More on that a bit later.
Supported Video Resolutions:
The Firefly 5s supports 1080p (30fps), 720p (60fps), VGA (60fps), and WVGA (120fps) resolutions. 60fps video recording at 1080p is not available.
1. 1080p, 30fps video:
2. 1080p, 30fps low-light video:
3. 720p, 60fps video:
For all the above video recordings, a class-10 microSD card was used. (Try using anything below a class-10 and the Firefly 5s simply wont allow you to record).
As you can see in the video samples above, video quality is mediocre. In broad daylight, bright colored objects appear washed/over-saturated, which tells me the action camera does not handle exposure control all that well. Moreover, there is noticeable aliasing along edges and lines, further deteriorating video quality.
As far as low-light video goes, video quality is mediocre again, with quite a bit of blur present. However, color reproduction is natural and accurate.
Talking about the good points, well, there is no stutter in the video at all, and most importantly, multiple customization options are available as follows:
Field of view (FOV) adjustment:
Most action cameras have a fixed focus wide-angle lens, allowing for a large wide field of view. But the Firefly 5s has three options: Large/Medium/Small. Now why would you want to reduce the field of view? Well, if you are the kind who does not like the fish-eye effect (slight curvature at the edges of the video), then this option should have come handy. But does it really work on the Firefly 5s? The answer is a big “NO”, as all it does is cut off the sides of the image and upscale it to fit the original resolution, leading to image quality degradation, which is something you would surely not want to have.
You can choose between standard and vivid, vivid being set by default, which reproduces slightly better color vis-a-vis the “standard” option, which outputs slightly duller color. I would suggest leaving this option on “vivid” at all times.
Sharpness can be set to high, medium or low, with medium being the default.
ISO signifies the sensitivity of the image sensor to available light. Lower values are suited for daylight, and higher numbers for low-light conditions. The ISO setting on the Firefly 5s can be set to Auto/100/400/1600. Keeping it to “Auto” would be best for most, unless you really know what you are doing.
Wide Dynamic Range (WDR):
This can be set to on or off, with the default being set to off. The manual suggests setting WDR on in cloudy/dark environments only. I tried using WDR during the night, but did not find any noticeable difference in video quality.
When enabled, it records videos in 5-minute segments. When the microSD card is full, the first video is erased, and so on.. This particular feature is useful when used as a dash-cam.
The Firefly 5s can capture still images at either 0.5sec or 3sec intervals. Once done, the device automatically stitches all the images together and gives a time-lapse video as output.
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: Image
The Firefly 5s supports image capture at the following resolutions: 12MP, 8MP, and 5MP. Here are a few images I captured at 12MP in broad daylight, with default settings. Click on them to view them in their uncompressed form.
As you can see, image quality is really good, with accurate and natural color reproduction. Brightness and sharpness levels are pleasing to the eye too. There is a curved appearance to the image, especially around the sides, owing to the wide-angled nature of the lens. In general, I found images to be better than videos taken.
Coming to customization and options, you get the same options as you get in video mode, with the addition of a few image capture specific settings as follows:
You can set the camera to automatically capture images at intervals of 3, 5, 10 or 30sec.
Burst mode on the Firefly 5s allows you to capture 11 images in a second. This feature works as described, with good quality images captured.
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: Battery Performance
Powering the Firefly 5s action camera is a removable 1600mAh Li-Ion battery that slots into the front of the unit. The battery takes about 2 hours to charge fully (while charging, the blue circular LED at the front lights up, and turns off to indicate charging is complete) and lasted for 95min of continuous recording at 1080p. Considering the comparatively large battery and minuscule OLED screen, I expected much more battery life.
On the other hand, two useful features are USB auto power on and USB auto power off. When the first option is enabled, connecting the USB cable powers on the device and video recording starts; a useful feature when used as a dash-cam. However, enabling the second option did not do anything: removing the USB cable did not switch off the device as advertised. I guess this might be due to a software glitch.
Two particular omissions are auto-power off and auto-screen off, which could have increased battery life to some extent
Firefly 5s Action Camera Review: Verdict
The Firefly 5s retailing at around $80 shipped, is well-built, has a great user interface and captures good quality images. On the flip side though, video quality is just about mediocre and battery life should have been better.
Thanks to Gearbest for shipping a sample for review!
You may also have a look at some other action camera reviews in the reviews section.
Design and Build