The concept of using an HD action camera as an FPV camera is not new. Some of the earliest FPV pilots used the analog video output from the original GoPro and GoPro 2 cameras to fly FPV airplanes. However, this type of camera uses a digital CMOS video sensor that could not be effectively used in miniquads as it introduced latency that made it impossible to fly low and fast among obstacles – something every miniquad pilot enjoys. As a result, pilots have long flown miniquads with two cameras: a low-latency CCD camera and a HD recording camera.

Lately advancements in CMOS sensor technology have lowered the video latency down to levels that are acceptable to miniquad pilots. This means that it may actually be possible to combine FPV and HD cameras together again. Runcam is the first manufacturer to bring this concept to market with the Runcam Split. The Runcam Split is a new combination FPV/HD action camera built specifically to be equipped on racing miniquads.

Runcam Split Features

The Runcam Split comes as two different parts that are connected via a ribbon cable:

  1. A FPV camera with conventional mounting points which can be built into most miniquad frames. The physical housing is very similar to the Runcam Swift Mini we recently reviewed.
  2. A 35mmx35mm square PCB which contains the recording and FPV video output circuitry, which is meant to be mounted in the flight controller stack.

The Runcam Split comes packaged with everything you will need to install in your quadcopter.

Aside from having an analog video output, the Runcam Split is very similar to previous Runcam HD recording cameras like the Runcam 3. Some people have speculated that this camera is, in fact, just a Runcam 3 that has been removed from it’s plastic casing and fitted with wiring and a form factor suitable for mounting to a flight controller stack. Specifications include:

  • Price: Around $75.00 USD
  • Weight: 21g
  • HD Video Recorder Resolution: 1080p60fps and lower
  • FPV Field of View: 4:3, 130 degrees
  • HD Recorder Field of View: 16:9, 165 degrees
  • Voltage Requirement: 5V only.
  • Current Draw: 650mA
  • SD Card Support: Up to 64GB, class 10 recommended.
  • Runcam Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) support
  • Various mounting brackets for camera should allow it to fit into most miniquad frames.
  • Built-in microphone for recording and sending FPV audio.
  • Betaflight / KISS FC integration allows you to start/stop recording and take pictures from your RC TX.
  • Optional WiFi module allows communication with the Runcam app, which allows live video preview, settings adjustment, etc

Runcam Split Review

It shouldn’t be surprising that getting the Runcam Split working is an order of magnitude more difficult than simply strapping a camera to the top of your quadcopter and pressing play. Before discussing our opinion on the camera itself, we’ll walk you through the installation process.

Runcam Split Installation

 

Power Considerations

Runcam really wants to make sure you don’t plug the Split into your battery power.

The Runcam Split can only be powered by a 5V power source. When powered up and recording, it is quite the energy hog – pulling a rated 650mA of current from your 5V regulators. We really wish Runcam had included a voltage regulator onboard the Split so that it could be powered by the battery – all of your FPV cameras come with this feature, why would you omit it from this product which specifically targets the miniquad market?

Make sure whatever 5V regulator you are using can provide that kind of current capacity on top of whatever other components are already using your 5V rail, which is generally: Flight Controller, RC RX, racing transponder and occasionally the FPV camera and/or VTX. Pulling too much current from your regulator will cause brown outs (which means a crash on a miniquad) and early failure. The best suggestion we can give is to use an external regulator, such as these.

I installed the Runcam Split on my Bolt 210 which is currently equipped with the F4 Flame flight controller. This Flight Controller has an onboard 5V regulator rated for 3A, which should be more than sufficient to power the Runcam Split. In my testing for this review, I had no issues with brown-outs. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if this extra load causes an early failure. I will update this post if it does.

Installing the board

When deciding whether or not the Runcam Split is a good fit for you, pay careful attention to the height of your flight controller stack and whether or not your quadcopter frame will fit an additional board. Most miniquad frames are shrinking in size, and few will accept more than 2 boards in the stack. If this is the case for your quad, you’ll need to make sure that you are using a dual FC/PDB flight controller like the DYS F4 or F4 Flame. You also will be unable to use 4-in-1 ESCs unless they are also integrated with your flight controller.

When installing the board into your stack, there are a few more considerations. First of all, you’ll probably want to make sure you have easy access to the SD card, which means you’ll want that side of the Runcam Split facing upwards. If you are interested in using the WiFi module, you should also insert that into the Runcam Split board to verify that it can be inserted and removed on your miniquad. Unfortunately, some miniquad frames (like my Bolt 210) will prevent this from happening very easily.

In case you don’t want to install the WiFi module or you can’t, I recommend powering up the Split with it on to begin with and updating the firmware before you do your final installation. There is a way to update via placing an update file on the SD card but it is much easier to do the update via the Runcam app.

In terms of wiring, you will need to at least provide 5V of power to the JST connector on the Runcam Split as well as make use of the FPV video output that is found on that same connector. There are four pads next to the JST connector on the Split PCB which can be used for optional features:

  • If you wish to control your Runcam Split’s recording features from your RC Transmitter, you’ll need to wire the TX / RX / GND to a UART port on your flight controller.
  • If you wish to forward audio to your FPV video transmitter, you’ll want to hook that to the audio pad.

I opted to simply wire the video and power to my Split – I like the automatic recording feature just fine. Here is what my install ended up looking like:

The Split is riding on the back of a custom automatic tilt FPV system I built for this quad. Read more about that by clicking here.

Installing the Camera

The camera portion of the Runcam Split is a joy to work with. It is a “mini-style” camera similar to the Runcam Swift Mini but includes an adapter that changes its form factor to that of a “standard” sized FPV camera like the HS1177. I had no problems getting it to fit inside of my bolt’s frame, and was also able to easily fit it inside of an Alien-clone frame and my upcoming Katak build.

One important consideration, though, is routing the ribbon cable that connects the Runcam Split board to the camera. This cable is extremely fragile both where it connects to the two components and by itself. You don’t want this cable to be bent in sharp angles or to be rubbing up against carbon fiber. The Runcam Split comes packaged with a short cable and a long cable. I ruined my short cable by bending it too sharply on my first installation attempt and was forced to use a longer cable. If you ruin both cables, replacements can be purchased directly from Runcam.

The Split comes packaged with two different “shells” for the camera which can allow it to fit in a variety of installations.

Operation

The Runcam Split comes from the factory pre-configured exactly how you’ll want it to be for use in a miniquad. This includes:

  • 1080p 60fps HD recording resolution selected.
  • Automatic recording on power-on enabled.
  • Wide Dynamic Range on.
  • Wide field of view for HD recording.

To change these options, and a few others like exposure, image flip, etc, you will need to power your quadcopter up and make adjustments through an FPV viewing device. We recommend you remove your props before doing this. Runcam Split settings are accessed using two buttons on the side of the controller board. These two buttons work very similar to the two button controls found on past Runcam cameras, with the added capability of an OSD-configuration menu.  These settings can also be accessed via the Runcam mobile app if you have the WiFi module.

Accessing the Runcam Split Menu

The manual isn’t very helpful in showing how to use the buttons on the Runcam Split, and they are not labeled. Here is how I think of it:

  • The middle button is the “Start/Stop” recording button. Holding it down will power the Runcam Split off.
  • The button towards the side of the controller board is the “WiFi/Mode” button. It doesn’t do anything unless recording is stopped. Pressing it turns WiFi on (if the chip is installed). Holding it switches the camera mode.

There are three modes the camera can go into. As mentioned above, you can change the mode by holding down the WiFi button when recording is stopped. Here are the modes:

  1. Video mode – Recording button starts recording video. Normal 4:3 narrow view video resolution in FPV feed.
  2. Photo mode – Recording button snaps a photo. 16:9 image with wide angle view shown in FPV feed.
  3. Settings mode – Allows configuration of camera system with buttons.

When in the settings mode, the “Start/Stop” button selects the setting and the “WiFi/Mode” button enters it. Hold the “WiFi/Mode” button to exit a particular setting.

Recording video and retrieving recorded video from Runcam Split

I’m really pleased with how user-friendly the HD video recording feature is on the Split. If the SD card has space, the Split will automatically start recording video as soon as it’s started up. To stop recording, you can simply unplug the battery. Unlike many HD recording cameras, the Runcam Split will not lose the video or corrupt the SD card if power is removed while it is recording.

You can also start and stop recording by pressing the center button on the Split.

To get videos off of the Split, you don’t need to remove the SD card. You can simply plug the Split into a computer via the micro USB port. The Runcam Split controller will serve as a passthrough SD card reader and allow you to access all the files on the card. It’s really pretty sleek.

You can also access videos you’ve recorded using the WiFi module and the Runcam app. I found this a bit more tedious to use, but the option was there if you are at the field and don’t have a computer.

Runcam Split WiFi Feature

This is the orientation the WiFi chip should be installed in.

Some retailers offer you the option of buying a Runcam Split with or without the WiFi module. In general, it seems like the module costs $5. At that price, I think it is probably worth it, as it has several uses:

  1. Allows you to review & delete videos at the field using your Smartphone.
  2. Allows you to quickly adjust settings and easily perform firmware updates.
  3. Allows you to feed a live video feed to anyone’s smartphone – if you want to take some spectators “on a ride”.

Regarding number 3 – It does seem that when WiFi is enabled, the Runcam Split will not output FPV video. I found this a little disappointing as I think the ability to use a cellphone as an FPV video monitor would be really cool for showing people what you are doing without having to bring a second pair of goggles to the field. Keep in mind that enabling the WiFi chip will affect the range of your RC control system.

When plugging in the WiFi module, make sure you plug it in in the correct direction. If your board is mounted with the SD card slot facing upwards, you’ll want the WiFi module to be pointing downwards relative to the quad.

The Runcam app is really well put together. I’m was expecting a horrible UI along the lines of what you get with other Chinese brands, but I think Runcam’s app might actually beat out that of GoPro in ease of use and simplicity. It is very refreshing.

Performance

When it comes to judging the performance of the Runcam Split, there are two considerations:

Latency

Low FPV video feed latency is critical in being able to fly miniquads properly. Many innovative products have fallen by the wayside due to problems with latency. The Runcam Split does seem to have more latency than it’s competitors, but during testing I did not feel like my flying was adversely affected. In general, it seems like the Runcam Split has similar latency to the popular CMOS FPV cameras like the Runcam Eagle and Foxeer Monster.

We do not have a set-up that can accurately measure latency. Fortunately, Oscar Liang did an excellent analysis on FPV video latency in his article: https://oscarliang.com/fpv-camera-latency/

Video Quality

The overall video quality I am getting from the Split seems roughly equivalent to what I saw from my Runcam 3. As a point of comparison – that is slightly worse than the quality you get from a GoPro session, but better than most Chinese session clones. Joshua Bardwell has an excellent video in which you can see a comparison of the video quality of the Split and a GoPro Session:

One important issue with the Split with regards to video quality is that the combination of a recessed lens, wide-angle video and a low mounting point means that you are very likely to get your miniquad’s propellors in your Runcam Split’s HD video feed. This happens in both Joshua’s videos as well as my own. This limitation isn’t really an issue when using the split to record DVR-like footage or even basic acro videos – but it may be a factor for you if you are going for Cinematic YouTube videos.

Conclusion

Considering the Runcam Split is the very first product of it’s type on the market, Runcam really hit the nail on the head. We have some gripes with some of the design decisions they made but by and large, this is a fantastic product. There are 3 things holding us back from recommending this to every miniquad pilot:

  1. Many miniquad builds cannot accommodate a 3rd row in to their flight controller stack.
  2. The voltage regulator requirements of the Runcam Split can be inconvenient and even dangerous.
  3. Despite huge improvements to reduce the latency of CMOS cameras like the Split, I still think pro pilots will still prefer the latency edge afforded by classic CCD cameras.

If you can work around these limitations, you should be seriously considering this camera for your next build / upgrade.

Props

  • Both HD video recording and FPV cameras work great out of the box.
  • FPV camera is sufficiently low latency for acro / racing flight.
  • Encapsulating all video functionality inside of the quadcopter provides protection that you just don’t get when strapping an HD camera to the top of your quad.
  • Huge weight savings.
  • Price is fantastic when compared to buying HD recording camera and comparable FPV camera separately.
  • WiFi module enables app connectivity which can be really useful.
  • Locking SD card recepticle means you won’t have the dismounting problems most flight controllers have.
  • Camera is compact and easy to mount.
  • Automatic video save on power-off works great. Don’t worry about stopping the recording, just unplug the battery.

Slops

  • Camera mounting position means you often get propeller blades or parts of the frame in HD camera footage.
  • No built-in voltage regulator and high current consumption.
  • Ribbon cable connecting camera and controller board is fragile.
  • WiFi module placement is inconvenient and difficult to use on many frames.
  • Controller board takes up an entire row in your flight controller stack.

 

 

 

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