Model Train-related Notes Blog -- these are personal notes and musings on the subject of model train control, automation, electronics, or whatever I find interesting. I also have more posts in a blog dedicated to the maintenance of the Randall Museum Model Railroad.

2018-12-01 - SQ12 Mini Camera for Cab Rides

Category Video

I’ve been doing all my “cab ride” recordings using a Mobius Action Cam. A few months ago I tried the RunCam 2 for comparison.
This time I decided to try one of the SQ “mini” cameras series for a change.

Cab ride filmed using SQ12 Camera

I got this SQ12 from Amazon:

There are ton of these on Amazon / eBay / Aliexpress / etc with various brand names and internally they are all the same:

  • This is part of a family of cameras, which names are in the form SQ08, SQ11, SQ12, SQ13, SQ23.
  • All these models look like a small cube (smaller than 1 inch).
  • The SQ08 has been around for a while and notably does not have wifi (in the < $20 range).
  • SQ11 / SQ12 models can be found on ebay or aliexpress for similar price ranges. SQ13 is a bit more expensive. Typical price range is $20-30 on Amazon and $10-30 on Ali.
  • Pay close attention to the pictures on the listings. They all have slightly different form factors, and frequently the listing description clearly does not match the camera pictures. Tell tales: SQ08 has a rainbow stripe, SQ11 has an IR LED ring where SQ12 has only 2 LEDs; these three are listed as “720p and 1080p” (more on this below). The SQ13 / SQ23 has the 2 buttons offset from each other, a LED ring, and is listed as 1080p + wifi.

First I must admit this is not the review I was expecting. I actually wanted an SQ13, but what I got is clearly an SQ12 -- thus my warning above: don’t trust the listing’s title. The difference is simple: the SQ13 records in 1080p and has wifi. The SQ12 records in 720p (and upscales to 1080p) and does not have wifi.

As it is, the SQ12 is somewhat comparable to my Mobius Cam so before returning it I wanted to at least give it a try.

Here are the important things I noted:

  • The most important attribute is that the SQ08, SQ11 and SQ12 cams are not 1080p devices. Their chipset is 720p only. There’s a button push to upscale that to 1080p on the camera but it’s really upscaling. So basically forget 1080p was ever written in the description. It’s not 1080p, it is 720p, period.
  • The 2 buttons were confusing to use at first . Manual provided is sub-par and almost useless, until I found this which was very useful.
  • By default shows a timestamp on the video. To remove it, record something on the sd, it creates a text file, edit it and change “Y” to “N” (content format is “timestamp [Y/N]”).
  • Supposedly can be used as webcam via USB. Did not try.
  • Very small footprint for sure. Fits easily on an HO car, and maybe even N scale.


  • The cube is 15/16 of an inch in width and height, or 24 mm.
  • The “depth” with the lens is 1 inch.
  • Checking with the NMRA Gauge standard, this fits easily on an HO size car with plenty of room to spare and no risk of collision with scenery.
  • It may even work on an N scale layout (the width clearance is 22 mm for “old time” era and 28mm or 36mm for the more modern eras).

Video as tested:

  • Was not blurry.
  • Fairly wide angle.
  • Objects start to be in focus after 4 inches.
  • Lots of barrel distortion, but nothing annoying on video (can compensate in LightWorks if needed).
  • Colors for inside were OK, but not great (unfortunately lighting on layouts is always a challenge, especially seen from the cab ride point of view, ranging from too dark to having the lights shine directly in the camera).
  • Using the IR mode creates a very visible purple-hue halo on the scenery in front, which is quite distracting and not suitable for video recording.

What this lacks compared to the Mobius cam:

  • Lack of 1080p on the SQ12. Just 720p.
  • Not a real 30 fps stream (see below).
  • No wide/narrow Field-of-View control.
  • Lacks for the Wide Dynamic Range from Mobius.
  • The onboard LED turns off during recording so can’t tell if recording or battery died (that little detail is actually priceless for my use case on the Mobius).
  • The SQ12 uses a custom USB plug, not the typical A micro/mini form factor. Mine came with a cable that can do USB or Composite video.

What is similar to the Mobius cam:

  • Output analog Composite video that the USB plug.
  • Lack of wifi means that setup is an exercise in guessing. Tape it to an HO car and just hope the height/clearance will give something usable on video. Can’t easily do a little quick test before running.

Specs for the SQ12 generated files in 720p:

Input #0, avi, from 'MOVI0000.avi':


    date            : 2010-06-29

  Duration: 00:05:00.63, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 18256 kb/s

    Stream #0:0: Video: mjpeg (MJPG / 0x47504A4D), yuvj420p(pc, bt470bg/unknown/unknown), 1280x720, 17443 kb/s, 30 fps, 30 tbr, 30 tbn, 30 tbc

    Stream #0:1: Audio: pcm_s16le ([1][0][0][0] / 0x0001), 32000 Hz, 1 channels, s16, 512 kb/s

Not a true 1080p stream:

There’s no point in having the camera upscale to 1080p. If this has to be done, it would be better be done in a video editor with a better interpolation. That feature was surely added as a pure marketing gimmick and implemented by a software engineer who was rolling his eyes the whole time.

Not a true 30 fps stream:

[Update 2018-12-09] Although the stream is advertised as a 30 fps, playing it frame by frame shows that this is not quite the case.

Since the stream is MJPEG, it’s fairly easy to see each frame separately. There is a clear pattern of 4 or 5 motion frames followed by one identical frame, e.g. “4 motion frames, 1 repeat, 5 motion frames, 1 repeat”, etc.

Doesn’t this seem familiar? Yes :-) This process is called a “2:3 pulldown” and is used to convert a 24 / 25 fps stream into a 30 fps stream. One can note that China uses the PAL standard with a 50 Hz electrical grid.

More Specs (all allegedly, from marketing brochures & forums):

  • Common: CMOS sensor, max 32 GB sdcard.
  • Mobius: 2013, Novatek NT96650 processor, Aptina AR0330 CMOS sensor, 520 mAh battery (more details).
  • RunCam 2: 2015, 850 mAh battery.
  • SQ12: 2017, GeneralPlus 1248, 200 mAh battery.
  • SQ13: 2018, GeneralPlus GPCV4247, 300 mAh LiPo.


All in all it’s not a bad little camera if one can accept the 720p only aspect. Some of these sell for $10-20 range, which is quite a lot less than a Mobius or RunCam 2 (around $70-90). The video recorded is not that different, as all these cameras struggle with the kind of uneven lighting used on layouts.

It’s extremely light and quite small. If I had to do an N scale cab ride, I’d totally try this, after verifying clearances around tunnels or canyons.

The next step is to try the SQ13 or directly the SQ23 (which specs seem nearly identical to the SQ13).

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