Review: Sony Action Cam

Sony Action Cam late on the scene, but has much to offer (December 1st, 2012)

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Sony

Price: From $270

The Good


  • - Compact and light
    - High-quality 16-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor
    - Image stabilization works well
    - Easy to use
    - Built-in Wi-Fi

The Bad


  • - Mounts one-use-only
    - Can only be mounted in waterproof case
    - Outgunned by new GoPro Hero3

Sony is a relative latecomer to the burgeoning action camera segment, which is something of a surprise given its heritage as a camera maker and AV in general. The segment leader is undoubtedly GoPro who were inspired by people using standard (but bulky for the purpose) Sony Handycams for action footage. There are also a few other players including Muvi and JVC. Like all things in technology, however, competitors don't stand still and Sony's first Action Cam has just entered mainstream availability only for GoPro to release the 4K-capable Hero3 Black Edition. So how does the Sony Action Cam hold up?



Design:

The Action Cam is diminutive and light, which is no surprise given Sony's long standing expertise in miniaturization. It is well-made and feels robust enough in the hand while buttons and other odornments that could break with extensive outdoor use are kept to a minimum. It includes a small monochrome LCD panel for choosing one of several shooting modes, with functions executed by pressing one of three buttons.

It's a handsome looking unit and Sony has also bundled a water-proof housing that works to a 60 meter depth to help keep it looking good. It is worth noting that without the water-proof housing, the Action Cam cannot be mounted onto Sony's fixed mount accessories as it does not have screw in points built into it - these are reserved for the water-proof housing itself. It adds a little bulk to the Action Cam, but it also adds to your confidence when using it in the wild.






Accessories:

Sony has released several different Action Cam bundles. These include a Snowboarding bundle ($380), a Skydiving bundle ($370), a Biking bundle ($380) and Racing bundle ($380). All include at least two 'one-use-only' stickable camera mounts, two small X-type rechargeable batteries, and variously a headband, handlebar mount, or suction-cup mount. Depending on your chosen sporting activity, you will find the bundles deliver what you need to get going.

Most of the bundled accessories can also be purchased separately, the most necessary being the one-use-only mounts. If you want to move these around for different camera angles, you are either best advised to purchase additional mounts, ($10) or buy yourself some strong double-sided tape (which is what we did, with some success). This is a somewhat risky endeavor, but the cost of purchasing each mount can start to quickly add up if you do choose to use them only once each as Sony recommends.

Sony has also just released a separate 2.7-LCD case for the device that turns the Action Cam into a device you can carry in your pocket and still shoot high quality movies (the type of accessory that only Sony can deliver).






Performance:

Although Sony has just dipped its toes into the action cam segment, it has built in many of its best technologies into its Action Cam. The Action Cam incorporates a 1/2.3 type backside illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor. It matches this with its Bionz image processor tech and a Carl Zeiss Tessar lens that can take images with a field angle of either 170 degrees or 120 degrees. Sony uses its electronic SteadyShot image stabilization software with an active mode to help keep moving images relatively stable compared to the movement experienced during use. When SteadyShot is activated, the field of view is set to 120 degrees by default.







The Action Cam can shoot still images at 2.0-megapixels 16:9 (1920x1080) and produce impressive despite the low megapixel count. It shoots video in the MPEG4-AVC/H.264 format in 1080p at 30fps or 720p at 60fps or 120fps. Audio is captured in the MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2ch standard. It includes a micro-B USB 2.0 cable and port, while images can also be transferred via its microSD card, micro-HDMI or over built-in Wi-Fi. A free companion smartphone app can also be downloaded allowing users to check footage when in the field on their mobile device.

Still image taken with the Sony Action Cam




As the video below shows, the Sony Action Cam produces excellent results in the real world. Video images capture the action in crisp high definition with the image stabilization functions working to produce very watchable action footage, despite the amount of vibration and movement that the camera is subjected to during use. Still images (above) are also very acceptable and show good color accuracy and resolution.

The Action Cam can also shoot in a range of modes. These are easily navigated through by the LCD screen just by pressing the 'Prev' or 'Next' buttons, which take you into the Setup screen; here, you simply press the record button and scroll through the various modes that the Action Cam can shoot in including the various high-definition options mentioned earlier as well as slow motion (2x frame rate), super slow motion (4x frame rate), and VGA. Still shots can be captured by switching to the interval mode that can be adjusted to automatically take still shots in 5-, 10-, 30-, and 60-second intervals.



As good as the Sony Action Cam specifications are, it has recently been eclipsed by the GoPro Hero3, which serves to highlight the fact that Sony has arrived quite late to the segment. While Sony's Action Cam might edge out the now superseded GoPro Hero 2 for performance, GoPro has ironically beaten Sony to market with an action video camera that shoots footage in the new 4K Ultra-high definition format. We say ironically, because Sony has been championing the new 4K format quite loudly over the past 12 months. It delivered the world's first 4K projector earlier this year and will be second to market in the US with a new 4K TV. It has been touting 4K as the next big thing, but arriving late to the action cam market has seen it caught one step behind the latest from GoPro. To GoPro's credit, it clearly has not been standing still waiting the for competition to catch up. Assuming Sony has enough success with the Action Cam, it will be safe to assume that it will release a 4K version in the near future.




Final thoughts:

We found the Action Cam to be a whole lot of fun to use out in the field, as you can see from our embedded video clip. We were able to position the camera in a number of locations on our Honda CBR 1000RR to get a great range of shots, with both forward and rearward vantage points. Some shots were taken from our helmet with the camera mounted either in a forward or rearward position, which can be achieved while the mount remains fixed in the same position. In some instances, depending on mount positioning it was a matter of trial and error before we were able to obtain the type of shots that we were looking to capture.

Once you've worked out your way around the various functions, it really is quite easy to use. The addition of Wi-Fi also gives it additional flexibility in the field when coupled with a smartphone and the free companion app. Sony has also given users a range of accessories that will keep most people happy with the choice of ways in which the device can be mounted and used to capture shots. We also used a Joby GorillaPod for some fixed shots at ground level and from other external vantage points.

The supplied water-proof housing also means that you can take the Action Cam out into the field without fear of damaging it. Even though it is small, the device itself is very well made and we believe that users will be able to get a lot of life out of it and can feel pretty confident that it will withstand taking a few knocks. Sony has priced the Action Cam competitively and the range of accessories it has made available for it suggests that they intend to gain a foothold in the market.

If you are new to action cameras, the Sony Action Cam is a great place to start, and Sony is certainly a brand that nearly everyone knows and trusts. The Action Cam is an excellent first-up effort from Sony, but this should be no surprise as has a long and distinguished history in making top notch still and video cameras. The new GoPro Hero3, however, is the camera to beat in the segment now, but it does come with a price premium. Overall, though, the Sony Action Cam remains competitive and is definitely worth a look.

by Sanjiv Sathiah


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