Sony Action Cam
Sony’s Action Cam is a digital video and still camera, designed to capture a first-person perspective in ‘extreme’ outdoor sports and activities. It competes with GoPro’s Hero camera, which currently monopolises the ‘sports that might kill you’ video camera market in New Zealand.
Harley Ogier | Wednesday, March 06 2013
Product type: Digital video camera
RRP incl GST: $492
- Records 1080p at 30fps, or 720p at 30, 60 or 120fps
- Selectable 120/170-degree field of view
- Wi-Fi and USB connectivity
- Includes waterproof housing, adhesive mounts and 4GB card
A great tool for the outdoor adventurer, which ships with a good ‘starter pack’ of accessories.
Sony’s Action Cam is a digital video and still camera, designed to capture a first-person perspective in ‘extreme’ outdoor sports and activities. It’s surely intended to compete with GoPro’s Hero camera, which currently monopolises the ‘sports that might kill you’ video camera market in New Zealand.
I haven’t tested the GoPro Hero, so the only comparisons I can make are visual or based on spec. That said, there’s one obvious difference that should be noted: the GoPro Hero is shaped like a traditional compact camera, a rectangle with the lens on the largest side. It’s totally the wrong shape to strap to the side of your ski goggles, or the top of a helmet.
Sony’s Action Cam is shaped like a traditional video camera – an ideal shape to strap to the side of your head, or the frame of your dirt bike, or the dorsal fin of your extreme sports dolphin. It’s a massive plus in the Action Cam’s favour, and I simply cannot understand why GoPro didn’t use a similar design.
The Action Cam has a simple three-button interface with a small, text-only monochrome LCD. Most of the settings are easy enough to figure out from the display alone, particularly if you’ve used a video camera before – things like setting resolution, frame rate and image stabilisation.
Some of the options are a little more obscure thanks to the tiny display and heavy use of abbreviations, but the menu system isn’t too deep, and a quick glance at the manual will sort you out in no time. This is a camera made for people who want to shoot video, not for people who want to tweak camera settings for hours.
The camera is sold with a clear housing, waterproof to 60 metres. The record button is accessible through the case, but the other two menu buttons aren’t. The case has a standard tripod socket on the base. A screw-on adapter turns the tripod socket into a quick-release clamp, which fits a pair of adhesive pads included in the box. One has a flat base, and the other is curved to fit a gently rounded surface like the top of a helmet. Additional pads are available for $25, as the adhesive is not reusable.
Additional mounting options are available from Sony at $50 each, including headband and handlebar-compatible brackets.
Video can be recorded in 1080p at 30fps, or 720p at 30, 60 or 120fps. Playback speed is always set at 30fps – the higher speeds result in slow-motion footage. It’s not nearly the 500-1000fps you might’ve seen used in TV shows such as MythBusters, but 120fps does let you capture a lot of fast-moving action that you’d otherwise miss. The downside is that high-speed recording requires a lot of light. It’s great on a sunny day outdoors, but you’re likely to get grainy results indoors or in dim conditions.
The field of view can be set to 120 or an ultra-wide 170 degrees via the menu system.
Overall video quality was great, with reasonable low-light performance at the ‘normal’ 30fps. Sound quality from the built-in microphone was good with the case off, but muffled with it on. That does make sense, given that the case is completely watertight. It doesn’t feel like a real disadvantage, as the kind of video you’d shoot with the Action Cam is the kind of video you’d add a hard-rock or screechy metal soundtrack to before your YouTube upload.
Storage is microSD – a 4GB card is supplied in the box. Videos are recorded in MPEG4-AVC/H.264 (playable by almost all devices), and can be accessed in a number of ways. You can remove the card and use a card reader, connect the camera to your PC via USB 2.0 (it appears as a removable drive), or connect the camera to your PC, smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi (it appears as a media device).
Wi-Fi is a nice touch, as it allows you to preview video on your smartphone before you get home to your laptop. An optional app also lets you use your smartphone as a viewfinder, great if you’re trying to find the right camera positioning. This can otherwise be difficult, as the camera lacks any kind of viewfinder and it’s hard to visualise just how much the wide-angle lens will be able to see.
Another very nice touch is the optional handheld grip with a 2.7-inch flip-out LCD screen, available for $130. This turns the Action Cam into a tiny conventional video camera, great if you’re putting it into the hands of an observer for some third-person action footage. We weren’t able to test the grip as samples weren’t available at the time of writing.
Overall, the Sony Action Cam is a marvellous little tool for capturing extreme sports and other action video. Our only complaints would be the obscurity of the menu system, and the fact that only the record button can be accessed through the waterproof housing. Being able to change settings or enable the Wi-Fi connectivity without removing the camera from its housing would be a major plus, as removing the camera from its housing ‘in the field’ may expose it to whatever you’re trying to protect it from in the first place.
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