When Sony announced their Action Camera, we guessed everyone else was in deep trouble. After all, Sony makes some of the baddest, most darkness-proof image sensors out there. But images speak louder than specs. So we put this little sucker through its paces.
What Is It?
Who's it For?
Surfers, skaters, bikers and snowboarders who want to record their harebrained heroics.
Incredibly small and light, like a shrunken camera in same basic shape as the Contour+2. Buttons start and stop recording, and two buttons navigate menus on the small LCD screen (which does not display footage). It has a Carl Zeiss lens and a 16MP Exmor R sensor, and comes with a plastic waterproof housing.
With the case on, all you can do is start and stop recording. If you want to change settings, you have to take it out or use a smartphone app. The menus are fairly intuitive, though the buttons can be a bit sticky.
The Best Part
The aerodynamic, lightweight form. Strapping it to your head—or wherever—is very comfortable compared to the Contour.
No image rotation. Are you kidding me? That's like, action cam 101. The Contour can rotate 270 degrees, so you can mount it at any angle, and the GoPro Hero 2 can do a 180-degree flip. The best you could do with this? Flipping it in your editing software later. Lame.
This Is Weird...
When mounting it to your head, if you have it set to 170-degree wide mode, you will have a chunk of your forehead and/or eyebrow in the corner of your shot. It's not a good look.
- Low-light images just aren't nearly what we expected from a Sony Exmor R sensor. They are better than images from the Hero 2, and brighter than images from the Contour+2, but there is a lot of noise.
- The Contour+2 definitely wins on image sharpness. Sony's cam was about as sharp as the Hero 2 at the 170-degree angle. Cropped to 120 degrees, things get very fuzzy. Color performance was about on par with the Hero 2 (which was better than the Contour+2).
- One of the banner features is that it can shoot 720p video at 120 frames per second. The resulting 4x slow motion is very, very smooth.
- We were psyched about image stabilization on an action cam. But: It's not optical image stabilization, which would be awesome. It's digital image stabilization, which sucks. It does make the shot smoother, but you can't use image stabilization when it's at 170-degrees, because it has to crop your shot in order to work. This spreads pixels thinner, resulting in a degraded image.
- Thumbs up on the removable, swappable battery.
- Mounting options include flat and rounded pads with 3M adhesive for attaching to boards, or straps to attach it to your head. Safety note: The helmet strap doesn't work on your average bike helmet. So you have to use the head-strap. Riding without a helmet. When you're trying to show off. You asked for it.
- The camera has Wi-Fi built in, which means you can control the camera (and transfer footage) via apps for iOS and Android devices. That also gives you a way to change the camera's settings without removing it from its housing. We tested both apps and they worked very well, though they get less responsive the further you are from the camera. You'll want to keep it within 10 feet.
- It passed the waterproof test with flying colors.
- Attaching the camera to an HDTV via micro HDMI cable was a fairly painless way to instantly play back footage. The 1080 stuff looked very good all blowed up.
- There's also a model that doesn't include Wi-Fi, which costs only $200. That's what a GoPro Hero 2 now costs.
- It has a jack for an external mic, which is cool, but kind of pointless. You can't plug a mic in when the case is on. Without a case, the jack is on the bottom of the camera. So it couldn't even sit on anything, and it can't lie on its side, because the lens doesn't rotate. So it's for...holding the camera in your hand? Makes no sense.
Should You Buy It?
Maybe. The Sony produces pretty decent images at a nice price, and it has that neat 720p/120fps trick. But hold off for now.
The Contour+2 is a better camera, but it's also $130 more expensive, and it's a lot bulkier. At the same time, GoPro just unveiled the Hero 3—a lighter, smaller camera with built-in Wi-Fi. It can also do that 720 slo-mo trick (and shoot at 1080p/60fps, for full frame slow-mo, or 4K at 15fps, just to show off). Plus, with the Contour and the GoPro, there are just way more mounting options.
We're going to have to spend some time with the new Heros before we can recommend this (or the any of them) without reservation. In the meantime, for Sony's first stab at an action cam—it's pretty well done! [Sony]
Sony Action Cam Specs
• Field of View: 170° or 120°
• Storage: up to 32 GB microSD
• Frame Rates: 1920 x 1080 @ 30fps; 1280 x 720 @ 120, 60, or 30fps; 680 × 480 @30fps
• Dimensions: 3.25 x 1.88 x 0.31 inches
• Price: $269
• Gizrank: 3.5