The Sony Action Cam, at $199.99 or $269.99 (list) for built-in Wi-Fi, is one of the more affordable action cameras available that still offers features like 1080p60 recording. Unfortunately, its video performance is just not up to snuff when compared with superlative offerings like the Editors’ Choice GoPro Hero3 Black Edition. The Sony Action Cam will capture your extreme moments on the cheap, but serious videographers should look elsewhere.
Design and Features
Compared with the boxy GoPro Hero3, the Action Cam looks far more streamlined with its barrel design. The camera measures about 1.9 by 1 by 3.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 2 ounces, making it a hair lighter than the 2.6-ounce Hero3. On the right side are a monochrome LCD and Prev/Next buttons. Around back are a large Record button and a hold switch. The back also slides open to reveal the battery compartment and microSD card slot that accepts cards up to 64GB. A compartment on the bottom houses micro USB and micro HDMI ports and a 3.5mm microphone jack.
Like with the GoPro, you cycle through all the settings using the LCD, but the Action Cam uses all three buttons for navigation. Prev and Next scroll through options, and pressing the Record button makes selections. Unfortunately, you can’t change any of the settings once the Action Cam is in its waterproof housing, which is a big inconvenience for on-the-fly adjustments. There’s a small red indicator light on the back, and like the GoPro, the Action Cam makes a loud beep to confirm shooting.
The accessory selection for the Action Cam isn’t quite as diverse as GoPro’s. The Action Cam comes with a waterproof housing (submergible to 197 feet) and one adhesive mount for attaching the camera to a helmet. Beyond that, you can get optional handle bar, headband, and suction cup mounts. Once mounted, you can’t adjust the angle or tilt of the camera—for that you’ll need the optional tilt adapter, which is a bit of bummer. The GoPro Hero3 offers far more mounting options out of the box, including the ability to tilt, while the Drift Innovation HD Ghost has a unique twistable lens that allows for adjusting to get the level right even while it’s mounted.
The Wi-Fi version allows you to connect the Action Cam to iOS and Android devices using a free app. From there you can change shooting settings, trigger shots, use your device as a viewfinder, and upload videos to the Web. Battery life was pretty solid with the Sony Action Cam, while the GoPro Hero3′s Wi-Fi functionality was a huge battery drain.
Video Quality and Conclusions
The Sony Action Cam can shoot video at 1080p60, 1080p30, 720p30, and 720p120 resolutions and frame rates. It’s a respectable variety, but still falls short of the Hero3′s 4K shooting mode, even though that’s limited to 15 frames per second.
For testing, we sent the Hero3, Sony Action Cam, and Drift HD Ghost out with our photographer on his most recent ski trip. Video quality at 1080p60 on the Action Cam was a bit of a letdown, lacking the same clarity and high-level of detail you find on the Hero3. Details, like bare tree branches, appear smeared and the footage has an overall graininess to it. Exposures look accurate in good lighting, but the Action Cam struggled in low-light and could not keep up with the Hero3 or the Drift HD Ghost.
Still image quality is pretty average here, and as with all action cameras, you’re dealing with a good amount of lens distortion. Images top out at 2-megapixels, while the Hero3 can shoot at 12-, 7-, or 5-megapixels. It captures a fair amount of detail, and would be suitable for quick uploads online, but finer details look smudged and images appear flat.
At $200 for the base model and $270 for the Wi-Fi equipped model, the Sony Action Cam is a relative bargain. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for, as the Action Cam was handily beaten by the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition in every regard except battery life. Video performance is pretty disappointing, and compared with the Hero3, the Action Cam misses the mark when it comes to crisp details. On top of that, Sony cannot match GoPro’s diversity of mounting options, and the fact that you can’t adjust settings on the fly without pairing to a Wi-Fi enabled smartphone or tablet is a pretty big drawback.
|Mic Input Jack||No|
|Interface Ports||micro USB, mini HDMI|
|Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated)||197 feet|
|Video Resolution||720p, 1080p|
|Video Recording Format||Secure Digital|
|Sensor Size||6.2 x 4.6 mm|
|Still Image Recording Format||Secure Digital|
|CCD Resolution||11.9 megapixels|
|Dimensions||1.86 x .96 x 3.25 inches|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc