When Sony first announced that it would be making an action camera for the adventurous type, the photography world sat up and paid attention. This category has long been dominated by the likes of GoPro and Contour, so many were interested to see what Sony's offering would bring to the table.
Design and features
As it turns out, quite a lot. The Action Cam comes in two flavours, one with Wi-Fi and one without, though Australians will only be getting the Wi-Fi-enabled version, dubbed the HDR-AS15.
The Action Cam is a very small and lightweight shotgun-style camcorder, which has a 170-degree lens and stereo microphone on its front. To the side, a small LED screen and previous/next buttons give navigation options, though you cannot playback footage on the screen. At the back, a simple lock-slider and big recording button complete the physical controls.
There's also provision for connecting an external microphone, as well as connectivity options with micro USB and HDMI output. The Action Cam uses microSD cards or MemoryStick Micro cards, which are both accepted in a dual-slot that sits behind the rear door. As such, it's easy to insert the card back-to-front, which you only realise when the camera gives you a "no card" error when switching it on.
Elsewhere on the specifications side of things, the Action Cam is on par with all the other offerings in this category. It sports full HD video recording at 1080p (30 frames per second), 720p (30, 60 or 120fps) or 480p (30fps). Image stabilisation is standard, a feature that other cameras of this class miss out on. It is, however, only electronic image stabilisation, which means that it is nowhere near as effective as optical stabilisation. Plus, it will only work when shooting at the 120 degree field-of-view.
Unfortunately, the petite stature of the Action Cam presents the first real design issue. It can't sit upright without the aid of the waterproof casing — which, incidentally, lets you take the camera down to 60 metres underwater. This wouldn't be too much of an issue if the casing allowed you to access the controls — the only button you can press while the casing is on is the record button. Settings, therefore, need to be adjusted before putting it in the case.
The Action Cam works great if you want to mount it on your head, straight on. Anything else, and it gets a bit awkward.
The external microphone jack is located on the bottom of the camera, and can't be used when the unit is inside the waterproof casing.
That said, the Action Cam is pretty straightforward to use if all you want to do is shoot video. Pressing the record button, even when the camera is turned off, immediately starts recording.
On top of regular video, you can also snap stills at intervals, ideal for making time-lapse videos.
Wi-Fi and app use
The HDR-AS15 comes with Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to transfer videos, as well as use your mobile device as a wireless viewfinder to control the camera. The PlayMemories Mobile app is available for Android and iOS devices.
Once installed, you need to connect the devices to each other using the Wi-Fi password, which is provided in rather small text on the cumbersome paper instruction manual. Enter this once, and the devices will automatically talk to each other in the future.
Transferring photos and videos over Wi-Fi using the PlayMemories Mobile app is easy.
(Screenshot by CBSi)
The app has a few teething issues. While transferring photos and video is easy, the remote viewfinder functionality takes a little more coaxing to work. First, turn on the remote functionality on the Action Cam itself by navigating through the menus to find the Remote menu option. Then, start the app. You need to do this process every time you want to use the remote viewfinder functionality, otherwise, it will just assume you want to transfer photos and video.
The app allows you to change the field of view (from 120 to 170 degrees) and turn image stabilisation on or off. It also allows you to switch between interval and movie recording.
We highly recommend ignoring the included paper manual (but keeping the wireless password safe) and using the much more comprehensive PDF manual instead.
|Sony Action Cam||Contour+2||GoPro HD Hero 2|
|1080p (30fps), 720p (30/60/120fps), 480p (30fps)||1080p (25/30fps), 960p (30/25fps), 720p (60/50/30/25fps), 480p (120/100/60/50/30/25fps)||1080p (30fps), 960p (48/30fps), 720p (60/30fps)|
|2-megapixel still images||5-megapixel still images||11-megapixel still images|
|Wi-Fi built in||Bluetooth built in||Wi-Fi available with optional BacPac|
|f/2.8 fixed||f/2.8 fixed||f/2.8 fixed|
|170-degree lens||170-degree lens||170-degree lens|
|No image or lens rotation||270-degree rotating lens||180-degree image rotation|
|65 grams||155 grams||94 grams|
Note: while the GoPro Hero 3 has been announced, we haven't included it in this comparison yet as it's not available in Australia. We will update when it becomes available.
The maximum recording time of the Action Cam is 1 hour.
The Action Cam delivers good exposures on automatic, which is reassuring as there is no manual exposure control available. The video image is reasonably sharp, while colours are accurate. It also copes well with fast movement, and there is little evidence of rolling shutter.
Still images are not as crisp or as well-processed as the video, and at 2-megapixel resolution, you will only be able to use them for web display or small prints. There is a great deal of over-processing going on with the still images, which results in a generally noisy image. Low-light quality is also not particularly impressive, which is a disappointment, given the Exmor R backside-illuminated sensor.
Sound from the stereo microphone is fine and is on par, if not slightly more detailed, than that delivered from the GoPro HD Hero2.
Photo recording can only be done in interval mode. There is no provision to be able to snap stills one by one.
The big disadvantage of the Sony, compared to the Contour and the GoPro, is that there is no image or lens rotation. In the example video below, where we strapped the camera to the bottom of a skateboard, the camera sat sideways, so all the footage was captured in this orientation. There's no way to change the lens rotation in camera settings or on the device itself, so footage needs to be rotated in post.
Sony's first action camera is good. It just needs a few design tweaks and feature fixes to make it stand out even more.
Want to see how the Sony compares to other action cameras on the market? We'll have a full comparison video shortly.