Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15

Sony's first action camera is good. It just needs a few design tweaks and feature fixes to make it stand out even more.


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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


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.
(Credit: Sony)

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.

Compared to

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
MicroSD/MemoryStick Micro MicroSD SD
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.

Image quality

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.

Click for the full-resolution version of the still image.
(Credit: CBSi)

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Add Your Review 9


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Post comment as
sunnyape_2
3
Rating
 

"Lacking features. Mediocre video"

sunnyape_2 posted a review   
Australia

The Good:SteadyShot

The Bad:Fixed 720p slow motion modes, silly design flaws

I purchased an ActionCam to replace a Sony HDR-CX, as I need the SteadyShot to shoot fast moving video that is subject to vibration. Yes, the ActionCam does that, but it is so lacking in other features and has such a limited mount / use method, that it really is a big disappointment. I would put it on part with a HD Hero v1 from a few years ago.

In comparison, my new HD Hero v3+ puts it to shame in all other aspects; it has more features, video modes, options and accessories for the same money ... all in a much smaller package.

The new version shown at CES for release in mid 2014 might address some of the limitations of the current version, but by then GoPro and others will probably have moved further ahead.

DuaneM Facebook
1
Rating
 

"good camera, no support fron Sony. They did offer me the extended warranty on my next one!"

DuaneM posted a review   

The Good:Great video, and features for the price.

The Bad:There is o warrantyon the product that Sony will support.

Do not buy this camera! My housing failed in salt water within 2 weeks. I sent it back and Sony is telling me since there is corrosion inside the camera (salt water has a way of doing that) they are not honoring their warranty.

Unless you have money to burn, go with and alternative.

 

Shojib Ashrafi NaA posted a comment   

Well said! That certainly proved Canada's stupid foreign policy and the minister shut his wide mouth after hearing all other countries attending the CHOGM. Canada is promoting terrorism to be a close ally to US. This is very wrong and they just want to grab the Tamil votes which are mostly Liberal.

 

Shojib Ashrafi NaA posted a comment   

Well said! That certainly proved Canada's stupid foreign policy and the minister shut his wide mouth after hearing all other countries attending the CHOGM. Canada is promoting terrorism to be a close ally to US. This is very wrong and they just want to grab the Tamil votes which are mostly Liberal.

 

SamH3 posted a comment   

I've had some good footage from my action cam, except when I went to create a movie using the slow motion footage using Final Cut Pro, when I slowed down the speed of the footage it became jerky.
Does anyone know how to create that liquid motion footage?

JohnH14 Facebook
7
Rating
 

"Versatile and easy with iphone functionality - just not below Zero Degrees"

JohnH14 posted a review   

The Good:Light, great film quality.

The Bad:Not happy at below zero temps - not good for ski or boarding.

This camera is really nice - compact and had a lot of good features. However, I am currently using it in Niseko Ski Resort in Japan and it is not enjoying the cold. The manual says below zero is a dummy spit and I think at -5 to - 9 it is not enjoying. So if you are thinking of buying one and mounting it on your helmut for skiing or boarding - think again. Also, the camer is great in that it take interval photos when in video mode, but I am buggered if I can work out how to get these shots off the camera onto my iPhone! Video comes over a dream, but the photos are a bit of a mystery.

 

GeorgieW posted a comment   
Australia

I like the wifi feature and the stabilisation capabilities are awesome, even if it is only electronic. I'm really happy with the quality of my videos. You can also upload your videos to http://bit.ly/wkndliveson so the weekend can live on!

 

Im Batman posted a comment   
Australia

Doens't stand up by itself outside if the case... lucky you have your trust blue-tack spare, that holds anything.
Maybe you should send a stick back to Sony, suggesting that they slip a piece in with each sale.

 

JohnC9 posted a comment   

In your 'compared to' section you say it's a 2 megapixel camera in stills mode. It's not - it's 12 megapixels (actually 11.9).

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

Hi John,

Actually, it's a 16-megapixel sensor, however, still images are only produced at 2 megapixels. Confirmed this during testing, and also it's cited by Sony on its site too - 16:9 at 1920x1080: http://www.sony.com.au/product/hdr-as15

It is confusing, because elsewhere on Sony's site, they say it can produce 16 megapixel still images: http://www.sony.com.au/productcategory/cam-action-cam

 

SamH3 posted a reply   

Hey Lexy,

What do you mean by 'Produced at 2 megapixels', when it's a 16MP camera?

I've had the camera for a few months now and absolutely love it. Although, I wish you could take stills one by one, it's a pain taking it out of the case to change the mode. When doing a time lapse, if left in the case, it can start to fog up, however I was in a very humid climate. Also, don't bother taking it out at night where there's poor light. For the price, awesome camera.

 

Lexy Savvides posted a reply   
Australia

Hi Sam,

That's it really - still images come out at a 2-megapixel resolution (1920x1080 pixels) even though the sensor's resolution is rated at 16 megapixels. So theoretically, the camera should be able to produce 16MP stills, but it's limited by the firmware most likely to produce 2MP stills.




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User Reviews / Comments  Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15

  • sunnyape_2

    sunnyape_2

    Rating3

    "I purchased an ActionCam to replace a Sony HDR-CX, as I need the SteadyShot to shoot fast moving video that is subject to vibration. Yes, the ActionCam does that, but it is so lacking in other feat..."

  • DuaneM

    DuaneM

    Rating1

    "Do not buy this camera! My housing failed in salt water within 2 weeks. I sent it back and Sony is telling me since there is corrosion inside the camera (salt water has a way of doing that) they ar..."

  • Shojib Ashrafi NaA

    Shojib Ashrafi NaA

    "Well said! That certainly proved Canada's stupid foreign policy and the minister shut his wide mouth after hearing all other countries attending the CHOGM. Canada is promoting terrorism to be a clo..."

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