Sony's first action camera was a bold move for the company, dipping into a space dominated by two big players: GoPro and Contour. A year on, and with one competitor leaving the market altogether (Contour), the action and sports camera market is slimming down.
There are plenty of cheap options out there, but what does a little more cash get you in the action camera stakes?
Design and features
The new edition of the Action Cam borrows many of the same features from its predecessor, but ups the ante in terms of usability and accessories. Inside is a 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, with an f/2.8 lens at the front. These specs are all the same as before, along with the 170-degree field-of-view.
Fortunately, Sony has given the waterproof casing an overhaul. On the previous version, all settings needed to be adjusted when the camera was out of the case. The new edition has two small buttons on the waterproof case that let you change all the settings without needing to handle the camera itself. Waterproofing is maintained down to 5 metres, with an optional extra case extending this to 60 metres.
Also on the case is a record button at the back, a hold switch and some small holes for the stereo microphone, which is situated at the front of the camera. Despite all these improvements, the camera still only weighs 90 grams, which is exactly the sort of lightness that is required when you want to strap something unobtrusively to yourself or a moving object to capture footage.
The camera is arguably easier to operate than the GoPro, with the three physical buttons offering a much more logical way to interact with the menu options. Press the record button to select, or cycle through settings with the previous and next buttons.
Sony has really stepped up its game in the accessories department. On top of the regular bike, car and sticky mounts, there is also a Live View remote that straps to your wrist. The remote has a screen that provides a live look at what the camera is seeing, as well as a record button to capture footage and stills. It connects via Wi-Fi to the camera and is waterproof up to 3 metres.
The excellent Live View remote.
Another optional accessory is the handheld grip with LCD screen, which turns the Action Cam into a mini camcorder. This is included in some packs with the camera itself. Having the camera mounted in the casing provides a natural shooting feel, but unfortunately the LCD screen doesn't have a visual indicator when you are recording. Instead, you need to rely on the other display on the side of the camera.
In the box you are provided with the waterproof case, a micro USB cable, flat and curved adhesive mounts and an attachment plate.
Connectivity is provided via micro USB (which also takes care of battery charging), a micro HDMI and a microphone jack, all underneath a dedicated flap at the base of the camera. On top of the physical connectors, the Action Cam comes with Wi-Fi and NFC as standard, plus GPS for tracking your path.
On the software side, Sony throws in a free full version of Movie Studio Platinum with every Action Cam purchase, a download that is activated via redemption code.
Movie Studio Platinum. Definitely not a program that's easy to use for beginners, or those who are unfamiliar with non-linear editing programs.
(Screenshot by CBSi)
Image stabilisation is activated by standard on the Action Cam when shooting at the 120-degree field of view, a nice point of difference from other models on the market. Switching to the wider 170-degree view disables image stabilisation; so too does still image shooting. Stills are captured at a resolution of 11.9 megapixels.
Sony doesn't give an indication of how long the battery lasts on its official spec sheet, but we managed to shoot about an hour's worth of footage before the battery ran low.
Image and video quality
The Action Cam is able to record in full HD at 1080/60p, 50p, 30p or 25p, and 720/120p or 60p. The higher frame rates also open up slow-motion options.
Here is a comparison of the still image quality between the Sony Action Cam (top) and GoPro Hero3+ (bottom). The saturated colours on the Sony look very pleasing, though the white balance is a bit more accurate from the GoPro. Click here for the full-resolution image from the Sony and here for the GoPro.
Image and video quality is good. Colours are saturated well and there is a decent amount of detail. Like most action cameras however, the sharpest part of the image is in the centre of the frame, with quite a bit of drop-off towards the edges.
This is most clear when looking at still images which are very sharp in the centre, with some noise and smudging towards the corners. Photos aren't really going to compete with your dedicated camera, but it's good to have a high-resolution image capture option available. Plus, the extra resolution means that downscaled images look great when resized for web.
Colours look punchy and super-saturated on the Sony.
Overall, video quality isn't a huge improvement from the first Action Cam, which is no real surprise given the image sensor and lens specifications. However, it's not as good as footage from the GoPro Hero3+ which is generally sharper from edge-to-edge with less image noise.
Audio quality from the stereo microphone is very good, with the Action Cam able to pick up some subtle nuances during recording that other cameras have failed to grab. Motion is also captured smoothly when shooting at higher frame rates. The example video below was shot at 1080/30p.
Sony has improved its original Action Cam with plenty of tweaks to usability, design and accessories. The image stabilisation is what sets it apart from other point-of-view cameras on the market such as the GoPro, even if the Sony can't quite match it on video quality alone.