For those of you who didn't know, the Action Cam is Sony's answer to the GoPro. It is a Wi-Fi enabled camera that records up to 120 frames per second in 720p and 30 frames per second in 1080p. Of course, it is also equipped with a waterproof housing.
Before I dive into the new Sony Action Cam, it has to be mentioned that my intended use for this product is very different from that of most Action Cam users. This camera was clearly intended for the sports enthusiast, just like the GoPro. With this in mind, many filmmakers and content creators have found a use for the GoPro as well, as it fits into tiny spaces, can be used as a crash cam, and serves other purposes that larger cameras cannot. This is essentially what I was hoping for the Action Cam. I do not photograph any sport, in fact I almost only photograph narrative material. When I bought this little camera, I was looking for something that would fill in the gaps in my footage and allow me to snap an extra shot here or there – maybe underwater or mounted on the side of a car. I mention this again as my review largely relates to users who may be interested in using the camera in a similar capacity to myself. Some of my points may not be relevant if you are solely a sports enthusiast using the camera.
I will first describe why I bought the camera through the GoPro Hero2. The GoPro is a solid little camera and worked well in production environments. I've always liked the concept of the camera, but found the design a bit clunky. In comparison, I was impressed with the construction after demonstrating the Action Cam. It has a very slim design and is thinner and longer than the GoPro. I also liked that I could get the Action Cam with Wi-Fi for the same price as a Hero2, which of course reduces the overall cost. I also liked the idea of recording 120 fps, which was not possible with 720p on the GoPro.
There is a single large record button (with hold option) on the back of the Action Cam and a Carl Zeiss lens on the front. The camera itself looks very uniform and feels good in the hand. The small display on the side has two buttons for navigation (and the menu is also quite easy to use).
All in all, I was preoccupied with the camera and sold it early. Ultimately, I assumed the image quality was about the same as the GoPro Hero2, and I liked the physical construction better. Also, it's important to know that there is a Zeiss lens attached to the end, which gave me an extra level of confidence in the purchase.
I unpacked the camera and dropped it on the waterproof case for starters – the construction felt very solid and fit into the camera exactly as it should. I was ready to take some test shots, so I put in the battery and microSD card to get started. This was my first slight disappointment – I would have preferred a standard SD card size very much. I understand that this may not have been possible due to the camera design, but it would have been more convenient for me as I already own so many great class 10 SDHC cards. Regardless, it wasn't a deal breaker at all for me.
I then worked my way through the menu to get the right settings. I immediately had problems with the screen. Some of the lettering was not displayed correctly in the menu items and was difficult to read. I can't tell if I just received a defective device or if everyone has this problem, but it was definitely a let down.
At that point, I just wanted to shoot. All the quirks aside, all that really mattered at the end of the day was that the quality of the image was up to my standards. So I set it to 720p / 120fps, mounted it in the car, and drove home. I put the SD card in my Mac, looked at the footage, and … it was rubbish. Complete garbage. Everything was so grainy, even areas that were perfectly exposed. The image lacked sharpness and the colors were very washed out and desaturated.
My first thought was that maybe this looks so bad because the 120fps mode is simply a much lower bit rate. So I tried to take some test shots at 720p / 60fps with almost the same results. And then at 1080p / 30fps and even that wasn't much better. Granted, I was shooting about an hour before sunset and I'm sure the tiny sensors in these cameras need a lot of light, but it was still pretty bright and the sunlight should have been more than adequate in my opinion.
All in all, it quickly became clear that I absolutely wouldn't need this camera in a professional environment. The image quality just wasn't there for me. The GoPro Hero2 has a higher bit rate and a better way to compress the footage so that the end user gets a higher quality end product. I think a lot of people are going to buy this camera for the same reason I do – its construction and aesthetics. But for those reading this article, I would highly recommend sticking with GoPro. Like every camera, they have their quirks. But I firmly believe they have a big leg above the Action Cam in terms of actual image quality.
I mainly wanted to use this camera for a single underwater shot in my upcoming feature film. Since seeing the poor image quality, I've decided to take a completely different direction and buy underwater housing for my SLR camera. If I had used a GoPro instead, I might not have felt so pissed off about the experience and might have been willing to work around its limits to make it work. But at this point I'm so shut off from these little cameras that I stick to one of my normal cameras for the shoot and hope that my new housing will hold them safe!