For those of you that don’t know, the Action Cam is Sony’s answer to the GoPro. It is a Wi-Fi capable camera that shoots up to 120fps in 720p and 30fps at 1080p, and of course it comes with waterproof housing as well.
Before I get into my review on the new Sony Action Cam, it is important to mention that my intended usage for this product is quite different from most Action Cam users. This camera was clearly intended for sports enthusiasts, just like the GoPro was. With that said though, many filmmakers and content creators also found a use for the GoPro as it could fit into tiny spaces, can be used as a crash cam and serve other purposes that larger cameras aren’t able to. This essentially is what I hoped to get out of the Action Cam. I do not shoot sports, in fact I almost only shoot narrative material. When purchasing this little camera I was looking for something that would fill in the gaps on my shoots, allowing me to get an extra shot here or there – maybe underwater or mounted on the side of a car. I mention this again, because my review for the most part pertains to users that may interested in utilizing the camera in a similar capacity to myself. Some of my points may not be relevant if you are using the camera strictly as a sports enthusiast.
I’ll start with describing why I bought the camera over the GoPro Hero2. The GoPro is a solid little camera and has worked well in production environments. I have always liked the concept of the camera, but found the design to be a bit clunky looking. In comparison, after demo-ing the the Action Cam, I was impressed with it’s construction. It has a very sleek design and is thinner and longer than the GoPro. I also liked the fact that for the same price as a Hero2, I could get the Action Cam with wi-fi, which of course brings the overall cost down. And also, I loved the idea of shooting 120fps, which was not possible in 720p on the GoPro.
The back of the Action Cam has a single big record button (with a hold option) and the front boasts a Carl Zeiss lens. The camera itself is very uniform looking and feels great in your hands. The small display on the side has two buttons to the side of it for navigation (and the menu is quite easy to use as well).
All in all, before actually shooting anything on the camera I was prematurely sold on it. Ultimately, I had assumed that image quality would be the same approximately as the GoPro Hero2, and I did like the physical construction better. Plus, there is something about knowing that a Zeiss lens is fixed to the end that gave me that extra bit of confidence when making the purchase.
I unboxed the camera and popped on the waterproof housing for starters – the construction felt very solid and fit the camera snugly as it should. I was ready to start shooting some test footage, so I put in the battery and microSD card to get started. This was my first slight letdown – I would have much preferred a standard SD card size. I understand this may not have been possible due to the camera design, but it would have been more more convenient for me as I already own so many great class 10 SDHC cards. Regardless, that wasn’t a deal breaker at all for me.
I then proceeded to work my way through the menu to get the right settings. Right off the bat I had problems with the screen. Some of the lettering was not showing up properly on the menu items and it made things hard to read. I can’t tell if I just received a defective unit, or if they all have this issue, but it was definitely a disappointment.
At this point I just wanted to get shooting already. 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 mode, mounted it in the car and started driving home. I popped the SD card into my mac, looked at the footage and… It was garbage. Complete junk. Everything was so grainy, even areas that were perfectly exposed. The image severely lacked sharpness and the colours were very washed out and desaturated.
My initial thought was maybe this looks so bad because the 120fps mode simply has a much lower bitrate. So I tried shooting 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 shot about an hour before sundown and I’m sure the tiny sensors in these cameras need a lot of light, but it was still quite bright out and the sunlight should have been more than sufficient in my opinion.
All in all it became apparent very quickly that I would have absolutely no use for this camera in a professional environment. The image quality simply wasn’t there for me. The GoPro Hero2 has a higher bitrate and a nicer way of compressing the footage, leaving the end user with a higher quality final product. I think many people will buy this camera for the same reason I did – the construction and aesthetic of it. But for those reading this article, I would highly recommend you stick to GoPro. Like any camera, they have their quirks as well- But I firmly believe that they have a big leg up over the Action Cam in regards to actual image quality.
I primarily wanted to use this camera for a single underwater shot on my upcoming feature film. Since seeing the poor image quality I have decided to go a different direction completely and purchase underwater housing for my SLR. If I had gone with a GoPro instead though, I may not have felt so sour about the experience and possibly would have been willing to work around its limitations to make it work. But at this point I am so turned off of these little cameras that I am sticking to one of my regular cameras for the shoot, and will hope my new housing keeps it safe!