Sony Action Cam - A Good Rugged Camera With A Few Software Wrinkles (Part 2)

6/1/2013 11:29:07 AM

In use

Sony’s made basic operation of the Action Cam amazingly simple. As we mentioned, you simply have to press one of the side buttons to awake it up. The LCD screen might be small, but it’s enough, and always makes it clear exactly what menu you’re looking at. Usually, you will need the device to be out of the case to change settings (unless using the app), and you’ll likely need at least one gloveless hand while you do so. Every button press replies you with a beep or chime sound, which is handy when mounted, but surprisingly there’s no option to turn this off. That’s not a major problem, but it does mean that if you’re operating this at home, in the office or anywhere with low-level noise, people will know about it.

Picture taken by Sony Action Cam

Picture taken by Sony Action Cam

Once you’ve set it up to your own resolution (1080p, 720p or 480p), FOV angle (120 or 170) and frames-per-second (30, unless you’re in 720 mode while you have the choice of 60 or 120 also), the next step is to get active! We think that you don’t want this for a birthday or wedding recording, so we instead put this through its paces at a local theme park.

Sony Action Cam’s sample photo

Sony Action Cam’s sample photo

Unlike some rivals, the Action Cam allows you to record at any available angles regardless of resolutions, so you’re not limited. We started at 1080p and 170 degrees before moving on to 720p and the choice of extra frame rates that comes with it. The result is quite interesting, with no sign of the rolling shutter effect that sometimes occurs to this kind of camera. In particular, light seems to be the main deciding factor here. While this might be understandable as we’re moving fast, and there’s no doubt the camera is scrambling to keep up with the sudden change in levels, so you can also see the color richness change later on. Shooting a scene where there are a lot of tall metal rails from roller-coasters is also handy for spotting any jagged lines, but happily we didn’t notice any here.

Perhaps one of the best features of the Action Cam is the ability to set 120fps at 720p. This makes the camera a great choice for those who want high-quality slow-mode footage (or at least to have the choice). We set up a couple of test shots specially to investigate the quality of this footage and are very glad to report that it does indeed perform very well. You will be sacrificing your audio, as the camera drops that altogether in super-slow mode (as what Sony calls). You’ll also be negotiating against the capacity of your SD card, naturally, as the extra data demands more memory to house it.

Picture from Sony Action Cam 120fps 720p test

Picture from Sony Action Cam 120fps 720p test

As for audio, this is usually an area where these camera stumble – in no small part thanks to often being locked up nice and tight in a waterproof case. The Action Cam doesn’t ruin audio expectations when cased, but when opened, it performs well enough. Wind soon becomes your enemy here, naturally, but we’re not blaming Sony for that! The inclusion of a mic input should ease the concerns of anyone who has particular audio requirements. Finally, pay attention to the battery life. The supplied 1,240mAh cell might not sound like much in the mobile phone parlance, but in our testing, it fully handled a day’s regular use (lots of switching on and off, filming and occasionally connecting via Wi-Fi). If you think this still might not be enough, or fancy some extended filming, its removable nature means you can always buy a couple of spares.


Unlike home filmmakers, the action crowd has largely had to settle for shooting without either a viewfinder or a way of quickly playing back footage. GoPro has its BacPac accessories, but the gun-like design of the Action Cam doesn’t lend itself to such things. No problem, because Sony has crammed a Wi-Fi chip into one of the models, meaning you can download the Play Memories app (iOS and Android) and let a mobile device pick up this slack. Not only will let you view what the camera is seeing, but also change the recording mode, set the camera rolling and view files afterwards. Well, that’s the theory anyway.

In fact, the app is temperamental. Using it with Android 4.0.4 and 4.1 was basically a non-starter. You can discover and connect to the camera but that seems to be about it. We had much better success with Gingerbread, however, which works as intended. Apple users do a little better, with the file-transfer mode (“Send” under the menu) working reliably, and the live viewfinder mode working intermittently (connecting about one in five times). This was with an iPad running iOS 6. We contacted Sony about this, and they said that the engineering team was working to release an update that will cover both iOS and Android. However, for the immediate, this is a shame, and something that should be well within Sony’s capabilities to deliver quickly.


Has Sony swept away the competition with the Action Cam? Not yet. But as a debut into this market, it’s respectable and promising. The camera does what it promise – lets you shoot good-quality action footage. The ability to shot 720p footage at 120fps gives the Action Cam a stand-out feature, which may be enough to win it a dedicated following. That said, the photo modes are somewhat limited and the app integration is far from up to scratch.

Hero 3 vs Contour+2 vs Sony Action Cam vs Drift Ghost

Hero 3 vs Contour+2 vs Sony Action Cam vs Drift Ghost

If Sony can promise (and deliver) an app update in the near future, along with a firmware bump to allow more camera shooting modes (burst and single-shot), then the Action Cam would go from the leagues of a tandem parachute jump to a gnarly wing-suit dive. With the basic module retail price at $200, it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the GoPro’s entry-level ROAM2 and GoPro’s new White edition. At this price, only the GoPro has Wi-Fi. If you want that feature with Sony’s Action Cam, you’ll need to dig a little deeper and pay $270. To be fair, that price puts it at about the level you would expect in the market given that GoPro wants $300 for all silver Edition, which only really offers a still upgrade from its cheaper sibling. All in all, we enjoyed our time with the Action Cam, and are happy with the results it provided. If its specs–sheet is suitable to your requirement, then the there’s no doubt it will serve you well.

Sony Action Cam’s technical specs and price


·         Sensor type: CMOS

·         Image sensor size: 0.31 inches


·         Viewfinder type: LCD


·         Focus distance (min): 11.81 inches


·         Video outputs: HDMI

·         USB: 2.0

Video format

·         Native resolution: 1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720, 640 x 480

·         Frame rates supported (max resolution): 60p, 30p

·         Video codec support: h.264 / AVC

Still photography

·         Still image support: Yes

·         Resolution (effective): 2 megapixels

Price: $198



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