I´ve always been sort of a geek. Less so in more recent years, however, once a geek always a geek, it seems. And in my geeky interests one of the things that I have always been keen about was cameras (video recording). I acquired my first ever digital camera in 1998 (a Fujifilm DX-10) while on a trip to the US and it it´s max resolution was 0.8 megapixel (1024×768 pixel), could not record videos, had a 2 MB (not GB) SmartMedia card (later I bought 8 and 16 MB cards) and a RS232 serial interface for (slowly) transferring the pictures (this was before USB). This camera was stolen in Brazil in 2002 when the entire bus I was travelling in with everyone in it was kidnapped and held hostage by criminals for almost 3h (thankfully no one got hurt).
Not accounting for the many consumer photo/video cameras I had along the years, there have been those I bought specifically to record activities such as car trips and bike rides.
Years ago I bought a very cheap Mini DV camera such as this one. Few months later I bought a keyring camera like this. Their size was ideal, but they all had big drawbacks such as low image resolution and short battery life.
I later bought a SJ1000 which I have used to record bike rides until the Sony arrived and still use as a car trip recorder. I also had a Kodak ZX1 for a while, but that was quite disappointing. Given this is old stuff I´ll refrain from writing more about them, but you have the links, if interested, and you will still find them on sale.
Although a geek, I´ve been a rather “economic” one, never allowing myself to spend a lot of money on this “addiction” because of the other priorities of life (such as the kids´ University fund). The Sony HDR-AS30V was my first entry into a more sophisticated category of device.
Even though, at the time of purchase, the AS30V was not the entry level, it was also not the top Sony product in this category. Sony had already released the AS100V as their top of the range product. I did consider a GoPro, but their prices, even for the entry level version, were still a bit more than I was willing to pay at the time and, perhaps because of the way I am, I felt a bit annoyed with the “GoPRO Cult” many owners appear to belong to.
To start with, I do not recommend the Sony camera, even though there are many things I like about it. It may sound conflicting with what I wrote above, but for the price of this camera I´d recommend you actually spend a bit more and go for a GoPro or spend less and go for one of the Chinese made SJ series (with reservations given the lack of image stabilization).
- The picture and sound quality are truly exceptional. I did quite a lot of comparing with the likes of GoPROs, the Garmin Virb and some cheaper Chinese clones and I believe it’s in a pair with the GoPRO (perhaps better) and beats the VIRB hands-down when it comes to picture quality.
- The Image stabilization in video recording is great. It manages to eliminate most shaking even in very rough and uneven surfaces.
- Who said TV killed the Radio Star? It has a lot of radios built in… GPS, WiFi and NFC. WiFi for live video streaming to a smartphone and NFC for quick connection with the phone (which would be good if it worked well, but I don´t know if the problem is in the camera or in my phone, so giving it the benefit of the doubt).
- It has the ability to shoot stills at 11.9 MP (real pixel density, not interpolated), although the max resolution of time-lapsed pictures appears to be 1080p max.
- It has an external MIC connector
- It has several options of recording modes, even though I only ever used one.
- It comes with a 5m waterproof casing which is more than enough for my bike rides and surprisingly lets a reasonable amount of sound get through, not that this wold be a major advantage when is raining anyway.
- It can record while charging (although there appear to be some limitations, read below)
- Easy to use interface (buttons, menu layout, etc)
- Sufficient display for config and settings.
- Reasonable battery life for this type of device.
- It is not limited to 32GB MicroSD cards (with other limitations, see below)
- Built quality of the device is very good… the Sony brand is very reliable in this category.
- First and foremost, the provided PC software is awful. Yes, it has a few interesting features,butonmyDellXPS 15 with Windows 8.1 it crashes all the time. So let me write a few more bullet points about the things I don´t like in the software…
- It wants to organize your life for you. I like to be in charge and do certain things manually. Goes away and starts scanning everything every time it loads (there might be those that may like this, I don´t)
- It can only use GPS information for videos, not stills. It can produce videos with map overlays and other trip information such as speed, distance, etc. Example below:
These are not very precise though. A positive here though (sorry to be mixed with the negatives) is that the software is also able to produce PiP videos where, for example, the Sony Camera records a forward facing video and another camera records a backwards facing video. You can then have the backwards video in a the corner of your forwarding facing one (never tested this though).
- Even though the camera can take photos at time intervals, the software does not have the option to produce time-lapsed videos with them.
- If the card is full, when connected to the PC it takes ages (really… something like 10 min) for the software to show the pictures in its interface. Something is not right here, as when I connect the camera, I can open the card as a storage device in windows and am able to see the pictures immediately.
- The transfer of the files from the camera to the PC is not as fast as it could be.
- When transferring the files to the PC, the folder creation process uses a dd-mm-yyyy format, which might be OK for most, but I would rather prefer yyyy-mm-dd for easiness of sorting and I could not find a place to configure this in the software. It appears to pick the folder format from the configured Windows taskbar date format. I changed the taskbar Clock format to show the day of the week and it started to produce folders with the day of the week as well.
- Video editing is very limited and not very intuitive. Of course, Sony wants you to buy Sony Vegas, or Movie Studio or some other PRO video editing suite. Greedy bastards.
- My Dell XPS 15 has a Ultra high 4K resolution display. The software can´t handle this screen size very well and absolutely doesn´t know how to handle screens with different DPI scales (not only a problem for this software though). For example, interface text gets so small it´s unreadble and if I am using the notebook screen I have to guess while typing a title as the interface is all messed up in that field.
- Things I don´t like in the camera itself…
- Minimum interval for time-lapse pictures is 5 seconds. Too long in my opinion. Ideal would be if 1 and 3 seconds options existed also, which the hardware could check against the speed of the card inserted in the camera (I have a fast 64GB Samsung EVO card). It can also only shoot pictures at 1080p, which is sufficient for Full-HD time-lapse videos, but not enough to use as stills.
- The camera does not give write access to the card when connected. This means you can´t delete files in the card, so you cannot free space deleting the pictures or videos you don´t like without taking the card out of the camera. You have to transfer all the files (even those you don´t want) and format the card to free space. I´ve heard the GoPro has the same limitation apparently (?).
- NFC doesn´t work properly with my phone: I have a HTC One M8 phone with NFC and it rarely works for quick connection with the camera. Tried touching the phone to the NFC point in the camera in many spots and angles. Quicker to connect manually.
- The WiFi connection is not stable. Disconnects often over time, even though I only use it to adjust the camera position. I have also purchased a DSC QX-10 camera that has the same (and perhaps even worse) problem.
- The camera design: Its round on the bottom. It won´t stay upright without the waterproof casing. This is weakness that Sony has apparently recognized and fixed in later models.
- Even more things I don´t like about Sony…
- Although they answer reasonably quickly, Sony´s support is awful. They don´t know their own products very well and contacting them is generally a waste of time, unless you have hardware issues under warranty.
- Sony´s overall post-sales attitude: They sent me an email asking to provide feedback. I provided respectful feedback (such as this one) and they said my feedback wasn´t acceptable and invited me to re-write it. I didn´t, because I didn´t want to spend another 20 min writing the same things to get rejected again, but I wouldn´t have included it here as a negative if they were receptive to negative feedback. Organizations should not ask for feedback if all they want to hear from their customers is the stuff that helps them sell more. It´s just unfair to those that have given their time to them and perhaps made them aware of things they could improve upon.
Now, a few practical things I found out about this camera while using it that I did not see in Techmoan’s review or anywhere else.
- Number of files apparently limited to 40,000: While I was riding my bike from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre the camera beeped and I could see it had stopped taking time-lapsed pictures. I stopped the bike to look what was going on and the display was showing “Max”. I immediately related that to storage space and started to curse Sony, because the 64 GB MicroSD card only half full. So I replaced the card in the camera with a 32 GB card and everything started working again. Only later I realised the “Max” message was not related to the amount of storage being used in the card, but the number of files. Because I was taking time-lapsed pictures with 5 seconds intervals that meant that, by the end of the day, the camera had taken between 2,000 and 4,000 pictures, or in other words, JPG files. When the number of files in the camera reached 40,000 the camera stopped working. While this doesn´t comply with FAT16 (you can have more than 65K files in each folder, except the root) it´s the best explanation I can provide as recording video the camera does fill the 64GB storage space of the card, but obviously with less files. So, if you are planning long periods taking time-lapse pictures keep this in mind.
Little issues with bottom cap/lid: Another thing is the hinge that secures the bottom cap or lid in the camera tends to bent and break. Most of the time I use an accessory called “Skeleton Frame” (which was also included in Techmoan´s video review above). It´s a bit of an ugly and odd thing, but is the only mount that provides access to the bottom connectors, such as the USB and MIC. So while in the skeleton case the camera can continue to be charged while recording (for obvious reasons the waterproof case does not have any holes). With the constant opening and closing of the cap/lid to attach the USB charging cable the hinge on my camera is at the point of rupture now.
- Foggy/misty lens: Now, this one I saw in Techmoan´s review to be honest, but also experienced it myself. In cold days condensation starts to build inside the waterproof camera case, because the camera, while recording, warms up and the exterior of the case is very cold. This tends to fog the lens from the inside. It seems Sony knew very well of this issue, but instead of “out-engineering” it so that it didn´t become an issue, they apparently saw the opportunity to sell little sachets of “anti-fog” materials that magically fit in a space right underneath the camera within the case. Greedy bastards, huh?
- The camera can record while charging, but that depends on the charger´s power. If you plug the camera in a charger port that provides less the 1A of charging current the camera appears simply to ignore the charger and use battery power instead. Luckily the “PowerBar” (external battery) I use while riding has a 1.3A port and even a 2.1A port which provide more sufficient power for camera operation and charging.
Well, I think this is all I have to say about the Sony Action Camera
Few weeks before I left to Saint Jean Pied de Port for my pilgrimage, I bought also a SJ M10 based on the review I saw in Techmoan´s site. One of my latest videos, riding a recumbent bike, was filmed with this little camera. It doesn´t have WiFi or any of the fancy radios that the Sony does, but it does a brilliant job at its core which is recording videos. There is, however, no image stabilization on video recording which is a shame. You do get quite shaky videos with this camera if mounted on a handlebar, for example. Keep also in mind, this camera cannot handle MicroSD card sizes bigger than 32GB. It suffers from a few of the same issues I highlighted in the Sony such as the min interval for time-lapse photos is also 5 seconds, for example.
Despite these shortcomings, I really like this camera and it costs less than 1/2 of what I paid for the Sony (in promotional price), is very compact, comes with a lot of different cases and does a brilliant job in my opinion.
On the bright side it has a small 1.5″ display in the back to help frame the picture. If you are on a budget, but still want a good action cam that you can also use as a trip recorder in your car I totally recommend this one.