Sony Action Cam Review: Not As Awesome As We Hoped

When Sony announced their Action Camera, we guessed everyone else was in deep trouble. After all, Sony makes some of the baddest, most darkness-proof image sensors out there. But images speak louder than specs. So we put this little sucker through its paces.

What Is It?

It's an action camera from Sony, built to compete with GoPro and Contour.

Who's it For?

Surfers, skaters, bikers and snowboarders who want to record their harebrained heroics.


Incredibly small and light, like a shrunken camera in same basic shape as the Contour+2. Buttons start and stop recording, and two buttons navigate menus on the small LCD screen (which does not display footage). It has a Carl Zeiss lens and a 16MP Exmor R sensor, and comes with a plastic waterproof housing.

Using It

With the case on, all you can do is start/stop recording. If you want to change settings, you have to take it out or use a smartphone app. The menus are fairly intuitive, though the buttons can be a bit sticky.

The Best Part

The aerodynamic, lightweight form. Strapping it to your head — or wherever — is very comfortable.

Tragic Flaw

No image rotation. Are you kidding me? That's action cam 101. The Contour can rotate 270 degrees, so you can mount it at any angle, and the GoPro Hero 2 can do a 180-degree flip. The best you could do with this? Flipping it in your editing software later. Lame.

This Is Weird...

When mounting it to your head, if you have it set to 170-degree wide mode, you will have a chunk of your forehead and/or eyebrow in the corner of your shot. It's not a good look.

Test Notes

  • Low-light images just aren't nearly what we expected from a Sony Exmor R sensor. They are better than images from the Hero 2, and brighter than images from the Contour+2, but there is a lot of noise.
  • The Contour+2 definitely wins on image sharpness. Sony's cam was about as sharp as the Hero 2 at the 170-degree angle. Cropped to 120 degrees, things get very fuzzy. colour performance was about on par with the Hero 2 (which was better than the Contour+2).
  • One of the banner features is that it can shoot 720 video at 120 frames per second. The resulting 4x slow motion is very, very smooth.
  • We were psyched about image stabilisation on an action cam. But: It's not optical image stabilisation, which would be awesome. It's digital image stabilisation, which sucks. It does make the shot smoother, but you can't use image stabilisation when it's at 170-degrees, because it has to crop your shot in order to work. This spreads pixels thinner, resulting in a degraded image.
  • Thumbs up on the removable, swappable battery.
  • Mounting options include flat and rounded pads with 3M adhesive for attaching to boards, or straps to attach it to your head. Safety note: The helmet strap doesn't work on your average bike helmet. So you have to use the head-strap. Riding without a helmet. When you're trying to show off. You asked for it.
  • The camera has Wi-Fi built in, which means you can control the camera (and transfer footage) via apps for iOS and Android devices. That also gives you a way to change the camera's settings without removing it from its housing. We tested both apps and they worked very well, though they get less responsive the further you are from the camera. You'll want to keep it within 10 feet.
  • It passed the waterproof test with flying colours.
  • Attaching the camera to an HDTV via micro HDMI cable was a fairly painless way to instantly play back footage. The 1080 stuff looked very good all blowed up.
  • There's also a model that doesn't include Wi-Fi, which costs only $US200. That's what a GoPro Hero 2 now costs.
  • It has a jack for an external mic, which is cool, but kind of pointless. You can't plug a mic in when the case is on. Without a case, the jack is on the bottom of the camera. So it couldn't even sit on anything, and it can't lie on its side, because the lens doesn't rotate. So it's for...holding the camera in your hand? Makes no sense.

Should You Buy It?

Maybe. The Sony produces pretty decent images at a nice price, and it has that neat 720p/120fps trick. But hold off for now.

The Contour+2 is a better camera, but it's also $130 more expensive, and it's a lot bulkier. At the same time, GoPro just unveiled the Hero 3 — a lighter, smaller camera with built-in Wi-Fi. It can also do that 720 slo-mo trick (and shoot at 1080p/60fps, for full frame slow-mo, or 4K at 15fps, just to show off). Plus, with the Contour and the GoPro, there are just way more mounting options.

We're going to have to spend some time with those before we can recommend this (or the Contour) without reservation. In the meantime, for Sony's first stab at an action cam — it's well done!

Sony Action Cam Specs

• Field of View: 170° or 120°

• Storage: up to 32 GB microSD

• Frame Rates: 1920 x 1080 @ 30fps; 1280 x 720 @ 120, 60, or 30fps; 680 × 480 @30fps

• Dimensions: 3.25 x 1.88 x 0.31 inches

• Price: $399

• Gizrank: 3.5


    Sony support:
    At this point in time, we have no availability for a Windows application for phones available for our action cam; however, we value your feedback, so I have forwarded your suggestion onto the appropriate department who will take this into consideration when releasing any future updates for this model.

    Nothing beats the GoPro, can't wait until I can get a GoPro 3 Black.

    Similar sentiments to myself - while it's pretty nice camera, there's a few shortcomings that are holding it back. 1080p interval photos vs the 16MP they're advertising on the product page at Hmmm. Would think with that sensor you'd have a lot better image quality with interval shots too.

    Having said that, for a first-gen camera, it's pretty sweet. Hopefully there was enough interest in this first generation to spark an Action Cam 2, and we'll see how much feedback Sony take on to make it even better.

      Ah, the Sony site has been updated from 16MP to 2MP - perhaps it was originally planned to have 16MP but things fell through re: firmware?

    Not one action camera ticks all the right boxes. The rotating lens on the Contour is an absolute winner that no one has come close. This allows it to be mounted unobtrusively, especially for situations where you have a helmet, it is a lot more slipstreamed, where as the GoPro has the profile of a house brick on the top of your helmet . If you excluding the mounting limitations of the GoPro it is a winner for value, image quality, and accessory availability. Now if you combined the rotating lens of the Contour with the GoPro I would get it tomorrow. Meanwhile I will stick with the ContourROAM I found during the worldwide product launch.

    During your testing, did you have issues with the case fogging up while testing? On the net seems to be a big issue with cases fogging up and the unit itself running hotter than expected?

    We purchased 2 after waiting ages for them. They are for a 2 week motorcycle trip to Nepal which is where we are now right now. The cameras are great but SHOCKINGLY they just FOG UP continuously. It is really upsetting, the first 3 days of video are useless. We have now taken the Oring out which seems to have stopped the problem but now dust is getting in. We are really angry and we wish we had just purchased the tried and tested GoPro. NOT HAPPY SONY!

    Even the GoPro suffers from fogging up, it's why they have available separately the anti-fog insert. Nearly all camera housings suffer this, especially depending upon the environs you are using them in.

    So now that all three have been reviewed.
    GoPro3, Contour+2, or SonyAC2?

      and still (apart from some fogging ) Gopro comes out in front
      Just pillage my wallet GOPRO .....

    Does it have a visual time & date stamp??

    Completely disagree with this article, I got myself a sony and haven't stopped using it since it arrived. EPIC PIECE OF TECHNOLOGY. You only have to look at the footage on the tumblr to see the quality

    Glue for side is terrible in helmet connections it drops

    have not used the camera for a while.
    When I hot the REC button I get a double Beep and nothing happens.
    Looking at the manual, he assumption is that the camera works.Mine is not so I assume something obvious. Please help

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