If you have an active lifestyle, action cameras are great. They're fun to stick on a car to document a road-trip, or for a day trip to the beach or weekend at the snow. Sony's newest and best Action Cam, the FDR-X1000V, can capture beautifully detailed 4K footage or some super-smooth slow-mo and will make you seem way cooler than you actually are, although its design isn't quite perfect.
What Is It?
The $599 FDR-X1000V is Sony's current top dog Action Cam, a long, tall, skinny fixed-lens miniature video recorder supporting 4K video at 30fps and ultra-high 100Mbps bitrates, as well as 1080p video at up to 120fps — for four-times slow motion. Those photo specs, along with its super-large Exmor R sensor and 170-degree wide-angle lens, put it squarely in competition with the $729 GoPro Hero 4 Black — making it a pretty attractive purchase for anyone looking to save a dollar or two.
- Resolution: 12.8-megapixel
- Sensor Size: 1/2.3-inch
- Screen: Yes (monochrome LCD)
- Video: 4K @ 30fps, Full HD 1080p at 120fps
- Lens Mount: N/A (fixed lens)
- Warranty: 2 Years
The X1000V is, like other Action Cams including the AS100V, very vaguely visually similar to the bullet-shaped style of the Contour family of cameras. That 170-degree, f/2.8 Tessar lens is up the top at the front and flanked by two miniature microphone grilles. Hidden away in the camera's lens and sensor package is Sony's latest SteadyShot implementation, keeping video surprisingly smooth and jitter-free even if you're hard-mounting it on a car's bonnet on a bumpy road. There's even a mode optimised for drone video.
Around the camera's left flank, there's a monochrome LCD screen and two menu navigation buttons. The screen is quite low-resolution, but gives you a good enough guide to switch between photo, video, interval photo and other capture modes as well as the various settings menus and sub-menus. If you want a more fluid navigation interface as well as a live video readout, you can use Sony's PlayMemories Mobile apps for Android and iOS.
Sony has a bunch of mounts for the FDR-X1000V, in part because of its history in the Action Cam market and in part because the X1000V is the top of the line model and compatible with everything in the family. One flat and one curved VCT-AM1 mount are in the X1000V's retail pack, but you can find suction cups, rollbar mounts and the like easily. In the box, too, you get access to Sony's Action Cam Movie Creator software.
What's It Good At?
Stay tuned for sample video from our X1000V test, coming soon. We drove a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, an Audi R8, a Nissan GT-R and a Lotus around NSW's Central Coast (thanks Sony!) to give it a proper shakedown.
The footage that the Sony FDR-X1000V can capture is excellent. It'll put any phone camera — even a 4K-capable one — to shame, and it's a very strong competitor to the GoPro Hero 4 Black to the point that it's hard to tell the two apart side-by-side. I will say that the Action Cam produces significantly more contrasty and vivid video than the Hero 4 Black straight out of the box, although it has a Natural mode that's a little more muted — although it will slightly overexpose by default and might clip highlights a little.
The in-camera stabilisation from SteadyShot is genuinely great, and offers a huge and significant advantage over the X1000V's competitors. It'll delete the bumps from even a spirited drive down a bumpy road, and it renders the compute-intensive software stabilisation features of Adobe's Premiere or After Effects mostly moot. The fact that you can set exposure compensation values and lock a specific white balance, too, are a boon for anyone that likes getting a specific look from their video.
It's when recording 4K video at a massive 100Mbps bitrate through Sony's efficiently-compressing XAVCS codec that the X1000V really shines. If you have a full battery and an empty memory card (go for a 64GB microSD at least, you won't regret having the storage available), the quality of the 4K video that you'll get that absolutely sells the X1000V and makes it a genuinely worthwhile and uniquely high quality purchase. Just about the only problem is that an appropriately high-speed microSD card is an expensive additional cost.
The design of the X1000V, despite its small flaws, is genuinely smart. Having a tripod mount (both 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch, back and front) integrated into the camera's base without requiring the waterproof case means you're opened up to a world of possibilities, all while reducing the overall bulk and improving the quality of the microphones' recording. The rear panel opens in separate halves to access both battery/microSD and USB/microUSB sides, and there's a dedicated power input on the base, all of which contribute to an Action Cam that is easy to mount (using whichever mount family you want) permanently.
What's It Not Good At?
Unlike its GoPro equivalent — the Hero 4, especially the Silver and Black variants — the Sony X1000V can't do any recording at resolutions between 1080p Full HD and 2160p Ultra HD. Where the top GoPro can record in 1920x1440p at 80fps and 2704x1520p at 60fps, the X1000V lacks these mid-range settings. It's hardly a big deal given its regular-end-user market that just wants to record some super-detailed or super-slow video, but if you had a particular yearning for these resolution options then you'll have to look elsewhere.
Similarly, the size and shape of the FDR-X1000V might put some users off it where they're more used to the squat, boxy shape of a GoPro or GoPro knockoff. It's quite tall, long and thin, and especially in its waterproof housing is larger than a pack of cards or a pack of cigarettes. That's not important if you're mounting it on a car, but if it's on a bike or snowboard helmet or on the side of a set of goggles you might find it's larger than you like.
In my experience, the Sony X1000V's battery life is just OK. I reached a full 45 minutes of recording at 4K resolution, and a little over an hour at 1080p, from a full charge before the X1000V ran out of juice. Fortunately, it charges over microUSB, not miniUSB like the GoPro, so you can use any garden-variety battery charger that you might already be carrying for your smartphone or tablet — as long as you're not an iPhone user, in which case this doesn't affect you.
One thing worth mentioning is that the shape of the Action Cam's front element and the front plastic of the waterproof case does catch water droplets if you're blasting around in the sleet or rain. I made a point of wiping off the lens every couple of minutes when I was riding my bike with the X1000V mounted on the handlebars, and I'm certain there are some waterproofing solutions like Rain-X that will do a great job, but the GoPro's flat rectangular front is a little less water-loving.
Should You Buy It?
If your life is interesting enough, or if you're planning a snow or beach holiday or long road-trip enough to justify an action camera, then the $599 Sony FDR-X1000V is well worth its surprisingly moderate asking price. That asking price of $599 is moderate, purely because the Action Cam competes strongly with the best of the best from GoPro at a $100 saving. For the sole and core purpose of capturing high quality video either at 1080p or 4K, the X1000V acquits itself extremely well.
The design will annoy some, but also has genuine usability advantages. If Sony had managed to include a colour LCD screen on the X1000V, or even a touchscreen, that might eliminate the annoyance of navigating multi-tiered menus with only a previous and next button. Having an integrated tripod screw thread — two of them, in actual fact — is Sony's huge selling point here. Having microUSB, too, as well as an easily removable and replaceable battery, are both ticks in Sony's favour.
The proof is very much in the pudding, though, and it's the quality of video — both 1080p slow-mo and regular 4K — that makes the Sony FDR-X1000V worth buying. Check out some YouTube videos, try one in store, compare it to the best of the best, and you'll come away wanting one. I definitely want one. The X1000V, as an entry into the world of Action Cam, is an excellent one.