Sony Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1 review: Full-size performance in a tiny body

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.2
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 9.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Image quality: 8.0
Review Date:

The Good The Sony Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1 is smaller and lighter than many competitors; it has excellent video quality with solid electronic image stabilization; the live-view remote lets you wirelessly preview, review and change settings, and has GPS; it has a splashproof body and a removable, rechargeable battery; the included tripod mount gives you plenty of accessory choice.

The Bad Recording at its highest bitrate requires a microSDXC card; changing settings requires a wireless connection to a mobile device or the remote; battery life can be brief; its curved lens isn't great for underwater use; Wi-Fi connection to the live-view remote is temperamental; using image stabilization reduces its angle of view; the dual-format card slot can be a pain.

The Bottom Line A leaner, lighter version of its top POV camera, the Sony Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1 puts big performance in a little package.

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Consider Sony's Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1 to be a streamlined version of the Action Cam HDR-AS100V, its top-of-the-line POV camera.

Basically, Sony shed much of that higher-end models extra features like its video and audio jacks, but kept its excellent high-bitrate XAVC-S-format video, Zeiss Tessar f2.8 lens with a 170-degree field of view, electronic image stabilization and wireless features. It even updated its Live-View Remote that puts a color LCD on your wrist to control the camera and preview and review shots.

Getting rid of those extra features allowed Sony to make the camera very compact. Though with small bodies come small batteries and other compromises that may put you off.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

GoPro's Hero4 Silver may have received our Editors' Choice Award, but the Action Cam Mini is great in its own right and, for some, will be the better choice. The Sony is also technically less expensive than the GoPro, too (there are some potential hidden costs).

The Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1 can be bought alone in the US for about $250. It is also available as a bundle, the AZ1VR, with the second-generation of Sony's Live-View Remote for around $350, £279 in the UK and AU$479 in Australia.

Features and design

With traditional cameras, small and lightweight can be a good thing, but there's a point where cameras can be too small and light making them difficult to use. With mountable video cameras like the AZ1, the smaller and lighter, the better.

At about two-thirds the size of the AS100V Action Cam, the Mini is just as wide as that camera at 24.2mm (0.95 inch), but its height has been cut by 10.5mm, down to 36mm (1.4 inches), and the length is 76mm (3 inches), shaving off 5.5mm. Plus, it weighs about an ounce less at 2.2 ounces (63 grams).

Joshua Goldman/CNET

That size difference is all the more impressive because there isn't much of a performance gap between the two. However, they are different enough that you may want to go with the higher-end model.

The feature differences include a 13.5-megapixel effective resolution for the AS100V versus 11.9 megapixels for the AZ1; your high-speed slow-motion video choices are just 720p at 120fps on the AZ1, while the AS100V can do up to 240fps at 800x480-pixel resolution; there is no HDMI output, mic jack or expansion port on the AZ1 and GPS isn't built in.

The AZ1 is also missing the AS100V's larger built-in LCD. The AZ1 has a screen, but it's so small it's only used to let you know the battery, Wi-Fi and memory card statuses. Unlike the AS100V's, the AZ1's buttons can't be used to change settings, beyond powering on the Wi-Fi and selecting its mode: single connection, multiple camera or live-stream.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

All other setting changes for the Mini need to be done with either the Live-View Remote or an iOS or Android device connected to the camera via Wi-Fi. It's for this reason I would strongly recommend picking up the AZ1VR bundle that includes the camera and the Live-View Remote (RM-LVR2V); though the camera can be picked up on its own in the US, the remote can't be purchased separately.

True to its name, when the remote is paired to the AZ1 you get a live view from the camera so it doesn't take more than a glance at your wrist to see if you're getting the shot you want. The remote can also simultaneously control up to five Action Cams and it has GPS to grab location data for your videos and photos.

On the screen's left are mode/navigation buttons, on top are menu and display buttons with a power button on the bottom and on front is a big record/enter button. That's a lot of buttons for a wrist remote, and navigation can be confusing at first if you're trying to make a quick change.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The two connect to each other relatively quickly. There were times, however, when the connection would drop and it wouldn't reconnect without powering down both the remote and camera. It's not the end of the world, but it's a potential source of frustration.

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