Sony Action Cam review: Good, but not without its issues

Similarly, if you want to use the built-in stereo mics, you have to buy the appropriate door or another mount from Sony or find some other way to secure the camera inside the included case while the waterproof door is off. There is nothing keeping the camera from sliding out of the case without a door on it either, so if for some reason the lock should accidentally open when the door is on, the camera will pop right out.

The small LCD on the right side of the body is for viewing your settings and making changes to them using the two buttons to the right of the screen. The buttons aren't accessible through the waterproof housing; if you want to do anything other than start and stop recordings (a single press of the record button turns the camera on and starts a new recording), you have to take the camera out of the housing. Not the end of the world, but the body is particularly slippery and with no edges to really hold onto, the bare camera is pretty easy to drop. On the upside, I did drop it several times and even though the back door cover popped off, it easily went back on and the camera kept working.

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You get five MP4 recording options: 1080p30, 720p120 (for 4x slow-motion capture), 720p60 (for 2x slow-motion capture), 720p30, and 480p30. The camera has digital image stabilization and can also do time-lapse photography shooting 16-megapixel stills. There is no option to just snap a single photo or a burst of photos, though.

The lens' field of view is 170 degrees as long as you have the digital image stabilization shut off. With the DIS on, it crops the video, changing the field of view to 120 degrees. Unlike models such as the Drift HD Ghost and ContourRoam2, the Sony Action Cam offers no way to rotate the lens, so leveling the camera can be tricky depending on your mount. And, should you mount the camera upside down, you'll have to flip the video with editing software; models like the GoPro Hero3 can be set to rotate the image 180 degrees.

Lastly, there's the Wi-Fi. It might be tempting to go with the less expensive AS10, but I recommend spending more for the Wi-Fi-enabled AS15, if possible. Not so much for the option to transfer or upload videos on the go (though that is nice), but for remote control of the camera.

Initial setup is generally easy: download and install the iOS or Android app, turn on the camera's remote-control option, open the app on your mobile device and enter the camera's password (stored in the camera in a text file), and then wait several seconds for them to connect. From there you get a live view of what the camera sees, and can use the mobile device to start and stop recordings and change resolution settings.

Video quality

The video from the Sony Action Cam reminds me a lot of the video from Sony's old Bloggie minicamcorders . When shooting scenes with little movement of the subject or the camera, video is reasonably sharp and detailed without looking crunchy. The Action Cam handles motion better than the Bloggie models ever did, though; things look nice and smooth.

On the other hand, with complex scenes or fast movement, you will see plenty of artifacts and lose a fair amount of detail (the maximum bit rate is 16Mbps, which is about average for POV cameras). Colors are oversaturated, but that seems to be standard for action cams. Exposure is generally good and transitions smoothly when conditions change, though highlights easily blow out.

Perhaps most disappointing for me are the lens flare and the amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around high-contrast subjects. Also, there is some visible color banding in images of blue skies.

Viewed at smaller sizes on a computer screen, a lot of these things are not as noticeable, and if your main goal is to share your clips online, the Sony's not a bad choice given its price and features. Blown up on a larger HDTV, though, the video is less impressive.

Audio quality is very good, but as mentioned earlier, you basically lose use of the built-in mics once you seal up the included housing with the waterproof door. If you're going to want audio while you're shooting, you'll need to buy the two-pack of housing doors, find another mount that exposes the mics, or work out a DIY solution.

Conclusion
Like I said at the beginning of the review, the Sony Action Cam makes a good first impression. During use, though, there are a lot of minor issues that keep it from being as good as models from other manufacturers. Even its video, the one area where I'd expect Sony to shine, is pretty average and that's not improved by a mediocre lens (regardless of what name is attached to it). However, the current sub-$240 price for the Wi-Fi-enabled AS15 is good for what you get, and none of my complaints are so serious that the camera would not be worth considering if it does what you need it to do.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Optical Sensor Type Exmor R CMOS
  • Width 1 in
  • Depth 3.2 in
  • Height 1.9 in
  • Weight 2.3 oz
About The Author

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering cameras, camcorders, and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.