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iOn Air Pro 3 review: Ready to shoot and share in or out of the water

Along with being more waterproof than its predecessor (down to 49 feet), the Air Pro 3 can record in full HD at 60fps or 720p at 120fps.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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What sets the iOn Air Pro 3 apart from much of its competition is its design.

iON_Air_Pro_3.jpg
8.1

iOn Air Pro 3

The Good

The <b>iOn Air Pro 3</b> is a simple-to-operate 1080p action cam that's waterproof without needing a housing; has very good video quality; and a nice feature set and accessory options for easily adding Wi-Fi or wireless remote control. Its 60fps and 120fps settings allow for smoother fast-moving video or slow motion.

The Bad

Taking advantage of its high-frame-rate video capture and Wi-Fi will shorten battery life, which wouldn't be so bad if the battery wasn't built in. Using the higher frame rates also limits a couple of the camera's other features.

The Bottom Line

A fun, flexible action cam, the iOn Air Pro 3 keeps things simple without sacrificing video or build quality, making it an excellent option for those who just want to go out and shoot -- in or out of the water.

The aluminum clad, bullet-shaped body makes it less cumbersome for mounting on a helmet or really anywhere compared to boxy models like the GoPro. It doesn't need a housing to be waterproof. A big slider on top gets you recording fast and also means it's easier to operate with gloves or in the water.

Basically, if you want a low-profile, lightweight action cam that's easy to operate and mount without concern for weather or water, this is a fine choice. Oh, and the video quality is really good, too.

In the box
Though it might look like there is a lot that comes with the camera, there really isn't. The $349.99 package includes the camera and Wi-Fi module, a mini tripod, a helmet mount and an adhesive pad, a universal power adapter (which makes up most of the included bits and pieces), and a Micro-USB cable. Assuming you have a microSDHC card -- it supports cards up to 64GB -- you can get started right away.

One extra that you will find is 8GB of cloud storage space powered by MiMedia that you can use for backup or sharing your clips and photos online (though, really, that's only 1GB more than you get from MiMedia for free anyway).

Faster, more durable iOn Air Pro 3 action cam (pictures)

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Design and features
The Air Pro 3 is not a complete redesign -- it's still the same cylindrical shape as previous models -- but the body looks and feels more durable while still being compact and lightweight, at just less than 5 ounces. Its waterproofing is improved, so you can dive down 49 feet with it, whereas the Pro 2 is limited to 30 feet. This is without an additional housing, so you can go straight from land to water without additional equipment.

Out in front is some new glass: a 16mm f2.8 fog-free lens, giving your videos a 160-degree angle of view. But if that's a little too wide for your needs, you can make it a tighter 140- or 150-degree angle. The fixed-focus lens is good from 3.3 feet to infinity, so you'll definitely need some space between the camera and subject (check out the underwater clip in the sample video later in this review to see what I mean).

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Behind the lens is a fast Sony-made 12-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and, judging by the recording capabilities of the Air Pro 3, the sensor is joined by a powerful processor.

Controls remain the same as on prior models. There's a big switch on top that you slide forward to quickly start and stop recordings, and the body vibrates to let you know what's going on. There's also a power/shutter release button in front of the switch.

There's a metal tripod mount in the bottom, but iOn has its own CamLock system that uses a little quick-connect clip that slides into several different mounts, including new ones for rollbars, boards of all kinds, and goggles. It's also the same system Monoprice uses for its MHD action cam, so you can also use its mounts with this camera, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A key differentiator of iOn's Air Pro cameras is its Podz system of exchangeable rear caps. The cap covers the camera's microSD card slot, Micro-USB and Mini-HDMI (for live view or playback) ports, and external mic jack, but also allows you to add things like Wi-Fi to the camera for a wireless connection to a computer or smartphone or tablet. Along with the Wi-Fi Podz, there's a wireless remote that can control up to eight cameras from up to 60 feet away and a basic cap just for protection.

Wi-Fi and apps
Connecting to the Wi-Fi Podz is pretty straightforward: turn on the device and the Wi-Fi Podz, go to the Wi-Fi settings on your smartphone or tablet, select the Podz as your network, put in a password, and you're done.

Screenshot by Joshua Goldman/CNET

There are apps available for iOS and Android, and with them you can view battery level (important because the camera won't warn you until it drops below 29 percent), change camera settings, view and download recordings or photos, and remotely start and stop recordings as well as get a live view before you start recording so you can set up your shot. Neither app is much to look at, but they both worked well enough on the iPhone 5S and Galaxy S4 I used for testing.

Shooting options
Out of the box the camera is set to record at either 1080p at 30 frames per second or 720p at 60fps; the back of the camera has a switch for picking the one you want to use.

The Air Pro 2 maxed out at a recording resolution of 1080p at 30fps with a bit rate around 12Mbps. The Pro 3 can do full HD at 30fps or 60fps and 720p at 120fps, 60fps, or 30fps at up to about 22Mbps. When recording at 1080p or 720p at 30fps, the camera will record a secondary thumbnail video at 432x240-pixel resolution (WQVGA), which makes for faster playback and uploading from mobile devices (frame rates are 15fps for 1080p and 30fps for 720p). Also, if you use the app to start a recording, it will only record at 1080p30 or 720p30, depending on what the resolution switch on the camera is set to.

Screenshot by Joshua Goldman/CNET

Similarly, the camera's auto-rotation feature, which rights the picture if you start recording with the camera upside down, only works when recording at 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 60fps, or 720p at 30fps.

In addition to the video, it'll capture 5- or 12-megapixel photos (they're in 4:3 aspect ratio, though, so you might want to do some cropping if you want to drop them in your videos). You can shoot them one at a time or as a 10-shot high-speed burst or as a time-lapse at intervals of 2, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds.

A desktop application is used for changing camera settings. Just connect to a Mac or Windows computer via USB and you launch the software directly from the camera's storage. Like the mobile app, it's not the prettiest interface, but it gets the job done.

Video quality

The full-HD video from the Air Pro 3 is very good, but not a huge jump from the Air Pro 2. It's better, most notably in low light, but probably not reason enough alone to upgrade. Upgraders will benefit from the faster frame rates, on the other hand, for smoothing out video of fast-moving subjects as well as slow-motion clips.

Colors remain bright and pleasing and changes in exposure are handled smoothly and relatively quickly. If I had one complaint it's that scene just look soft when viewed at large screen sizes. It's something that might not be an issue for everyone, especially if you're considering this camera for Web videos. For viewing on smartphones and tablets or on a monitor at small sizes, the results are excellent.

With lots of shake, video looks a bit Jello-y, which is typical for the category, but it's not bad. Low-light videos don't seem as noisy as those from the Air Pro 2, though the noise reduction seems to be making scenes very soft.

The camera does have a built-in mono mic, but it's only really good enough for clearly capturing audio that's very close to the camera. For the best audio, you'll want to use an external mic.

Conclusion
I really liked the Air Pro 2 for its ease of use and video quality and those remain intact for the iOn Air Pro 3. The added frame rate options are appreciated as is the increased waterproofing. Unfortunately, using the 1080p60 and 720p120 settings do restrict a couple of the other camera features including auto-rotation and dual-stream capture. And they don't help battery life, that's for sure. Still, if you're looking for a camera to quickly strap on and go shoot, regardless of weather or location, it's an excellent choice.

iON_Air_Pro_3.jpg
8.1

iOn Air Pro 3

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7