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Sony Action Cam FDR-X1000V review: Sony's 4K Action Cam gives GoPro a run for its money

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After mounting some pretty stiff competition against the incumbent frontrunner GoPro for the past few years, the X1000V's combination of features and performance might just tip the scales in Sony's favour.

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8.4

Sony Action Cam FDR-X1000V

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The X1000V houses a ton of useful features for action lovers, plus it can record at 4K 100Mbps in Sony's efficient XAVC S codec. There's built-in image stabilization and the camera offers exposure compensation and white balance control. To top it all off, the X1000V records great quality 4K video.

The Bad

Menu response times when tweaking settings on the camera can be slow, while the lens casing gets smeary and droplets clings to the front when you shoot in and out of the water.

The Bottom Line

Sony's X1000V offers power and performance in a package that goes head-to-head with the GoPro.

The Sony retails for $499, AU$599 or £359, which places it at the same price point (at least in the US) as the GoPro Hero 4 Black edition . Sony's basic Action Cam package comes with the X1000V, a waterproof case, adhesive mounts and a microUSB cable.

For an extra $100 in the US, you can also pick up the X1000V with the live view remote. The remote is designed to be worn on your wrist and gives you a live view of the action via the small colour screen, as well as recording control.

Design and features

If you are familiar with any of the previous Action Cams from Sony, the design of the X1000V will come as no surprise. The camera is housed in a shotgun-style body which has a flattened base so it can stand on its own (outside of the waterproof case) with no support. A tripod mount and external mic input are located at the base.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Like the previous generation Action Cam, the AS100V , this latest edition is splash-resistant with an IPX4 rating. I was particularly thankful for this, as I unceremoniously (and accidentally) emptied my glass of water on top of the Action Cam during the testing process.

There's also a waterproof casing that comes with the camera, allowing the X1000V to reach depths of 10 metres or 33 feet. For extreme divers, an optional dive door with flat front panel can be purchased; this increases the depth to 60m/197ft.

To record all your thrills and spills a 170-degree Zeiss lens at f/2.8 sits at the front. You can reduce the field of view to 120 degrees when image stabilization is switched on. That feature is a key point of difference from the GoPro: built-in image stabilization compensates for camera shake. On the X1000V, the system compensates across a range of different vibration frequencies, including drone use.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

A stereo microphone sits right underneath the lens, with a wind cut filter able to be toggled on or off from the menus.

Operating the camera is reasonably simple, with the configuration remaining unchanged from earlier models. There are two buttons on the side panel -- Prev and Next -- used to navigate through menu options on the square LCD screen. At the top is a single record button to confirm selections, as well as to start/stop recording.

The X1000V's rear door partially opens to expose the micro HDMI and USB ports on one side, or fully opens to reveal the battery slot and microSD slot.

All about the resolutions

With a proliferation of 4K devices hitting the market recently, you may already be aware of some of the advantages of shooting video in a higher resolution than full HD. There are many when it comes to video editing, such as being able to crop in on sections of the frame. Plus, you can also pull out 8-megapixel stills from footage.

However, for most consumers, the resolution boost won't be worth it unless there's also a 4K TV or monitor in the house to make the most of it. So, the X1000V offers recording in multiple resolutions.

Recording is in either XAVC S or MP4, selectable from the setup menu. 4K recording is offered a resolution of 3,840x2,160 and only in XAVC S. Selectable frame rates are 30/24p at 100Mbps or 24p at 60Mbps.

XAVC S recording is also available at bitrates of:

  • 50Mbps (1080/60/30/24p)
  • 100Mbps (1080/120p or 720/240p)
  • 60Mbps (1080/120p or 720/240p)

MP4 recording is available at:

  • 1080/60/30p
  • 720/30/120p
  • 480/240p

To record at 100Mbps you need a microSDXC card with a UHS-I U3 rating, otherwise the camera will flash the word Media if you try and select this bitrate with a slower card.

Exposure controls are available to adjust the image in 0.3EV increments. White balance selection is available as well.

In 4K mode, the X1000V is recording a 1:1 direct pixel readout -- that is, one photosite or pixel on the sensor is directly corresponding to a pixel in the video. This is in comparison to "pixel binning", a phenomenon used on some other cameras that combines multiple photosites together to correspond to a single pixel in the video. A direct readout should deliver less false colouration and reduce the effect of "jaggies".

An option called loop recording lets you record video continuously, saving the last few minutes of footage (either 5, 20, 60 or 120 seconds).

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See the live view from the X1000V right on your smartphone screen. Dave Cheng/CNET

PlayMemories Mobile app

On the connectivity front, the X1000V offers Wi-Fi and NFC, as well as GPS tagging. For most users, they will interact and control the camera through Sony's PlayMemories Mobile app.

Apart from using your smartphone as a remote viewfinder, the PlayMemories Mobile app also has another function designed to automate the editing process. Called Highlight Movie Maker, it automatically pulls in footage from the Action Cam and uses your smartphone's processing power to create a social-media ready montage.

Using data from the gyroscope, action in the frame, colour and smile detection, the pulls out what it thinks are the best moments and automatically stitches them together into a video with music. Note that the highlight feature doesn't work with VGA, 24p, high speed or 4K clips.

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Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

The app will also be able to control up to five cameras at once, though this is only available in version 5.2. This update is due for release in Spring 2015 and not available at the time of review.

Live streaming is also a possibility with the X1000V. As long as you have a Ustream account, the Action Cam can send footage over Wi-Fi for viewing online.

Sony rates the battery life at 115 minutes with continuous recording for 1080p, and 50 minutes for 4K. Using Wi-Fi and 4K recording I averaged around 50 minutes of use before the battery was blinking. The X1000V has in-camera battery charging over microUSB.

To reinforce the action credentials of the X1000V, Sony has enlisted champion skateboarder Tony Hawk as an ambassador. While you can see some of his footage here (and subsequently feel bad about your own lack of skateboarding skills), Hawk shared a few of his top tips for using the camera:

  • Hawk prefers not to use a helmet cam mount because it can give a strange, static perspective. Instead, try mounting it to the front of a skateboard to give a wider view of what's behind you, and still get you in the frame.
  • For those who like to use a selfie stick or some other form of extendible pole, try holding it backhand. This will give you more control over perspective.

Performance and image quality

As would be expected, the jump from full HD to 4K resolution between successive generations of Action Cams brings a significant improvement to overall image quality from the X1000V.

The combination of an improved lens element and high bitrate recording makes for incredibly sharp and smooth 4K footage, as long as you have a device with the bandwidth to support playback. The video below shows sample footage from the X1000V and a comparison with the GoPro Hero 4 -- note that the GoPro only records at a maximum of 60Mbps when in Protune mode.

If you want to download and watch this sample footage outside of YouTube, you can grab it from the Vimeo page via this link.

Unless otherwise stated, all footage was taken on default exposure and white balance settings, with the picture profile set to vivid.

Compared to the GoPro, the Sony image has a lot more contrast to it when using the default picture profile, though you can set it to a flat profile which is called neutral. When using the flat profile, note that the camera does tend to blow out highlights in high contrast situations. You may want to adjust the exposure accordingly to make sure no detail is lost for the editing and grading process.

The video image from the X1000V's 4K mode at 100Mbps is very clean, with only a slight hint of chromatic aberration -- exhibited as purple fringing -- towards the sides of the frame. Because of the high resolution, you can crop into the centre of the frame for the sharpest portion of the image, and still come out with an HD result. You might also want to do this if you want to mitigate the effect of camera shake, as the built-in image stabilization is not active in 4K mode.

On the topic of image stabilization, the comparison below shows the difference between stabilized footage on the X1000V and the unstabilized footage from the GoPro, both taken while walking.

The stabilization system is very effective, but footage can look a little bit jarred at times. Still, it's much better than non-stabilized video especially for high action situations.

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Still images from the X1000V are good, especially if you're only ever going to display them on the web or social media. Lexy Savvides/CNET

Still image quality is also very good, with punchy colours on default settings. Images magnified to the full 8-megapixel resolution aren't all that clean -- there is some noise and detail smudging. Considering you'll likely be using them at a reduced resolution on web, however, they are perfectly usable.

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

Sony hasn't significantly changed the front element of the default waterproof case since the AS100V. Water droplets tend to cling to the curved front element of the case. As a result, if you are shooting in and out of water and not using a remote viewfinder, you may not notice that these droplets affect footage until it comes time to watch it back. To mitigate this, the flat dive door mentioned earlier can be used.

The lens can also get greasy and cloudy, so make sure to give it a clean regularly. Also, with beach use, sand can get trapped in the waterproof case which makes it difficult to open.

Conclusion

The X1000V is a strong step forward for Sony, building on the success of the previous Action Cams. If you need high bitrate recording and image stabilization (at 1080p recording only) then this is the camera to go for.

sony-x100v-action-cam-front.jpg
8.4

Sony Action Cam FDR-X1000V

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 8.5Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8