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Sony HDR-AS100V Action Cam review: Sony tackles the GoPro giant with the AS100V

Third time's the charm? Sony's Action Cam AS100V has plenty of features to beat the GoPro Goliath at its own game.

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Lexy Savvides
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Lexy Savvides

Principal Video Producer

Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.

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In the world of action and sports cameras, the GoPro Goliath has been challenged by many wannabe Davids over the years.

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8.0

Sony HDR-AS100V Action Cam

The Good

High bitrate recording and a bunch of extra features like GPS make this Sony's best Action Cam so far, with good still image and audio quality added to the mix. A new tally light on the top of the camera makes it easy to see when you're recording.

The Bad

The live view remote can't be used for photo or video playback, and a microSDXC card is needed for high bitrate recording. Exposure during regular 28Mbps video recording is uneven, while water tends to cling to the front of the waterproof case.

The Bottom Line

Built-in image stabilization and high bitrate recording make this Sony's best Action Cam yet, but there are still a few usability quirks remaining.

Contour, Drift and iOn have tried to carve out a niche but it's Sony that is trying to make the biggest dent in the GoPro armour with its Action Cam models.

Opting for a shotgun-style design rather than the boxy form of the GoPro, this latest model from Sony dubbed the AS100V bears many of the same physical traits as its predecessors.

Sharing the same overall form as the previous models means that it is backwards-compatible with most existing accessories should you be in the market for an upgrade.

Helpfully, Sony has made it easy to differentiate between all the different Action Cams by making the AS100VR white -- the earlier models both came in a black finish.

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Spot the newbie. The AS100V (top) with the first Action Cam, the AS15V (below). Lexy Savvides/CNET

Aesthetics aside, the body is now splash proof (IPX4 rating) without needing any extra case or protection. Full waterproofing to 5m/16ft is available using the included plastic casing.

Sony's pro-targeted Action Cam AS100V splashes down at CES 2014 (pictures)

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The lens has been overhauled from previous models, with a new f/2.8 Zeiss Tessar lens offering a 170 degree field of view. Like earlier Action Cams, the AS100V only shoots at the full 170 degree view when image stabilization -- or SteadyShot -- is turned off. Otherwise, with SteadyShot turned on, the view is reduced to 120 degrees.

Behind the lens sits a 13.5MP Exmor R sensor (1/2.3-inch) that's capable of capturing 12-megapixel stills in photo mode, or 2-megapixel stills in interval record mode (5, 10, 30 and 60 second intervals).

Connectivity is provided via NFC for one-tap setup with Android phones for Wi-Fi, while a micro HDMI port, micro USB and a combined power/microphone jack also sit at the base, underneath flaps. The built-in GPS tracks location data which can then be overlaid on videos using the PlayMemories Home software.

With a firmware update (Mac and Windows) the AS100V can live stream directly to Ustream. Burst still shooting and self-timer are among the other options added via the firmware update.

How it works

The record button on the Sony is so big you can't miss it, right on the back panel of the camera. The Action Cam has two other physical buttons that can be used to select between shooting options on the side LCD. Operation is simple, and slightly easier to get used to than the two-button operation of the GoPro.

At the top, Sony has added a new tally light to keep an eye on the recording status of the camera. It lights up red when recording and is much more useful than the secondary light located at the back of the model, which is so small it can be obscured by some of the accessories.

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

Fortunately, Sony now lets you mount the camera on several different accessories without needing the waterproof casing to hold it in place. The AS100V comes with a mounting plate in the box which has a bigger thread for use with screw-based accessories like the suction cup.

On the recording front, Sony has given the AS100V a boost by adding XAVC S recording (60/30/24p) at 50Mbps. On paper at least, this high-quality mode gives the camera a significant advantage over its regular MP4 recording which is at 28Mbps. It also opens up the option to shoot in either a vivid or neutral colour mode; the latter giving you more scope for grading in post-processing.

In regular 28Mbps recording, you can shoot at 1080/60/30p and 720/30p. Also, 720/120p and 480/240p are available (with sound) for slow-motion effects.

To complement Sony's pro-focused video with XAVC S, the AS100V has timecode functionality which allows editors to more easily sync footage from multiple cameras.

Battery life is great, with the Sony outperforming the GoPro Hero 3+ on 1080/30p recording at the default bitrate. The GoPro managed 1 hour 59 minutes before caving, while the Sony lasted 2 hours 17 minutes.

Live View remote

The Action Cam is available in some configurations with an included Live View remote (look for the AS100VR). Like the name suggests, the remote gives you a live feed stream from the camera and you can wear it on your wrist like a watch.

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Taking a photo of your own wrist is difficult. Using the Live View remote is even more difficult. Lexy Savvides

There's a big record button to start and stop the action as well as a dedicated power button. It has a built-in battery and can be charged over USB, plus, the remote can be used to control up to five cameras at a time.

Unfortunately, the benefits of the remote are outweighed by its limitations. Putting the device on is the first stumbling block if you have larger than average hands as the strap needs to be fully opened to slip on.

This doesn't sound like a big deal until you need to rethread the strap. The end of the strap is doubled over and has difficulty passing through the small buckle, so be prepared to ask a passer-by for help.

More frustration ensues when you realise the remote can't actually be used to play any of your photos and videos back. It's only capable of showing a live view of proceedings.

Even though the remote is waterproof, you won't be able to see the live feed from the camera if it is submerged. That's not the remote's fault, though -- Wi-Fi doesn't work underwater.

Image and video quality

In terms of exposure, the AS100V only has an automatic mode. White balance isn't selectable which is disappointing as sometimes the camera can have quite a cool auto result when in shadow or dimly lit situations.

While the camera produces an image with plenty of contrast in bright sunny situations, any scene with a lot of movement and changing light conditions makes the exposure go all over the place.

The lens, however, is much sharper than on previous Action Cams and displays far fewer aberrations.

Expect some blown out highlights in the regular 28Mbps HD filming mode. Overall, When compared to the image delivered by the GoPro Hero 3+ with the same frame rate settings, the GoPro's image has a more balanced exposure as you can see in the comparison video below.

Movement captured by the AS100V at 30p is fluid, while 60p offers even more of a smooth effect. But where the camera really stands out is its digital image stabilization system. The video sample above contains a comparison of the AS100V and GoPro Hero 3+ filming the same scene while walking. The Sony's video is much more smooth, even though there is some warping at the sides of the frame.

Audio quality is good when the camera is used on its own without the included waterproof case. There is some obvious wind noise picked up by the mic both with and without the case, but overall recorded audio sounds crisp. Underwater audio is acceptable too, but I found that water droplets clung to the lens cover of the 5m casing.

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Lexy Savvides/CNET

The AS100V produces the best results with its high bitrate Pro mode, which is clearly superior to the footage from standard recording at 30p. The downside is that you need a 64GB microSDXC card to take advantage of XAVC S and that not all of these cards are made equal. The AS100V had trouble reading a SanDisk Mobile Ultra 64GB card and refused to enter into Pro mode, despite formatting the card in the camera. It finally acquiesced when a Sony-branded card was used.

The high bitrate recording mode will also chew through storage space. Expect a 3 minute video to clock in at around 1.3GB.

That said, there's a noticeable improvement in image quality when using Pro mode over standard 28Mbps recording. The image is more detailed and there is not as much artefacting during movement.

Compared to the GoPro's Protune mode, the Pro mode on the Sony Action Cam boasts a much more punchy colour palette -- even when the neutral profile is used. This makes footage look great straight out of camera but doesn't give much extra dynamic range to work with if you want to grade footage. The GoPro's image is much more flat.

Also, the image on the Sony becomes a bit soft in lower light, as you can see from the 60p sample in the video above.

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Still images from the AS100V are generally good in ample light, though chromatic aberrations are visible in some situations. Lexy Savvides/CNET

Apart from the obvious barrel distortions caused by the lens, still image quality from the AS100V is very good. On default settings, colours are punchy and photos are usable for printing or web display. There's even enough scope for cropping in should you need.

Conclusion

There's no doubt that Sony's Action Cams keep getting better with every successive generation. Built-in GPS, image stabilization and high bitrate recording are all features that can lure buyers away from the GoPro giant.

Not much separates the cameras on image quality. If you prefer a punchier image straight out of the camera the Sony delivers on that front. If you want a more even, flat exposure, the GoPro will be more up your alley.

On its own, the AS100V retails for $299.99 in the US and £319.00 in the UK. With the remote, tagged as the AS100VR, will cost $399.99 in the US and AU$499 in Australia. This is the same price as the GoPro Hero 3+, at least in the US). The bundle is the only way to pick up the Action Cam in Australia.

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8.0

Sony HDR-AS100V Action Cam

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8