Price (RRP): $$899
I’m guessing that for many people, there’s really only one brand of action camera. But of course the major consumer electronics companies have the expertise and resources to do their own to very good effect. Which is what Sony has done in several models over the years. Its current top of the line model isn’t cheap, but it does 4K and comes with waterproof enclosure and a remote viewer.
At least, the review model did. As this is the “R” version, it comes with the “Live Remote Kit”. You can get the non-“R” version – the Sony FDR-X3000 – absent the kit for $649, some $250 less.
So what do you want from an action camera? The obvious requirements are good quality video, lightness, robustness, decent battery life, physical compatibility and … easy operability.
That last one is vital, although too often ill considered. But the vital moments can be lost if you’re trying to work out how to start recording, or to change a setting, and whatever it was you were trying to capture could be long gone. And usually you should be concentrating on what you’re doing – you know, the “action” that you’re using the action camera to record – not on how to make the camera work.
That’s something we’ll mostly deal with below. But we must note that part of easy operability is being able to aim the device in the right direction. The “Live Remote Kit” provides a screen to allow this. Meanwhile, lightness? Robustness? Battery life? Physical compatibility?
Well, for weight we’re talking 114 grams, including (of course) the battery. The viewing and control device – the Live Remote – weighs 46 grams.
The camera isn’t a cube, like some of the others, but actually shaped like an old-fashioned camcorder, with a body that’s a little like half a cigarette pack in shape (is one still allowed to use such comparisons?), with a lens on one end. So let’s say a shrunken camcorder, since it measures a total of 83mm from the front of the lens to the other end, stands 49mm tall and is slightly under 30mm thick.
Holding it upright, with the lens away from you, on the right hand side is a menu button, up and down arrow keys and 25mm monochrome display. The display is for showing status and allowing menu control, not for showing what the lens is seeing, nor for playing back recordings. On the top is a slightly recessed power button and a more prominent record button, which doubles as “Enter/Select” when you’re using the menu.
A moderately bulbous Zeiss Tessar lens captures the picture. This has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. There are three focal length modes, both for video and for still pictures: in 35mm equivalent terms, 17mm, 23mm and 32mm. The device can focus down to around half a metre away. There are two levels of optical image stabilisation, plus “off”.
The sensor is a 7.2mm 8.2 megapixel “Exmore R” CMOS unit. It’s “back-illuminated” in the backwards sense used in these matters. For ease of manufacture reasons, sensors were originally made with the light sensitive layer behind the assorted circuits and wiring needed to run the system and convey the digital data to the remainder of the electronics. Enough light got through all that to make it work. But by flipping it around, so that the light from the lens falls on what, in earlier designs would have been at the back of the sensor, sensitivity is increased. The smaller each pixel is, the greater the increase. With a 7.2 8.2 megapixel sensor, the pixels are pretty small. Sony says that the minimum illumination in which the device is useful is 6 lux.
But the lower the light means, amongst other things, the slower the shutter speed. In fact, the device supports shutter speed from 1/30th of a second to one ten thousandth of a second.
Sony of course uses its “BIONZ X” image processor to make sense of all the data. It can record 480p or 720p at up to 240 frames per second for smooth slow motion, 1080p at 24, 25, 30, 50, 60 or 120 frames per second, and 2160p (x 3840, makes UltraHD) at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second.
Oh, and still photos at 12 megapixels.