Summer is finally here, and with it the next generation of action sports cameras to accompany you on your many adventures. We were lucky enough to get our hands on the new Sony Action Cam and the second generation Contour, so what better way to test them than to put them head-to-head in a battle of the action cams!
It is worth noting that the GoPro Hero3 has also recently launched, and it is certainly in the same category as these cameras. In this writer’s opinion, however, the Sony and Contour are just not in the same class as the GoPro Hero3, so to be fair we’re only comparing these two very capable alternatives.
That’s not to say these aren’t two very cool cameras with plenty to offer the budding adventure videographer, but both of these cameras have decided to separate themselves from GoPro with an elongated, streamlined design, as opposed to the box look. This may seem like a good idea at first glance: they are svelte, stylish, with the slim design making the entire thing appear more compact.
In reality, however, that lack of thickness actually restricts your options when wanting to mount the camera. If you wanted a centred, first person view of your adventures, for example, you can’t really mount the long body to the top of your head as easily as a shorter camera. Mounted to a bike or board, it kind of feels like it should be the other way around. It also makes accessing the various ports and card slots kind of awkward, but that’s always going to be an issue on a camera this size.
There is a tripod mount included with both, however, which is great. You’re likely not going to be using this in a studio, but if you do want to set up a tripod outdoors to cover your epic airs and grabs, or even have a steady time lapse, it’s good to know the cameras have your back.
Both cameras come with pretty standard mounting options – two adhesive mounting plates – but if you want anything more elaborate, you’ll have to fork out cash money and buy the accessories, which are also quite limited but should cover most adventuring needs.
The newbie on the market, Sony’s Action Cam comes in at the lowest price point amongst the bunch for the $299 basic kit, which seems to be pretty good value for money.
We found the menu navigation simple to use, able to set the camera in a matter of seconds, be it a time lapse, slow motion or just good old fashioned Full HD 1080p. When you know you’ll be out and about with very little time to play with settings, this is a real bonus.
It can be a bit frustrating having the camera record every time it’s switched on, though we can see why this would be preferred in some situations, such as needing to get the shot without wanting to wait.
On the other side of the table is the Contour +2, coming it at a price point well above even the GoPro Hero3 Black at $539. On the whole, it’s a very solid camera, but we have a hard time justifying this massive price difference when it has the same functionality as the others action cameras.
That said, that solid build does make it feel excellent, offering something the plastic Sony doesn’t quite have. We loved the metallic finish, and the sturdy build of the second-generation Contour which just feels great in your hands.
But it is heavy, significantly heavier than its competitors by about 20 percent, and we can’t help but feel that if it were strapped to your head for a few hours, you’d start to see the world from a slightly tilted perspective.
Outside of that, however, the waterproof case is super solid, and allows you to take the gear down to 60 metres if you like. Of all the cameras, this is the one we would feel the safest with going underwater.
Navigating settings is a little different on the Contour +2, and it can be a touch frustrating not being able to alter settings on the camera itself. There are no menu options on the body, with the changes all needing to be made over WiFi on your smartphone or tablet.
For someone who likes to be in control of the image being captured, this is a major drag. We get it, and we see the logic: it’s an action camera, and people who go skating probably won’t miss the physical options, but we think it’s important.
The laser light horizon adjusting feature is still there from the past models, and there’s something cool about setting up the camera with a laser light. Another nice addition is the rotating lens housing that allows you to adjust the angle of the image, effectively affording you the ability to mount the camera at whatever angle you want and adjust the picture to match your needs.
In the performance area, our first tests were indoors and it has to be said, neither of these cameras perform very well in low light despite at least one of them advertising it as a selling point.
Even with a significant amount of daylight from nearby windows and indoor lights, there was heavy grain and artefacting in the image, compared to the performance on offer from an iPhone. We even tested in a very well lit studio and still, amazingly, found very poor still image output.
When used outdoors in full sunlight, however, the image is very clear, which is the main function of these cameras. Outdoors and with full light, the image is very sharp and the colour depth is very decent, especially for the sensor sizes. Colour was a little dull, but it’s nothing a quick colour correction adjustment won’t fix.
The main point of these action cameras is, of course, to capture action, and they are very capable at grabbing your best moments in beautiful slow motion or from absurd angles to wow your friends.
Outside of the price, make, and size, the big distinction between the cameras is the GPS functionality, and the Contour does this part quite well. While capturing the data, you can choose to display the info as an overlay on the video, watching it in realtime via a tracking window on top of the video.
This might be super handy for long distance treks or airplane trips, and we definitely see the appeal, but if you don’t care about the GPS data, it’s mostly unnecessary.
In this great age of connectivity, it is no surprise that both cameras support wireless connectivity, and this is actually very handy for viewing your images or video, as well as controlling the camera from a smartphone or tablet.
Sony’s Action Cam connected easily to an iPad and we were able to see what the camera was seeing. We had trouble connecting our iPad to the Contour, though some friends had an easier time. The preview image is not super high quality, but is more than enough to get an idea of what the final product will be.
It’s handy, too, because you can change settings remotely, especially if you have the device securely strapped to your head and can’t get in there to mess with the physical buttons. All in all a very handy feature but it’d be great to see the apps ad connectivity improved in the next round.
Despite the criticisms about these devices, they are both very capable and a great addition to the current crop of action cameras.
It’s very difficult to choose a winner between the two, but we would have to give the Sony Action Cam the GadgetGuy seal of approval, as it’s not only $100 less than the Contour +2, but features comparable image quality and wireless connectivity, making it a great option.
If you plan on doing a lot of underwater work or going on longer trips where GPS data is important, the Contour +2 is the way to go, just don’t forget to bring a smartphone or tablet or you’ll be stuck on the settings you left the last time you were free falling out of that plane, praying you pressed the record button before you jumped.