In the world of action cameras, GoPro action cameras dominate the sports action video footage on YouTub. Many companies have tried to take a piece out of GoPro’s pie – Garmin Virb, Xiaomi Yi, and even the lowly SJ4000. However, Sony is, arguably, the closest competitor to GoPro.
Unlike most of the GoPro’s competitors, Sony created a rather unique form factor, which may be better or worse than GoPro, depending on your usage. Its “telescopic” design, for example, is more aerodynamic than the traditional camera design.
Sony started selling their action camera series with the AS10 and AS15 capturing a respectable Full HD resolution at 30 fps. However, the model I’m reviewing today is their latest top-of-the-line (as of February 2016) model, called the Sony FDR-X1000V.
It doesn’t have a sexy name like Hero 4 Black, which is its most obvious rival today. But they are both equally capable of recording 4K video at 30 fps. So why did I get the Sony instead of GoPro, the defacto choice for action cam?
Updated @ 2016-04-09 : Updated the review with the X1000V’s features vs. its competitors, as well as the speed requirements for recording at the highest quality 4K resolution.
Size and Features
The size and weight are important considerations for an action camera. In that aspect, the Sony FDR-X1000V loses out to GoPro Hero 4, especially when both are installed in their respective waterproof case. But Sony has a number of key advantages over the GoPro.
For one thing, the X1000V is “splash-proof” with an IPX4 rating and a 1/4″ tripod socket on the camera itself. In other words, you can use the camera outdoors in light rain without a waterproof case. However, the biggest advantage of the Sony Action Cam has to be its digital Steadyshot capability.
Steadyshot reduces the handshake vibration and also micro vibrations when hard mounted onto a moving object, like a sports equipment or a car. The downside is a limited Field of View choice. With only the options of Steadyshot Off (170° FOV) and On (120° FOV), you can forget about trying to use a narrower FOV without Steadyshot, or a wider FOV with Steadyshot enabled.
The Sony FDR-X1000V also has some features that are not found in many other action cameras, like the wind noise reduction, GPS (available on the Garmin Virb), NFC etc, which may or may not sway your decision to purchase.
By default (at least in Malaysia anyway), the Sony FDR-X1000V comes with a live view remote watch, which allows you to view the recorded footage of the camera on-the-fly. It also makes for easier setting changes to the camera. The remote watch is waterproof up to 3 meters, not as deep as the camera’s waterproof case of 10 meters. But that’s not as annoying as the fact you have to turn both the camera and remote watch on and off separately.
If your Sony FDR-X1000V does not come with the remote watch, its built-in WiFi capability allows you to stream live footage directly to your iOS or Android devices using the PlayMemories app. You can change the camera settings, view photos and videos using the app. This can be much more convenient than using the camera itself.
Finally, the Sony X1000V comes with stereo microphones on the front of the camera. This means it has superior audio recording capabilities than the GoPro Hero 4 series.
It’s All About 4K, Or Is It?
Another reason to get the Sony FDR-X1000V is the ability to record 4K videos at 30 fps. However, your options are very limited if you choose to record at that resolution. You lose Steadyshot, and the 120 fps slow-mo option, that are available if you choose to record in Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution instead. You are also limited to a 170° FOV.
Sony actually “downgraded” from a 13 MP sensor in the previous flagship AS100V camera, to a 8.8 MP Sony Exmor R sensor in both the AS200V and the X1000V cameras. The 8.8 MP sensor allows for a maximum photo resolution of 3952 x 2224. They probably used the lower resolution sensor to allow a 1:1 pixel readout from the sensor at 4K resolution without pixel binning. In theory, that should allow for better image quality. The downside, though, is the loss of Steadyshot when recording 4K videos.
To shoot videos in the 4K or other 100 Mbps modes, you will need a fast MicroSDXC card that is rated U3 class at the very least. The Sony FDR-X1000V Action Cam can be quite finicky when comes to MicroSD cards. It may refuse to enable the highest quality options with some MicroSD cards that meet the requirements.
If you want to record to the normal XAVC-S format, a standard MicroSDXC card (64 GB and above) will be sufficient. However, if you want to record at the highest quality 4K resolution XAVC-S 100Mbps or other high frame rate modes, there’s no need to buy expensive cards like the SanDisk Extreme Pro series. The SanDisk Extreme card below is more than sufficient at just 1/3 of the price of the Extreme Pro series.
The Sony X1000V offers a few shooting modes for you to play with – Loop Recording, Video, Photo, and Time Lapse. Disappointingly, Time Lapse does not support the 4K resolution, even though the X1000V obviously can record video in the 4K resolution.