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.[adrotate group=”2″]
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.
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Closer Look At The Sony X1000V
The Sony FDR-X1000V camera has just 3 buttons to control and navigate the menu. In fact, it doesn’t even have a dedicated On/Off button. Turning on is simple – just press any of the 3 buttons, except the Record button on top. Pressing that obviously turns the camera on to immediately start recording a video based on your last recording mode.
Turning it off is a completely different story. You actually need to navigate through the menu to turn the camera off, depending on your existing recording mode. Alternatively, you can wait for the camera to turn off by itself in 20 or 60 seconds. This option can be disabled if you want.
The Next and Previous buttons at the side allow you to navigate the recording mode and the setup configuration, where the Record button doubles as the Enter button. The buttons’ tactile feedback is pretty inconsistent, especially the red Record button which failed to register my presses on some occasions.
It is also painful to navigate using the buttons, as they are not very responsive due to a laggy menu. The small LCD display also makes navigation and changing settings onerous because it cannot display the name of the options in full. It is much easier and faster to change the settings using the Live View Remote or the PlayMemories app on your smartphone.
The battery compartment, MicroSD slot, and other miscellaneous cable ports can be found under the back cover. As you can see, it is rubber sealed to prevent water seeping in.
There’s a 3.5mm microphone input jack at the bottom of the X1000V. You can attach an external microphone to it, should you require better sound recording.
The Sony FDR-X1000V also comes with built-in GPS capability. You can even create videos with GPS overlays using the Action Cam Movie Creator, if you turn on its GPS when you take photos or record a video.
If you have other Sony action cameras, you will be happy to know that Sony FDR-X1000V retains the same NP-BX1 battery. However, battery life is not that great if you are recording in the highest quality mode with WIFI enabled – it will last about 1 hour. Thankfully, Sony threw in an additional battery for free, which is a sweet deal.[adrotate group=”1″]
The Live View Remote
The Previous and Next buttons on the Live View Remote has the same lack of tactile feel. However, the other buttons are fine. This inconsistency is not something I would expect from Sony. Thankfully, this is the only major concern.
The response time of its screen is almost seamless, with minimal lag. All the important options can be modified on the remote, and you can even playback and delete footage on the remote. It makes recording video so much easier, especially if the camera is out of your reach.
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There are many side-by-side comparisons between Sony FDR-X1000V and GoPro Hero 4 Black on YouTube, and the general consensus is that Sony X1000V has better sharpness, image stabilization, low light noise and audio clarity, while the GoPro Hero 4 has better customization options in terms of ISO settings, metering options, FOV options, time lapse at full sensor resolution, and dynamic range.
Although Sony FDR-X1000V Action Cam is capable of a 170° FOV, it suffers from serious barrel distortion. Sharpness across the frame is pretty good with slight chromatic aberration, which is only visible at 4K. The dynamic range is not bad in the Neutral colour mode. I didn’t like the Vivid color mode as it exaggerates the colors too much for my liking, and the increase in contrast removed a lot of details.
In bright daylight, the Sony X1000V has very good image quality at both 1080p and 4K resolutions, at all supported frame rates. I have only tried recording in the high bitrate mode. Recording at 1080p 120 fps allows me to reduce the speed to 0.25x for some cool slow motion footage.
Its best low light performance was seen at 1080p 30 fps. There is noticeable noise when recording at 60 fps. This is to be expected since it requires a bump in the ISO to record at 60 fps. I did not expect 4K to suffer the same fate, but its noise level was higher than at 1080p. So if light is not optimal, it’s better to switch to the 1080p 30 fps mode.
The Sony X1000V may not have many features, like custom ISO settings, metering options etc, but there’s really no need to fiddle with those settings especially when you only have one shot at taking your footage. Sony’s Auto mode has been pretty decent and consistent in terms of exposure. The Steadyshot feature reduces handshake vibration pretty effectively, but I didn’t like Steadyshot when the camera was hard-mounted onto my bike. The video felt like I was floating on rough water, instead of riding on an offroad trail.[adrotate group=”2″]
The X1000V has a wind noise reduction mode. It effectively cancels out wind noise without affecting the audio. I would definitely use this option when I ride on my mountain bike or mount the camera onto my car.
The Time Lapse mode is one of the major flaws of this camera. This is a 4K action camera, but it only records time lapse photos at 1080p. This is simply unacceptable. There’s no 0.5 second interval option too. You can only set the interval in 1 second steps, from 1 up to 60 seconds.
Another major drawback of this camera is its underwater abilities. The original waterproof housing is capable of protecting the X1000V up to 10 meters deep. However, the curvature of front lens cover prevents the camera from focusing properly, resulting in blur photos and videos. The only way to resolve this problem is to purchase another accessory, called the Dive Door (AKA-DDX1K), which also increases the depth limit to 60 meters.
The Need For Accessories
One of the most basic accessories for the Sony action cam is the lens cover, AKA-HLP1. It is overpriced for such a basic item, but it is crucial if you want the lens on the camera to remain scratch-free.
Sony has been slowly improving their mounting accessories. As I would be primarily using it for my mountain biking, the Roll Bar Mount is probably the most useful mount. I can mount it on the top tube of my bike, where it offers more stability and a great point of view. The latest VCT-RBM2 uses a knob to tighten the strap, and the strap can wrap around non-rounded objects better.
The form factor makes mounting onto a helmet less obstructive than a GoPro camera. If you are mounting on top, it will have less drag especially if you are riding downhill… fast. Likewise, if you are mounting it at the side of the helmet, it is also less likely to clip onto objects like tree branches. There’s no official top-mount option, so you will need to be imaginative. You can probably use a strap to secure it to your helmet if it has vents. You can also use the (included) double-sided tape, but I would not recommend that at all.
Sony also has an interesting mount option if you are using a backpack (which I do while cycling since I carry a water bag). Unfortunately, all the official mounts are quite expensive – a common “problem” with GoPro as well, so I did not buy any official mounting accessories. Please note that most of the official accessories made for the smaller Sony AS-series action cameras, like the Skeleton Frame (AKA-SF1) will not fit the X1000V.
GoPro has been in the market a few years longer than Sony, and they have a far wider choice of accessories. Even eBay offers a ton of knockoff versions. Thankfully, you can actually use GoPro mounts with a Sony action camera. All you need to buy is a 1/4″ x 20 thread to GoPro mount adapter, which only costs USD 1 on eBay! Using this nifty trick, I get to enjoy GoPro mounting accessories with my Sony X1000V action camera, and so can you.
The Sony FDR-X1000V is one of the best action cameras in the market today, and I have definitely no qualms recommending this, especially in its price range. The X1000V costs just RM 1450 (~USD 353), including a remote watch and a 32 GB MicroSD card (which is not capable of recording using XAVC-S mode). The GoPro Hero 4 Black edition will cost almost double the price, if you factor in the remote watch.
Not everyone will like its unusual form factor. However, it is better than GoPro or similar cameras for high speed sports.
The Sony X1000V is not without its flaws though. What may kill your interest is its inability to support a 4K resolution time lapse mode, or a narrow FOV mode without Steadyshot enabled. Sony can possibly fix these issues with firmware updates. However, this model has been in the market for more than a year and there’s still no firmware update. The digital zoom mode is now available on the newly launched Sony AS50R, and it is also capable of recording 4K time lapse. So you might want to consider the AS50R instead.[adrotate group=”2″]
The Sony X1000V is also pretty finicky with MicroSD cards. It’s really a game of hits and misses, as there’s no official list of recommended cards. It can be very frustrating for users who want to record in the highest possible modes.
Customization is not something that Sony action cam is famous for. So if you like playing with ISO settings, metering mode, FOV options, non-standard ratio formats, GoPro is definitely your best bet.
Aside from all the drawbacks, the Sony X1000V is a fantastic action camera, oozing with great image quality and consistent performance, high quality audio recording, slightly better low light noise than GoPro, more mounting locations, water resistant without the waterproof casing. If all you want is outstanding video recording without any fuss, the Sony FDR-X1000V is definitely the right choice for you.