The question most people will want to know the answer to: should I purchase the Sony or a GoPro Hero 3? With regards to image quality there isn't much between the two, but the GoPro is vastly superior in terms of water proofing, mounting options and the quality of the mounts. The Sony wins for image stabilisation, low light recording and GPS, which is a great feature.
Superb image stabilisation
Performs well in low light
Remote control is useful
GPS - can overlay speed data
The mounts do not feel stable
Unit is heavy
The lens cover is a water droplet magnet
The Sony Action Cam is a versatile, high-performance, high-definition camera designed to be used outside and during physical activity. Within the realms of road cycling, it would appeal to those wanting to shoot some footage of the beautiful places they ride, or maybe riders who regularly film their commute.
It boasts several big features, the first of which is a wrist-mounted remote control, through which you can view your live footage.
The remote adds secret-agent-style excitement, but it would be nice if it could be strapped to the handlebars as this is easier to see and use whilst cycling. When strapped to the bars the remote was a little too loose, but in fairness, it was not designed for this function.
It is, however, useful for choosing the settings and pressing record when the camera is mounted in a hard to reach places, such as the seat tube or seat stays. One drawback is that you can't playback footage through the remote, but there is a PlayMemories app that can be downloaded to your smart phone for this purpose.
The camera unit is splash proof, but also comes with a protective case. Unfortunately, the case obscures the writing on the buttons, is clunky and the clamp to open it is not very robust.
We fear that the clamp could potentially break, although the device does come with a two-year warranty as standard. Water droplets seem to stick to the case, so we would like to see a hydrophobic coating on future models.
Battery life is good. We conducted a bench test, where we left the unit on whilst filming at 1080p and 30fps. The battery lasted 2hrs 34mins. Bear in mind that battery life varies with temperature.
Picture quality is very good and comparable to the GoPro Hero 3 with regard to resolution, distortion and sharpness. In addition, the Sony performs very well in low light conditions and we were very impressed with the footage we got from dark commutes.
Image stabilisation is hugely impressive on this camera too. On-bike footage can look like it has been shot on a drone or edited in an expensive post-production program, but this does reduce the shooting angle from 170º to 120º. We happen to like the fisheye lens for cycling as it adds drama to switchbacks and can exaggerate steep roads.
Another key feature of this camera is the GPS functionality. This is great for cyclists as it enables you to overlay your speed onto the footage, making it easy to impress your friends with 120kph descending skills. As can be seen in the video below, which was supplied by Techmoan. We really like this feature.
Now, here in lies the biggest problem with the camera. In our experience of using cameras whilst road cycling, the best places to mount are the chest and seat tube.
The chest is good because it gives the footage context, by including the arms and handlebars. Unfortunately, when mounted on the chest, the protruding shape of the camera leaves you feeling like John Hurt in Alien. The flatter profile of the GoPro is more suitable in this instance.
Rearward facing, seat tube mounting is great for filming riders behind you, but we struggled to mount the unit in a way that wouldn't catch our thighs.
Generally, the mounts feel clunky and not very sturdy. This is a shame, as it detracts from the camera and feels as if the mounts were an after thought in the design process. When mounting on the handlebars, we favoured the under-bar approach pictured below.
Helmet mounting is favoured by commuters, as it gives a first person perspective. The instructions suggested mounting the unit on the side of a helmet, but we found this uncomfortable owing to the substantial weight of the camera and mount. Considering this, it may be preferable to mount the camera centrally.
For more information head over to Sony's website.
Credit to Techmoan for the video.
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Oliver Bridgewood - no, Doctor Oliver Bridgewood - is a PhD Chemist who discovered a love of cycling. He enjoys racing time trials, hill climbs, road races and criteriums. During his time at Cycling Weekly, he worked predominantly within the tech team, also utilising his science background to produce insightful fitness articles, before moving to an entirely video-focused role heading up the Cycling Weekly YouTube channel, where his feature-length documentary 'Project 49' was his crowning glory.
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