It was only a matter of time until Sony entered the POV camera market. The electronics giant has finally jumped into the game, with the compelling Sony HDR-AS15 Review.
Does the new Sony have what it takes to compete in the crowded and growing POV camera market?
The Action Cam follows the camera-and-case design, similar to GoPro, but leans more toward the tube shapes of Contour and ION.
While not lending itself to chest mounted options, overall, I prefer this design.
By itself, the HDR-AS15 is light (90g with battery), but in action, the camera is safest when housed in its included waterproof case.
The waterproof case includes the familiar 1/4×20 threaded base, so the camera can be mounted to Sony’s accessories (more on those later) or any standard tripod.
Setup and Use
Setting up and using the Action Cam is simple via PREV and NEXT buttons on the side of the camera and a START/STOP button on the rear.
The large fold out manual included with the Action Cam could certainly use some improvement, but I was able to figure out how to change settings and get the camera up and running fairly quickly.
Once secured in the waterproof case, you don’t have access to the PREV and NEXT buttons, so it’s best to get everything set up before sealing up the camera.
The START/STOP button is accessed via a large button on the back of the waterproof case. A sliding HOLD lever helps prevent accidental recording.
I found the START/STOP button easy to operate while wearing thick mittens.
With the camera mounted on my snowboard helmet, I could easily hear the distinct chime tones from the camera when starting and stopping recording.
Overall, I found the Action Cam easy to set up and operate.
Optics and Image Quality
You didn’t think Sony would throw some no-name lens on their first POV camera, did you?
Equipped with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, capable of shooting 120 or 170 degree angles, I found the Action Cam to provide crisp and vibrant footage in a variety of lighting conditions.
Sony leads the pack when it comes to video image quality, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Action Cam excels in this category.
The Action Cam provides full HD 1920×1080 resolution at 30p, 1280×720 at 60p (HD SLOW 2X), and 1280×720 at 120p (HD SLOW 4X).
The 120p capability of the HDR-AS15 puts it in a class shared by few other POVs on the market today. If you need super slow motion, this is the camera for you.
Storage, Batteries & Connections
With no internal storage, Micro SD or Memory Stick memory cards, as well as the battery, are accessed via a hinged door on the back of the camera.
A 16GB Micro SD card provided me with multiple days of recording. The battery powered a couple days of intermittent video recording. However, I was somewhat disappointed when the battery drained after less than two hours of interval still captures.
Purchasing an additional battery or two would be a wise choice. On a side note, as a fan of timelapse movies, it would be nice to allow for intervals less than five seconds, allowing for much more compelling timelapses.
Connections are accessed under a trap door, located on the bottom of the camera. The usual suspects are included – USB, HDMI, and stereo minijack are all present. The battery can be charged using the included USB cable.
Interestingly, the battery requires a tray when inserted into the camera. Even with the smallest of fingers, it’s quite difficult to remove the battery and tray from the camera.
Gloved or cold hands in the field will have an extremely difficult time changing batteries. This is one aspect that Sony should definitely reconsider.
Mounts & Accessories
A POV camera isn’t that useful without mounts and accessories.
The Action Cam comes packaged with one adhesive flat mount, and one adhesive rounded helmet mount.
While these mounts are enough to get started, the Tilt Adaptor (VCT-TA1) is highly recommended for providing multiple view angles.
When mounted to a helmet, the Tilt Adaptor allows for angles from straight down to above horizontal.
I was able to capture footage with the camera pointing straight down, goggles and snowboard in view, then with the push of a button, move the four-position Tilt Adapter up for a horizontal view without having to stop to make adjustments.
I’ve had to experiment with finding the right positions for the ideal angles. This is where the Wi-Fi connection to a smart phone comes in handy (more on that in a bit).
If you’re the type that doesn’t care for cameras mounted on top of your helmet, the Head Mount kit (VCT-GM1) might be the best option.
The Head Mount kit provides a Goggle Mount that clamps to goggle straps, so the camera sits on the side of a helmet (one thing I really like about tube shaped cameras).
The Action Cam’s waterproof case threads into the Goggle Mount using a large dial on the bottom of the mount.
I found the Goggle Mount to be a good option when I wanted to be a little more discreet about having a camera on board.
It’s a good option for that purpose, but I did notice that the mount chatters on the side of a helmet unless the goggle strap is particularly tight.
The Head Mount also limits camera angles, so plan accordingly. Also included is a headband, for use without a helmet.
Turn the Action Cam into a hand held wide angle video camera with the Handheld Grip with LCD Screen (AKA-LU1).
I used the Handheld Grip to capture footage at a recent bicycle show, and the LCD screen was extremely helpful. Mount the case to a stabilizing unit via 1/4×20 mounting hardware.
The Handheld Grip also allows playback of recorded footage. At $100, it’s a compact and inexpensive way to add versatility to the Action Cam.
I’m really looking forward to using the Handlebar Mount (VCT-HM1) when I start riding again this spring.
Of all the mounts, this is the one I’ll probably use the most. The Handlebar Mount is capable of four angles, and the camera can be easily turned around for a view of the rider by loosening the thumb screw on the base of the mount.
Adhesive shims are provided to accommodate a range of handlebar diameters.
Software & Wi-Fi
My only real complaint about the Action Cam is with the software.
The not-so-helpful manual that comes with the camera does very little in explaining how to connect the camera to a smart phone via Wi-Fi.
I had to search the internet and finally found a video tutorial that explained how to make the connection.
Even then, the Wi-Fi connection to the phone is spotty at best, and mostly not useful.
I hope that Sony rectifies the issue soon, because I’d love to utilize that feature, especially when previewing camera angles.
Sony comes in strong with the HDR-AS15, their first real POV.
Its light weight, compact size, variety of mounts and accessories, and compelling list of features make the HDR-AS15 a serious contender in a crowded POV field. With a few improvements, particularly to the Wi-Fi functionality, this camera could be the one to beat.
If you’re in the marked for a POV, I’d recommend taking a serious look at the HDR-AS15.
For more info on Sony’s Action Cams please visit: http://www.sony.com/electronics/actioncam/hdr-as20