Sony added its new Action Cam camera with 4K video recording to its Action Cam wearable camera lineup at CES 2015. The Sony FDR-X1000V 4K Action Cam has a similar form-factor as the previous Action Cam models and will cost $499 and $599 with the Sony Live View Remote, a utterly useful accessory when you are skiing.
Price-wise and feature-wise the Sony 4K Action Cam is comparable to the Gopro Hero4 Black, with slight differences here and there. Just like its competitor, the new Sony wearable camera can also shoot 1080p video at 120 frames per second (and 60 fps, 30 fps as well) and 720p video at 240 frames per second for slow motion. The 4K video recording supports 30p/25p and 24p frame rates.
Sony invited a group of journalists in Crested Butte Colorado to try the new Sony FDR-X1000V 4K Action Cam while skiing. I bought all my gears including the Gopro compatible helmet 9in the photo), and I rented the skis and boots, Sony paid for the flight, the hotel for 2 days and the ski pass. For this experiment, I brought a GoPro Hero4 Black to see how the new Sony wearable camera compared in video quality and user experience.
- 4K Ultra HD shooting mode (and others, see below)
- Electronic Image stabilization SteadyShot – not supported in 4K mode
- Record fast-moving action at Full HD 120 p for slo-mo
- Effective pixel video 8.8 MP
- Effective pixel Still image approx 8.8 MP (16:9)
- Lens type ZEISS Tessar Lens
- Maximum aperture F2.8
- Field of View 120° (with SteadyShot), 170° (without SteadyShot)
- Sensor 1/2.3 in-type back-illuminated Exmor R® CMOS sensor
- Video format MP4 and XAVC S
- Video resolution
- MP4: PS: 1920 x 1080 60 p / 50 p
- MP4 HQ: 1920 x 1080 30 p / 25 p
- MP4 HS120 (HS100):1280 x 720 120 p / 100 p
- MP4 HS240 (HS200): 800 x 480 240 p / 200 p
- MP4 STD: 1280 x 720 30 p / 25 p
- XAVC S 120 p: 1920 x 1080 120 p / 100 p
- XAVC S 240 p: 1280 x 720 240 p / 200 p
- XAVC S 24 p: 1920 x 1080 24 p
- XAVC S 30 p: 1920 x 1080 30 p / 25 p
- XAVC S 4K 24 p: 3840 x 2160 24 p
- XAVC S 4K 30 p: 3840 x 2160 30 p / 25 p
- XAVC S 60 p: 1920 x 1080 60 p / 50 p
- Waterproof Up to 32.81 ft with supplied SPK-X1 case
- Splashproof Splash-proof body
- Dustproof With supplied SPK-X1 case
- Shockproof With supplied SPK-X1 case
- Input/output 4K micro HDMI output, HD micro HDMI output, Memory card slot, Multi/micro USB terminal, Stereo minijack
What is different from the Gopro Hero4 Black?
- the GoPro Hero4 has a wider range of shooting modes to choose from, including 2.7K, some 4:3 ratio modes, and SuperView, which allows for more real estate at the top and the bottom of the picture
- Sony’s 240fps mode uses its wide field of view (170 degree) while GoPro can only shoot at that speed in Medium Field of View (FOV)(aprox. 120 degree depending on the resolution) and Narrow FOV (prox. 60 degree – detailed info about GoPro FOV)
- No digital image stabilization for GoPro while Sony offers its famous Steady Shot – not in all modes: it’s not supported in 4K 30 fps / 1080p 120 fps and 720p at 240 fps
- Sony has built-in GPS, and NFC for easy pairing with the smartphone
- GoPro’s Protunes offers more manual settings like ISO for example: Protune enables manual control of White Balance, Color, ISO Limit, Sharpness, Shutter and Exposure Value Compensation controls for all video and photo resolutions.
- Sony’s application on the smartphone allows to automatically take the best clips shot with the 4K Action Cam from all your videos (or the ones you select) and generate a movie out of it within minutes. I checked the feature “Highlight Movie maker” right after I stopped skiing and it was great, see the video down below.
- You can connect the Sony Action Cam 4k to a 4K TV via HDMI to view your footage
- The Sony remote control with a color screen is the best feature of the Action Cam, I have not tried the GoPro Hero4 remote.
- Sony’s waterproof case bumped from 16 to 32 feet, Gopro in its case goes up to 131 feet.
- You can use the Sony 4K Action Cam without its case to mount it on your helmet for skiing, the body is splashproof (like I did in the photo), while you need to place the GoPro in its case to be abe to mount it
- Sony new 4K Action Cam shoots 4K at 100 mbps bitrate in 24 fps, 30 fps and 25 fps -previous model shot at 50 mbps while the GoPro Hero4 shoots 4K at a bitrate of 60 Mbps > needs a new type of SD card that is compatible with high bitrate such as the Sony…. And higher price
- Multicam view on smartphone for Sony via WiFi direct
- Gopro hero4 highlight tag button while surfing the video
Product design (Very good)
With its white rounded sleek body the Sony 4K Action Cam is quite the opposite of the GoPro Hero4 Black in terms of product design. Slightly larger than its main competitor, the Sony device is more comfortable to hold in the hand and offers a slightly larger monochrome screen to display the user interface, which is a lot more comfortable to read.
At some point, I have to admit that on the GoPro hero4 Black, the small font on the small screen was very hard to read compared to the Sony device, which features a larger screen and large fonts. Some people may prefer the more compact body of the GoPro and do not care that much about the screen’s small size. see the comparison in the photo below:
Everything is easily accessible and easy to figure out, the larger display is agreeable to read, and you can maneuver your way inside all menus using the prev, next and record buttons.
I have a slight preference for the ease of use of the GoPro mount, specifically because I have a helmet with a built-in compatible mount on the front, which avoids the need of using a glued mount. In case you do not want to stick anything on your helmet, you can use a head strap, I have seen many people using that with their Sony Action Cam, and it seemed to work perfectly.
Another main difference between the two wearable cameras is the fact that you can use the Sony 4K Action Cam without the waterproof case and mount it directly on your helmet (once the stickable mount has been placed) while you need to put the GoPro inside its waterproof case in order to mount it using its proprietary mount. Please note that I did not need the case with the Sony 4K Action Cam for skiing, however I have not tried it with underwater shooting.
User Interface & Usability (Good, could be better)
Everything is easily accessible, and the navigation is pretty intuitive with the prev and next buttons, however the absence of a Power off physical button is pretty confusing, you need to click your way to the PwrOff menu and hit the record button to shut down the device (!).
Although all the menus are easily accessible, selecting all the features (format / resolution, fps, sound type, angle, color type…) you want for shooting a video or a photo takes too many clicks, and the settings are sometimes buried under many layers.
Additionally, each time you select one, the UI (user interface) automatically brings you back to the home screen and you have to scroll your way back through all the settings in the sub-menu and sub-sub-menu to select the next one you need.
You have to reach the “back” menu and select it in each feature to go back to the feature list inside the Setup section, however if you change an option inside a feature, for instance 60 Mbps or 100 Mbps inside VMode, the software automatically brings you back to the home screen in “Movie”, and you have to scroll your way back to “Setup” then dril down the feature list if you want to select and change another feature like the video resolution.
Sony should fix this, a software update would be very welcome. Meanwhile, I advise users who want better usability to pay extra and get the Sony Live remote that offers a user-friendly user interface that allows switching from one shooting to the other very easily.
Overall, I found both the GoPro and the Sony action cameras a little frustrating to use, since you have to navigate through a huge amount of menus with only three buttons and a small monochrome screen for the Sony, and a very tiny one for the Gopro . The user experience is pretty painful, specifically when you compare to the great experience you can have on a regular camera, or even on a smartwatch.
Although it is sometimes difficult to connect the camera to the phone, it is a good way to operate the device with less friction. In fact, the best way to interact with the X1000V is the awesome remote control which is equipped with a color display that offers a more intuitive navigation experience right on your wrist.
Sony Highlight Movie Maker, Make Movie Automatically from Smartphone – (Excellent)
With the Sony PlayMemories mobile application, where you can connect to the Sony 4K Action Cam for remote control, you can access the camera’s SD card and the movies stored in it. Then you can select all the clips you want,except the ones in 4K, and the application will automatically create a movie with the best moments you shot from those clips. We did it with the beta version fo the new app right after our first day of shooting in the mountains and the results was great. See it for yourself below in the 1080p video:
To know more about this feature, see the Sony tutorial for Highlight Movie Maker
Sony Live Remote Control (Excellent)
The Sony Live Remote Control with Wi-Fi for Action Cam (RM-LRV2) is an optional accessory that costs an extra $149.99 but is a necessity if you want to enjoy shooting video while skiing. During the two days I spent shooting with the GoPro Hero4 Black prior to trying the Sony 4K Action cam, I used it without a remote control and although it was fine, it was not fun at all.
The main reason is that you do not see what you are filming, and if you need to change recording mode, you need to remove your helmet to operate the tiny buttons and see what you are doing on the tiny screen (GoPro’s screen is even smaller than the Sony one, and the font is smaller as well).
Since the user interface on the Sony 4k Action Cam is not super friendly when it comes to change video mode and select various features, the Live Remote Control offers a better user experience that allows fast interaction with the camera controls (see photo gallery with examples).
GoPro offers a Smart Remote for $79.99, and even if I did not try it, i can tell you that the tiny black and white screen does not allow to see the images that you are shooting, but only allows to select the shooting modes from your wrist without the need to touch the camera on your helmet when skiing.
You can always use your smartphone with the GoPro app to see what you are shooting, however, it is not super convenient when skiing (or even biking), since you need both hands for the action. Additionally, you can playback your movies from there if you need to check the footage. On this one we can tell that Sony pushed the envelop further.
Connectivity to the mobile application – (Very good)
It was quite easy to connect the Sony 4K Action cam to the Sony PlayMemories mobile application. I mostly used the Sony Remote device while skiing to interact with the camera, and i just checked for a few minutes how the Android application reacted while connected to the camera to make sure it works in case users want to control their Sony 4k Action Cam with their phone.
Although I also have a few iPhones, I did not check the feature on iOS. I am pretty sure it works since I have used PlayMemories with other cameras with various iOS devices. For more information on how to connect to the application, see the tutorial by Sony.
Video / Photo quality in different modes – (Very good)
The image quality is slightly less sharp than GoPro Hero4 Black, the color rendering is slightly different, and the sound is way better on the Sony 4K Action Cam (scroll down the review to read the audio quality paragraph)
After the ski session, we were able to plug our devices directly into Sony 4K TVs via HDMI and enjoy the results of a hard day of shooting.
Across the board, the image quality was great no matter the shooting mode. Some people found that the vivid color mode look a little over saturated, however, I personally prefer bright colors over the replication of reality when it comes to video and photo content creation. That’s the privilege of being a designer, maybe.
Video 4k @ 30 fps (Very Good)
In a narrow alley in Shibuya, Tokyo – comparison with GoPro Hero4 Black
During a walk in small alleys in Tokyo’s Shibuya’s neighborhood, we compared the Sony 4K Action Cam and the GoPro Hero4 Black, both in 4K mode. The captured frames show the general differences that we’ve seen during the test: the Sony 4K Action Cam generates a brighter image, with a slightly larger FOV (and a bit more distortion), while the GoPro Hero4 Black has a darker, perhaps more contrasted image.
In Shibuya large crossroads (very good)
Image distortion at Ultra Wide Angle 170 degree in narrow spaces.
With the Sony 4k Action Cam you can select 2 type of angle; 170 degrees or 120 degrees. For this review we shot everything at 170 degrees, which is great when you are in a wide open landscape such as the mountains, or the large Shibuya crossroads. However, when shooting in a narrow street, the image will be more visibly distorted.
The GoPro Hero4 Black has a narrower angle than the Sony camera so the image get less distorted. With the Sony device, you can always switch back to 120 degree if you need a narrower angle with less distortion.
In the mountains while skiing (very good)
On a skiing run, I was wearing both cameras on my helmet, so we can look at side by side comparisons. Both end up with very good footage, but there are details that may sway you one way or another.
On that snowy day, the Sony camera did tend to have better color restitution than the GoPro, which had a yellow-ish tint. The Sony camera shows a footage which is closest to what I have experienced, even if it is slightly blue-ish, since I perceived the landscape to be more in the white tones.
The GoPro comes out with sharper details, as you can see in the trees on the left, for example. I don’t know how much sharpness has been added by post-processing, but this difference is unlikely to be caused by the lens quality.
4K @ 24 fps, Vivid color mode (Very good)
For a more cinema-like effect, some people like 24FPS to bring more style into their videos, however I was not a big fan of it for sports shooting, because I find it just too shaky. I personally prefer to shoot at high framerates, especially since actions like skiing and panning the camera are near-ideal situations to benefit from 60 or 120FPS rates.
On a beautiful day, the Sony Action Cam offers an excellent image quality, as you can see in the video. Vivid Color is activated by default and is designed to offer a little “color boost”, probably by tweaking the color saturation (that’s eye-candy, basically). I personally like it, other people have found this color mode less natural.
When comparing the Sony Action Cam 4k clips to the GoPro Hero4 Black, I find the GoPro yelowish colors less natural in the mountains than the slightly blueish rendering of the Sony Camera.
1080p @ 60 fps (Very good)
The 1080p/60 mode is in my opinion, the best compromise between filesize, smoothness and image quality. It really depends on the type of activity you are recording, but in my case, the 1080p/60 videos were my favorite to replay. In the future, 4K60 maybe even better, but this was not yet an option.
Another advantage of shooting at 1080p is the digital image stabilization that is not available when shooting in 4K.
There are even a 1080p/120fps and 720p/240fps modes which can be used to achieve super-smooth motions, but most people tend to use those for short slow-motion shots. Again, the filesize can grow fairly quickly, and beyond the flash storage issue, there is also the fact that handling mega-files can be inconvenient.
Sound Quality – Excellent (a lot better than GoPro Hero4 Black)
On the audio side, and in this video, the sound recording is vastly different between the two cameras which were a few inches apart. The GoPro Hero4 Black mostly recorded the sound of the snowflakes hitting the microphone, which sounds pretty unnatural. On the other hand, the Sony recorded the wind, and could even pick up conversations which have been lost on the GoPro recording
There’s a video that shows this even better: during a lift to the top, I was talking to another person, and while the Sony camera recorded the conversation faithfully, the voices were extremely muffled in the GoPro recording. Also, there was a snow truck in the background, which you can hear in the Sony recording, while the GoPro Hero4 omits it almost completely.
Please note that the GoPro was inside its waterproof case while I did not use the Sony’s case, since the camera itself provides a standard mount screw.
Optional Accessories – Example: Selfie Skiing with a Stick (Very good)
We had various accessories to try out during the session in Colorado, I only had the time to test the selfie skiing using the stick provided by Sony. The stick features a universal mount, meaning you can connect any type of camera to this stick. I could not try it with the GoPro Hero4 Black, since the camera have a special proprietary mount, that requires specific sticks.
Shooting a video fo yourself using the Sony 4K Action Cam mounted on a stick requires a good level of skiing skills, once you are comfortable the experience is a lot of fun, and allows you to brag to you friends when back from the mountains.
See below in the photo the various optional accessories you can buy for the Sony 4K Action Cam.
Battery life (Good – similar to GoPro Hero4 Black with 4K shooting)
We tested the battery life and the Sony Action Cam 4K recorded for 57 minutes on a full charge in 4K at 30fps (ultra wide angle and with WiFi on). This on par with the GoPro Hero4 Black , which last 55 minutes (on the paper, no testing here) with the WiFi on.
When shooting at lower resolution, such as 1080p the battery should last longer, however we did not test the exact time.
Here is the GoPro Hero4 Black battery duration per video resolution provided by the manufacturer: https://gopro.com/support/articles/hero4-camera-battery-life
Charging time (Excellent, better than GoPro)
It takes roughly one hour to charge the Sony Action Cam 4K, the GoPro Hero4 Black needs more time, especially for the last 20%. Strangely, the GoPro appears fully charged with the battery icon full, then 20 seconds after unplugging, the last bar disappear, so you do not really know when it is really fully charged. I got a solid battery icon after about 1 hour 30 minutes of charging on the GoPro.
Conclusion (Very Good)
The GoPro Hero4 Black offers a little more than the Sony 4K Action Cam with its advanced manual controls packaged in its Protune software, and an additional video resolution that some people like to use, the 2.7K video mode. Sony wins easily with the audio quality and with its advanced Live Remote Control accessory, which is ultra convenient when skiing or biking, or with any action sport that requires the use of both hands.
When it comes to the main “regular” features that mainstream users would enjoy for normal video shooting while skiing or biking, the Sony 4K Action Cam offers similar image quality, battery life and video shooting modes (4K /1080p / slo-motion…) as the GoPro Hero4 Black.
Sony provides more capabilities on the user experience with its great Live Remote Control (additional cost), and offers an additional wider shooting angle (170 degree and 120 degree) and a higher bitrate for 4K shooting (100 Mbps vs. 60 Mbps). I personally prefer Sony camera’s larger screen to view and operate the user interface right on the device, although the navigation needs to be re-designed. The best way to avoid interacting with the camera’s three buttons is to use your smartphone as the remote control, the Sony PlayMemories application is avialable for both Android and iOS.
When it comes to Sony, the feature that is obviously above the GoPro offering is the great audio quality that allows to record audible conversations during the action, which is not the case with the GoPro Hero4 (check our video in the sound quality paragraph).
At this point I would advise to carefully read this review and select the functions and features that you like the most to make your own choice, since the image quality of both cameras is comparable (check our movies).
The Sony 4K Action Cam is a very good wearable camera for shooting high quality 4K videos while performing a wide range of different action sports, including skiing.