There are two brands in the action camera market: GoPro and everything else. Long time camera heavyweight Sony is now hoping its expertise in camera development and movie production is enough to make its action camera part of the conversation.
Topping Sony’s range is the X1000V, an action camera priced at $599. We’re pitting it against the Hero4 Black, which is the best camera in GoPro’s range, and it has a retail price of $739 in Australia.
Both cameras work with smartphones, both support ultra high definition recording and both come with waterproof housing. The differences, however, are in the details.
How do I control them?
Action cameras take advantage of the technologies in a smartphone. GoPro and Sony have released companion applications for iOS and Android, though GoPro has gone one further with support for Windows Phone.
The apps allow smartphones to double as a live viewfinder, as a place to review captured content and make it possible to configure settings.
GoPro versus PlayMemories Mobile
Sony and GoPro’s companion applications are both centred on a live viewfinder; otherwise, they largely differ.
Serious photographers will appreciate the control they have over the GoPro’s granular settings. The settings for all of the shooting modes are in one place, in detail and well organised.
The interface of Sony’s application is simpler. The settings panel is linked to the shooting mode enabled on the camera, which means it will only display the settings for a photo if the mode of the camera is set to take photos. Organising the settings this way means the X1000V is more likely to display settings that are relevant.
There is one shortfall to Sony’s application. The interface is undermined by the technical language used in the video resolution setting. Instead of listing the resolution and the framerate of a recording, it uses shorthand most technophiles don’t understand. Not even our staff photographer could make sense of the language. The camera would’ve been a lot easier to use if it displayed “1920x1080 at 60 frames per second”, instead of its tag “PS”.
Hail, rain or shine
Only Sony’s X1000V is splash proof without its casing. This means the camera can be mounted without its protective body and still work in the rain or around the perimeter of a pool.
The camera has an integrated tripod mount — something the GoPro camera does not have — and this makes it possible to mount the Sony action cam to an accessory without its waterproof body.
The cameras come with waterproof casing. GoPro’s casing is certified for use in water 40 metres deep, while Sony’s is limited to depths of 10 metres.Read more: Olympus TG-850 review
Good Gear Guide performed two tests to evaluate the tough credentials of these cameras. We mounted them onto a Subaru Liberty and went for a two hour drive in heavy rain, and put the cameras in a freezer for 19 and a half hours.
The cameras performed as promised during our drive in the rain with the casing completely protecting them. It was our freezer test that returned mixed results.
Sony’s camera housing protected the X1000V so that it did not perspire at all when it was unpacked from the casing. GoPro’s Hero4 faced some initial troubles. The non-water resistant body had beads of perspiration as we aired the cameras out. Photos taken thereafter were flushed of colour and appeared foggy for the next two hours. The camera then worked as normal.
The housing of GoPro’s camera is not explicitly certified against other elements. Sony’s housing differs with claims it is ‘dustproof’ and ‘shockproof’, but no certification information is provided. Both of them appear tough enough to withstand the odd scratch or soft drop.
Photos, timelapse, videos and more
Glancing at the specifications of the two cameras reveals the GoPro Hero4 leads. It will take photos at 12-megapixels compared to those captured by the 8.8-megapixel Sony X1000V.
Both cameras support a 120 degree field of view. Sony’s camera goes one further by offering the option to capture photos at 170 degrees wide. We tested the 170 degree wide angle of the Sony camera and noticed a dip in quality steep enough to stop us from using it.
Comparing the image quality of the two cameras involved taking photos of a subject at the same time and then reviewing them side-by-side. We used a 34-inch display from LG that had a wide 21:9 aspect ratio and a high 2560x1080 resolution.
Photos: During the day
Both cameras have a wide colour gamut. Photos captured under natural lighting by the GoPro were sharp and characterised by bold greens and reds. The camera’s ‘GoPro Colour’ setting embellishes colour and, although it is on by default, it can be disabled for users interested in photos that are true-to-life.
Those taken with the Sony X1000V had a cooler colour temperature that favoured blues. Sony’s camera would prove adept for surfers and snowboarders as it makes the colours of an ocean or the sky stand out.Read more: GoPro's new action camera is smaller than ever
Image clarity was good for both cameras; however, GoPro’s Hero4 outperformed Sony’s X1000V in this regard. The GoPro camera will soften details for a better looking photo, while Sony’s camera will truthfully capture the photo, only with an increase in image noise.
Taking a close-up photo with the Sony camera of a purple flower revealed some chromatic aberration. The Hero4’s photo did not have this problem.
Photos: At night
The GoPro’s tendency to manipulate colour and lighting results in better looking photos taken under dim lighting or at night. Its photos are sharper, have less image noise than Sony’s and ultimately retain more detail. This is particularly evident in high contrast situations as the Sony camera has a narrower dynamic range and will occasionally wash detail out with flaring.
Both cameras can be used to capture stunning timelapse videos set to various increments, though one nudges ahead in its ease of use and its quality. The Sony camera can record timelapse photos in 1080p resolution; however, the camera leaves the captured footage as independent photos that then need to be collated into a timelapse video.
The GoPro Hero4 can capture timelapse videos in a resolution up to 4K and will automatically combine them into a video file. Further separating it from the less expensive Sony camera is the clarity and colour of the photos it takes at night.
Testing the video quality of the camera’s involved strapping them to the bonnet of a car on a day when it was raining heavily. The attachments provided by GoPro and Sony did not make it possible to mount the cameras in the exact same position.
GoPro provided us with a Jaws Flex Clamp mount, which retails for $79.95 in Australia. We mounted it to the front of a Subaru Liberty, just before its boxer engine on the grille.
Sony’s camera came with a mount in the box, the nature of which uses adhesive 3M tape to stick to surfaces. Instinct had us thinking it was inferior, but experience revealed it could keep up with the GoPro’s without any problems. It’ll work with or without the casing, and we used it to position the camera up on the bonnet.
Heavy rain obscured the lenses of both cameras and the different positioning influenced the image quality and the accompanying audio track.
The videos were recorded in Full HD resolution and not the ultra high definition standard both cameras support. Recorded videos were stable and not shaky across both cameras in spite of running over some bumps and ripple strips. Clarity was also good across both cameras.
The overcast day tested the dynamic range of Sony’s camera. There were times where detail would be flushed out due to the day’s glare, such as the boom gate at the 6 second mark in this video, or the water at the 16 second mark, or the branches of the trees throughout the video’s second half.
A lot of audio is being picked up by the Sony camera. There’s the thud of raindrops on the car’s bonnet, the whine of the engine, the grazing of ripple strips and some wind. The audio is transparent and not manipulated.
A wider dynamic range allows GoPro’s Hero4 camera to retain more detail than that of Sony’s. The texture of the clouds and the details in the trees are richer, for instance.
The GoPro tends to exaggerate colours. The green of the grass at the 23 second mark, for instance, has been embellished for a more vibrant picture.
The audio track of GoPro’s camera differs largely to that of the Sony camera, in spite of the recordings being taken at the same time. Many noises are attenuated, including the sound of the car’s tyres running over the ripple strips and a lot of the wind. The camera picks up some frequencies and cancels others out in an effort to include only relevant sounds.
One area Sony’s X1000V excels in is its battery life. Although its 1240 milliamp-hour (mAh) battery is marginally larger than the Hero4’s 1160 mAh battery, it constantly outperformed it when taking photos or recording videos.
The timelapse videos featured earlier best illustrate how much longer Sony’s action camera lasted as the two start at the same time, and yet Sony’s camera is the only one that captures some of the action at night. A fully charged Hero4 took photos for 1 hour and 54 minutes, while the X1000V lasted significantly longer at 3 hours and 17 minutes.
Sony’s battery results are impressive, particularly because it features in-built GPS technology, which is a connectivity technology absent from the Hero4’s repertoire.
These two cameras take photos and capture videos in different ways. Sony’s action camera adopts a transparent, ‘what you see is what you get’ approach most film lovers will appreciate, while GoPro’s camera takes some liberties in manipulating them for photos that are flashier and more vibrant.
More detail can be captured with the Hero4 Black than that of X1000V, but Sony’s camera has many strengths of its own, such as being $140 cheaper, coming with in-built GPS and longer lasting battery life.
Choosing between these two cameras is difficult because they excel in different areas; no one camera is clearly better than the other.
Leave the deciding vote to the mounts. The best camera will be the one that can follow you into the action.