For those of us of a certain vintage, it’s almost impossible to believe that Sony could be described as an underdog when it comes to video cameras. But in the world of professional action cameras, it’s fallen to Sony to play David to GoPro’s Goliath. With the X1000V, the company has clearly taken the challenge to heart, throwing a considerable amount of effort into creating (and marketing) a 4K action camera that can compete with the market leader.
The X1000V shoots 4K (3840×2160) video at up to 30 fps with options to record full HD at 120 fps or 1280×720-resolution video at 240 fps. Unlike the Hero4, there’s no 2.7K recording option, and indeed far fewer resolution/frame rate choices than GoPro overall. Sony offers two recording formats, a high bit-rate XAVC format that tackles both 4K and HD at up 100Mbps or a lower bit-rate MP4 codec for HD video at a variety of frame rates. To use XAVC, you’ll need a UHS 3 microSDXC card, whereas slower microSD cards can cope with MP4.
The X1000V employs an f/2.8 lens with a 170-degree field of view. It features GPS, Wi-Fi and NFC as well as the ability to stream footage using the Ustream service. Using Sony’s PlayMemories app, you can access a “Highlight Movie Maker” mode that automatically compiles a highlight reel based on cues from the camera, such as whether you’ve panned quickly or accelerated rapidly. Unlike GoPro’s HiLight Tag feature, Sony’s highlight reel is compiled automatically, with no user intervention required. It also comes with its own background music, which we’re not a huge fan of, but your mileage may vary.
The sleek, tubular design of the X1000V is physically larger than the GoPro and the angular shape makes it better for some mounting applications (flush to the side of a helmet) than others (on the front of the helmet). Like all action cams, there are few external controls and only a tiny LED display to guide you through the camera’s settings. We found the X1000V’s three-button operation considerably easier to navigate than GoPro’s and we liked the fact that the X1000V is splash proof even without the benefit of its waterproof housing.
In fact, Sony wins additional design points for a locking record button, which prevents inadvertent recordings, as well as for consolidating the USB port, HDMI port, card slot and battery into one easy-to-access port on the rear of the camera. To access the memory card on the Hero4 requires you to physically remove a cover, making that piece easy to lose. Sony scores again for building a tripod socket onto the bottom of the camera. To mount a GoPro on a tripod, you need an accessory. Speaking of add-ons, while Sony has been diligent about adding mounts and housings to its portfolio, the X1000V has far fewer accessories to choose from than GoPro.
One area where Sony definitely trails is the waterproof housing. The X1000V’s housing is clumsy to open and close, plus it only descends to 33 feet. The case included with the Hero4 can be sent 131 feet underwater. What’s more, Sony’s case tended to collect water beads more readily by the lens.
If the X1000V boasts an all-around better design than the Hero4, it doesn’t surpass GoPro in the video-quality department, though it’s not blown out of the water, either. The X1000V uses a 12-megapixel backside illuminated Exmor R CMOS image sensor to capture 4K footage and up to 8.8-megapixel still images. We noticed fewer compression artifacts in the Sony footage (possibly due to its higher bit rate) but the colors didn’t reproduce as naturally as they did on the Hero 4 Black we tested earlier this year. Compared to other action cameras, the X1000V’s video quality is excellent, but next to the GoPro, colors seemed to be oversaturated. Selecting the “neutral” color setting in the menu can dial back the unnatural saturation a bit.
The camera’s lens has a 170-degree field of view but the X1000V has an image stabilization function that narrows the field to 120 degrees. Unfortunately, you can only engage the stabilization mode during HD recording, not 4K. It does a decent job of smoothing out the X1000V’s motion-induced vibrations, but it’s not a dramatic fix. There aren’t many options for manually controlling your exposure in the X1000V outside of a pair of color profiles and the ability to set a custom white balance. GoPro affords a bit more control.
Burst shooting clocks in at 10 fps, far slower than the Hero 4’s 30 fps. However, the X1000V starts up much quicker than the Hero4 and given its superior design, changing settings and basic operations are all executed much faster. Action cam battery life is generally anemic, and the X1000V is no exception. You’ll get about an hour’s worth of 4K recording on a single battery charge.
Sony has built an enviable action camera in the X1000V. For our money, it’s better designed than the Hero4 and has features, such as GPS, that the Hero4 lacks. That said, it’s not offering comparable image quality and is missing the frame rate, resolution and exposure options that pro users will want. It has fewer accessories, too. Sony hasn’t built a GoPro killer, but no other action cam on the market has come as close.
PROS: Splash-proof without a housing; easy operation; image stabilization; GPS.
CONS: Waterproof housing not rated for depths as low as the competition; colors can appear oversaturated; fewer resolution/frame rate options than the competition.