In autumn 2012 GoPro announced the launch of version 3 of the hugely popular action camera range, Hero. It also released three versions of the GoPro which vary in price and features. GoPro has been the go to name in this market, but now Sony is looking for a slice of the action (bad pun intended) with their new HDR-AS15.
GOPRO HD Hero 3 – The Hero has become even better….
To start with, let’s break down the new GoPro range. Whilst all 3 are Wi-Fi enabled, are Protune capable and accept the same accessories, the cameras do vary in what they offer.
The base model is the White Edition. It is designed to replace the original HD Hero. The silver model is the replacement for the Hero HD 2 and at the top of the range we have the 4k capable Black Edition. The Black Edition also benefits from a Wi-Fi remote control being included.
The new GoPro range features a smaller, lighter package than previous generations, being 30% smaller and 25% lighter. The models also benefit from newly designed lens system that reduces barrel distortion and the inclusion of a flat front to the waterproof housing which helps the camera deliver greater quality images when used underwater. This is a big improvement over previous generations.
The button design has also been improved, meaning the buttons are easier to press, even in the waterproof housing. The connections are on the right hand side of the camera, concealed by a cover that for some strange reason is not attached to the camera. This means that in many cases it will get lost. Although an annoyance, it will not affect the camera in use at all.
All 3 models also now come with the addition of Wi-Fi, which allows you to use an app for your Smart phone to control the camera remotely and stream footage from the device. This is implemented well and will be a very useful feature in many situations.
Sony HDR-AS15 Action Camcorder with Wi-Fi – What does it offer?
The Sony HDR-AS15 (not a name that rolls of the tongue) is Sony’s first action camera, and is as well built as you would expect. With it being the first generation it means they do not have the wealth of feedback that GoPro has had from their models and in some respects this does show in the performance of the camera. It will be very interesting to see the second generation of Sony Action cameras, but that is getting ahead of ourselves slightly.
The HDR-AS15, like the Hero models have built in Wi-Fi, but be careful when buying as Sony also makes a non Wi-Fi version. It too comes with a smart phone app to control the camera, which due to a design flaw in the menu system makes it a necessity.
The Sony does have one feature that sets it apart from the Hero3 cameras; inbuilt image stabilization. This is not optical, but it does take care of a lot of low level vibration and really works very well. The Sony battery surpasses that of the Hero3. Sony is claiming 13 hours of battery life at 1080p which is great for those who may be out shooing in conditions where you will not have access to charging batteries easily. The waterproof housing for the Sony relies on you taking the front off to put the camera into it. The problem is the front of the housing is only attached to the rest of the housing by a plastic strip with two small barbs. This is quite flimsy and is likely to lead to people dropping the front of the housing, possibly losing it in the process. The Sony case does however feature a standard tripod mount, which is a nice touch. It’s now that obvious point in the article where I compare the cameras for you, so let’s move to that.
|GoPro HERO3 (White)||GoPro HERO3 (Silver)||Sony HDR-AS15|
|Movie Resolution||1080p30 / 960p30 / 720p60fps||1080p30 / 960p48 / 720p60fps||920×1080/30P(HQ), 1280×720/30P(STD SLOW, SSLOW), 680×480/30P(VGA)|
|Still Image Recording||5MP / 3 fps Burst||11MP / 10 fps Burst||2 MP /16:9 (1920×1080)|
|Optics||Ultra-sharp ƒ/2.8 – 6 element lens, Ultra wide angle with reduced distortion||Ultra-sharp ƒ/2.8 – 6 element aspherical glass lens, Ultra wide angle with reduced distortion||Carl Zeiss® Tessar® f/2.8 wide angle Lens|
|Audio||Mono, AAC compression w/ AGC||Mono, AAC compression w/ AGC, Supports optional 3.5mm stereo mic adapter||Monoral Speaker, MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2ch|
|Memory card||MicroSD class 4 or higher required. MicroSD Class 10 required for 0.5 timelapse. Up to 64GB capacity supported.||Class 4 and higher required, Class 10 for .5 sec Timelapse and 10/1 Burst. Up to 64GB capacity supported.||Memory Stick Micro™ (Mark 2) / Micro SD/SDHC Memory Card(Class 4 or Higher)|
|Battery||1050mAh rechargeable lithium-ion||1050mAh rechargeable lithium-ion||1240mAh rechargeable lithium-ion|
GoPro Hero 3 vs Sony HDR-AS15 – Control over the actions….
The Hero3 system is based around a simple 4 button system. It is intuitive in use. The system works well and it is possible to operate the system with gloves, under water, etc. It is well thought out. GoPro also have an optional touch screen back which, although not waterproof to a full 60m is still usable up to 3m depth and makes the camera very simple to operate. Obviously GoPro have had two previous versions of the Hero3 range and have redesigned the camera to be used in a multitude of situations.
The Sony camera on the other hand has a menu system that can really only be described as poor, in fact, it is terrible.
When in the waterproof body the Sony only has one usable button. This would be OK if they had made a menu system that could be navigated with that one button, but they haven’t. To change the settings on the Sony (including turning the camera off) you need to use the two buttons on the side of the camera. This is fine, but somehow the designer thought it would be OK to make these buttons unusable when the camera is in the waterproof housing. This is far from ideal, especially with the Sony housing having a front that is able to come detached from the body, meaning you could find yourself with problems on a shoot. In many conditions you may not want to actually remove the camera from the housing. The buttons are also difficult to operate wearing gloves, making things even worse. You can obviously control the camera by your Smartphone, but again getting out a Smartphone when pouring with rain is far from ideal. The GoPro is a clear winner here.
GoPro Hero 3 vs Sony HDR-AS15 – Image quality does matter….
The standout here is the Hero3 Black Edition. This camera is capable of producing stunning quality footage that is very near to DSLR quality. The ability for a camera of this size to be able to do that is amazing. The Hero3 Silver Edition also produces great quality video, which surpasses the previous generations of Hero3, but it does suffer from rolling shutter in some instances.
The quality of footage from the Sony is similar to that from the GoPro Hero3 Sliver. The level of ISO noise and detail is similar. The Silver Edition probably just edges it out if pushed. The Sony’s trump card of image stabilization really does work well in use. It will obviously not take out the most severe bumps, but it does take care of low level vibration very well. The downside to using the image stabilization is that it does take the field of view down from 170 degrees to 120, but it is a worthwhile trade off unless you really need the ultra wide image. It is unfortunate that the image stabilization is the only thing to make the Sony stand out above the Hero3 Sliver Edition.
The waterproof housing for the Sony also has issues. The curved lens leads to footage that is blurry and lacking in definition. There is a specific underwater lens available, but as GoPro have improved their standard case so much to counter this issue, it seems a bit unreasonable to have to pay out for a decent underwater lens on the Sony camera.
GoPro Hero 3 vs Sony HDR-AS15 – Be surprise with the sound quality….
The sound quality from this type of camera is never going to be mind blowing, especially if you have any wind around, but the quality from these cameras is reasonable. GoPro have a large improvement from the previous Hero3 models with the version 3. The Sony is fine sound wise, it will not blow you away, but it records decent enough audio for most needs. The main point here is that the Sony does not record audio in 60/120fps modes, not a huge thing, but a definite deal breaker for some. Obviously if sound quality is important to you then you need to look to add an external mic to the camera to get high quality audio from these cameras.
GoPro Hero 3 vs Sony HDR-AS15 – Accessories for every situation…
With the Hero3 you are able to buy into a great range of accessories that will provide something for almost every situation. The Hero3 still does not have a standard tripod mount, but there is a cheap adaptor for this and in many instances you may not even need it.
Sony has released a wide range of accessories for the HDR-AS15 and these will obviously continue to grow as the system matures. The Sony does have a standard tripod mount on the casing which is a good thing and one that GoPro cannot change to without creating huge issues with backwards compatibility.
Both camera systems have LCD screens available, the Hero3 will allow the camera to remain waterproof to 3m, whilst the Sony will require you to remove the camera from the housing to use it, but does give the Sony an appearance and feel of a more traditional camcorder.
The truth is, whichever system you go for there are plenty of goodies to tempt you to splash more cash on it.
GoPro Hero 3 vs Sony HDR-AS15 – Which Action Camera should you get?
So where should you put your hard earned cash? The Hero3 Black Edition is the obvious answer here. It delivers amazing quality for such a small package. This however does come at a cost, but it really is worth the money.
If you can’t stretch to the Hero3 Black Edition then the decision is a little harder. The Sony has amazing image stabilization, which really does work well in real life use and great battery life. The image quality is good, but not amazing and the curved lens on the waterproof housing means it is decidedly average when used underwater. The worst thing about the Sony though is the awful menu system. The Hero3 Silver Edition lacks the image stabilization of the Sony, but it does have a better menu system and the housing does work well underwater. In terms of image quality there is not much in it, but the Hero3 Sliver just wins out. It’s not that the Sony is not a good camera, more that it has some annoyances that will be sorted out in the next generation. Once that happens though, GoPro really will have a major competitor for the action camera crown.
I know I have not really mentioned the Hero3 White Edition in this article. It is a great camera, but at the time of writing Digital Rev have the better specified Silver Edition on offer for the same price. Go for the Silver, it is a no brainer.
Note: following a retraction notice received by SoftLayer from GoPro on 29th March 2013, this review has been republished.