Sony AS15 Action Cam POV Camcorder IRL (In Real Life) Review- I bought the Action Cam package on a whim- a massive deal had popped up with multiple discounts and while I had been toying with the idea of a GoPro, I didn’t really need one. After the discounts I needed one. There were scenarios where I had wanted to get pictures or video, but taking any old camera would be perilous to the camera. Particularly with the mud, water, dirt, drop damage that would occur- i.e. in races like the Spartan where carrying a point and shoot would be impractical – the camera would likely be destroyed due to the environmental conditions, and would be very disruptive if I had to take it in and out of a protective case to take a shot. Having used this for some time, the following is my IRL review of the Sony Action Cam AS15
Design- the Action Cam is a tubeish style POV cam, rather than a flat rectangular style POV cam like the GoPro. It is fairly unremarkable and not necessarily something that I would write home about in terms of design. Certainly one thing that I like about this is that it is discrete and hides in the background, and doesn’t draw a lot of attention. This is good if you want to use this when traveling for example, and record your stuff without being disruptive and drawing eyes to you. That’s pretty much it. Probably the only thing that jumps out to me is the wide angle lens that provides a 170 degree view- its nearly fish eye but not- but it sticks out quite a bit and Sony doesn’t provide a protective lens cover with this unit, which I think is a bit silly. To be fair most POV cameras don’t have that protective lens cap, and I believe that Sony offers it as an accessory. It sticks out a lot though and I really think a cover should be included. I think that you can buy this cap separately, but that seems stupid to me.
The live view remote is REALLY chunky and definitely feels like a rugged piece of kit- its quite large and seeing how other remote sensors have been made, as well as smart watches, I can’t help but feel that it should be smaller. Its also asymmetrical in design which kind of ALWWAYS jams into my wrist. Looking at the new design for the live view remote that comes with the AS50, its definitely an improvement to me in terms of design. It just doesn’t look like a preschool toy like the LVR1 does.
Build Quality- I have to say that the AS15 feels more like a nice point and shoot rather than a rugged POV cam that would survive a fall- the plastic used, the flaps, …it all adds up to something that just doesn’t inspire as much confidence as other POV cams I have held. Especially the giant lens sticking out. Its not that it feels cheap, but it doesn’t feel like a rugged kit that you can just throw on your gear and hit the whatever thing. Put it into its waterproof case and it feels like I could throw it at someone to protect myself. Which is a shame because it shouldn’t have to always go into the case to feel rugged. On the other hand, the comically large live view remote LVR1 feels like a solid piece of kit that would survive the elements quite well.
Ease of Use- this camera is not easy to use- the user interface is managed by three buttons that do not always make sense in how you use it- you just force yourself to use this bizarre menu system that is slow to make changes with. I find this fairly frustrating and annoying – using the remote doesn’t really help either because options aren’t always available in the remote. I read that the new AS50 has an improved grid style interface, which is much better. The AS15 just is not easy to make settings adjustments to easily. I also find it annoying there is no dedicated power button- you just mash any button to start it. The other thing I don’t like is that the LVR1 WiFi connection is not always stable and often times I will find it disconnecting. It also takes a long time to find the camera and set up the video interlink. Definitely feel like there could be improvements in speed and stability here. The nice thing about the LVR1 is that I can use it with Sony’s other WiFi equipped cameras like the a6000. Unfortunately, its a similar situation where it is slow to pair. Another nice thing, compared to other POV cameras at its time, live viewing on a remote was simply not available (even now I don’t think its very common), so that’s actually a pretty neat thing. I do quite like the bright LED on the watch showing if record mode is on or not. I also just like the idea of the remote watch- its very helpful to have a live view remote on your wrist when its difficult to control the camera or make sure the framing is right when you are pre-occupied with other things (i.e. I used it to film my bench press gains). I also hate how there is no tripod mount on the camera- successors have integrated tripod mounts (bizarrely small tripod mounts too), because the only mount it comes with is on the waterproof case. The bad thing about the case is that when wifi is on, it HEATS UP fast and makes me worry about longevity. In water, it would be ok, but on a hot day or just regular room temperature, I would not use the waterproof case just to use a tripod mount. The skeleton frame that adds a tripod mount also is a bit of a turd according to user reviews and I didn’t bother getting it. Finally, I hate the off center live view remote, because it always jams into my arm or wrist whenever I bend my hand like in a bench press. The newer live view remote is now more symmetrical in design and doesn’t look like it will jam as badly. I do like the GIANT record button on the remote- its very easy to access and activate.
Image Quality- I must admit, this is an area that I feel is lacking in the AS15. While I have read that it holds its own against the GoPro (the then generation at its release), I can’t help but think that there must be improvements that could be made in terms of image quality. Maybe its because of the super wide angle lens that compromises IQ. However, I have never looked at a image from the aS15 and mistaken it for being from a different camera- it just lacks critical sharpness, has unnaturally vivid colors, and looks like a toy camera. In this day and age of modern cameras, I expect more. Particularly when smartphones are able to nail image quality so well. I imagine it has less to do with the sensor size and more to do with image processing and lens quality. Even with good light, images lack that bang and finesse that a basic point and shoot with a similar sized sensor has (1/2.33 inch). Seeing images and video obtained from GoPros really makes me question the reviews that say the Action Cam is better with sharpness and color. I also find that there is a lot of purple fringing, something typically associated with entry level cameras and cameras from like 2003. I also don’t like that it can only shoot in 2MP – certainly it doesn’t matter as much since the image quality is so bad, but I think that it should really be a big issue to put it at its full MP count for interval shooting.
Video- I’ve touched on image quality in the previous section so I won’t touch on IQ here in video- however I do want to touch on image stabilization- Sony doesn’t use optical or sensor based stabilization (and I don’t think any POV camera does, possibly be because for the amount of jitters you would experience wearing a POV camera, it would not be enough). It uses electronic stabilization- but its not the typical electronic stabilization that I usually laugh at (jacking the ISO up to ridiculous speeds and using a faster shutter speed). Instead what it does is reduce the view to 120 degree and uses all that extra data outside the 120 to 170 degree perspective to clip out and stabilze the image. So it basically uses software to move the image and crop it so that the image is stable- and it works really well. While it doesn’t help with still images, it does make video for things like running very usable. You still get a good jolt from impact with the ground as the foot strikes, but generally its very stable outside of that- from what I have read- other POV cameras need this done in post processing, so I quite like this being done in camera.
Other- I find the battery life rather so so- wifi really murders the battery life quite quickly. However, new batteries are available, which is nice, since you don’t really have time to recharge the camera when you are filming some hot action- I remember I was filming the zip lining on my bachelors and i was running out of juice midway. While I have a portable charger pack, its rather useless when you are in the middle of filming. So its nice the batteries are hot swappable. They however, do not come cheap. The nice thing is that Sony uses the X battery in a lot of their devices, so they have made a portable X charger, meaning that you can swap out the dead battery and drop it into this charger, while you get a fresh one into the Action Cam. That’s a nice feature.
You will notice a lot of these pictures i am hand holding the as15- because there is no freaking tripod screw built in- GARGHHHHHHHH
Conclusion- I think the AS15 is a ok but not stellar first start for POV cameras for Sony. While its clear that newer generations have added features like 4K and such, I’m not as in need to get those features, and I find it to be a great buy at its clearance price, or used market price. My biggest issue is probably the IQ – while I’m not expecting it to be a DSLR level, I do expect it to at least be on par with a good smartphone picture, and it really just is not there at all. Too much purple fringing, lack of detail and just a lack of impressiveness. This doesn’t matter to me as much for A POV camera since I’m mostly concerned about getting shots where I normally wouldn’t have been able to with a regular camera- it is however, the AS15’s most considerable drawback. Add that to its sometimes spotty WiFi implementation, and I think its at best worth the clearance price/used price but certainly not the original MSRP. Would I get it again? Probably not- its old enough that more recent generations of the Action Cam are available in the used market to not too much more, and it looks like IQ at the very least has improved.
TLDR- Cons- meh image quality, spotty Wi-Fi implementation, lacks splash proof design wihtout case/Pros- live view over wifi