We seem to have a slight flurry of releases in the higher-end of the ActionCam market, with Sony’s latest FDR-X3000R a powerful entrant in the £500 bracket.
As we learned from recent coverage of Garmin's new adventures in the world of action cameras, there's a lot of choice available to the budding snowboard or skydiving cinematographer. While it's probably GoPro who popularised the field, Sony has been producing very competent cameras for a while, and in a form factor that's arguably rather easier to strap on the side of a helmet.
Its most recent innovation is the £500 / €660 FDR-X3000R, a 4K camera a bit smaller in profile than a pack of cards, though perhaps a little thicker, with the lens on the smallest side. The company is keen to promote its steadyshot technology, which is implemented optically as part of the Zeiss Tessar lens assembly and therefore remains available even when the high resolution or high frame rate modes are in use. The high speed selection includes a reasonable 100fps in HD modes, more or less representing the state of the art in small cameras. The camera uses XAVC-S recording, a variant of the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC codec, at 100Mbps for 4K material and 50Mbps for HD.
The S variant of the XAVC codec range is the cut-down option originally intended for use on small, highly-portable cameras such as the FDR-AX100 and HDR-AS100V, which itself was a camera intended for action shooting. It's ideal for recording to formats such as micro-SDXC or SDHC cards, which have limited speed and capacity, and it's a smarter codec than some manufacturers have used at similar bandwidths. It would be reasonably safe to assume that the 50Mbps bitrate was chosen to satisfy the common minimum requirement of broadcasters. Although that requirement is a rather blunt instrument as regards actual control of perceived image quality, it's certainly enough for solid results at HD with a reasonably good codec, and modern flash storage accommodates it easily.
Much of the camera's electronics are clearly based on technology developed for Sony's existing range of small cameras, and the Exmor and BIONZ trademarks, which refer to their proprietary sensor and processing technology, are mentioned. With the sensor offering just over 8 real megapixels of resolution, which is directly equivalent to a 3840 by 2160 pixel image, good-quality processing of the Bayer image into a full colour RGB frame is naturally key. Although it isn't often talked about, this sort of image processing is a stern challenge for camera designers, and the smaller and lower-powered a camera becomes, the more difficult it is. Sony's ability to make custom silicon for this sort of purpose is likely to serve it well here, since application-specific integrated circuits do more work for less space and power than the programmable logic used in the big cinema cameras.
While these specifications represent improvements over the current range, it's in the wireless and network connectivity stakes that things get particularly interesting. A wireless live-view remote device, which is suitable for wrist or handlebar mounting, provides image preview and camera control, or there's a phone or tablet app when a larger display is required. The camera can also feed direct to Ustream via a WiFi network.
The only remaining issue would be finding a downhill ski course, mountain bike track or kite-surfing location that's entirely coverable by wireless Ethernet…
Read the full press release after the break.
Meet the FDR-X3000R; the new BOSS of the Action Cam world
Compact[i] FDR-X3000R 4K[ii] Action Camwith Balanced Optical SteadyShot™ (B.O.SS) image stabilisation, even in 4K and high speed recording modes
New 1/2.5 type 8.2MP[iii] Exmor R™ CMOS sensor with big pixels designed for video with 16:9 aspect ratio and BIONZ X™ processor enabling full pixel readout without pixel binning
New ZEISS® Tessar wide-angle lens with more natural image reproduction and significantly reduced distortion
Intuitive operation, full control of shooting and on/off power settings with new Live-View Remote[iv] in wearable and mountable design
Waterproof up to 60m with supplied Underwater Housing (MPK-UWH1)
Ability to capture series of high-quality still images for 4K time–lapse movie[v]
Sony today launched a new 4K Action Camthat brings together all of Sony’s imaging expertise to deliver a great video experience and will capture movies that users will be proud to share, save and keep to show future generations. The new 4K FDR-X3000R[vi] contains a wealth of technologies that have never been seen in POV cameras. This includes Sony’s patented B.O.SS technology which has been rolled out across Sony’s premium Handycam® range and for the first time has been adapted for use in Action Cam.
Designed with the changing real world usage model in mind, the addition of B.O.SS into this new model means that the user doesn’t have to worry about a jerky or jumpy video; they can focus on the activity they are participating in. The FDR-X3000R may be mounted on a bicycle or car, held in the hand using a range of optional accessories but will always deliver noticeably more effective image stabilisation[vii] compared to current models[viii]. This image stabilisation even compensates for strong camera shake and is available in 4K and high speed recording modes.
The new model comes supplied with Sony’s latest Live-View Remoteiv which is approximately 30% smaller than its predecessor[ix] and can be attached to mount accessories such as the optional Handlebar Mount (VCT-HM2) using the supplied mount adaptor. This may also be worn like a wristband or attached to various optional accessories such as Shooting Grip (VCT-STG1) or the new Finger Grip (AKA-FGP1) with the key advantage being control of shooting settings including power on/off and start/stop recording, without having to touch the camera itself. Users can also control the camera with their smartphones and tablets[x] with the free PlayMemories Mobile™ app. The new camera and Live-View Remote all feature a similar user interface and menu system, with a rich indication of camera settings that makes it easier to navigate menus and customise settings as needed.
In addition to being able to shoot beautifully balanced 4K video on the FDR-X3000R, this new model offers the option to capture approx. 8.3MP[xi] interval recording shots for stunning 4K time-lapse videosv. Simply edit with the free Action Cam Movie Creator PC software[xii] and share with whoever you choose to[xiii]. Be warned though, these results are likely to cause jealousy amongst your friends.
The marriage of ease of use and beautiful results has been enabled by a number of different Sony technological wonders which are hidden beneath the Action Cam casing. The FDR-X3000R is powered by the same BIONZ X processor which can be found inside Sony’s flagship ɑ7 cameras and optimised for use in Action Cam. Light is captured via a newly developed Exmor R CMOS sensor and the new ZEISS® Tessar Lens delivers a more natural image with significantly less distortion than current models.i The combination of image sensor and processor enables full pixel readout without pixel binning for truer colours and reduced ‘jaggie’ effects. You can capture high-bitrate recordings in 4K at 100Mbps, Full HD at 50Mbps in the XAVC S™ format[xiv] and the stereo mic ensures that sound is crisp and clear and benefits from Wind Noise Reduction so you can actually record the audio that you want[xv].
Features that have proved to be very popular on the existing Action Cam models have been retained in the new model. It includesangle adjustment of “wide”, “medium” and “narrow”[xvi] and smooth zooming (up to 3x), the latter being changeable during recording. It also offers Loop Recording, high speed recording in Full HD at 100p for stunning slow motion action[xvii],Live Streaming via the Ustream platform[xviii],Burst Shooting and the ability to manually adjust white balance and auto exposure shift. The FDR-X3000Rbenefits from a splash proof body and is supplied with a fully waterproof Underwater Housing (MPK-UWH1) that is effective down to 60 metres. It also offers an in-built tripod socket, giving the flexibility to attach to a variety of accessories without needing an adaptor or housing and all terminals have been placed on the back of the of camera, making it easier to use HDMI, the Micro USB or the microphone jack even when attaching the camera to various Action Cam accessories.
Sony’s own Highlight Movie Maker[xix] automatically selects points of footage, action scenes, and now people’s faces to create a short movie, complete with background music. GPS data overlay on video reads your speed data and location information recorded by built-in GPS and generates another video file that displays your route and speed information so that you can archive your adventures with complete accuracy[xx].
The growing range of Action Cam accessories is boosted further still by two new introductions that are ideal compliments to the new FDR-X3000R.The AKA-FGP1 Finger Gripallows for easy one-handed monitoring and operation of the Action Cam with Live-View Remote and tilts up to approx. 120 degrees for interesting low and high angle shots. The AKA-MCP1 MC Protector adds an extra layer of protection for the Action Cam lens, protecting it from dirt, dust and scratches when being used without the underwater housing. It has an advanced AR coating for great image quality and is even water and oil repellent.
The new FDR-X3000R will start shipping in November 2016 priced at approximately £500 / €660, more technical information can be found online here. The AKA-FGP1 and AKA-MCP1 will be ship from November 2016 priced at approximately €25 and €35 respectively.