Sony Action Camera for Skydiving (HDR-AS10, HDR-AS15)
"An actual skydiving photographer reviewing the Sony AS15 for use while he is filming jumpers"
Updated: This camera is a complete POS for skydiving. Do not buy! If you ever have a frame that has a lot of movement in it your image will look like a 1990's camera pixelated and distorted. The white balance is overlly cold (blue) on this camera and there is no audio at slow motion. In addition, the mounting is more difficult to get any kind of angle in comparison to other sports cameras. Mine is basically a paper weight now. So read on if you like, look at the pictures and video, but know after a month or two of usage, I'm severly disappointed.
(Take a look how pixelated this rig looks during a high speed "cork")
Now back to my original article
Sony's anticipated AS15 and AS10 is finally released and is going to give GoPro a run for its money. The Camera comes in two flavors: The AS10 for $198 and the Wifi Enabled version the AS15 for $268. This article intends to educate skydivers and actual extreme sports euthiasts on the usefullness of this camera for our sport. This is not your "I'm a camera guy in a corporate america" type of article.
This camera boasts:
- Carl Zeiss® optics
- 720p @ 120fps
- 1920 x 1080 @ 30fps
- 60m waterproof housing
- 170deg FOV
- MP4 H.264 / AVC
- Wifi control and transfer (AS15)
(NOTE: The screen is a black and white only for setting up the camera)
This is the comparison video I shot before I had a chance to physically jump with the camera. It compares the AS15 vs. the GoPro 2 and the Contour+ all setup at 1080p.
and yes, my contour+ has been throttled!
At first look, the mounts look vary similar to GoPro's but a lot bulkier. Unlike the Contour, you must mount this camera vertically. At only 2 inches tall, this is a minor detail. You only get 1 curved and 1 flat mount with the kit and the tape does not look like VHB. Looks pretty easy to rip off but I will test this shortly. Ripping off the existing tape and using some VHB may be advisable. Once I can actually pull and tweak these mounts I'll have a better understanding how to secure them properly. With this said, the easiest, and safest, method to mount this camera is to use a 1/4" - 20 thumbscrew to secure the underwater housing directly to the top of your helmet. Although the camera is pretty tiny, the waterproof housing is fairly bulky. With how much stress we put on these cameras, along with having a non-replaceable lens that sticks out, I would suggest keeping it in the waterproof housing at all times! The manual states that underwater video will look a tad blurry. This is probably due to the bubble lens like the GoPro has.
It also appears you can not adjust any settings when the camera is in the waterproof housing. Likewise, I heard complaints about fogging issues with the housing. The person that had this issue in hawaii had to use a bunch of the GoPro Antifog Insterts to get it managable. There is a lot of excess volume in this underwater housing so this is understandable. The front of the case is going to be very easy to scratch since it is made out of plastic. If you scratch this, you will require a whole new $39.99 case to replace (They do not sell replacement lenses yet). It shoud be noted, that the underwater housing must be removed from the mount before the camera can be withdrawn. Be forewarned that I already dropped the front lens of the housing twice since its dongle to the case does not hold it on very well.
(UPDATED) The sample footage Sony Released was sub par. The actual footage produced is fairly similar if not better than the GoPro 2. It also suprisingly seems a lot wider than the GoPro 2 at 1080p Wide. That really suprised me since GoPro states 1080 @ 170degrees. Below is a screen grab from all three cameras. Click to see the full image.
According to the specs, the photo's are only 2MP and can only be shot at 1 every 5seconds! (REALLY?!, Gopro can shoot two 11MPixel pictures per second!) The 120fps @ 720p is surely the best spec about this camera. This basically records 4x faster than normal speed so when slowed down will make that that crazy raft dive or scary close call look sick! Check out the below sample video but switch to 720p. (Sony! Why not upload it at 1080?!)
The Record is easy to reach and from button press turn on to record is around 2.5 seconds. The menu system is fairly self explanitory to navigate once your learn the few truncated codes. The camera does have a steady shot that I have yet to test. If the steady shot is turned on the camera must record at 120degrees.
With a micro HDMI cable (not mini, even smaller) you watch on your HD TV and pause, ff, rew, slow fw, slow rev, skip next and previous. The usage is fairly easy, but takes a bit to get used to the buttons. One thing is slow play back forward works great, backwards just grabs a frame every x seconds.
As with on the computer, the playback of the 60 and 120fps footage plays at 30fps and there is no audio. Just be forewarned, that if you record your jump at 120fps the skydive is going to play back 4x slower on your computer and TV!
Wifi (AS-15 Only)
The wifi is pretty extensive. Like the Contour you can control and preview directly from your smart device. (GoPro wifi BacPac does not have this feature yet) This feature is great for setting up shots and starting recording from afar. You can also download footage directly from the AS-15 and if it is compatiable with your device (720 30fps for iphone) you can play it back. The way the wifi is setup is it makes its own adHoc wifi network and you must disconnect your current network and only connect to it. Hopefully in the future they will allow you to connect to an infrastructure network. Also they do not allow you to change the wifi network name (SSID) or password. I find the constant connecting on my phone and computer extremely annoying and almost make it not useful.
The battery life at 1080p is supposed to be 13hrs! At super slow it is only 3hrs. This awesome battery life is probably caused by Sony's custom ASIC vs. the Ambrella core that everyone else uses.
GoPro has a patent on adding expandable parts to action based cameras so this saga will be interesting when it unfolds. However, it looks like a viewfinder or something like a dock will soon be added to "make it like a consumer camcorder." Perhaps even a HUD. Only time will tell.
The AS15 ($269.99) is the full Wifi enabled version that allows you to pull (compressed) footage directly off of the camera and do with it what you want through their PlayMemories Service. This will be a nice feature for debriefing students! You can also control the camera remotely via wifi and use your smart phone as a viewfinder like the GoPro. The AS10 ($199.99) does not have this functionality but comes $70 cheaper.
I was not too impressed with the camera in freefall. With the underwater housing I had issues with fog and serious lens flare. Afterwards I ended up just affixing the camera with a piece of VHB to the side of my helmet. The lens flare was gone with this, but I had some serious white balance issues. See the below picture of the white otter.
The quality is great and the 120fps is really sweet. I think image wise it is a tad softer than the GoPro 2, but the colors look good. The mechanical can use some work and I would not trust their bulky sticky bases plus you can not "tilt" the camera like a GoPro. A side mount 'L' bracket or top mounting straight to the 1/4" x 20 is probably the way to go. The non-replaceable lens has me feeling the camera should always be left in the underwater housing and mounted as such. In addition, the underwater housing case's lens is plastic so this will scratch extremely easy! Be careful! The battery life is awesome at quoted 13hrs and the play back controls make this camera sweet for the DZ. I have not tried the steady shot yet, but it forces the camera down to 120deg FOV. The AS-15 Wifi is sleek, but no option to connect to existing Wifi makes it not as nice as it could be. I setup the beer cap drop and remotely started the recording using the wifi feature via my iPhone. All-in-all, I do like this camera and can not wait to jump with it!