GoPro is currently the undisputed king of action cameras and most of the competition is handling that by releasing action cameras with gimmicky features to attract consumer attention. Sony, on the other hand, is taking a price cut approach that tries not to compromise. The Sony AZ1VR is the latest action camera to hold the budget banner with a $349 price tag – $50 cheaper than the GoProHERO4 Silver.
The Sony AZ1VR is called the “Sony Action Cam Mini” for a reason; it is small for a high-end action camera weighing just 2.2 ounces and measuring less than an inch wide. Of course, this means that there is a smaller battery inside resulting to less battery life than Sony’s bigger action cameras. There is also a noticeable lack of audio and video ports as all you can find on the rear of the camera is a microSD/M2 card slot and a micro USB port both hidden behind small doors. This compact and solid design approach makes the Sony AZ1VR IPX4-class splash proof and freeze proof as long as the temperatures do not exceed -5 degrees Celsius. Plus a waterproof case is included right out of the box if you need to take it underwater not exceeding 5 meters or need extra protection against dust and drops. The waterproof case has a tripod mount on the bottom and the camera functions remain useable.
There are a couple of buttons on the side of the camera that toggle the power and Wi-Fi states and a record button on the top. There is a tiny screen below the power and Wi-Fi buttons too if you wish to check the battery life and Wi-Fi status. Because nothing else can’t fit on the small body, you cannot change the settings of the AZ1VR from the body.
Sony’s approach to this compromise is the Live-View Remote RM-LVR2V that comes with the package. The neat thing is that you wear this compact remote like a smartwatch and it is water-resistant as well. The remote feels a bit bulkier than a standard watch but the strap makes it feel pretty comfortable to wear when necessary. You turn it on by pressing the button on the bottom and you can bring up the menu and display info using the buttons on top. The 1.5-inch screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio but the 115,200-dot resolution makes the live view appreciable and makes this accessory the primary way to configure the action camera. A pair of directional buttons can be found on the side of the display and there is a record button on the opposite end so you may start a recording session remotely. Like the main Sony AZ1VR unit, the remote can be charged using a standard microUSB cable.
The AZ1VR’s strong suit is its use of various Sony technologies that are already present in Sony’s point-and-shoot and mirrorless cameras and smartphones. The SteadyShot technology is the best part as it eliminates various kinds of blur. This electronic stabilization technology may not sound useful in a device that isn’t primarily used for taking still images but it becomes mighty useful for snowmobile and motocross fanatics that demand smooth video even on rough terrain. Bumpy rides simply won’t cause unwanted blurring. It is accompanied by other familiar Sony technologies like the Exmor R CMOS sensor for optimal low-light performance, the BIONZ X processor for speedy image processing and a 170-degree ZEISS Tessar lens.
The Sony AZ1VR can also handle the new XAVC S format so you can crank up the quality to 50 Mbps at full HD without the compression artifacts. You can also record 120 fps video complete with sound or have it take a series of snapshots and merge them all together using Motion Shot LE to show off motion. It is even possible to use the AZ1VR upside down by setting the vertical image inversion option so you can see the output at regular orientation.
With built-in Wi-Fi, Android and iOS devices can connect to camera if the PlayMemories Mobile app is installed. Android devices with NFC get a better experience as it is as simple as touching the camera with the smartphone to establish the connection. Once connected, you can control the Sony AZ1VR the same way you can with the remote and even use the mobile device to upload recorded media to the Web.
Hardware-wise the Sony AZ1VR is well equipped to take on the latest GoPro models and ends up being a solid choice if you want something small and you are okay with the 90-minute battery life at 1080p 30fps setting. The addition of a wearable remote is an interesting choice and seeing the live view there is pretty cool although there are some connectivity issues especially if you place the camera far from the remote. Other than that, the Sony AZ1VR is a great action camera for $350 and you can save $100 dollars if you don’t want the live remote and don’t mind configuring the camera using your mobile device.