30 Jan 2015

I recently purchased two new action cams for skiing.  I picked up a few Sony AS20 cameras to replace my older Polaroid XS100 and gained a few features along the way.  I'll outline the specs and how things perform in this article and you can view the YouTube video below for an example. 

My older action camera was the XS100 which did ok on its own.  It was lacking a few features I wanted in a portable action camera, particularly for the faster motion of skiing.  The Sony AS20 has 1080p60 whereas the XS100 would top out at 720p60 as far as framerate went and the XS100 would do 1080p30.  I wanted a camera that could hit 60 fps at full 1080 mode.  The AS20 did this and the a few extras.  It also features the 4x slow motion 720p120 mode.  This comes in handy for some fun moments during skiing.

Features

Out of the many bonuses that the Sony AS20 has, include Wi-Fi connectivity, meaning you can connect your favorite flavor of smartphone to the camera and view what the AS20 sees.  There is also an option to purchase the wearable Live-View Remote (RM-LVR1) sold separately.  These live view options can come in handy for lining up shots both beforehand and during recordings, though I've yet to use the remote view feature while skiing, rather only in getting the mounts lined up correctly.  The unit also features One Touch Near Field Communication (NFC) as well, for connectivity.  The unit has a 16.8 megapixel back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor, which handles the max output of 1080p60 but also can capture 11.9 megapixel stills.  The AS20 has a max bit rate on recordings of 28 Mbps.  Size wise the unit stands 1.85" tall by 3.228" wide by 0.965" thick without the housing or mount attached.  It actually sat lower on my head than my previous XS100 Polaroid for skiing use. 

The AS20 features a SteadyShot powered 120 degree field of view mode.  You can however, turn SteadyShot off and shoot at 170 degrees.  Things become a bit more fish-eyed in this mode and I found the stabilization to be highly necessary for skiing videos, so now I opt to use the SteadyShot On / 120 mode rather than 170 and off.  I find the slow motion 720p120 mode to be really useful for pole mounted ski videos.  The only drawback is there is no sound with these recordings, but if you are using another audio recorder or second AS20 then you can do something interesting.  For instance, in Sony Vegas I can take the 720p120 slow motion track and set it to 4x speed, which is basically normal speed.  In doing this, i can then slice the video at parts where i want the slow motion and set the speed back to 1x, which makes for a very cool effect and with a second audio source you have a full on recording which can be "slowed" to 120 fps at any given point.

Battery and Record Time

Battery life is quite good.  I've found that the battery generally lasts the entire 6-8 hour ski session without the need to change the battery.  In a typical day I tend to record about two hours worth of videos and have no trouble doing this without swapping batteries.  The unit will auto-shut off after a few minutes, depending on what time-out value you have set.  As you can see from the image above, with a 64GB card at 1080p60 you will likely get about 5hr 28 minutes of recording (though you'll have to swap batteries a few times).  There is also the ability to take pictures.  Based on research here are all the average times you can record onto a single 64GB card:

1080p60: 5 hours 28 minutes
1080p30: 8 hours 34 minutes
720p30:  22 hours
720p60:  11 hours
720p120: 5 hours 49 minutes
480p30:  41 hours
Pictures:  11,080

Other Notes and Mounts

One thing to note, is that if you have connected the camera via Wi-Fi to your smartphone at some point, this can cause the auto-power down to NOT work.  I had to go to the phone's Wi-Fi area and disconnect the camera in the software from the list of hot spots, afterwards all was well and battery life worked as expected and auto shut power off functioned.

It came with several mounts right out of the box, though I opted to purchase a few extras thanks to the add-on kit sold by sony.

For the mounts on the helmet I use zip ties to make them strong and stable, though one helmet I had to use a strap I still had from the old camera and do the tie-down method. 

 

As you can see in my videos, I also created a pole mount for the camera as well, using one of the mounts that it came with.  To do this, I just wrapped some black tape around the pole location for protection from scratching and then I used zip ties to make a snug fit.  Here are some shots of how I used the mounts:

 

So far, picture wise, I've been quite happy.  It seems to have a sharper image than the previous XS100 camera, though the AS20 struggles a tad on a darker day (see my Jan 25th video for an example), but the quality is not "horrible" by any means and is still better in lower light than the XS100.

When I purchased this camera, I got it from the Sony website for $130 and it also came with a high-speed 64 GB micro SD card, which was a steal.  At this price for me, it was hard to justify nearly twice as much for a GoPro by comparison, which has a similar sized sensor to begin with.

The unit comes with the waterproof housing for protection, rated to a depth of around 16 feet.  The old camera I had (the XS100) was by default waterproof, no enclosure needed.  I have yet to test this one underwater, but it handled snow and ice well without any fogging issues.

It is worth noting that for about $100 more, you could buy the AS20, AS100 or AZ1 from Sony, all of which use the same mounts, and also gain GPS.  Gaining GPS allows their PlayMemories software to overlay a speed readout in the final rendered video if you choose to do so, which I think is a cool feature, but for now I'm getting my speed checks from a smartphone app, which does the job fine for non-video records.

Incidentally, I don't really use the PlayMemories software at this point, though it has a nice feature which lets you instantly create a split-screen view if you have two recordings that were done at the same time, either by two different people or maybe one on the pole and one on your helmet, as an example.  For my purposes Sony Vegas 12 seems to get the job done well enough and I've found for rendering I'm using the following for reference:  MainConcept AVC/ACC then customized to be: 1920x1080, Profile High, Allow source to adjust frame rate, Field Order: Progressive, Pixel aspect: 1.0, Number of Reference Frames 4, Use Deblocking filter is checked.  Variable Bit rate average at 25 MBPS and max at 28 MBPS, with number of slices at 4 and render using CUDA if available and also Enable Progressive Download is checked.  I also set the audio to match at 128 kbps.

The Sony AS20 also has HDMI output on the connectivity panel as an option.  In addition, on this panel there are ports for microphone and the usb charge port.  You can charge via the USB or you get a standalone charger and remove the battery and charge the AC adapter.

Conclusion

For the price and the level of performance, the Sony AS20 cannot be beat.  Its feature rich set of options and very good optics make it one the best low cost choices out there, nearly on par with a simiilar GoPro model.  To show you how it performs take a look at the video below.  This is the first of a few videos I've made in the last month or so and links to other videos can be found in the description of the first one on YouTube:

Listed below are some of the official specs taken from the Sony Product information page:

  • Advanced Features

    • Image Stabilization : SteadyShot image stabilization w/ Active mode
    • Dustproof : Yes (In use with Waterproof Case (SPK-AS2))
    • Wi-Fi : Control with Smartphone
    • Interval Recording : Yes (photo) (5s/10s/30s/60s)
    • Waterproof : Yes (In use with Waterproof Case (SPK-AS2))
    • Airplane Mode : Yes
    • Power Save : Yes
    • Shockproof : Yes (In use with Waterproof Case (SPK-AS2))
  • Camera

    • Camera Type : POV Camcorder
    • Auto Non Flicker : Yes
    • Gain Control : Auto
    • Color : Black
  • Convenience Features

    • Multiple Language Display : English
    • Media/Battery Indicator : Yes (recordable time) / Yes (remaining capacity)
    • On Screen Main Indicators : Recording Mode; Image stabilization; Shooting Mode Status
    • Image Management File Repair : Yes (AUTO)
    • Fast Playback : About 5 times/10 times
    • Convenience Features(details) Date&Time, Area Setting
      • Date & Time, Summer Time, Area Set : Yes
  • Display Panel

    • Display Panel : Yes
  • Drive System

    • Shutter Speeds : Auto Control Range: 1/30 - 1/10,000 (30fps)
  • Exposure System

    • Minimum Illumination : 6 lux
    • Exposure Settings : Auto
    • Scene Mode(s) : Auto / Underwater
    • Metering Modes : Multi-segment
    • Backlight Compensation : Yes (Auto)
    • Noise Reduction : Yes
    • White Balance Mode : Auto
  • Imaging Sensor

    • Processor : BIONZ® image processor
    • Pixel Gross : Approx.16.8 megapixels
    • Color Filter System : RGB primary color filters
    • Effective Picture Resolution : Approx.11.9 megapixels(16:9)
    • Imaging Sensor : 1/2.3" (7.77mm) back-illuminated Exmor® R CMOS Sensor
  • Imaging Sensor(details)

    • Recording pixels (photo, 16:9) : Approx.11.9 Megapixels
  • Interface

    • HDMI Terminal : Yes (HDMI micro)
    • Memory Card Slot : Memory Stick Micro™ and Micro SD/SDHC/SDXC compatible
    • HD Output : HDMI Out(micro)(sold separately)
    • Wi-Fi : Yes (IEEE 802.11b/g/n(2.4GHz band))
    • Multi/Micro USB Terminal : Yes
    • BRAVIA® Sync™ : Yes
    • SD Output : Composite Video Out(AV CABLE VMC-15MR2(sold separately))
    • Microphone Input : Stereo Minijack
  • Optics/Lens

    • Minimum Focus Distance : Approx.11 7/8inch (Approx.30cm)
    • Lens Type : Carl Zeiss® Tessar® Lens
    • Focal Distance : f=2.5mm, f=1/8inch
    • Steady Shot Mode:Active : 21.3mm
    • Aperture : F2.8
    • Focal Length (35mm equivalent) : Movie mode: f=15.3mm(170°), f=21.3mm(120°) Photo mode:f=15.3mm(170°) Interval Photo Recording Mode: f=15.3mm(170°),f=21.3mm(120°)
    • Angle of View : 170° (without SteadyShot), 120° (with SteadyShot)
  • Power

    • Power Requirements : 3.6V (battery pack)
    • Battery Type : NP-BX1
    • Power Consumption (in Operation) : 1.8W (in Display Panel operation)
    • Charge on camcorder (Charging time with supplied Battery) : Approx. 4h 05min
  • Recording

    • Progressive Mode : Yes
    • Video Signal : HD:HDTV 1080/60p
    • Microphone/Speaker : Built-in Microphone, Monoral Speaker
    • Video Resolution : 1920 x1080 60p/50p (PS), 1920 x1080 30p/25p (HQ), 1280 x720 30p/25p (STD), 1280 x720 60p/- (SLOW), 1280 x720 120p/- (SSLOW), 640 x480 30p/25p (VGA)
    • Audio Format : MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2ch
    • Movie Recording Rate(Average Bit Rate/VBR) : PS: Approx.28Mbps/ HQ: Approx.16Mbps/ SSLOW: Approx.24Mbps/ SLOW: Approx.12Mbps/ STD: Approx.6Mbps/ VGA: Approx.3Mbps
    • Video Format : MP4: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
    • Still Image Mode : JPEG
    • Still Image File Format : DCF Ver.2.0 compatible, Exif Ver.2.3 compatible, MPF Baseline compatible
    • Media Type : Memory Stick Micro™ (Mark 2), Micro SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card (Class 4 or Higher)
    • Still Image Max Effective Resolution : 11.9 Megapixels
    • Still Image Size(Photo Mode) : 11.9 megapixels 16:9
    • Video Actual (Pixel) : Approx.11.9 Megapixels
  • USB Charging(details)

    • blank : DC 5 V 500 mA/800 mA
  • USB Power Supply

    • blank : Yes (1.5A or more is recommended)
  • Weights and Measurements

    • Weight (Approx.) (Total) : 2.9 oz (83g) (NP-BX1(supplied battery))
    • Dimensions (Approx.) : 31/32 x 1 7/8 x 3 1/4in (24.5 x 47.0 x 82.0mm) (W x H x D)
    • Weight (Approx.) : 2 oz (58g)

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