Home to a stabilized 4K camera, the Sony FDR-X3000 action camera has taken a slice of the market from its biggest competitors. How does it still stack up against its fierce rivals after almost two years of its release? Hang on tight to your adventure pants while we break it down for you!
Released in the late September of 2016, the FDR-X3000 turned a lot of heads when it brought Sony’s BOSS (Balanced Optical Steady Shot) stabilisation to the table. This technology allows the EXMOR R CMOS Sensor and the 17mm ZEISS lens (35mm equivalent) to be able to move in sync and compensate for jerky camera movement.
Just as the acronym suggests, the BOSS stabilisation accurately describes the footage shot handheld. Jerkiness is almost non-existent while I was running around chasing the longboarder. A steady grip and controlled pacing can yield deceivingly gimbal-like videos. It seriously handles the inconsistencies of human handling – wait for it – like a boss (pun intended).
Its competitors, such as the GoPro, rely on electronic image stabilisation (EIS), which is an internal software that compensates for shakiness and jitters by cropping in and adjusting rotation. This can result in decreased field of view and a warping “jello” effect. The FDR-X3000 triumphs in this regard with its superior optical image stabilisation. As the technology is completely mechanical, it does not suffer from the drawbacks of EIS. This feature is also enabled when shooting 4K, which is a feature that was not previously available in the FDR-X1000V Action Cam.
Design and Ergonomics
Measuring in at 29.4 x 47 x 83mm, the design of the FDR-X3000 is definitely something of unconventionality, but surprisingly ergonomic. Most action cameras to date have at least taken a nod to the tried and tested GoPro blueprints. Sony, however, has decided to stand out from the herd with an elongated white outer plastic shell, resembling that of handheld camcorders.
This is where I feel the ergonomics helps to frame my subjects better: the GoPro is held as such below:
Most people grip it with their fingers and use their wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints to help them frame their shot.
A natural way of holding the FDR-X3000 is to wrap your fingers around the side, wrist locked, and using your elbow to pan and point towards your subject. a allows the forearm to act as a guideline for where the camera is pointed at, allowing for easier composition that uses your wrist, just like how you would point a flashlight. A high angle shot would require the action cam to be held like a camcorder, however, that does not hinder the handling at all.
Weighing a mere 114g with the battery inserted, complimented by its miniature size, it is easily pocketable and readily deployable when the perfect moment calls for it.
Image & Video Quality
So far, it’s all been thumbs up for the little guy, and that’s no different with regards to the images and video I’ve shot. Unfortunately, I did not have a fast micro SD card with the action cam to shoot 4K video. Therefore, the following is judged purely from the 1080p video shot.
The FDR-X3000 excels in daylight and sufficient
Sony has worked hard on minimising the fisheye effect present in most action cameras and the results speak for themselves: footages shot on the FDR-X3000 have little to no distortion among the edges, making the viewing experience very comfortable and less nauseating for people like me. The bit rate of the videos can be improved as upon review on a larger monitor, fast moving objects or quick pans show obvious pixelation that could make the video look amateur.
That goes for its stills as well, with the 4K time-lapses and 13MP photos when you switch to the “Photo” mode. Otherwise, during video mode, you are limited to 8MP images if you happen to come across a moment that does not grant you the time to switch modes. Pictures do sometimes come out soft and slightly washed out.
Unsurprisingly, low-light conditions will introduce noise and grain into the images and video. This is mostly due to the limitations of a small 1/2.5 type (7.20mm) sensor inside the compact housing. However, I shot with it walking on a dimly lit bridge during late evening and found the footage still rather usable, and with some fixing in post, most of the details can be retrieved, albeit making the footage slightly grainier.
Audio coming from the stereo microphones is surprisingly clear and does not distort even in crowded areas. Voices come across smoothly and clearly, with little sibilance – something that most other action cams on the market cannot brag about.
As with any action camera, the FDR-X3000 comes with a slew of accessories to help improve the handling and overall experience. The camera is bundled with a waterproof case, which means that the main unit itself is not subject to the water elements. I was also provided with the Live-View remote, which is a watch with a display that connects to the camera and allows for live monitoring.
The waterproof casing does provide a fair amount of protection with its sturdy plastic construction, however, I cannot help but be reminded that the GoPro Hero5, released around the same date as the FDR-X3000, is completely waterproof on its own.
This is where the FDR-X3000 loses out on this point, as the Hero5’s waterproof functionality really gives the user a peace of mind when it is taken out in the elements. On the other hand, users of the FDR-X3000 will have to worry about remembering to bring the waterproof case along.
The Live-View remote watch is Sony’s answer to not mounting a display on their action cam – a smart solution indeed. This allows the user to be able to check the framing of their shots with minimal disturbance to whatever activities they are doing, be it having the action cam mounted on their headgear, filming another person doing stunts, or getting the best angles possible without needing a clear view of the action cam itself. A really cool feature of the watch is that when you turn the watch on, the action cam turns on as well, eliminating the hassle of turning both on together, allowing you to start recording instantly.
However, this innovative accessory does have its drawbacks. First of all, it is bulky for something that is meant to be worn for outdoor activities. Measuring in at 47.8 mm × 52.6 mm × 19.0 mm, with a weight of approx 83g, it feels a lot chunkier and heavier than most modern smartwatches I’ve come across. Adding to that, the display is not very visible in bright sunlight and its screen size leaves a lot to be desired when things are in motion. Focusing your eyes on a tiny screen when on the move can be quite the challenge and resolving details in the shot can be hard when it is not HD.
The menu offers adequate settings such as video recording format and various resolutions. Navigating the menu, however, is a bit of a hassle due to the lack of a touchscreen on both the Live-View remote watch and the action cam itself. The buttons on the action cam are also a tad mushy with some feedback.
The watch allows camera settings to be navigated directly, which is handy and something I would expect from a remote, but the menu interface is completely different from that of the watch. This was quite a cumbersome experience switching from the action cam to the watch and having to get familiar with two menu systems for a single camera.
The estimated 2 hours 15 mins of recording time in 1080p by Sony holds true. I ran out of juice after nearly 2 hours of 1080p recording, and two 4K time lapses lasting about 10 minutes each, along with some photos here and there. The battery is easily replaceable so carrying a spare would make it last for a day, if not more.
The Sony FDR-X3000 supersedes its competition with raw video quality, compact size, and incredible features like its 4K optically stabilised video, positioning it as second to none on the market. The engineering team behind this amazing headliner should be credited for their hard work.
Sony’s efforts to make the user experience of the action cam more intuitive is a step in the right direction. However, this iteration has lacked polish and stumbled in its execution. For buyers considering to purchase the Sony FDR-X3000 action camera for their travels or active lifestyle, the steep price (S$799) could be a hard pill to swallow.
Nevertheless, the Sony FDR-X3000 excels in what it is marketed for and is a product to give us a glimpse at what more Sony could offer in the foreseeable future.