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Gone but not Forgotten: the Sony Action Cam


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Recently, I was given a Sony FDR-X3000 Action Cam, and with a ski trip planned for the weekend, I thought, “what a great opportunity to test this little guy out.” The 4K pocket camera was released in 2016, but I sought to find out if it had any relevance today. 

327i1C50A001FD4AC42D.thumb.jpg.7122e4f258ef660005abf65967a6b277.jpgThe Sony FDR-X3000 Action Cam

My initial impression was favorable. The camera boots up instantly, and there are REC lights on the top, front, and side of the camera, so there are no doubts when you’re recording. It’s light, portable, and the design is aesthetic. Since I didn't have the optional add-on monitor, I couldn’t see what I was shooting the whole day. But when I offloaded the footage that night, I was a bit disappointed.

328i6B52538CA4F47887.jpg.b2a7e3207cf0175d6f3a99bdd1a60780.jpgUngraded footage with the Action Cam mounted to my snowboard via a suction cup

I'm guessing the shaking of the snowboard brought out the worst of the Action Cam's rolling shutter, which is quite bad. The footage with the camera mounted to the snowboard was unusable. Fortunately, the handheld stuff came out better. 

329iF2EC2F94D844CA50.jpg.4a658dea39ba026b63cb6f14e87840f6.jpgHandheld Action Cam footage with a quick color grade

And with a little stabilization in post, some of the handheld shots came out super smooth.

330iC83D4AAB977F5E32.jpg.06d53d974a3812682887db6d3a86ac7b.jpgAction Cam footage with a quick color grade and post stabilization in DaVinci Resolve

Most handheld shots were unrecoverably rough. However, I only realized after the trip that I had the Action Cam set to Standard stabilization, when there was an Active Stabilization mode. Perhaps this would have resulted in even smoother footage.

Regardless of its stabilization, the Action Cam was disappointing for other reasons as well—like how grainy and noisy the footage got when you weren't shooting in bright daylight. Looking back, I think my expectations for this tiny $400 camera were simply too high. 

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how the same type of shot would look with my a7sIII, so I took it instead on the second ski day.

331i87FD724C1D64DE98.thumb.jpg.addd48c14e1e33d2e6dbfccf4bba0fed.jpgPutting the a7sIII’s weather resistance to the test

Without any gimbal or even handles on my cage, the internal gyroscope made all the difference in the world. Even the shakiest shots were recoverable in Catalyst Browse.

332i9CD9552F9E22139F.jpg.1966e93d5e4efe258f6eda0df9fb5a15.jpgUnstabilized a7sIII footage with color grade (50mm lens @ 1/200 shutter speed)

333i34EFB7F8909B135B.jpg.214223e93237bab8a66bedf82110e8b6.jpgThe same shot stabilized in Catalyst Browse

After this comparison, I saw no real use for the Action Cam for myself personally. The alpha cameras are small and light enough to fit in a backpack and hold with one hand, yet they give you more color depth, more dynamic range, more room to stabilize in post, etc etc. I'll concede that it’s not exactly a fair comparison, pitting an a7sIII + lens that will set you back a couple grand, versus an Action Cam that cost only $400 when it was new. In fact, the Action Cam was not designed to compete with DSLRs—its main foe was GoPro. And I have to say, watching side-by-side videos on YouTube of the Sony vs the top GoPro in 2016, the Action Cam looks better. Better stabilization, better colors, better exposure. But I feel like the consumer market would opt for a GoPro, simply because of their adhesive mounts that allow you to easily stick them to anything. To mount the Action Cam to my snowboard, I had to bring a Wood's Power Grip suction cup, which kept coming off because the scratches on my snowboard didn't make for a smooth enough surface. Plus, when you have to carry around a big suction cup (and if you want to adjust your angle, a tripod head as well), the camera isn't exactly a pocket cam anymore.

So here's to you Action Cam. A beautifully executed, well-designed piece of technology that unfortunately doesn't have much use in 2023.

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It's remarkable how far the tech has come in just a few years. You can control and monitor the ActionCam using the Imaging Edge Mobile app. The accessory monitor was a neat idea but I never got my hands on one.

The small form factor lives on with the Sony RX-0. Designed for production with heavy metal chassis, monitor on the back, LOTS of mounting options, and lots of control options including ethernet. It's really remarkable what all this little camera can do.

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