Panasonic is taking serious aim at the super-competitive action-cam market, and its latest release seems at first blush to be a viable competitor to the class-dominating GoPro, at least for some uses. The A100 is a mountable cam with WiFi connectivity, designed for outdoor activities and sports.
Unveiled at CES on Tuesday, the A100 was a popular booth attraction. We elbowed our way in and got some hands-on time. While we thought it was solidly put together and admirably lightweight, we couldn't help but feel that the lack of a viewfinder—other than when it's tethered to a mobile device—might be frustrating. Essentially, it forces you to hope that your shots are framed correctly. Then again, the head-mounted design suggests that the camera will, ideally, capture whatever you're looking at.
Design & Usability
Adventure cams tend to be spottily designed, but we appreciated the sleek, regimented build.
The A100 is divided into two units: a simplified control console and the cam itself. As of now, the device comes in either orange or grey. About the size of a smartphone, the console includes just four push buttons (on/off, record, still shot, and WiFi settings), and can be easily strapped to an included armband.
An "EarHook" device is also included—essentially a headphone-like headband that fits snug around the ears and attaches to the camera. But Panasonic didn't stop there. You can also get a helmet mount, ideal for rock-climbing, mountain biking, skateboarding, etc. The cam is pretty light, so it's easy to maneuver as you please. Once again, the lack of a viewfinder requires a degree of visual intuition—not a huge problem, but there's definitely something of a learning curve.
Compared to other camcorders, the A100 isn't groundbreaking. But adventure cams always prioritize usability and functionality over ultimate image quality, at least some extent.
The A100 has precisely two standout features: a detached camera mount and WiFi connectivity. On their own, these are somewhat routine, but together they create a combination rather unique among adventure cams. The ability to monitor and record video on a mobile device affords the device a considerable degree of creative potential.
The waterproofing (up to five feet for 30 minutes) isn't too impressive, but it ensures that getting caught in a rainstorm won't ruin your footage, much less the device. While it's designed for outdoor activities, the A100 could feasibly be used for a number of alternative purposes, such as cooking instruction, live concerts, vlogging, home monitoring, and even low-budget filmmaking (well, maybe). Never mind the dinky 1/4.1" backside-illuminated sensor and limited recording formats; the A100 satisfies a specific purpose—one that can be applied to a variety of hobbies and professional endeavors.
In a private demonstration at the Panasonic booth at CES, a representative showed us how the WiFi monitoring system works. The live feed is a bit choppy, but the recorded playback is surprisingly smooth. The simplicity of the control interface also makes for a very user-friendly experience.
The A100 is a unique addition the adventure cam market, but its success will depend almost entirely on how well its unusual features satisfy the demands of POV video enthusiasts.
The adventure cam market (often called "POV" by industry insiders) is packed with quality options, and dominated by the GoPro goliath. To break into this space you really need to innovate, not only in functionality but in the user experience as well. Despite its few image quality and handling shortcomings, the A100 seems poised to meet these demands.
We suspect outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the head-mounted design and simple four-button interface, and unlike Polaroid's XS7 (and even many GoPro devices), the A100's utility seems to be limited only by your imagination. The sales pitch—whether Panasonic realizes it or not—is this: the A100 allows users to share their ocular perspective with others. It's "simulated vision," so to speak. Of course, such a perspective isn't inherently interesting: creativity is still required.
The A100 (or cameras like it) could easily become a staple among amateur chefs, mountain bikers, and vloggers—unless, of course, the GoPro comes along with a better-designed product in the same vein.