Sony HDR-AZ1 Action Cam Mini Review
Every Hero needs a villain.
By the Numbers
Sony has been a major player in many electronic categories for years—including camcorders—but it is relatively new to the action cam game. It's got a slowly growing stable of options, but the Action Cam Mini is the first the pares back the experience in the name of saving money.
That said, Sony is being aggressive iterating on its model, attempting to go beyond simply copying what has worked for GoPro. Unfortunately, the Action Cam Mini cuts just a bit too far, with our lab test revealing a camcorder that is thoroughly outclasses by its pricier competition. That wouldn't be that bad, but it also loses out on ease of use and battery life—two improvements that would've made this an easier recommendation.
Action cams don't generally produce very sharp images, as they're often saddled with small image sensors and heavily distorted, wide-angle lenses. It's also sometimes beneficial to step down the resolution in search of faster framerates, sacrificing some detail in the process.
The AZ1 does include nice HD options such as 1080/60p and 720/120p for fast moving scenes, but the results aren't quite up to standard. We recorded resolution of just 450 line pairs per picture height vertically and 425 horizontally in bright light. This is about 40% softer than even the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition from a year and a half ago, and about on par with most smartphones.
It's just not a strong result. It loses a lot of detail due to heavy overprocessing, and even more thanks to the distortions of the wide-angle lens.
Low Light Performance
Most small sensor cameras have a tough time in low light and the AZ1 is no different. The AZ1 required 14 lux to record a usable image. If you look at the example below, the quality of the image even in 60 lux of light was less than desirable.
This limits the camera greatly when shooting at night, but it'll also pose a problem if you're shooting underwater where light is limited. Adding motion to the equation only makes the quality drop further. We recommend shooting in the brightness of day or bringing plenty of artificial lighting.
Motion & Detail
The AZ1 has all the basics covered when it comes to resolutions. You can shoot 1080/60p or 720/120p to capture fast moving action. Motion is generally rendered well, though there's notable artifacting throughout. We shot the footage below at 1080/60p, which best combines detail and high frame rate.
As you can see it is nice and smooth. We noticed a little bit of trailing as well. Overall it's not a bad result. It won't compete with the best that GoPro has to offer, but it will do when you want to capture action.
Battery life on action cams can make or break what you capture. The worst feeling in the world is to have a battery die right before the cool stuff happens. That said, the odds of that happening with the AZ1 are much higher than with other cameras.
When we tested the AZ1 battery life we shot at 1080/60p without the WiFi on and only got 60 minutes of continuous shooting. This is fairly low, but manageable, since spare batteries are easy to come by. The real problem comes when you flip on the WiFi–which is required to change any settings at all via a smartphone or the live-view remote. Once you connect via WiFi the battery life is instantly cut in half.
This restricts a lot of longer shooting and makes it impossible to just mount, record, and forget about the AZ1 because you will be recharging or changing the battery before you know it. There are no battery pack options to extend the life, either, so you're stuck purchasing backups and replacing them often.
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