Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Action Camera Battle: GoPro vs Sony vs Polaroid Cube!

I have been a GoPro action camera user since past 2 years (Read GoPro purchase experience from * Read before buying a GoPro * GoPro India FAQs * Experience visiting GoPro dealer store in Chennai * GoPro mount warranty claim experience * ) GoPro showed the world a whole new way of capturing extreme actions and adventures and created a great market for itself among adventure junkies and those involved in extreme sports. Seeing GoPro's success, many brands have jumped into action camera bandwagon- from some of the cheap Chinese replicas (Read SJ4000 vs GoPro) to well known camera brands launching their own version of action camera. HTC has launched something called RE. Sony has launched its own Action Camera and Polaroid, who were once known for cameras that pop-out instant printout of the photo have launched Polaroid Cube.

When I visited an electronic store inside Changi Airport, staff were directing customers who were asking about GoPro to check out Sony action camera, saying later is better and fast moving. I wanted to find out if they are saying so because of higher margin or if Sony is really better than GoPro.

Recently, during #FlipkartOutdoors Indiblogger meet in Bengaluru, I got to try my hands on two of the above action cameras- Sony Action Camera and Polaroid Cube. This post shares my findings about the same, based on close to 4 hours we got to spend with the camera and keeping my GoPro experience as reference. Picture in the left shows me holding the 3 action cameras- clicked by Vidya Sury.

This post shares my findings during the day. While we had to return the cameras by afternoon, they let us take the memory card with us, so I could take a look at the photos and videos at leisure.

Sony Action Camera
When I first saw the Sony Action camera, I got a feeling that Sony didn't build an action camera ground up. Instead they seem to have done reverse engineering- take their slimmest handycam, remove all unwanted features like viewfinder, zoom, flip LCD display etc, try to reduce the size as much as possible and then launch the resultant camera as "Action Camera". Result is that Sony Action Cam is bit bulky in size compared to GoPro and seems bit more delicate, but it offers much better image quality compared to GoPro, at par with other Sony cameras, thanks to Carl Zeiss lens. Also instead of a simple name, may be Sony should have adopted some unique name for their Action Cam range (like Cybershot, HandyCam, Xperia etc)

Let us compare videos and photos taken using GoPro and Sony Action Cam

Above is our group pic taken using GoPro (Hero 3 Black), below one is clicked using Sony Action Cam. Sony image is more sharper and rich in color, in-spite of shade

Video Sample 1: Mission Rescue Shailaja!
A 60 second video on GoPro Hero 3 black took 250 MB, while 75 second video on Sony Action Cam came to 145 MB. (In case any video is not displaying properly, all of them are available in my Youtube Channel here)

Above video was shot using GoPro while below video was shot using Sony Action camera- same setup. You can see that GoPro covers slightly larger area but Sony is bit more colour rich and overall of better quality. These videos feature Shailaja V, a popular Bengaluru based blogger who was in our team- she accidentally slipped while negotiating the wooden logs, but successfully managed to get herself up and complete the walk. Kudos to her.
Video Sample 2- Zorbing- Ami Bhat and Deepa having fun

Above video was shot using GoPro while below one was shot using Sony Action Camera-notice the wide angle in GoPro
Sony Action Camera
GoPro Action Camera
1. Sharper and colour rich images at par with other Sony cameras
2. More sales and service outlets than GoPro

1. Bit bulky and delicate
2. Status check is difficult from a distance
3. Not as wide as goPro in terms of field of vision
4. During extreme adventure like skydiving or racing, a bigger camera will offer more resistance to wind and stronger mounts will be required-not good
1. More wide angle than Sony
2. Compact and light weight than Sony
3. Easy to know if recording is in progress (I can see a red blink from a distance)
4. If taken in right position, GoPro can give nice fish eye effect- check this post and this

1. Poor colour sensing abilities
2. Not so good in low light/indoor conditions
3. After sales support in India is still a concern.
Both Sony and GoPro come with wide range of accessories for various custom purposes. Both have App support so that you can preview on mobile. Sony even supports NFC (Near field communication, if you phone supports it). I couldn't test battery life and other aspects in detail. Many accessories bought for one can be used for other (not all)

Sony action camera comes in 3 variants, priced from 20000 to 40000. Expect some discounts/offers on flipkart. This price range is on par with GoPro range. (Cheapest GoPro, Hero starts at 12.5k as of now)

Sony Underwater video 

If you would like to see a sample GoPro under water video, check here (shot in Thailand under different circumstances.

Overall, Sony looks very promising in its new action camera department. Has few drawbacks, but good quality output makes it a great choice for most customers- first timers and those involving occasional adventure sports. But I guess hard core adventure freaks won't be willing to give up on GoPro yet.

Polaroid Cube Action camera
Polaroid cube is a small cube sized action camera (Similar to GoPro Session) and doesn't have too many controls. It is operated by one button and assisted by one LED light. All controls are to be done with this button and light. There is no display.

Below is a sample photo clicked using Polaroid Cube and a video shot using the same.
Looks like I got the video controls wrong. When I thought it is recording video, it only took still photo. Unlike GoPro or Sony there isn't a way to know for sure that is happening in the cube- how much battery is left etc. Control will take some time to get used to. Current model do not have app support to check preview/control etc, but we are told that is expected in next version. I was also told later that it won't change its orientation automatically unless you restart it (this is by design)

Polaroid Cube is a lot cheaper at 9K, so though it has some limitations compared to Sony, GoPro, it is good value for money action camera. There are wide range of accessories for Cube too, including waterproof mount, tripod mount and so on. With an add on, regular GoPro mounts can also be used for Cube. Comes in lots of colours as well (Sony and GoPro don't have any colour other than black and white or shades of it)

So should I go jump and buy an action camera?

Things to note before deciding to buy action cameras-It might look all great to buy an action camera for yourself and start recording all the adventure action you will be indulging in. But do read below points to ensure that you are aware of all the realities.

1. More than one camera is required for a professional video- buying one camera will give you only one perspective. Professional videos are shot using multiple cameras, so that footage from different angle/perspectives can be shot and best of them can be edited together to make an amazing video. (Example- during a bike ride,few kms from helmet view, few kms reverse view, few kms from handlebar, few kms from closer to the front wheel etc) Having just one camera will limit your full potential in scenarios where you can't re position the camera half way through the adventure.
2. Accessories, accessories, accessories- Action camera is all about having right accessories. Be ready to spend decent amount on mounts, holders and other accessories, depending on what kind of adventure you will be into.
3. Battery life- battery life will be a concern during a multi- day outing. Action camera batteries, like smartphones, will drain fast. So you should either buy additional batteries or should have provisions to charge them on the go
4. Once chance- unlike professionals, when we buy a ticket and indulge in some adventure activities, we get just one shot to make the video. If it is not good, then it may take lots more money to shoot the same again (in most cases). Most adventure organizers would want you to buy the photo/video from them for an additional cost and may not like you shooting your own. Also unless you have proper mount, your camera won't be of use in some scenarios.
5. No Replacement for DSLR- Action cameras have very little control and no Zoom. So they are not a replacement for a full size professional camera.
6. Editing videos will be time consuming- shooting video is easy. They take several GB space on the memory card and then on the hard disc. Going back home, editing and processing those videos will be a time consuming activity that demands lots of patience, a high configuration laptop etc. If you can't do all that, soon your excitement of action camera will vanish.

I don't intend to discourage you, just want to list the ground realities.

Overall we had good time indulging in adventure and shooting them on action camera. Thanks to all my team members for the support. Event details are covered in this new post.

Do check this post- 11 Adventure Activities you can try in Karnataka 


Ami said...

Seems like you covered it all. My vote goes to GoPro. Cheers

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Ami.

Prasad Np said...

Good detailed review.... I think action camera market is also going to witness big changes soon

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Prasad. Yes, we will have more options and cost will come down.

Shailaja Vishwanath said...

Wonderful post covering it all, Shrinidhi! I think I like the Sony Cam the best given the picture quality, audio as well as the capture in low light conditions.

Oh and thanks for the praise and mention ;)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Shailaja

Life360degrees said...

Great post. I liked the fact that you showed actual pictures and videos. Very informative

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thank You!