Sony’s been producing SteadyShot-capable Handycam camcorders for what feels like eons. Over the years it has refined the tech to produce better and more stable footage. It means your favourite memories aren’t ruined by wibbly-wobbly video that makes you feel a bit seasick.
With its newly launched Sony FDR-X3000R, the company has managed to miniaturise its Balanced Optical SteadyShot (the company calls this B.O.SS) technology into an action camera. That's pretty insane.
The B.O.SS technology can be thought of as a completely floating lens unit that moves to counteract your hand movements, resulting in far steadier footage.
I was shown a one-off translucent FDR-X3000R made purely to illustrate how the tech worked. Turn the Action Cam on and you can see it spring into life, floating within its unit to negate the camera movement. The amount of counter-movement available was a surprise.
It should result in far superior footage compared to the electronic image stabilisation seen in previous Action Cams. Sony showed me some test footage captured from a bicycle riding along a bumpy pavement and the difference between the FDR-X3000R versus a competing camera was pronounced. A complaint often levelled at GoPro cameras is the lack of any form of image stabilisation.
The great news is that the B.O.SS stabilisation will still work while shooting in full 4K resolution. Something that wasn’t possible with the FDR-X1000V. You had to drop the resolution down to 1080p to use plain old electronic image stabilisation.
The FDR-X3000R becomes the new flagship Action Cam from Sony, making the older FDR-X1000V the mid-range 4K option. In terms of design, it’s not drastically different from Sony’s previous models, including the HDR-AS50 Action Cam I reviewed recently.
It has a familiar camcorder-esque shape that makes it more recognisable in a sea of GoPro copycats. It comes in a glossy white finish like the FDR-X1000V before.
There have been some small design tweaks, with all of the connections now tucked away on the rear. Previous Action Cams have had some of these on the bottom next to the mounting point, which made access difficult. It makes way more sense on the back. Sony's Action Cams use a standard tripod thread but you can also buy a GoPro adaptor for very little money.
While the FDR-X3000V is bigger than the various 1080p Sony Action Cam models, it’s still reasonably small and light. It’s water resistant to IPX4 but you’ll need to pop it into its included waterproof case if you want to use it underwater. This adds water resistance to 60m but also adds a considerable amount of size.
The camera is equipped with a Zeiss Tessar multicoated lens paired with a 1/2.5in 16:9 Exmos R CMOS sensor with an 8.2-megapixel resolution. Sony has made improvements to its performance where it comes to barrel distortion, meaning you get far less of the ‘fish eye’ effect. The lens has an equivalent focal length of 17mm when shooting in 4K but if you drop down to 1080p you can go for narrower field of views.
The FDR-X3000R can shoot at up to 4K resolution at 30fps, with more cinematic 24fps and 25fps options, too. You can shoot at up to 100Mbit/s bitrate if you use Sony's XAVC format. Dropping down to 1080p opens up framerates of 120fps for slow-motion footage and the great news is that B.O.SS will still work. There’s also a new 4K timelapse mode.
As there’s a GPS sensor inside, you can overlay your footage with speed and route information. A new speed log can show your speed over time rather than just showing your current speed. Time logs will help those shooting with multiple cameras in editing their footage together and there's a jack for an external mic.
Sony must have been listening to my complaints about the HDR-AS50 because there are now three recording lights when there was only two previously. With another light on the front, it’ll be more obvious the camera is recording when you’re filming yourself.
Sony’s updated its Live-View Remote as well. Previous Action Cams have been compatible with a wrist-worn Live-View Remote that let you see what you’re shooting. These were useful as there’s no display on the camera itself and using the smartphone app isn't always ideal. The new model is 24% lighter and 30% smaller than older remotes.
Where it has also been improved is in that the display can now be detached from its strap allowing you to mount it elsewhere. You can attach it to Sony’s optional Shooting Grip selfie stick or, more interestingly, to its new Finger Grip accessory.
This is probably one of the more intriguing action camera accessories I’ve seen and I can see it being great for travellers. You hold the camera with your index finger looped through the trigger-like loop and the attached Live-View Remote can be tilted for high- or low-angle shooting easily with your thumb.
You can adjust the digital zoom using controls on the side of the remote. The menus on the Live-View Remote now also mirror that of the main camera body, too. Previously, the remote menu felt a little disjointed and confusing to navigate.
There’s Bluetooth Smart support that allows you to remotely turn the camera on and off. This is particularly handy if you have the camera mounted out of reach. As before, there's a PlayMemories mobile app you can use as well and this emulates many of the functions of the remote.
Sony rates its battery life at 135 minutes in 1080p or 60 minutes if you use 4K resolution. That's a very respectable amount of longevity in 1080p, but about par for the course where it comes to 4K. The battery is at least user replaceable so you can carry a spare.
I was really impressed by the test footage that Sony showed me, although I’d need to capture my own footage to pass any real judgement. The camera itself felt as well constructed as previous offerings, so there was no real surprises there.
The B.O.SS stabilisation is the main draw, but that has the potential to make great strides in improving your footage. Sony should be commended for managing to take the technology of its big Handycams and fitting it in a small action camera.
The improvements elsewhere all sounded great and fixed some of the issues I’ve experienced with Action Cams that have come before, so I was pleased to see Sony had been taking user experience on board.
I also really love that Finger Grip accessory. It’s a great way to capture footage and I’d love something like that when I’m capturing action camera footage while on my travels.
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The camera launches in November with a price of £500 for the model that comes with the Live-View Remote, so it doesn’t come cheap. You do get a good range of included accessories at least; with an extra tripod mount included for the Live-View Remote that will let you use it with Sony’s other accessories, such as the handlebar mount, and the standard adhesive mounts thrown in, too.
I'm excited to take this for a test run but then of course there's that heavily rumoured GoPro Hero5 to contend with as well. Keep checking back for a full review as soon as we can get a sample in.
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