The GoPro has long reigned supreme as the action camera of choice, but the 4K-capable Sony FDR X3000 is here to change that. Here are 10 reasons why it is one of the best action cameras you can buy right this instance.
If you want to make a burger, you add cheese. If you want to film yourself risking life and limb on a skateboard or when jumping out of a plane, you buy a GoPro. Those are the rules. Unless you are allergic to dairy. We digress.
Except that is no longer the case because GoPro is no longer alone. One competitor is Sony, because it knows how to make a brilliant camera, and the other is Xiaomi, which can make a cheaper action camera for those on a budget.
The Sony FDR-X3000R is the latest offering from the manufacturer and the FDR X1000’s more newer and expensive brother. It can be had for £458.57 for the ‘R’ version on Amazon (usually £500), which includes a separate LiveView Remote display.
In terms of the basics, the lens is of the Zeiss Tessar variety while the sensor is a 16:9 Exmor R CMOS. It can shoot video, photos and time-lapse shots, with a Bionz Z processor at the heart of the operation.
So what makes the Sony FDR-X3000 and FDR-X3000R action cameras special and why is it a GoPro Hero 5 killer when it costs more? We have tested both ─ here are 10 reasons.
1) It has proper image stabilisation
It may be hard to believe, but only one action camera currently uses a physical form of optical image stabilisation and it is the Sony FDR-X3000. Known as BOSS (Balanced Optical SteadyShot), the feature irons out vibrations and movements for less shaky footage.
This is an important feature because action cameras are designed to be used when moving and moving makes shaky footage. It helps, too, that a physical system is drastically better than an electronic one and there are plenty of videos available online that prove our point.
2) Even 4K video is stabilised
Yeah, yeah. We sound like a stuck record but the Sony FDR-X3000 can stabilise an image when shooting 4K footage, which is another unique feature for an action camera. The GoPro Hero 5 Black is stuck at 1080p for any sort of stabilisation.
That means you can maximise detail with the Sony but never take a hit on visual quality. Whereas with the GoPro the quality suffers as a result of electronic stabilisation.
3) Yes, it can shoot glorious 4K
4K at 60fps is missing from all action cameras at the moment so those who want silky smooth footage are better off dropping down to 1080p or 720p as up to 120fps is possible.
But the Sony FDR-X3000 tops out at 4K at 30fps in either 60 or 100Mbps detail, which is good as the GoPro Hero5 Black and Yi 4K Action Cam gets and plenty to make a 4K television shine. If you are lucky enough to own one.
4) The LiveView remote makes life easy
You can buy the Sony FDR-X3000 on its own, but we would recommend the FDR-X3000R because it comes with the aforementioned LiveView Remote that can either sit on your wrist or behind the camera when using one of the two grip accessories (Finger Grip and Shooting Grip).
Why? Because you never have to physically get behind the camera to see if a shot is lined up and that is essential in awkward mounting situations (no giggling back there).
Plus, in the case of making driving videos, you can press record from your wrist for total convenience. As for pairing the devices, it works automatically in under 10 seconds and you can turn the FDR-X3000R off and on from the remote.
5) Overheating is less of an issue
4K video cameras tend to overheat after a long time. We have used the FDR-X3000R for shooting for as long as half an hour in one go and it kept working without issue (with the case on and off). Admittedly, British weather is colder than, say, Australia so results will vary.
But then shooting batches of 10 minutes at maximum makes sense from an editing perspective ─ the files will be gigantic otherwise. And at that point you may need a costly computer to handle them.
6) The video quality is top-notch
The gap between the Sony FDR-X3000R and GoPro Hero 5 Black is smaller in terms of video quality. Both can use a ‘neutral’ setting to help with grading later and both do a reasonable job of colour accuracy when using ‘vivid’.
Both are rather poor and noisy when it gets very dark. Generally speaking though, the Sony has a better dynamic range in good conditions and the footage is far smoother.
7) It records sound better than a GoPro Hero 5
Admittedly, the GoPro Hero 5 Black can go underwater without a case whereas the Sony FDR-X3000 is merely IPX4 splash and dust-resistant. That has the added benefit of keeping the microphone exposed more of the time so you can be heard better.
But with the case off, the Sony captures a much clearer sound and the wind setting helps it work better outside. Perfectionists will, of course, want to get a separate microphone (Rode is a good option) to plug straight into the 3.5mm port, but you can get away without.
8) The fisheye effect is bearable
Shooting in 4K means you are unable to adjust the point of view, like you can in 1080p (wide, medium, narrow are the options). But the Sony manages to keep the fisheye curvature of the image to a respectable level.
It is far from perfect, but then no camera this small and portable can eradicate the problem of fisheye completely and sometimes it can be used to your advantage.
9) It can film the dark depths of the sea
Whack the waterproof case on and the Sony FDR-X3000 can reach as deep as 60 metres (197-feet), which is deep enough to capture coral reefs, dangerous fish and whatever else lives at that depth. That is less deep than the Hero 5 and Hero 5 Session can manage without a case but the same with.
10) Anyone could use it
Fiddly displays can be a pain but the menu system on the watch mirrors that of the camera itself and a simple combination of Up, Down, Menu and Enter buttons makes it easy to adjust the settings.
The buttons on the watch remote are a tad stiff and some users will miss the GoPro’s voice control and touchscreen, but neither is a deal-breaker. Now where did we put our BMX?