First Impressions: Sony Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1VR With Live View Remote

GoPro really got in and cornered the market on POV action cams, to the point where it’s been a little difficult to find high-end alternatives. That changed this year with the release of the much-improved Sony Action Cam, which was bound to be a strong competitor from the beginning because it’s packed with Sony’s optics and camera technology. Their continued use of Zeiss optics with their excellent BIONZ image processors routinely result in quality, richly detailed images, and their image stabilization technology is second to none.

The new Sony Action Cam Mini adds another advantage to the list—size. The camera measures 0.95″ wide x 1.4″ high x 3″ long and weighs 2.2 ounces, making it the smallest and lightest high-end action cam available. And, fortunately, not too much has been cut out from the full-sized Action Cam. The only major changes are a lack of audio/video ports and a drop in battery life—everything else has been moved to the Live View Remote, which is bundled with the camera along with a waterproof case, a tripod mount and two adhesive mounts.

The Live Review Remote is a small control console on a rubber, water-resistant wristband. The remote has a small LCD screen, a button for Wi-Fi syncing, a menu button, and up and down navigation buttons. This is also where the GPS tracker is housed, instead of the camera itself (a change from the full-sized model).

There are some slight changes in what the camera can actually do versus the full-sized model. For video, you can get slo-mo video only in 720p at 120 fps. Otherwise, you can record in 1080p at 30 fps and 60 fps. Either way, video recording is done using the new XAVC S codec, which makes a huge difference in quality for 1080p video, although you can still record in MP4. Stills can be taken at 11.9 MP. This is all coming courtesy of a Zeiss Tessar f/2.8 lens, a BSI CMOS sensor, and the BIONZ X image processor, along with SteadyShot electronic image stabilization. You get a 170-degree angle with SteadyShot off and a 120-degree angle with SteadyShot on.

On the back, there’s a Micro USB charging port and a card slot. If you go the microSD card slot route, keep in mind you’ll need at least a class 10 64 GB SDXC card. Battery life is probably the biggest drawback, clocking in at only a little over an hour. So, while you can live stream using Ustream, it’s unlikely that you’re going to use that feature much.

There are three shooting modes—still, video, and burst mode. Burst mode can take successive shots at up to 8 fps. You can toggle through these modes using the Live View Remote, which you almost need to use when shooting with the Action Cam Mini.

The body is water-resistant, but if you’re going underwater, you’ll want to use the waterproof case. Unfortunately, the waterproof case is only good up to five meters, so it’s probably only viable for surfers and snorkeling trips.

The bundle with the camera and the Live View Remote is currently $330, and, thanks to the image quality, is pretty competitive with even the high-end GoPro Hero4. You can buy just the camera for $100 less, but not getting the Live View Remote takes away a lot of the advantages of the Action Cam Mini, making it a much more limited device.

We haven’t had the chance to really put the Action Cam Mini to the test yet, but we do have some initial thoughts. Pairing the Live View Remote to the Action Cam Mini is simple and fast. The remote gives the Action Cam Mini some significant advantages over other action cams. It’s handy being able to see the camera feed from your wrist, so you can adjust the camera as you see fit before you start recording. The ability to play back recorded video and check stills without having to remove the camera from its mount is very convenient. You can use the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app in lieu of the remote, but the remote is so light and convenient that you’ll likely not bother with the smartphone app.

Once we get a good chance to do something adventurous, we’ll check out image and video quality. With the Action Cam Mini’s specs, we’re expecting good things.

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