I just bought the Sony HDR-AS15 [$269] Action Camera. I nearly bought the GoPro HERO3: Black Edition [$399], but ultimately decided on the Sony for a couple of reasons. Here’s why:
Firstly, I couldn’t get my hands on both units, so I had to make the decision based on reading reviews and watching example videos on YouTube, and then taking a guess about which one was the better one to get (for me.)
Secondly, I have spent a little time with the GoPro Hero 3, primarily helping a friend trying to update the firmware and turn on the Wi-Fi mode. We did take it out and use it to shoot some video during that process, but I didn’t get to review that video afterwards.
What’s to like about the GoPro Hero 3?
Believe me, it wasn’t an easy decision to not buy the new GoPro Hero 3. It’s really defined the action camera scene, and the new release has improved low-light performance, and has increased resolution; offering 2.5K , and even 4K (both with the $399 Black model). It’s probably the most popular action camera, and if I were concerned about impressing clients, I’d probably just buy one.
Also, the only site that I found that reviewed both cameras gave the Hero 3 a higher score (CamcorderInfo 7.3) than the Sony HDR-AS15 (CamcorderInfo 6.3). This is significant, though after reading both reviews, the things they dinged the Sony for didn't really worry me. Again, YMMV.
So why the Sony HDR-AS15?
Well, everything’s a trade off, but these are the major feature I considered and how I came down for the Sony:
Resolution: The 4K feature in the Hero 3 seems like a marketing feature rather than something that I really need, especially given it’s not 30 or even 24 frames per second. There are even questions about the 2.5K quality, and whether you can really see the difference between that and 1080P. Since most of my material is viewed at 720p (or less) at the moment, 1080P seems to be more than enough.
Picture Quality: This one’s a mixed bag. Several people have noted that Sony’s camera has a tendency to create ‘neon” skies that look artificial. I definitely see that problem in the samples, but I also see that the Sony performs better in low light and mixed light environments. I really wish that the Sony did a better job with the sky, but I’m willing to accept that. For what I am planning to use it for (to get crane and overhead shots without having to use a big crane) I’d rather have the better exposure, and do what I have to for the few sky shots in post. I may yet regret that; I'll let you know.
Image Stabilization: This is one area where the Sony comes out way ahead; the Sony has built-in image stabilization, and it does a good job from the results I've seen posted. Sure, you can run your video through After Effects, but I don’t think you’ll end up with as good a result as you will with the Sony (and you can run the Sony's results through Warp Stabilizer and get even smoother results.)
Mounting: Here I think the GoPro Hero 3 wins out. The mounting for the GoPro is more flexible, and the various mounts seem to work better. Depending upon what you want to use the camera for, then mounting can be an important issue. The Sony does come with a small waterproof housing does have a tripod mount in it. Ultimately, the mounting issue was not a concern for me.
Cost: The Sony HDR-AS15 is $269. The GoPro Hero 3 Black is $399. Admittedly, I could skip the higher priced GoPro and get the Silver model since I don't think the higher resolution is worth having, but somehow, not buying the top of the line model seems wrong...
Wi-Fi Control: One last thing (and I didn’t find this out until I got the Sony home.) The iOS Wi-Fi app for the Sony works much better than the GoPro Hero’s app. When I tried out the GoPro app – and I’ve also seen this mentioned in reviews – I found a noticeable lag between what the camera sees and what appears on the iOS monitor app. If you panned the camera, the image wouldn’t start panning on the iOS app for a second or two.
I was sort of expecting the same with the Sony Action Cam, but I was surprised when I tried it and found it was updating almost instantaneously. The other thing that impressed me – but I didn’t try this with the GoPro – is that when the app is installed on an iPad, the preview image is surprisingly large and highly detailed.
All in all, I’m impressed with this, though disappointed to find that the range of the Wi-Fi from the camera is only about twelve feet.
So far, I like this camera.
One last note: Don't forget that you need to buy a microSD card for the camera... (I forgot to get one when I bought the camera, but fortunately I had a spare one lying around...)