Regular readers will have noticed that since Christmas that I have been putting up video and stills that had been taken with a fish eye lens. For a while I was considering purchasing a suitable lens for either my Canon or Olympus systems as I had been intrigued by the effect. I was also very mindful that having bought such an item I would quickly tire of it and see it as a gimmick and so feel I had wasted my money. So when Dick Smiths (a popular chain of electronic stores here in Australia) offered the Sony HDR-AS20 ActionCam for $120 AUD just before Christmas I bought one seeing it as an affordable way of trying out extreme wide-angle photography and videography.
So what are my feelings about the camera. Well I do believe every photographer should have one of these cameras. They open up a world of creative photography. The lens is outside of the protective case pretty decent. It has a 170º field of view which is roughly equivalent to a 17mm on a full frame 35mm camera, a minimum focusing distance of 30cm (12 inches), a fixed aperture of f2.8 and is pan focus. There is obvious barrel distortion and some chromatic aberration. The distortion is all part of the look of fish eye lenses and the CA can be easily fixed in still images in apps such as Lightroom with a single click. The camera only produces jpegs, which bright and contrasty without too many artefacts. There is no control over sharpening and there are only two pictures styles, normal and underwater. You can’t control the ISO, the shutter speed nor the white balance. All being said it produces nice files and the exposures and white balance were largely spot on requiring minimal adjustments in post. For video the Steadyshot image stabilisation while being software based produces impressive results and was one of the major selection criteria for me when purchasing the camera. It’s not got the best video codec in the world nor the best bit rate and compression but it edits reasonably well as long as you don’t push it too far. A very nice feature is that the supplied software for the camera is embedded as firmware so that you don’t have to mess around with downloads or install discs. So what’s not to like – well the optical quality of the lens port on the protective case is pretty appalling, the supplied software is pretty flakey and crashes a lot on my relatively new iMac. No matter what I tried I couldn’t get the WiFi function to work using either my Sony Android phone or iPad. The Sony mount system isn’t as comprehensive nor widely as available as that of the GoPro alternatives. No problem just get an inexpensive adapter and then you can use anything made for GoPro. A real annoyance is that Sony have made it very difficult to plug in an exterior microphone. You can’t use one with the LCD case nor the standard protective housing. The one you can use it with means you loose the LCD and the protection.
Overall I’m very happy with the camera and have had a load of fun using it. The only thing is that it is totally addictive and I keep coming up with ideas for shots which inevitably means I have to buy another mount for it. Luckily they are cheap, but I have quickly acquired a bag full of them.
Quite a few scenes in this video were shot with the Sony HDR-AS20. I was surprised that the camera proved parrot proof!