With its wrist-mounted colour monitor and remote control, the Sony HDR-AS100VR brings rugged cameras out of the dark ages and into the 21st century. At last, it's possible to see what you're recording and control your camera from an equally rugged and reliable companion.
How does it work?
You don't need to know how it works; it just does. The rubberised remote automatically pairs with your camera without any of the hassle associated with smartphone remote apps. Once the two have shaken hands you can frame your shot with the small colour LCD, which is bright enough to work just fine in the sunshine.
A big red Record button does just as you'd expect, and while you're filming you get a red dot onscreen as well as a red LED on the wristband, just to confirm that you're capturing the action. You can also make a few alterations to the settings via the remote, including video quality.
Although you're likely to keep the two in close proximity, it is possible to use the remote at distances up to around 30 feet from the camera before the link breaks down.
Bullet cam design
The camera itself opts for a bullet-cam design, with a mono LCD display and just enough buttons to flick through the menus and record without the remote, if necessary. It's reassuring to see a tripod thread on the bare camera, so basic mounting is possible without reliance on the waterproof casing (unlike the GoPro range).
On its own, the camera is splash-proof but lacks any ruggedisation and the bulbous lens looks very vulnerable, so most of the time you're likely to be using it in that clear plastic scuba gear. This protects it from minor knocks and also gives it waterproofing that's good for 5 metres. All three buttons can be used easily enough in this set-up.
Expectations of video quality from small, rugged cameras shouldn't be too high. The Sony HDR-AS100VR is capable of recording some pretty decent footage, and its ability to go up to 60fps is even more important than its 1080p resolution, such is the degree that the higher framerates will smooth out the action.
The GoPro Hero3+ Silver and Black Editions have the edge in quality, but neither the GoPros or the Sony are outstanding in this area. The small, fixed-focal length lenses and lack of any optical image stabilisation imposes limits you wouldn't encounter on bigger cameras and camcorders, and the results are movies that look as if they've come from cameras with compromises.
That's sort of ok, because the sacrifices have been made to create a small, rugged, go-anywhere camera. Just don't go expecting full handycam quality.
READ MORE: GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition review
Sony has taken what some might see as a more logical approach to its mount system, which ultimately comes down to a regular tripod thread attachment. That means you can easily put the AS100VR onto a Gorillapod for makeshift mounting to all sorts of things.
Sony's own range of mounts is wide enough to cover the standard applications but also has some more inventive options too, such as a strap-on float (perhaps you're filming a beaver lodge), a dog harness and a wrist mount.
Sony HDR-AS100VR review summary
An enticing package of extra features includes synchronised recording from up to five cameras at once (controlled by a single wristband), software to let you combine all those shots into one, along with graphics overlays GPS and speed data, and slo-mo capture at up to 240fps.
In overall quality terms we'd still take one of the GoPros, but if usability is your top priority, thanks to that super-handy wristband, the Sony HDR-AS100VR should be top of your list.
Review by Tony Horgan.
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