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Sony FDR-X3000R 4K Action Camera With Balanced Optical SteadyShot Review

by on July 14, 2017
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Overview

Sony could definitely be called an expert when it comes to camera technology and this applies just as seriously to the company’s steadyshot camcorders and other video cameras. The company has been making them for years and their first models came out well before 4K was even a major thing in digital video recording technology. As a result, the company has had more than plenty of time to refine its compact video camera designs down to some really solid levels of performance quality, and this has definitely carried over into the 4K video recorders Sony produces.

The FDR-X3000R is the latest example of this and its definitely one of the finest little Sony action camcorders we’ve yet had the pleasure of reviewing. Not only does the little camera offer all of the good features of older Sony action shooters like the X1000R from a while back, it also comes with its own highly unique and innovative new technologies, most important of which is the new miniaturized BOSS system that the X3000R sports. This is downright superb for such a tiny piece of 4K recording equipment as an action camera.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, BOSS stands for Balanced Optical SteadyShot technology, and that in turns means exactly what its full name implies, an image stabilization system which is purely optical instead of digital –one that depends on a floating lens unit which moves in ways that counteract the vibrations and hand movements of actually using the X3000R in the field. Sony has placed BOSS in previous 4K camera models they’ve made but never have we seen this powerful feature in a camera so small. It’s something which makes the X3000R highly unique among 4K action cameras on the market today.

In basic terms, the X3000R may slightly lack in ruggedness compared to rival action camera models like GoPro’s new completely waterproof Hero 5 4K device but it’s still one superb piece of 4K recording technology and its BOSS system and the stabilization it brings to the table are definitely something valuable for fans of action cameras.

The Good

There is no shortage of good things about the X3000R 4K action camera. First and foremost among its better qualities though is the BOSS system we mentioned above and how it interacts with the camera in recording high quality, highly stable video at all resolutions, even 4K.

Balanced Optical Image Stabilization in the X3000R is definitely the action camera’s most winning feature. It creates a level of footage quality that’s far superior to the reprocessed video created by electronic image stabilization technologies and recording with BOSS activated is even possible in 4K resolution, which is something that pleasantly surprised us in the X3000R. This is not something we’d previously seen in other Sony camcorders like the FDR X1000V, in which optical image stabilization only worked in 1080p resolution at a maximum.

Furthermore, the quality created by BOSS is definitely above average by the standards not just of action cameras but also many other larger 4K video recorders we’ve seen. Footage captured while riding in a car along very bumpy dirt roads or while using the camera in many other high movement situations creates a notably superior video quality in comparison to what you’d get from using many other action camera models without this optical lens stabilization technology.

We also definitely like the characteristics of the X3000R’s physical design. Instead of following the general trend towards GoPro Hero-like cube action camera build, the Sony camera looks much more like a very tiny camcorder, with an elongated body and lens pointing the way at its front. While it’s debatable which of these design trends is better for action video recording in the field, the presence of the X3000R and its similarly shaped cousins at least introduces some variety to the market. In addition to this, Sony has made a few positive design changes from what we saw in the X1000V which precedes the X3000R. Most important among these is the placement of all connectivity ports for HDMI, USB etc at the back of the camera instead of along its side. This is definitely a more practical location for them and makes using the camera while it’s connected to cables much easier.

Furthermore, the X3000R is larger than many of its Full HD action camera cousins from Sony but it’s still one very light and compact camera and Sony has given it the added benefit of IPX4-level water resistance for safe use under very wet conditions. For more serious and fully submerged use in lower ocean/lake depths, there is the waterproof case for the X3000R, which is good for immersion down to 60 meters (200 feet) and which Sony was kind enough to include as part of the camera package. On the other hand, the waterproof case does add a fair bit of extra bulk to this relatively small Sony action camera.

As for the X3000R’s recording qualities, we definitely love the video and photo recording chop of the X3000R. This camera definitely gives other action shooters on the market a run for their money in terms of output quality for both photos and footage and its Zeiss Tessar multicoated lens combines with a ½.5 inch 16:9 Exmor R CMOS sensor with 8.2 megapixel resolution for some great 4K video that creates a much lighter “fish-eye” effect in photos and video than is the case in many other cameras. The field of view sits at 17mm with 4K recording and can be shrunk down still further in 1080p Full HD recording. 4K recording can be done at a respectable 30fps with 25 and 24fps options for more cinematic looking ultra HD video and 1080p recording is possible at 120fps, which is definitely fast enough for most users and for slow motion video production as well. Best of all, the BOSS system works at all of these settings.

Finally, Sony has added in an updated Live-View Remote for the X3000R as a cool extra feature. This little device, which can be attached to the camera or detached for remote use (as its name implies) lets you watch what you’re shooting even if the recording itself is being done at very odd angles or in cramped positions where the camera had to be wedged into a tight space. Since there’s no video display on the X3000 in any case, the Live-View Remote is sort of essential and in this latest Sony action camera model, this little device is fully 30% smaller and lighter than was previously the case in older camera remotes.

Check the Sony FDR-X3000R 4K Ultra HD action camera on Amazon

4.7 - 4 Reviews

The Bad

Quite honestly there’s very little working against the FDR-X3000R as far as we’re concerned. With this latest camera, Sony has indeed developed one impressive shooter with some truly great video recording specs. However, since no camera is ever perfect as far as we’ve seen to-date, a couple things are worth mentioning, though none of them are real deal breakers in our view.

First of all, the X3000R lacks a couple features which have definitely shown themselves to be useful in the GoPro Hero 4 Black action camera. One of these is a lack of any sort of flat gamma for rivalling GoPro’s ProTune in the Hero 4 action camera. This absence results in a slightly less versatile image performance in the X3000R than that of the Hero 4 action camera though the image sharpness in both shooters is about the same and even slightly superior under certain circumstances in the X3000R, especially when its BOSS system is activated. Additionally, the X3000R camera lacks the ability to lock in any of its exposure settings and delivers an overall battery life that’s somewhat inferior to that of its main rival the GoPro Hero 4 Black. Bear in mind also that all of these comparisons are with the older Hero Black 4K action camera from GoPro. The X3000R still has to also contend with rivalry from the potentially superior new Hero 5 4K camera which we haven’t yet been able to review. So at least for this latter comparison, the jury is still waiting.

Moving along, while the Balanced Optical Steady Shot of the X3000R is definitely great, it’s also in no way comparable to the sort of image stability you can get with something like a gimbal-mounted action camera attached to a device like DJI’s OSMO handheld gimbal stick. BOSS is great for smoothing out vibration and moderate handheld or mounted movement through nicely smooth optical stabilization but it can create rather jumpy recording effects when the camera is being used to shoot in a major hurry and with lots of leaping around.

Finally, the photo recording chops of the X3000R definitely leave something to be desired. Photos taken with the GoPro Hero 4 are also less than stellar but the X3000R doesn’t much improve upon this area of action camera shooting with its own specs. Furthermore, shooting at high frame rates, especially in 720p resolution where it’s possible to hit 240fps, creates video quality which is definitely on the lower quality side. The camera seems to use pixel binning and doesn’t deliver the best sorts of scaling technology for high frame rate recording.

On a final note for less than stellar aspects of the X3000R, we think its price is slightly on the heavy side. The camera will be going on sale in November as a camera-only package for an expected retail price of just over $400 but if you want the full package with external waterproof case and Live-View Remote thrown in, the price will jump up to a reported $550, which is definitely on the steep side when compared to the prices of many rival 4K action cameras.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Sony X3000R is definitely an impressive little shooter. It creates some great optically stabilized 4K video and is a great, versatile performer for field use. It may be a bit less rugged than GoPro’s Hero 4 and upcoming Hero 5 cameras but we definitely can’t call it an inferior camera by any means. It’s worth buying as a versatile mix of action shooter and a sort of extremely compact mini-camcorder.

Specs

• Processor: BIONZ X™ processor
• Image Sensor: back-illuminated ½.5 inch 16:9 Exmor R CMOS sensor with 8.2 megapixel resolution
• LCD Display: 2.19", LCD screen in separate Live-View Remote
• Lens: Lens F2.8 aperture / 155° wide-angle lens, 7G, f=2.68mm
• Connectivity: Dual-band 5GHz 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, Wireless LAN, HDMI, USB 2.0, microphone port
• Weight: 2.96 ounces
• Size: 1.9 in x 3.3 in x 1.2 in
• Video resolutions:
H.264 - 1920 x 1080 p - 60 fps - 28Mbps
H.264 - 1920 x 1080 p - 50 fps - 28Mbps
H.264 - 1920 x 1080 p - 30 fps - 16Mbps
H.264 - 1920 x 1080 p - 25 fps - 16Mbps
H.264 - 1280 x 720 p - 30 fps - 6Mbps
H.264 - 1280 x 720 p - 25 fps - 6Mbps
H.264 - 1280 x 720 p - 120 fps - 28Mbps
H.264 - 1280 x 720 p - 100 fps - 28Mbps
H.264 - 800 x 480 p - 240 fps - 28Mbps
H.264 - 800 x 480 p - 200 fps - 28Mbps
XAVC S HD - 1920 x 1080 p - 60 fps - 50Mbps
XAVC S HD - 1920 x 1080 p - 50 fps - 50Mbps
XAVC S HD - 1920 x 1080 - 30 fps - 50Mbps
XAVC S HD - 1920 x 1080 p - 25 fps - 50Mbps
XAVC S HD - 1920 x 1080 p - 24 fps
XAVC S - 3840 x 2160 p - 30 fps - 100Mbps
XAVC S - 3840 x 2160 p - 25 fps - 100Mbps
XAVC S - 3840 x 2160 p - 24 fps - 100Mbps
• Video format: H.264, XAVC S
• Still Image format: JPEG
• Max Photo resolution: 8.2 megapixels native with 12 MP interpolated photo resolution
• Max shutter speed: 1/10,000 sec
• Min shutter speed: 1/30 sec
• Lens aperture: f/2.8 (Carl Zeiss lens)
• Memory card slot: microSD card, Memory Stick Micro (M2) card

Accessories

The Sony X3000R will be coming in two essential packages as far as we know. The first of these will be the camera alone with one Lithium Ion removable battery included and will be called the FDR-X3000. Then there will be the X3000R package we’re reviewing here, which will include the above along with an external waterproof case and the external, mountable Live-View Remote LCD display screen. This may however change by the time the camera is released.

Check the Sony FDR-X3000R 4K Ultra HD action camera on Amazon

4.7 - 4 Reviews

Highlights

Sony’s FDR-X3000R offers two key highlights which stand out above all of its other otherwise good to great specs. These are the Live-View Remote and the camera’s Balanced Optical SteadyShot system. Both are worth a bit more mention here.

The BOSS system of the X3000R is the especially fascinating piece of new technology in this compact shooter. Not only does it exist as a first in the world of action cameras, we’d also argue that if there’s any type of camera in existence which could really use a technology like BOSS, it’s the action camera as a technology. The X3000R already offers the same sort of electronic stabilization power as other major action shooters like the Hero 4 or Yi 4K Action camera but with BOSS as yet another layer of image stability management, this shooter takes stable video to a new level that’s notable in its quality. What’s even more impressive is that BOSS works even at 4K resolution in the X3000R. This is something the optical stabilization in other Sony camcorders like the FDR-AX100 4K Steadicam didn’t even manage, despite being considerably more expensive and larger than the X3000R.

No, BOSS isn’t quite as robust for image stability as an actual handheld gimbal mount like the DJI OSMO or a typical drone gimbal but it is still good at strongly reducing shake during handheld recording or movement over rough surfaces when mounted to a vehicle or bike.

Then there’s the Live-View Remote for the X3000 shooter. It’s a great feature for extreme flexibility and recording control during shooting and we definitely think it’s worth paying the extra cost of the full X3000R package if you want this camera. With the Live-View remote, you can use the X3000R in some truly odd recording angles or positions and still have a clear idea of how your shots are being framed while at the same time being able to modify recordings during or in between shooting, remotely, through the little display device. The Live-View display is very small at just under a couple inches but it definitely offers more flexibility than the integrated displays of GoPro’s Hero 4 Silver camera. The Live-View remote can either be mounted right to the camera for adjustable viewing angles while recording from a mounting bracket at the back of the little action shooter or it can be detached and put on the wrist like a watch or attached to assorted other objects as well.

Overall Performance

Overall, the FDR-X3000R is a solid, robust performer when it comes to video recording. This is definitely its strength and the little shooter excels at creating steady, clean and very sharp 4K Ultra HD footage in particular. We’re not quite fans of the camera’s photo shooting ability because its limited to a native 8.29 megapixels which are then interpolated by the Bionz X processor inside the steadycam to create a simulated 12 megapixel size. This results in decent photos but what you get isn’t quite as good as a native 12 megapixel image would be from some rival compact cameras on the market. As we’ve already stated repeatedly, BOSS works great for handheld shooting under steady conditions, shots from a vibrating mount and during shooting from most moving objects like cars, motorbikes and bicycles. However, BOSS isn’t a perfect system and heavy movement caused by using the camera while running around or jumping, for example, will create certain degree of jumpiness which can’t be eliminated.

Overall, in terms of recording chops for video, the X3000R is quite flexible and allows for high frame rate recording at a number of different resolutions. Shooting at maximum frame rates isn’t going to produce imagery of the very best quality in all resolutions except native 4K ultra HD at 3840 x 2160 pixels but if you need them frame rates of up to 120fps are available for 1080p video, 240fps for 720p video and assorted other fame rates and resolutions in between as we listed in our specs above. Additionally, the camera can shoot time-lapse video and can capture still shots from its native 4K recordings.

Furthermore, using the X3000R is quite simple. The little shooter comes with three different red running lights when its recording so you don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve turned it off when its actually on and active and adjustments to recording settings can be done in either the Live-View Remote or on the camera’s own little screen menu, which is very easy to navigate and use. Digital zoom can also be changed with controls along the side of the X3000. The X300R also supports a wide range of connectivity options for its obvious remote control needs and for content sharing. Thus you can activate Bluetooth Smart support, NFC and WiFi in the little action camera for different needs. There’s also a PlayMemories mobile app compatibility to the X3000R, meaning that you can download the app to your Android or iOS device and use it to control the camera or see live recording feeds like you would with the Live-View Remote.

Finally, the camera is rated for IPX4 water resistance without its protective case, meaning that it’s highly resistant to splashing and high moisture, and if you lock it into its waterproof external case, the X3000R can then be submerged down to a depth of nearly 200 feet below the waves. As for battery running time, the X3000R offers 135 minutes of shooting at 1080p resolution and about 60 minutes of shooting at 4K resolution. Best of all, the battery is removable so if you bought a spare along and have enough extra storage space for your videos, shooting can easily be prolonged considerably.

Image Quality and Resolution

As we’d already said, the quality of the video caught by the X3000R is very good in all resolutions. 4K recordings look sharp, reasonably vibrant and offer a very low level of fish-eye distortion thanks to the lenses narrower field of view design (the action camera acts more like a camcorder than a more typical action shooter wide angle viewing). Video caught in lower resolutions looks good but in all resolutions except native 4K UHD, shooting at maximum frame rates definitely reduces quality. It's obvious that Sony uses pixel binning for high frame rate shooting in 1080p resolution at least and the effect is notable if you pay attention.

Photos caught with the X3000R are okay but not as good as we’d expect from real native 12 megapixel still shots. As we already said earlier, this camera upscales what are native 8.29 megapixel images from the sensor to a simulated 12 megapixel resolution. The effect is less than stunning.
Pricing
The FDR-X3000R is retailing for $550 when it goes on sale in the U.S. This is the price of the expanded package (denominated as the X3000R instead of just X3000, which is the camera alone). As for the camera alone, it is retailing for about $400.

Pricing

The FDR-X3000R is retailing for $550 when it goes on sale in the U.S. This is the price of the expanded package (denominated as the X3000R instead of just X3000, which is the camera alone). As for the camera alone, it is retailing for about $400.

The Not So Great

To summarize briefly, the FDR-X3000R has few characteristics which we’d call defective but a couple things are worth noting which stand out a bit. First, the shooter doesn’t capture the best sort of video at very high frame rates, partly because its evident that the camera is using pixel binning technology to compress footage at such speeds. Secondly, 4K video and video in other resolutions could definitely offer a better gamma and broader image quality range, like the GoPro Hero 4, which uses ProTune. Third, the X3000R isn’t quite as rugged a device as GoPro’s Hero cameras. This will especially be the case when the new Hero 5 action camera emerges since it’s completely waterproof by design, without the need for an external housing. Finally, Sony could have given the X3000R better photo shooting capacity. Instead of native 12 megapixel still images, this camera upscales 8.28 MP photos to a higher simulated resolution.

Check the Sony FDR-X3000R 4K Ultra HD action camera on Amazon

4.7 - 4 Reviews

Positives

• Great video quality, especially in 4K
• Tough design
• Balanced Optical SteadyShot
• Live-View Remote
• Zeiss Lens technology
• Removable battery
• Splash resistant body

Negatives

• GoPro offers longer shooting time
• Weak still photos
• High frame rate video not the best
• A bit expensive

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B

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A-

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Bottom Line
 

The Sony FDR-X3000R is a great 4K action camera and its two highlights in the form of the Balanced Optical SteadyShot system and Live-View Remote make it even more of a winner. This little action camera has a couple minor flaws but none of them detract from its generally high quality. Video stability is great in the X3000R.

 
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