After much deliberation over a couple of days I bit the bullet and grabbed a Clearance Sony HDR-AS20 from JBHiFi. This new camera should be a nice partner to the GoPro Hero3 Black I’ve had since 2013.
Why buy a Sony HDR-AS20?
The tip-over point for me was being able to buy a great camera with good optics and some image stabilisation at a low price (AUD149) which has a similar array of accessories to the GoPro but isn’t a GoPro.
The HDR-AS20 isn’t a new camera and certainly isn’t a super high-spec unit either. Instead it’s a case of getting a better camera than a GoPro clone at a GoPro Clone price.
Some of the accessories are also a bit more flexible or innovative compared to GoPro as well. There’s a housing that converts it to being a lot like a mini-camcorder (AKA-LU1 for AUD99) and the remote features a Live View screen for around the some price and the GoPro equivalent.
Like my GoPro Hero3 most of the housings and accessories are compatible with the later (more advanced) models, which means in a couple of years I may take the leap to 4K recording with either camera family and not ‘lose’ out on the investment. I do feel that 1080P is going to be good enough for quite some time though as the storage and recording media demands of 4K exceed my budget.
Unpacking my HDR-AS20
Included in the basic kit are the obvious things like USB Cable, Battery, Mounts and a few stickers. I was surprised at the inclusion of a AUD15 Voucher for Accessories from Sony Australia and an adapter to convert to the popular GoPro style mounts.
The HDR-AS20 is simple to use – like a GoPro – just preset the finer configurations then cycle between modes as needed. It seemed to have no issues with my 80Mb/s Sandisk Ultra 64Gb card and should record around 5.5 hours of video on it. I’m not convinced that the iOS Apps are as good as they should be be, they aren’t as “comprehensive” as the GoPro App. However the video “preview” via the Sony App is far superior to the GoPro with minimal lag and better clarity.
The standard housing is rated for 5m depths so will do the trick for snorkelling, pools and playing about on the water – this is not as good as the basic GoPro housings but enough for most of my potential use.
The lens optics and stability of image seem better than my Hero3 Black. Although with fewer modes to deal with the wide-angle distortion at recording time it may mean post-processing video will require a few more tweaks.
My HDR-AS20 Haul
I did pick up a few additional accessories at the same time, the Skeleton Housing for in-car use and a Hand-Grip/Tripod which I hope will be handy.
Thanks to the included voucher I’ll probably end up ordering the AKA-LU1 this week. I’m hoping when combined with some additional Wasabi Power batteries that will be “enough”. The Live Remote will have to wait until the right deal comes along!
When travelling there’s one thing we all do a lot of, and my preferred method of dealing with it is “old school”. But first lets take a look at some of the Supporting Acts before the Travel Gadget that I have in every trips packing list.
Supporting Roles #5: Travel Charger
It sounds simple, but bringing along a specific travel charger can make your life much easier. I’ve recently bought a high-output model through Kogan (pictured), with 4 ports and 4 different power plugs it will work in most countries and charge my gadgets simultaneously. A travel gadget is worthless if it’s not charged and ready!
The plug heads fit to a more conventional style socket meaning that you can also use cables with figure-8 plugs which are easy to find in most supermarkets or electrical retailers world wide.
While there are some nifty devices out there that incorporate Wifi routers, hide-away plugs or other great features you’re also plugging them into unknown power sources and sometimes sparks do happen. The Kogan unit was “cheap”, meets the need to charge my TZ40, WT8, Smartphone and USB power bank all at once. It it fails during travel I can replace it easily.
Supporting Roles #4: USB Power Bank
I may be starting to seem obsessive about power, and perhaps I am, but I also know how inconvenient it is to not be able to take that last round of photos, quickly find a route to the hotel or double-check an airline confirmation.
Power banks can be cheap, however with hundreds of models available in every country it will pay to seek out some reviews if you’re wanting to pick up a known device. You need to consider how you’ll carry this device, it’s a travel gadget to charge other travel gadgets so portability (weight and size) is critical.
I carry a Patriot Fuel+ 5200mAh unit that has some nice usage features and has served well on a few trips now. It’s definitely not the best device on the market but I would buy again given the choice between an unknown brand and the Patriot. The size is good, and I can generally eek out a full recharge of the iPhone and both camera batteries before it becomes a dead-weight. You should consider the mAh rating of the devices you’re carrying, and how much life you get from their batteries. A spare battery is always a good idea for cameras anyway, but you don’t need to have a fully charged camera upon returning to your hotel.
Having dual USB ports is critical as being able to top-up two devices (camera/GoPro AND Smartphone typically) at once while on-the-go makes a big difference. I tend to “boost” charge my camera and smartphone when sitting around having lunch.
I used to carry a D-SLR, or rather, I used to lug a D-SLR, lens, batteries and accessories and eventually I got sick of it. In 2012 we purchased the compact waterproof Panasonic Lumix and were amazed by the quality of photos from such a small and robust package.
If you’re a keen photographer you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the range of models and capabilities available on the market today. DPReview has shortlisted the hits for 2015 and there’s a few other reviews and comparisons worth reading;
Remember when travelling you want to enjoy the experience and not anguish over photography, get your camera before you leave, learn the modes and read a few more photography tips blogs to hone your skills. Having less gear to carry is always good and these more basic (in appearance at least) cameras will let you work on composition while still delivering stunning pictures.
Supporting Acts #2: Smartphone or Tablet or Both
The holy war on what Smartphone or Tablet to buy and use when travelling is one I’ll skirt around by saying that every technology item you take on your travels should be one that you’re familiar with.
On a shorter trip all you’re going to need is a Smartphone, a few map apps, perhaps the TripAdvisor App with downloaded content and Apps where you can access your email, booking information and some basic messaging.
My Travel Essential Apps include:
Airline Apps for all airlines I’m using or likely to use on the trip. Flight+ to track all my flights and their on-time status.
Maps – Google Maps, Apple Maps, pretty much any you can find with coverage of the desitination
Dropbox/Onedrive/GoogleDrive offer cloud based storage for documents and files. This can be a c=good way to keep your travel documentation handy (those pesky T&C for your Travel Insurance) and also can provide a backup facility for your photos while on the road.
WhatsApp/iMessage Being able to chat in real time back home without the expense of text messaging (you’ll still need data) is a huge bonus. The “I’ve landed, checked in” sequence can take the worry away from parents and loved ones.
But what of the tablet? I started carrying a tablet (iPad) in 2012 and haven’t really looked back. The extra real estate on-screen helps with eye strain and the range of Apps is awesome. Since then I’ve tried numerous (Android, iOS and Windows) other solutions including going back to travelling with a laptop.
Today my favourite is a 8″ Toshiba Encore WT8. It runs Windows 8.1 and lacks some sophistication but most importantly reconnects me with USB card readers, and fast simple image management software. For 2015’s trips I’m aiming to upload resized photos each day into my Onedrive storage while on the road. The larger on-screen keyboard should make posting much easier too. I’ll keep you all posted on how it turns out.
My #1 Favourite Travel Gadget
I’ve had a Kindle for just over 3 years and in that time it’s given me countless hours of reading enjoyment. It’s my number one travel gadget because it’s filled the hundreds of hours in airports, on planes and dingy hotel rooms with excitement and action. It’s saved me from buying paperbacks to lug around, and with language books, destination guides loaded has become a partner in travel.
The first response most people have is “but my tablet has an e-reader” and yes that’s true, but here’s why a Kindle (or it’s peers is much better)
e-Ink. This simple display technology is closer to paper, it’s not “refreshed” like an LCD screen which impacts how it stimulates brain activity. Tablets (and other LCD screens) can cause you to “wake up” when using them – hardly ideal for relaxing at the end of the day.
Extreme battery life. My Kindle is good for around 2 weeks of intensive use with Wifi active. That’s after 3 years! In short the low power consumption of e-Ink displays mean that no matter how long your flights are you’ll be reading from start to finish.
I’d only had the Panasonic DMC-TZ40 for a couple of weeks before leaving for my Malaysia trip and in that time had played around enough to learn where the basic settings were and understand how the WiFi function could be used.
As the camera itself is an “old” and now discontinued model there’s not much point in a full review, so consider this as a way of me reminding myself just how little I paid and and just how good it was on the trip.
One of the big reasons I bought the TZ40 was the Zoom, at 20x optical it was going to bring the action closer. Now in practice that zoom works well on a clear sunny day when the shutter speeds can be drop to deal with the camera shake. In practice newer generations of this camera and its competitors are going out to 30x zooms. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a good thing given the difficultly holding the camera steady enough.
The best zoom point for the camera is in the middle of the range though, the above shots were “easy” grabs and most from this position in the stands to the corner (a few hundred metres) were sharp and clear considering the hazy conditions.
When working with closer faster moving subjects the same middle of the range zoom point coupled with the burst mode on the shutter got me what I really enjoy – closeup clear sharp pictures. The success factors were again influenced by the ability to aim and stead the camera. So much so that I feel investing in, or making a “grenade grip” or large handle grip is going to be on the cards. That way the weight of the camera is better supported by the left hand while the right hand can guide the shots while triggering the shutter.
In short there’s not enough camera to hang onto solidly if you have larger hands, the same reason that makes the TZ40 a great travel companion is its downfall in these scenarios.
The huge amount of indirect light thanks to heavy cloud and haze cover did cause all of the automated functions some grief, the chrome finish of the Mclaren cars flaring out in most shots and confusing everything from shutter setting to focus points. I think had I not been relying on so much Automation I would have tweaked the Aperture and Shutter settings to specifically suit, however while the high-resolution screen nthe rear of the camera is bright and very sharp the lack f size still makes discerning these sorts of issues impossible in the field.
More conventional livery wasn’t a problem though with the mix of colours and contrasts being well picked up.
There’s really no true substitute for a DSLR at capturing super detailed pictures, but to be very honest I travelled to Malaysia with under 6kg of clothes, electronics and camera, I certainly didn’t have the space (or will) to wrangle more stuff.
The Panasonic TZ40 bridges the chasm between “good” mobile phone cameras with all their foibles and the new-generation of mirror less interchangeable lens cameras. The small external size packs a lot of useable features into a very pocket friendly package.
Overall I found the battery life to be very good, using a “power bank” to top-up the battery when walking around, having lunch and so forth extended the life and the change to the spare (at 199RM for a genuine battery) was completed quickly and barely interrupted use.
I had initially been using a Patriot Class10 32GB SD card which was “fast” enough for our DMC-TS3 indestructible camera but when filled I went out and splurged on a 64Gb Sandisk Extreme in MicroSD form (with adapter) to allow sharing with the GoPro. While on paper the specification difference between the two cards is not extreme it does play out in practice with the Sandisk card giving a faster save-time and consequently better burst mode performance.
At night the automatic Nightshot mode rarely faltered with the superbright lights and a colours captured clearly with minimal user effort. Motion blur in stills as expected but very little evidence of shake.
In bright light colour and detail are good, again this is a point and shoot (and the images are resized) but the level of detail captured is more than adequate for decent prints.
Overall I quickly became comfortable with carrying and using the TZ40 – I got good results most of the times I pulled it from the pocket and by contributing more effort on my part even better results would have been attained.
For the price of these super-zoom compact cameras I have no idea why some people travel relying upon mobile phone cameras to capture memories.