Meet Sony’s 4K Camcorder FDR-AX100
The first consumer 4k video camera at an affordable price packed with prosumer technology. Replacing the VG series and released after the Sony FDR-AX1, the Sony 4k camcorder FDR-AX100 has arrived. While this is not a best budget camcorder 2014 review, this is probably the best spent money I’ve made in a long time. I’ve personally read and watched many HD camcorder reviews and they all led to this as the most popular video camcorder. It’s 77% smaller, 66% lighter and 50% cheaper than its more expensive counterpart, but comes fully packed with Sony’s latest and greatest technology including incredible features such as:
- Capture 4K resolution at 30p (NTSC) / 25p (PAL) & 24p (Both models)
- Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* Lens (the lens alone is worth 100s) with a lens speed of F2.8 to F4.5 with a 12x optical zoom or 18x clear image zoom if adaptive steadyshot is activated. Be sure to look up a Carl Zeiss lens review for further information.
- 0-type Exmor R CMOS sensor (that’s a 1 “sensor) 4 times the size of other camcorders in the same price range. (Great for increasing low light quality and adding depth of field.
- Sony’s latest Advanced BIONZ X Image processing engine capable of recording at 120 fps
Sony 4k Camcorder Review – Unboxing and Basic Guide to Sensor Video
Sony ax100 review
Today I am going to review the Sony FDR-AX-100 from a consumer’s point of view. While I’ve owned many HD recording devices, this is my first Video Camcorder.
This review will mostly benefit those in a similar position to myself, or those that are looking to upgrade their older, outdated camcorder.
Before we get into the review I’d like to go over a question I asked myself. Do I really need a video camcorder? After all, my other devices are more than capable and have produced good results so far.
The answer to this question in my opinion and after some research is, if you intend on doing pre planned video footage at HD or greater, intend on using video editing software, whether it be for scripted YouTube videos or to add movies to your video library, then the answer is yes.
While the smaller cheaper compact video cameras may not offer too much over your mobile devices, the more expensive $500+ cameras have features packed in that are just not possible with mobile devices.
These features include,
- Larger Sensors and more advanced image processing hardware.
- Better video compression. (using compression technologies like AVAC)
- Image stabilization technology (Which help reduce wonky video recording.)
- Optical zoom and viewfinder for better composition.
- Access to a lot more manual control, (such as: Manual focus, speed settings and custom white balance.)
The most important of these however, is the sensor and image processing hardware.
Your sensor is responsible for capturing light (or images), your image processor is responsible for converting that exposure into digital data. This data measured in megapixels is formed via the image processors algorithm. The larger the sensor capturing the light, the less guess work the image processor has to do to create an accurate image at the megapixel size the processor is capable of. All this results in overall better image quality, better low light recording and shallower depth of field, which allows for those blurry or bokah backgrounds when set with a lower F value.
Your typical mobile phone uses a sensor that’s 1/3” or smaller. Compact video cameras including the popular Panasonic HC-X920 use a sensor size that’s ½.3. Where it gets interesting is Sony’s new EXMOS 1” sensor which they have generously added to the FDR-AX100. On top of this, they have also included their latest image processing technology the BIONZ X, a technology used in all their pro hardware. This image processor is capable of recording up to 120 fps and outputting 4k resolution.
It was learning this, that made me switch away from Panasonic’s HC-X920 and purchasing Sony’s FDR-AX100e Camcorder.
Meet Sony’s FDR-AX100e Video Camera.
Taking a quick look at the packaging, you’ll notice there are no security seals on it. I am a fan of security seals, especially when it comes to graphics cards or CPUs. Too many times have I sent a graphics card or cpu back, because it’s obviously been tested for its overclocking and sent back to be resold.
Anyway moving on, let’s take a look inside the box.
Holding the AX100 with the built-in strap is comfortable and the controls for taking photos, starting, stopping recording and enabling the focus magnifier are within easy reach. There is a variable zoom rocker on top that is easily operable with the gripping hand. On the back is a retractable and tiltable viewfinder and controls for the three built-in ND filters, including an auto-enable switch. The battery is mounted far enough from the tripod mount that it can still be removed when attached to most small-to-medium-sized tripods. On the left, you’ll find the 3.5-inch LCD touch display and below it are buttons to enable manual modes for iris, gain/ISO and shutter speed. There is a small dial toward the front to manipulate settings while they are set to manual mode. Above the manual dial is an auto/manual focus button and a switch to change the large lens ring between controlling focus or zoom.
When the LCD display is open, it reveals a single SD/MS card slot and buttons for switching to playback mode, enabling Nights hot, and changing picture parameters. On the top there is a built-in 5.1-channel surround microphone and a hot shoe for mounting powered accessories.
The viewfinder becomes operational when pulled out and can tilt up and down.
Overall, the FDR-AX100 does an excellent job of fitting all of its features into a small and substantial chassis that is easy to hold and operate.
Moving to the front of the camcorder, Sony have partnered with Carl Zeiss to produce a beautiful 62mm lens with 12x optical zoom. Embedding is a silky smooth ring that can either control the focus or speed settings via switch, on the other side of the lens is a Focus Magnifier button that when pressed allows you to magnify an area on your touch LCD screen. The lens also features Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization technology, which helps to reduce jitter and vibrations from walking.
Below the ring is a scroll wheel which controls the iris, gain and shutter speed. The can be selected by pressing one of these 3 buttons. Alternatively you can set this to automatic by pressing the AE button near the view finder.
Internally the AX-100 features a 1 inch sensor backed by Sony’s state of the art BIONZ X image processor. This processor is currently in use for all their prosumer level equipment and is capable of recording images at 120 fps, producing 4k video and taking 20 megapixel still images. Recording output can be compressed using either the industry standard AVCHD for 1080p, or Sony’s new XAVC-S for 1080p & 4k at 30fps
The AX-100 comes with built in Wifi so you can transfer your videos for instant sharing, or make use of Sony’s Playmemories app which provides you with many additional features such as remotely operating the unit via your android or IOS device (a feature I particularly love)
Connectivity wise, the AX-100 comes with enough inputs to keep you happy. If you don’t have a USB 3.0 card reader, you can make use of the USB cable provided, which is USB 2.0 only, view video footage via the micro HDMI input, share media either via WiFi or NFC and use SD cards up to 128gb. It is important to note, that for 4k recording you will need an SDXC card which currently has a maximum capacity of 64GB allowing you to record speeds over 70 mb/s.
Sony’s FDR-AX100 is a product that can please both consumer and prosumer. It has the look and feel of a normal handycam, yet comes packed with features that makes it behave more like a professional camcorder. It is affordable, easy to use, packed with Sony’s BIONZ X image process and a large 1” sensor, topped off with a lens that on its own is worth 100s.
The next video will cover accessories I have personally bought and fully recommend.
Back to the Sony FDR-AX100e Review
The 1 inch Exmor R CMOS sensor is back illuminated and enables high quality 20 megapixel still images, and videos at resolutions of up to 3840×2160 using Sony’s XAVC-S codec. Dual video recording is possible and records in both XAVC-S, AVCHD and MP4 HD formats simultaneously.
The BIONZ X processor allows recording at up to 120 frames per second and incorporates technology that helps enhance the images by using an area specific noise reduction and detail reproduction technology. Footage is made clear by taking advantage of Sony’s Optical SteadyShot stabilization and videos can be shot at 24p, 30p NTSC or 25p PAL . Slow motions videos can be captured at the full 120 fps, but are limited to 720p. You need to make the choice between 24p or 30/25p prior to recording any video however as a full format is required before choosing each format. If you plan on distributing your videos via Blu-ray, then you will need to set the 24p option as this is the only format Blu-ray supports.
The Zeiss Vario-Sonna T* F2.8-F4.5 lens is a lens any professional camera owner would be proud of. Packed inside its small shell are 17 different elements designed specifically to produce amazing detail. On top of this you also get a 12x optical zoom, and when using Sony’s Adaptive SteadyShot settings, a clear image zoom of 18x.
Sony introduces their new codec the XAVC-S with the AX-100 optimized for 4k technology, but for those wanting to stick to the industry standard AVCHD Codec, they are welcome to do so. XAVC-S uses MPEG-4 AVC/H.265 for video compression and linear PCM for audio compression. A class 10 SD card is required to take advantage of these settings, so make sure you own an SDXC card capable of at least 70MB/s before attempting to record in 4k footage.
The Sony FDR-AX100 4k offers 3 different recording settings. XAVC-S 4K, XAVC-S HD & AVCHD.
The camcorder is also able to shoot still images at 20.0 megapixels thanks to Sony’s BIONZ X imaging processor.
The camera itself looks the part, an item that screams for attention, one that your family and friends will talk about and be envious of. Weighing just under 1 Kg (81 x 83.5 x 196.5 mm) this is by no means a compact piece of kit. Like all top spec camcorders should, the Sony AX100 comes equipped with a variety of connectivity inputs and push buttons taking you to all the settings you could ever need.
Moving to the front, the lens itself looks similar to its detachable counterpart compatible with A Mount or e Mount Sony Cameras. Displaying that unmistakeable blue Zeiss logo (enough to make some buy it regardless) the lens features a silky smooth ring that controls both the zoom and focus via switch. Below said switch, a scroll wheel resides that allows for manual Aperture, gain /ISO and frame speed settings, however if you just want to point and shoot the thing you can simply press the AE button behind the screen and the camera will choose the best settings for you.
Connectivity wise, the AX100 offers ports for
- External Mic
- Micro USB
- Power Cable.
- A small USB cable is also included for data transfer, however in USB 2.0 format only (simply purchase an external USB 3.0 card reader to counter this)
The Sony 4k Camcorder FDR-AX100 comes equipped with 2 viewing modes. Either via viewfinder or via the touch screen display. The view finder is a perfect choice in sunny situations where glare from the sun will make the LCD screen impossible to see, but operating the menu features is a task only suited to the LCD screen itself as the menu is predominantly touch based.
Sony was generous with the viewfinder specs offering an OLED display with a resolution of 1,440,000 pixels, but could have been a bit more generous with the attached 3.5” swivel LCD Display offering just 921,000 pixels. Many of the menu options are available for quickly accessing via the LCD touchscreen, which comes in handy when you want to avoid going through all the menu options via the menu window.
The Sony AX-100 has three levels of built in ND filtering (1/4, 1/8 and 1/16). What ND filtering does is modify the light intensity. Advanced users can use ND filters to create motion blur effects or remove haze from scenic backgrounds on sunny days among other things.
The Sony AX-100 in Action
The Sony FDR-AX100 4k comes packed with features like focus peaking for manual focusing and zebra patterning to get the exposure right. A sound-level meter helps optimize the audio and you can also toggle a grid to get the composition right. To top things off, Sony’s Optical Steady Shot image stabilization will ensure you won’t have to worry about taking wonky video footage, as well as 3 short cut buttons conveniently placed taking you to your 3 most used functions. The touchscreen is easy to use, simply touch the screen on the focus subject that you want to follow and the camcorder takes care of the rest.
Quality of Video
Probably the most important section considering the whole point of this exercise was to find a device that not only performed better than my other video recording devices, but one that was more convenient to use and ultimately justifies the expense I paid for it.
I took the Sony 4k camcorder FDR-AX100 out for a spin over the weekend on a family outing to the zoo. During this time of year the day gets dark really fast, so I managed to get a good mix of day light and low light shooting.
Taking aside my poor camera skills (I need a lot of practise here!) the quality of day light shooting was astounding. The detail at 4k is breath taking, and this was viewing the footage at only at 1440p the maximum my monitor can handle. Low light was good, but I have had better result using my Sony a6000. This will be mainly down to the sensor being smaller than the Sony a6000’s APC-S, but at least I now get the cmos digital camera meaning. From my initial results, I focused away from using the manual controls. I believe scenarios that will most benefit these settings are either still video capture or when using a tripod. Instead I let the camera adjust these settings automatically and I must say it did a great job.
Here are a few screenshots from the 4K in action.
Depth of Field
What’s in the Box?
The Sony FDR-AX100 4K comes packed with the following:
- The Sony AX100 (obviously)
- A Rechargeable Battery
- AC Adapter
- Power Cord
- Micro HDMI Cable
- USB Cable extension for data transfer
- Remote Commander (remote control)
- Lens Hood
- Lens Cap
The FDR-AX-100 offers multiple ways of transferring data across to your PC. You can either use the provided USB 2.0 cable, Wifi or NFC for wireless transfer. In addition to these, you can also purchase a separate USB.3.0 card reader which is fully compatible with SDXC and is fully recognized with playmemories; Sony’s application for transferring and viewing videos. Make sure you look up a decent Sony playmemories review, it is very similar to OSX iPhoto software, but offers many more functions aimed specifically for videos, such as MP4 converter etc.
If this is your first digital video camera or are replacing one that is a few years old, what comes boxed will not be enough to get you going and here is why.
- The rechargeable battery will only last for 45 minutes of recording
- There is no SD Card included
- The default mic, while 5.1, will not record a person’s voice clearly after a small distance.
- No lighting is included and while the 1” sensor handles low light extremely well, there will be occasions you want an additional light source on hand.
- No bag is included
Sony does offer some great accessories that can be purchased in addition to the camera and I would highly recommend the following to fully kit yourself out.
- Sony’s NP-FV70 3800 mAh battery – increases the recording time to 4 hours per charge.
- Sony’s BC-QM1 – Quick Charger – an external charging dock compatible with many of Sony’s battery formats. There’s nothing worse than having to charge the battery through the camera
- Sony’s HVL-LEIR1 Battery Video IR Light – A battery operated that fits onto the accessory shoe adapter on top of the Sony AX100. This battery operated light offers two operating modes. It can operate as an LED light or operate as an IR light (shoot in the dark)
- Sony GP-VPT1 Hand Tripod – This neat little device makes shooting a whole lot easier. Either use it as a hand held trigger mechanism (making selfies that much easier) or use it as a mini tripod.
- A wireless microphone system – Couple Sony’s ECM-CS10 Lav mic together with Sony’s EMC-AW4 wireless microphone system and you have yourself a professional grade setup going.
- LowePro 160 litre bag – a neat should bag that will easily pack all of your equipment in
- A high speed SDXC external USB 3.0 card reader. Why wait hours when you can wait minutes when transferring 4k data over to your computer.
- ScanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC card 64gb (280mb/s read and write) – If you want to record in 4k, you will need an SDXC card. It is currently the only card that can keep up with 4k recording.
Each of these products has been purchased by myself and reviewed on Panel Review.
4K not required?
For those that have no wish to record their footage at 4k resolution be it for price or hardware reasons, but want a camcorder with the same features, Sony offer the same model significantly cheaper minus the 4k recording, but with all the same features, through their Sony HDR-CX900 model.
Verdict: Sony FDR-AX100/e UHD Camcorder
- 4K Recording
- Exmor r
- Large Sensor Size
- Sony’s BIONZ X Image Processor
- Carl Zeiss vision
- 12x Optical / 18x Clear Image Zoom
- Enough manual controls to keep even the prosumers happy
- Built in NDR Filters
- Excellent Build Quality and Look
- Decent Low light quality
- Viewfinder cannot control menu options
- Not all features are easy to work out even with the manual
- Only one memory card slot
- Hot shoe not universal design
- By default no external battery charger is provided
- Rolling shutter when zoomed out
While there may be some cons with this product, we have to look at the bigger picture here. If we were talking about the FDX-1 or similar, these cons would definitely bring our score down. However we are talking about a handycam that is aimed at the typical point and shoot consumer. The features the Sony AX-100 offer far outweigh any other HD camcorders on the market right now especially the 1” sensor, the BIONZ X image processor and Zeiss lens, you really cannot go wrong purchasing this piece of equipment and keeping up-to-date with hardware advancements coming out for a few years at least to come.
With manual controls at your disposal, you have a great opportunity at honing in your filming skills preparing you for the larger much more expensive equipment when, and if your hobby or profession takes you there.
Aside from the features and hardware, the quality is unparalleled at 4k output. Even if you don’t own a UHD TV or monitor today. Chances are you will in a few years to come. Recording your precious moments now in 4k will benefit you both now with the highest HD possible via 4k downscaling, and 4k for the future.