When I first heard about the Sony 4K camera at a consumer level price I knew I wanted to take it for a spin. Coming in at under $2200 I really had high hopes for the camera especially having recently used a Canon XA20 that is currently selling at around the same price. I really enjoyed the XA20 and felt that if Sony could come close to the look and feel of the the Canon while adding 4k it would have a real winner on its hand. And while the fact that the Sony FDR-AX100 could record at Ultra HD 3840×2160 is a major selling point what jumped out at me was the 1″ EXMOR R CMOS sensor that it is using. That size sensor should mean a more narrow depth of field as well as better recording in low light.
I rented the camera from Lensrentals.com, used it to record my interview and then took it out to my usual spot to run it through a few tests. Here is the video of those tests:
I like the camera but the ability to shoot 4k doesn’t make up for a few deficiencies on the AX100. I was not fond of the touchscreen as it seems way too small for all the menu information that is displayed. Often times it took a few tries for me to select the right option as my fingers would brush against other menu items. It is fortunate that many buttons are made available on the camera body so the user may not have to use the touchscreen for everything. Lack of XLR input should not be counted as a real negative since this is not billed as a professional model like the Sony PXW-Z100. Ergonomically the camera felt to small for my hands and I was hoping for a little more weight and perhaps a handle. I had a problem accessing the Manual Focus button because of where it was placed.
Visually the camera records very good quality video. As you have seen from the clips I shot the camera will need a little gamma correction and some contrast in post but there is plenty of detail available to work with. When I put up my interview video you will be able to see how well the 1″ sensor shoots indoors. The CMOS sensor, however, has a pronounced problem with Rolling Shutter so fast panning is out of the questions unless don’t mind fixing the issue in post. (Speaking of which, I’m going to test out This Software to see how well it works. Look for a review soon!)
In the same $1900 – $2200 price range there are quite a few non-4K options available that include handles, XLR inputs and a plethora of buttons along with their touchscreens. Why would I choose the AX100 over the other options? I’m not certain I would as I’m not certain 4K ultra HD is worth it yet. One of the reason to shoot in 4K now would be the ability to apply zooming and panning when down converting to 1080p but I notice quite a bit of artifact when I tried that (clips coming soon).
Some additional things to note:
- You can only shoot 4k if you have an SDXC card; with an SDHC card you are limited to 1080p. I’m very fortunate that my last purchase was a 64GB SDXC card to that I could get the most out of the AX100. It would have been a shame if I couldn’t test it out completely.
- The auto focus is slow. Really slow and switching to manual in a run-n-gun situation is a little awkward because of the MF button placement.
- I didn’t do enough 4K low light recording. It would have been easy to setup a candle after it got dark outside and see how well the camera did in low light.
For $2000 I think the camera is good, though not great. I was not as impressed with it as I was with the XA20 but I could definitely see how it could be useful in quite a few spots.
BTW – I love doing hardware reviews. If there are any products that you suggest I take a look at please let me know.