First Impressions: Sony FDR AX1–The First 4K Camcorder With an Auto Mode

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (2 of 12)ISO 32001-70 sec at f - 3.2

To us, Sony is the company that often pushes the fold and gives us things before we even believed that it would be time for them to hit the market. And while it was obviously inevitable at some point and time, Sony is announcing today the world’s first camcorder with 4K video recording and a fully automatic mode: FDR AX1. Yes, while many cinematographers are working with really good 1080p video in manual mode, this camcorder is giving the affluent customer the power to shoot their kid’s recital in 4K or the news shooter to shoot breaking news in 4K using all the manual modes that they’re used to.

And they’re packing in a 20x optical zoom lens and a 1/2.3inch 12MP 8MP effective imaging sensor.

Tech Specs

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (12 of 12)ISO 32001-40 sec at f - 2.8

– Can output video to 3840 x 2160 QFHD or 4096 x 2160

– 1/2.3 inch 12MP sensor. 8MP of those are effective

– Can shoot 60P, 30P or 24p

– 20x optical zoom lens starting at f1.8

– XLR outputs

– Manual functions and fully automatic functions

– XAVCS format for video

– Can output via an HDMI cable and can record video to XQD cards

– 3 stop ND filter

– SD card slot

– Can take a 4K video and output it as HD

– $3,499 when it launches in mid October

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (1 of 12)ISO 32001-40 sec at f - 3.2

While Sony is stating that the camcorder is aimed at the news professional, the hobbyist, and the affluent folk we really need to recommend that before you even think about purchasing a camcorder like this, consider the fact that you’ll need to either read the freakin’ manual or you’ll need to have experience with camcorders. These are the types of camcorders that I used to work with in college–except that they were HD and not 4K. And the problem that we often saw there was that there wasn’t sufficient training on the camcorders. So we still recommend that you try to figure out what you’re doing with it first.

And with that said, we bring you to the side of the FDR AX1: there are loads of buttons as many Sony camcorder users would well know about. Plus there is a screen to display what’s being shot, the essential handle for a news shooter, and more.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (3 of 12)ISO 32001-30 sec at f - 3.2

Across that handle, the shooter will be able to have access to loads of setting besides just recording and zooming. They can control the volume, playback, etc.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (8 of 12)ISO 32001-40 sec at f - 3.2

A closer look at the main buttons reveal loads of other very familiar controls to videographers such as the zebra setting, the ND filter control, focusing, peaking, etc. And around the lens you’ll see three control rings. First off, the lens is an internal zoom lens and one of those rings controls the zooming. The middle ring controls aperture while the back ring controls shutter speed. If you want gain access, you’ll need to set it another way.

However, I was also able to set the middle control ring to focus control.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (9 of 12)ISO 32001-55 sec at f - 3.2

At the back of the camcorder you’ll find a vari-angle EVF, XQD slot, battery slot, and loads of other ports. These will be important to pay attention to when you’re packing the camcorder away.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (10 of 12)ISO 32001-30 sec at f - 2.8

As is very typical with Sony and many other camcorder companies, there is a zoom control and focus magnifier on the side hand grip. Plus there is a little strap for your hand to go through when the camera is shoulder mounted or the viewfinder is up to your eye.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (11 of 12)ISO 32001-30 sec at f - 2.8

And behind that area is where you can find the power control. It’s quite a nice place to put it as we doubt that the camera will get turned off by accident. Instead, recording might happen on accident.

Build Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (5 of 12)ISO 32001-30 sec at f - 3.2

As with any camcorder targeted at the news or documentary shooter, it’s built quite well. In fact, picking up this camcorder brought back the nostalgia of shooting short films before I became a stills shooter. Indeed, this is what quality is all about.

With that, we need to mention one big thing. See that XQD card in my hand in the photo above? It was burning hot when it came out of the camcorder due to all the work that the processor was doing. Since the processor is burning that hot, the system obviously needs a way to cool it. There is a fan in the camera where the intake is around the side hand grip and the vent is toward the back. That leaves the camera’s shotgun microphone towards the front and away from the fan–hopefully delivering better sound in the process.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 4K Camcorder (6 of 12)ISO 32001-50 sec at f - 3.2

See those buttons? I know I’m harping on this but if you really don’t know what you’re doing and don’t want to learn, don’t think about this camcorder and instead leave the 4K content creation to the folks that know how to tell stories and the editors that have the machines to handle a 4K workflow.

Anyone that wants to put this camcorder in auto and shoot away we really need to advise to stay away. Instead, go take a shooting class and check out our introduction to video.

Autofocus

To be honest, I didn’t test the autofocus functionality of this camera and I’d even be amazed if there is one. You’re supposed to manually focus with something like this to ensure that you never lose track of your subject. The focus peaking makes that even simpler to do.

With this said, the manual focusing is very smooth as is the zoom.

Image Quality

We dealt with a prototype of the camcorder, but from the quality that we saw when live porting it to a television, we were extremely impressed. We haven’t seen this much skin detail on a subject when using diffused daylight from a window in a while.

We don’t have any footage because of the fact that it was a prototype, but what we saw is surely impressive.

First Impressions

Sure, there is an auto mode, but everything that a news shooter needs and values is also there. You’ll get the great ergonomic control that you need, XLR ports, a great viewfinder, an attached zoom lens, and 4K video recording. While DSLRs are cheaper, they require lots more accessories to really make them useful in the field. But for the trained professional or the person that wants to get more serious about their video, you’ll be seriously impressed by what this camcorder can do.

Sony also tells us that cable providers around the world are testing out 4K content delivery–which means that this camcorder might be coming at the perfect time.

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