on 4 August 2014
Firstly, I must state I use to own a professional videography business, which I have since passed down to my siblings. I've played and used many a cameras and camcorders in my lifetime and I mean many.
As with anything in that line of business you look for the best equipment/tools for the job. In the videography field image is everything, you do not want your customers to look over your work and pick out flaws, one flaw is acceptable two or three and your in trouble. I always pride my self on good editing software and I have many. With this particular package you get a voucher to download Movie Studio 13 Platinum, which has full support for Sony XAVCS. I know some like the budget Power Director 12; which is good for 4K editing (for the home user). However, the bees knees is Sony Vegas Pro 13, the best bit about Sony Vegas Pro 13 is the native editing ability, so you can do things allot more efficiently. If you want the best image preservation then you really need this software. It can do allot and it has a very powerful editing suite. Of course you will need a very powerful computer, but you would have this already, if you do this for a living.
You will need a 4K monitor to truly get the best out of your material, I have a NEC MultiSync EA244UHD 4K monitor which is brilliant and this monitor shows the beauty of all images, A spectacular monitor for viewing 4K footage/material.
Now on to this pro-sumer camcorder. The Sony FDR-AX100 is lovely to behold, it sits well in your hand and it has that professional feel to it without going overboard. It is large, but not overly large, it just feels right. You will need the necessary tools to do yourself justice in all conditions i.e. Tripod and Stereo Microphone. First thing I did was to upgrade the FW to version 2.00. It has improvements to autofocus and adds 1/30 shutter speed. I used this for over two weeks now; in a wedding, reunion party and a football match and after party. I can say that the camera has surpassed all my expectations, even in very low light conditions; this is due to the large sensor in this camcorder, but more on this later.
Now, this camera is suited for the professionals and not your day-to-day shooting. The nice thing about the AX100 is that the manual controls are all at your fingertips, you can do it all by turning a dial or pressing the buttons, what more could a videograher want. It has access to focus, iris, shutter speed, Filters, gain and WB; you can further tune WB and temperature setting modes to the required setting dependant on the effect and surroundings you desire. The best part is the cinema mode, this basically mimics the settings used by filmatography. I must stress the colours are spot on, I've used the GH4 and I feel the Yellows on the GH4 were too strong, but the AX100 are spot on. Skin tone and colour is also spot on.
In daylight this camcorder produces pin sharp image quality at various settings, be it HD and 4K. When I was outdoors in the late hours of the night, in the West End, with poor light the images were still brilliant as good as looking with the naked eye. In cinema mode at 24P this camcorder packs a whopping punch, it was taking in all the light from the surroundings, I mean every spec of light; even the flame from a lighter in the distance. We had a full moon and the night was clear so, I left the camcorder to capture the event in time lapse at 22:30-00:00 (with Low lux setting on). I then edited the speed. It came out brilliant, the reflection of the moon on the river and the candle lights were all clear. The captured footage of the evening and night all turned out as planned, the video images were clear, pristine and not washed out. I set the lens to around F2.8/3.1 and 24dB and the video in the West End and Soho was impeccable. I was surprised, I mean truly surprised as this camera was giving me image quality on par with the FDR-AX1 and that is a £4k pro Cam and allot larger and heavier. So, this is basically giving images on par with the AX1 in low light conditions, awesome or what. The Carl Zeiss Lens is responsive and fast, it has exceptional tracking of all objects in view, there is little to no chromatic aberration in my shoots. I can soften the background and focus on the parts I need and produce stunning bokeh results, defocusing background noise and still obtaining great footage. The shallow depth of field is brilliant. Bokeh effects on the ax100 are stunning, the detail of in-focus material and the out-of-focus points of light are very pleasing. The best part of this camcorder is the level of detail the sensor is capturing, the colours are accurate, better than my GH4. The exposure time of material is lovely. The amount of detail and effects is outstanding. One thing I did notice is that out of the box the IS is set to default, in order to get the best out of this you will need to change the settings to Hybrid IS. This actually enhances the IS and stabilizes the image when shooting while walking (be it briskly). All, the videos I captured over the week I put through Sony Pro 13 and the end result with a bit of time and effort was marvellous. This camcorder is the 4K model of choice in my personal opinion. Panning with this camera is very sharp, I was tracking the football game and panning across the crowd and game to and fro and the results were great, even when I took some shots when taking footage of the bride in the wedding car, in the back of my van the quality was good.
Out of the box, the AX100 is good. But, to truly do it justice you will have to tweak the settings. The settings are numerous, you will need to adjust and re-adjust until you find that sweet spot for your material. The built-in Mic is powerful, but you will need the external stereo mic to really get the best as the external Mic has the ability to direct on subjects further away. The battery life is good, but you will need an extra one or two spare if out shooting for a long day. The good thing is that this camcorder can be powered/charged through USB, so, if you have those portable/external power charger, I used my Anker Astro3, you can run this through the USB charger or you could just charge it up. I used the Anker to keep me running for 9 hours via a 1 metre USB extension cable with the Anker in my photography vest.
The things I would have liked is dual SDXC ports. So, I could put two SDXC cards. I used a single 128GB SDXC card, it worked well on this camera in 4K shooting; you roughly get 5.3 hours of recording time. I brought three more SDXC 128gb UHS-I Class 3 SD cards just for this camcorder ( I can't justify paying over the odds for a 256GB SDXC card). I noticed no distortion in capturing any footage or image. Now, I haven't really used this camcorder for still images as I have a Canon EOS 1DX for that purpose. But, the stills I took were very clear, rich and packed with detail, the stills do have plenty of detail, so you could in theory just carry this around, not recommended, but a possibility. But, from past experience I always carry both. However, as I mentioned I haven't utilised this camcorder solely for still images.
Sony could have added 4K 60P, but I guess they may need a more powerful processor for this ( I have asked Sony support to consider adding this option in the menmu system ). The Optical zoom could be better, especially for Safari shoots, although I can't complain too much. You can't have everything in this price range. If you want the extra features you have to pay the extra money. At this price point nothing can truly touch it right now. You have a future proof camcorder that is just amazing at recording 4K footage. Have a look online on Youtube for material in 4K, yes you should view 4K material on a 4K monitor. I know not many will have a 4K monitor/TV. But, the professional videographer who is serious will have or should purchase one.
The AX100 has WiFi and NFC built in, but I only used the NFC to copy some images to my tablet. It all seemed to work well. Would I use this function much, not really. I cannot see myself copying or streaming over WiFi; when I can just take the SDXC card and copy over USB3 which is much faster. I guess others maybe like me, who are not so keen to stream over WiFi.
Am I happy with this camcorder? Yes! after two weeks of shooting in various modes and in various situations I am more than happy. I feel this camcorder is the 4K game changer it has a host of functions and features and the video quality at 2K and 4K is brilliant. I've probably shot over 63 hours in these last 10 days. I have been busy and the large part is to sit over the material and edit it. So, you need good editing software.
I can't speak of others, but I have not had any issue with the IS on this camcorder. I believe you will get FW updates to iron out issues and enhancements, but I guess you have to use this camcorder in the right context, it's horses for courses.
I would thoroughly recommend this camcorder. It really is brilliant and I believe Sony has pulled a trump card here, to produce a cracking camcorder at this price range with all these features really does trump all others.
Without question... worth the five stars I have given.