A Review of the Sony FDR-AX100/B 4K Video Camera with 3.5-Inch LCD
Sony’s FDR-AX100/B 4K video camcorder is one versatile little piece of technology and certainly one of Sony’s more interesting consumer market 4K ultra HD video recorder devices. While not a marvel of miniaturization like some models, the AX100 certainly comes in a relatively small package, featuring a body that measures only 8 inches in length and a full weight (with battery included) of just 2 pounds. Furthermore, the tube-shaped body comes with a mixture of metal subframing and easy to grip plastic coating that combine to make this camcorder not only feel pretty serious but also deliver a combination of strength and easy handling.
On the other hand, the AX100 is not one of Sony’s cheapest 4K camcorders and while it certainly comes loaded with features and specs, some users might be more comfortable and more than equipped enough with more affordable models that don’t run to a nearly $2,000 price tag like the AX100.
Shooting features in the AX100 run between several video resolution formats that include 4K and two different modes of 1080p HD as well as lower resolution. There is also a neat but not exceptionally unique mode for shooting dual HD/4K video at the same time with this camcorder.
First and foremost, what we like about the Sony AX100 is that this is one of only a few camcorders on the market which offer an excellent and relatively affordable opportunity for videographers and amateurs alike who want to enter into the 4K recording market without spending a fortune or getting in over their heads and needs in terms of features and specs. For some types of beginners, there can be such thing as too much of a good thing and the AX100 avoids this by keeping things closer to a simple line while still offering plenty of recording power and other goodies.
Furthermore, the AX100’s maximum video and photo resolutions are both very much on the high side. Super high resolution photos can be taken at a resolution of 20 megapixels while even video capture is possible with a maximum resolution equivalent to 14 megapixels, which is more than respectable for video in such a compact shooter. 4K video itself can also be grabbed at a relatively smooth or at least respectable and standard 30 frames per second. What also helps out a lot in the AX100 is its powerful image processing engine, which is in fact the same as that found in considerably more professional Sony 4K UHD video cameras we’ve seen before.
Sony has also thrown in a 1” Exmor CMOS sensor into their AX100 model, which at the original time of release was a first for the company and an apparatus that is very, impressively capable of delivering some very decent low-light video and photo footage. Noise reduction on the 1”EXMOR is as much as 50% superior to that of its predecessors and for night shooting or dark indoor video, this is a definite bonus.
Finally, the FDR-AX100 is a versatile camera when it comes to formats, with the capability to shoot 4K and Full HD movies in XAVC S, which uses MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression and saves video files in an MP4 wrapping. This means a good deal of compression, longer shooting times and a very solid preservation of detail. Other shooting formats also include AVCHD, MP4 HD video and simultaneous shooting in both AVCHD and MP4 formats.
Standard features in many Sony semi-pro video cameras were also included in the AX100, which we were happy to see. These include a neutral density filter, some great audio controls and an OLED EVF, along with a 3.5-inch LCD screen. NFC and WiFi connectivity are also important aspects that are very much present with this model.
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The FDR-AX100 is a superb prosumer camcorder as far as the current possibilities for such models go but it’s of course also not without its minor flaws. None of these are serious deal breakers but they’re also annoying aspects of a camcorder design that is in so many other ways so excellent.
For starters, some of the controls on the AX100 are definitely on the clumsy side. This applied to both the control rings on the external body and the touchscreen menu items on the small LCD display. The control rings work okay but the larger ring has a tendency towards poor precision, with some jumping around on the slow zoom and very fin focus control. This might partly be due to some glitching in the digitized system behind these ring controls, in place of a more precision-crafted mechanical system.
As for the touchscreen, it comes with two main flaws as far as we can tell. First of all, while the main menu screen is easy enough to navigate, expanding it to a wider range of options leads to some difficult control with much tinier digital buttons in the little submenus. What makes all of this a bit worse is also the fact that the LCD screen can be both a bit insensitive to touch control and difficult to see with good clarity when seen in direct light, especially sunlight.
Finally, while this is a complaint about the AX100 that might only apply to some users with smaller hands, this little camcorder is certainly not the smallest of its kind. A minor detail to be sure but at 2 pounds, the AX100 is a bit on the heavier side as far as ultra-compact little camcorders go.
The FDR-AX100 is on the whole a superb and remarkably well stacked piece of 4K video recording hardware. Pretty much any function and feature a prosumer or amateur video and even photo fan could want is present and the overall quality of video shot is excellent without a doubt, particularly for more long view shooting in decent lighting conditions. The few minor flaws in the AX100 are far from deal-breakers and definitely don’t lower our recommendation of this 4K camcorder more than a tiny sliver.
Camera Type: 4K camcorder
Video Resolution: 4k - 3840 x 2160 pixels
Sensor Type: 20 MP EXMOR 1” CMOS Sensor
Recording Formats: Still Images: DCF Ver 2.0 compatible; Exif, Ver 2.3 compatible; MPF Baseline compatible Movies: MPEG4-AVC/H.264, XAVC-S
Recording media: SD, SDHC, SDXC
Lens Type: ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T with 12x optical zoom, 160x digital zoom, 18x 4K zoom
Display: LCD 5” Xtra Fine LCD™ touchscreen display
Audio: Dolby Digital 2 ch Stereo, [AVCHD only], Dolby Digital 5.1 ch, Dolby Digital 5.1Creator [AVCHD only], MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2ch, MPEG-4 Linear PCM 2 ch (48 kHz / 16 bit) [XAVC S 4K only]
Connectivity: Compostie output, HDMI output, Headphone jack, Micro-B/USB2.0 Hi-speed, Microphone jack
Screen Size: 5 inches
Frame Rates: AVCHD: 1920 x 1080 / 60 p (PS), 24 p (FX, FH), 60i (FX, FH), 1440 x 1080 / 60i (HQ,LP), MP4: 1280x720 30p, XAVC S 4K: 3840 × 2160/30P, 24P, XAVC S HD: 1920 x 1080/60P, 30P, 24
Shutter Speeds: 1/8–1/10000
Focus: Contrast AF with Auto/manual touch panel/dial full range and spot focus
The FDR-AX100 from Sony comes with its own built in ZEISS lens with a 12x optical zoom and 160x digital zoom, so at least as far as that goes in camcorder design, this model will save you some funds on extra lens purchases, in contrast to the case with many DSLRs and mirrorless 4K cameras with video shooting. As for what comes in the box along with the AX100, you’ll get your hands on an NP-FV70 battery pack, an AC Adapter, a USB cable, remote control, lens hood, lens cap, an instruction manual, power cord and an HDMI cable. There’s also a Sony BC-TRV Travel charger included with the AX100. Not a bad package overall.
The highlights of the FDR-AX100 revolve around its wide range of video and photo shooting/processing abilities for the most part. As we’d already said, for its size and price this little semi-pro consumer grade camcorder is pretty well decked out and good to go for the majority of shooting projects done in decent lighting conditions. Sony claims that the AX100 is also a solid night/low light shooter but this is an area where it doesn’t excel quite as well as more than a few other small video cameras and even video-capable mirrorless or DSLR cameras. Night and low light shots look decent but the noise level created is on the whole still quite a bit on the high side.
These things said, some of the more important highlights of the AX100 consist of:
• Solid 4K Ultra HD video capture capacity: the AX100 manages to shoot some very decent 4K content at 30p and 24p settings with great vibrancy and realism. While you might not like the night shot quality of its 4K or HD video, the fast image processor of the AX100 is definitely of a professional grade, being one of Sony’s Advanced BIONZ X processing engines. This also means superbly smooth Full HD movies at 60p with a minimal loss of realism.
• The 1” EXMOR CMOS Sensor: this was the first use of this sensor in a Sony video camera and the resulting quality is quite good for high resolution 20.9 megapixel imagery. In part at least, this sensor does a solid job of delivering some good low light shots under the right sorts of outdoor conditions and other less demanding settings, though noise is still a bit problematic at times.
• The majority of Sony’s digital image systems come with WiFi connectivity and the feature has become a must for most new cameras. Thus, it’s certainly present in the AX100. What makes it particularly nice in this case however is that Sony has also added in a sort of double remote control capacity to boot. On the one hand, the AX100 and other WiFi capable Sony cameras can be run with a remote control app for iOS or Android called PlayMemories, which is designed to allow control of essential camera functions, viwing, toggle between video and photo shooting modes and zoom right from your smartphone. The app is remarkably functional and simple to use. However, in addition to the app, a small analog infrared remote control also comes with the AX100, which allows a broader range of all main menu options also found in the cameras touchscreen controls.
• The BIONZ X Processor engine of the AX100: This is the same processor found in some of Sony’s more pro cameras and it’s a definite winner while doing its work in the background unobtrusively. The overall image quality of the AX1 looks more natural, lifelike and nicely vivid thanks to the BIONZ and detail reproduction at a range of resolutions is superb, with filter controls for edges, textures and lighting depending on the scenery being shot. The BIONZ filter is also good for some great 120 fps shooting for slow-motion playback at 24 fps after some post processing work.
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On overall performance, we’d definitely have to give the AX100 a very high rating. This camera treats well into semi-pro territory with a consumer market edge and for the majority of amateur users or pros who need a light, easy to use field video shooter, the AX100 is a superb choice. For both photos and video but particularly for video shooting in HD or 4K.
What we love about the AX100 is that it really does deliver on some great light-professional features and abilities. Some serious videographers might rule this small shooter out but this would be a mistake in our opinion. The AX100 is an excellent choice if you need a camera that offers superb 4K and HD video - try using a 4k drone, offers a very light package for shooting while on the move and can still hand over some very vibrant, extra-sharp photos and videos.
Basically, the AX100 delivers solid performance for all the essentials of mobile photo and video shooting at a range of resolutions right from the start and tops this off by offering professional levels of adjustability, decent zoom and a great point-and-shoot apparatus for tricky field situations.
On the other hand we would have loved to see some better zoom functionality on the AX100. A little marker on the lens claims an 18x Clear Image Zoom which works well for HD but less so for 4K video shooting and there is also a 160x digital zoom that Sony has managed through some digital wizardry but with this activated at full power, the resulting video is predictably crappy. In practical reality, optical zoom on the Zeiss lens is most functional at roughly 12x, especially for 4K video and this is where an enhanced 20x option would be an even bigger killer, making this or any other camcorder that has it superb for something like wildlife shooting in the field.
To summarize image quality and video resolution, the Sony FDR-AX100 delivers wonderfully on both. Despite being a 4K camcorder that delivers the UHD video at 30 frames per second with some excellent HD shooting capability at 60 frames, this shooter can also handle superbly vibrant and clear 20.9 megapixel still photos under a range of conditions and optical zoom levels. Basically, the quality of still image shooting which comes out of this camera easily matches what you’ll get from most high quality consumer market still cameras.
Video footage is however its real strong point, with crisp video and extremely good depth of field even under tighter, more compressed shooting modes being possible. The frame rate of the camera’s 4K video isn’t as good as we’d like (at least 50 fps) but it’s still smooth enough for most light UHD recording.
The Sony FDR-AX100/B 4K camcorder uses to sell for a fairly steep price tag of $1999. But competitive pressures have dropped this down slightly to a current Amazon.com retail price of just $1,648.00.
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To summarize briefly, what we didn’t like in the FDR-AX100 was pretty minor stuff: The camera is a bit heavier than we’d like, especially considering some of the even smaller, newer 4K camcorders that have emerged since. Furthermore, it’s solid, easy to grip body has no waterproofing that we know of, so avoiding wet conditions is a hassle that users will have to endure. Additionally, some of the menu controls on the LCD touchscreen can be difficult to operate.
Finally, the AX100 could have done better in the low-light shooting department. The EXMOR sensor tries hard to reduce noise from what some other Sony camcorders deliver but the quality of low-light video and photo reproduction isn’t the best we’ve heard of.
• Excellent video quality
• Pro-level photo processing
• Versatile for photos and video
• EXMOR sensor mostly a powerful performer
• Great remote control features
• Not the best low light performer
• Clumsy touchscreen controls
• Slightly imprecise control rings
• A bit heavy
• No waterproofing