Sony unveils new smaller, lighter 4K Handycam model at CES 2015 for half the 2014 Handycam price

by on January 6, 2015

Stephan Jukic – January 6, 2015

CES 2015 is definitely turning out to be the place for 4K camcorders so far. We’ve already had Panasonic introduce two new consumer ultra HD video camcorders and now, we’ve also got Sony releasing its latest 4K handycam, the FDR-AX33.

The FDR-AX33 isn’t Sony’s first ever 4K camcorder model, obviously, but it is a major improvement over the previous version. We’re talking, of course, about last year’s FDR-AX100, which we reviewed here. The 2014 version was widely considered to be an excellent piece of shooting hardware and even garnered a “Best of” award from Digital Trends magazine.

Furthermore, Sony has also unveiled a number of other “prosumer” 4K camcorders for the higher end of the market.

However, what makes the AX33 so special is the fact that, in comparison to what emerged last year, it is a definite improvement. The camcorder is both smaller and lighter for much greater consumer friendliness while, best of all, it is also selling for a much lower price that is only half of what last year’s AX100 cost.

Despite its affordability and diminutive size, the FDR-AX33 doesn’t lack for high quality specs. It has a high-bitrate 4K recording capacity of 100Mbps and incorporates a number of sophisticated Sony shooting features such as the Optical SteadyShot image stabilization system, also known as BOSS.

The AX33 can shoot 4K videos at a maximum rate of 30 frames per second but because of Sony’s XAVC S compression format, the very high 100Mbps bit rate is possible. In comparison, Panasonics own 2015 4K camcorder, the WX970, can manage a considerably higher 50 fps shooting rate but comes with a considerably lower bitrate.

In terms of pricing, both camcorders are nearly evenly matched and the Sony FDR-AX33 is going to be retailing for just $999.

Moving back to the AX33’s BOSS image stabilization system, it’s been designed to make sure that the entire lens unit stays steady during shots and not just the sensor, as is the case in Panasonic’s comparable 4K model. Furthermore, this is an important piece of technology to have inside a shooter that’s picking up ultra HD resolution in its video; given all the extra pixels a video shoot involves, maximal image stability creates a far more efficient use of data processing power.

One of the benefits that Sony is touting about the AX33 is its ability to create a nearly endless stream of high quality photo stills from its 4K video clips. Each of these still images aounts to about 8.3 megapixels and given the 30 fps shooting speed, we’re talking about a great capacity for picking up perfectly timed high-resolution images from any given video sequence.

Addtionally, even if the 4K video clips used for still shots are downconverted to 2K or as low as Full HD, they should still look pretty good on a digital display.

Finally, the FDR-AX33 comes with a Zeiss lens that delivers a 15x magnification at 4K resolution and a 20x magnification at 2K settings.

Sony's 2014 Handycam, the FDR-AX100 was a very slim unit but still much bulkier than the AX33

Sony’s 2014 Handycam, the FDR-AX100 was a very slim unit but still much bulkier than the AX33

The most interesting thing of all about the new Sony camcorder is its much lower price. This is a clear indicator of how much 4K technology has been mainstreamed in the camera market and in 2015, we’re almost certainly going to see a large number of other, even higher end camcorder and camera models come out with 4K video resolution but with prices close to those of ordinary HD cameras.

Of course, Sony isn’t just releasing 4K cameras at this year’s CES event. The company also unveiled several new HD camcorders: The HDR-PJ670, which is retailing for $700, can shoot 1080p HD video at 60p and uses the same BOSS stabilization system as the FDR-AX33. The HDR-PJ440, which is going on sale for $400 is also another camcorder emerging from the consumer electronics show. It shoots with the same specs as the PJ670 but only features Optical SteadyShot stabilization instead of the full BOSS unit.

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