Sony AX100 Review – Powerful 4K Tool with New 100 Mbps Firmware

June 10th, 2015

Sony AX100The Sony AX100 is a prosumer video camera that has a significantly larger sensor than other videocameras and through a recent firmware upgrade boosts the data-rate up to 100 Mbps. We reviewed the popular camera and compared it to the Canon XC10.

The 1 inch sensor camera market is alive and kicking with a few interesting cameras in its segment namely the upcoming Canon XC10, sony rx10, Sony PXW-X70 and the Sony FDR-AX100 (the X70 Prosumer brother). Some of those cameras are full-HD “only”, others are 4K (UHD) or 4K capable via paid firmware updates.

1-inch-sensorIn my opinion a 1 inch sensor (16mm equivalent) camera is an ideal tool for documentary style shooting and when being used in a creative way, one can mimic the look of a larger sensor camera rather easily. I also think that video-journalists will love the “ease of use” and the convenient built-in lens for their run-and-gun assignments.

Sony AX100-2

After testing the up coming Canon XC10 (review can be found here), I got many requests to test a Sony equivalent camera.
I did test the Sony RX10 in the past but it’s a full HD camera “only”, so I decided to look for a 4K (UHD) equivalent. Next on the list was the  Sony PXW-X70. This camera is aimed for the professional market with built-in XLR audio and 4:2:2 video sampling in HD mode. Also, as of February 2015, a 4K software license (a $550 paid firmware update) can be downloaded to unlock the 4K recording capability of the camera.

My decision was to do a Sony AX100 review. It was also a good opportunity to test the new FREE XAVC-S 4K update. (firmware 3.0 boosting the data rate from 60 Mbps to 100 Mbps). In my opinion this camera together with Sony’s XLR-K2M can prove to be a very powerful combination.

Comparing the Sony AX100 to the Canon XC10

IMG_431492Before diving into specifications, ergonomics or picture quality I think the main difference between those cameras is the “philosophy” behind them. Example: While the XC10 is “just” another stand-alone product, Sony chose to introduce an “eco-system” solution.

The XLR-K2M audio module can be used on its hotshoe and conveniently gives you XLR . Both cameras are targeting video-journalists, but those who choose the Sony have the opportunity to add a professional audio attachment to their (non professional) camera.

When taking a closer look, the only advantage I could find when using the XC10 was the ability to film in Canon’s C LOG flat picture profile. Other then that, Canon’s higher bit rate recording might be an advantage for some but it also requires a much more expensive storage option.

I won’t go deep into the comparison between those cameras but to summarise.
The AX100 has these advantages over the XC10:
• A motorised zoom lens
• 3 stages of ND filters
• Better flexibility on the audio side
• A good OLED EVF

This makes the AX100 an easier camera to work with. Saying all of that does not make the Sony AX100 perfect… actually far from it. I’m very curious to know who is in charge of designing those cameras and who decides about ergonomics and button placement. It feels like actual users weren’t involved in the design process and I think it would help. Engineers are great people but mostly not users.

Points to Consider:

• Using the focus magnifier button on the front right hand side of the camera while shooting or accessing the menu and some of its functions when the LCD screen is closed is a guaranteed frustration.

• Another thing Sony could have done better is battery computability across the line. Using any of your existing Sony A7…/A5000/A6000 batteries is not possible.

• One of the key issues I have with those 1” sensor cameras though, is the non-consist aperture settings they all have and the AX100 is no exception (The sony rx10 is the only one to have a fast constant f2.8 lens). When you move out of the wide f2.8 comfort zone and slightly zoom in, the lens changes its aperture settings and in the case of the AX100 all the way to f4.0. Not as limiting as f5.6 in the Canon XC10 but still a point to considered.

• A narrow dynamic range is another limitation this camera is suffering from. A slightly overexposed picture can turn ugly fast.

• Rolling Shutter is severe (see chart below) and compares to more or less to the Samsung NX1

Test-Scores_RS_ax100

 

On the positive side:

• Low light capability is good (the above video was shot entirely in +6db mode)

• Picture quality is nice.

• The supplied battery holds for many hours.

• Also, the very quick powering option by pulling out the EVF or opening the LCD screen is good to have.

• When needed, the camera can be set to “Auto mode” (great for chasing your kids), or enjoy its fine auto focus.

 

All in all the Sony FDR-AX100 is a good camera for the occasional shooter. It never had the ambition to become the mighty king of 4K cameras and as such, I was pleasantly surprised by its capabilities.

Camera settings/editing/colour correction for this shoot:

A big thank to Ronit and Snir Rozensal from Vision Tattoos. Please visit their home page by clicking here

 

Johnnie Behiri is a freelance documentary cameraman/editor/producer working mostly for the BBC and other respected broadcasters. He is also co-owner of cinema5d.com

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Brian Dowling
MemberJune 10th, 2015

I wasn’t expecting the quality to be so nice. The demo film is really nice

Ian Hunter
MemberNovember 17th, 2015

Any tool in the right hands..

Daniel Schweinert
Daniel Schweinert
GuestJune 10th, 2015

Does it still have this extreme CMOS wobble?

Dennis Brooks
MemberJune 10th, 2015

Hi Johnnie, beautiful work once again. Can you compare the rolling shutter on this camera to a few other contenders like the 5dII or GH4? Thanks in advance.

Arnold Finkelstein
Arnold Finkelstein
GuestJune 10th, 2015

What is it about the DSLR kids that they think putting a mic on top of a camera makes sense? Just another thing they get wrong.

Fabian Hitz
Fabian Hitz
GuestJune 10th, 2015

Well as the article says its good for documentary style shooting. You cant always have someone booming for you. Or at last i cant :-(

Arnold Finkelstein
Arnold Finkelstein
GuestJune 16th, 2015

There have been documentaries for a long time, but the endless pictures of mics on top of cameras, curiously, have only been around a couple years. When was a mixer I never put a mic on the camera and for good reason.

Eric Bogan
Eric Bogan
MemberSeptember 18th, 2015

Not true! I have been shooting video for over 40 years and cameras with mics mounted on top is not new. Even our Ikagami camera (from 1974, which was a beast) had a mount for a mic. Every news (ENG) camera has had a mic on top. Camcorders for the last 10 years (or more) have had mics mounted on top. It is a perfectly logical and usable place to have a mic. Is it the best place for every situation, No. But and others have recorded very good audio with this method.

Pollux Chung
Pollux Chung
GuestJune 10th, 2015

The video quality is a lot better than I expected.

Patrick Zadrobilek
Patrick Zadrobilek
MemberJune 10th, 2015

Again, not really comparable to the Canon XC10. The Pro falls with the codec. This camera uses a 4:2:0 codec (even with 100mbit) and the Canon XC10 uses a 4:2:2 codec (with 305mbit if you want it). And it seems that in recent tests the Sony does a post-sharpening which the XC10 does not. The price is comparable, because the AX100 also costs about €1999 in Europe like the XC10 now (without the CFast card). Models in Europe are sold without a CFast card and also cost €1999. So same price but of course different cameras for different purpose.

Thanks for the test Johnnie ;-)

Dave Contreras
MemberJune 10th, 2015

I played around with the camera this weekend but I noticed that the rolling shutter effect was awful and it was certainly a deal breaker. I shoot sports documentaries so this probably isn’t a good choice. That being said, how much of the rolling shutter effect cane be corrected in post?

Cheers on the video, wonderfully done!

Alan Laffs
Alan Laffs
MemberJune 10th, 2015

So if you had to choose between the AX100 and the XC10, which would you go with?

Alan Rafferty
Alan Rafferty
MemberJune 10th, 2015

I’ve pre-ordered an XC10 and after reading your XC10 review and then this post, I’m wondering which of the two you would recommend overall?

Clayton Moore
MemberJune 11th, 2015

What Johnnie continues to do is important because of what it demonstrates. Set aside the physical design and build quality and concentrate ONLY on the image. A comparison between this little camera and a C300MKII is absurd but for one thing. Referencing the price, can anyone say that what Johnnie shot here looks 90% worse then a C300? Not likely. Don’t bother talking about features and all of that – I get it …. Im only talking about the image (finished product)

We’re about 98% to a place where the image quality gap between a $1,500 camera and a $50,000 camera will be incremental and not fundamental. Good job again Johnnie.

Mel Feliciano
Mel Feliciano
MemberJune 11th, 2015

I always find funny when people try to put numerical values to something that is subjective, but I get your point. I don’t know if it was the post-processing but the first thing that came to my mind when I started watching the video was, Canon C300; it has that “look”.

Clayton Moore
MemberJune 11th, 2015

“that look” thats the whole point ;-)

As for numbers, I used to work in technology, trust me for both the engineers and the marketing folks and even support it all about the numbers — LOL

Mel Feliciano
Mel Feliciano
MemberJune 11th, 2015

Yeah, but how do you get those numbers (when comparing cameras), Through complex algorithms and formulas?

Clayton Moore
MemberJune 11th, 2015

I think your reading more into my numbers then intended. No science here just dollar for dollar comparison nothing more. The SONY sells for about 10-12% of what the Canon sells for thats all.

The cameras are Apples and Oranges of course but remember I’m choosing to place ALL the $$$ value on just the image alone. :-)

Eno Popescu
Eno Popescu
MemberJune 12th, 2015

A nice review.

Isha Garcia
Isha Garcia
MemberJune 15th, 2015

Thank you for this review, very helpful. I’d like to remind readers that there was a period 15 years ago when many feature films (that got theatrical releases, major festival premieres) on DV footage that looked (compared to todays cameras) like awful video. And yet they critics and audiences didn’t care. Content is king.

Moreover if you show (on a computer screen) Johnie’s lovely test above to 99.9% of human beings they would believe they were watching a Cinema Quality (or High End Commercial Quality) camera.

its starts to become an issue when you are talking about projecting in theater. Even then I’m guessing that this camera would hold up decently.

I can tell you from first hand experience shooting features on Panavision Platinum Cameras with 35 and Red and Arri, the hassle, expense, outrageous cost, and number of add-ons, additional crew required to shoot with high end cams is a psychological deterrent (to me).

The happiest, freest moments of my career where shooting on MiniDV; accepting that it was going to not look Storaro footage, but I could shoot with very low profile, everywhere, never having to even bring a tripod.

Thanks Johnie!

Clayton Moore
MemberJune 15th, 2015

Yes the viewing audience does not care about and would never be able tell the incremental differences image wise between today’s cameras. Not to mention the heavy compression in broadcast. Movie screen wise – that’s a very tiny percentage – very tiny.

Pali Kaaihue
MemberJune 23rd, 2015

Long time reader, first time poster. Thanks for the great review, just ordered it from your link.

John Mitchell
John Mitchell
MemberJune 25th, 2015

Hey Johnny – nice video as always. Did you get wacky reds on the AX100? Like almost orange? On my X70 without a complex picture profile the colour is completely off..

Clayton Moore
MemberJune 26th, 2015

John,

How do you like the X70 otherwise ?

Eric Bogan
Eric Bogan
MemberSeptember 18th, 2015

Sony has “battery computability across the line”. It uses the same batteries that the last at least three generation of camcorders (HDR-CX560/CX700, HXRNX30U) use and that other current camcorders use (FDR-AX33).

I have never had a problem pulling back over exposed highlights or correcting exposure and color on “slightly overexposed picture”. I have been amazed at how much information is there over 100% white.

Eric Bogan
Eric Bogan
MemberSeptember 18th, 2015

Sony has “battery computability across the line”. This is a camcorder. It uses the same batteries as other Sony camcorders for at least the last four generations (HXRNX30U, HDR-CX560/CX700) and current comacorders (FDR-AX33).

I have never had a problem with “A slightly overexposed picture can turn ugly fast.” I have been amazed at the information in the file over 100% white. And have been able to pull blown highlights back and set exposure and color correct with no problem.

Darren Lafreniere
MemberDecember 2nd, 2015

Question for you – on the shots where you were able to capture a nice shallow depth of field, were you right on top of the talent with the camera or father back and zoomed in?

 Oleg Zinoviev
Oleg Zinoviev
MemberDecember 16th, 2016

Dear, Johnnie Behiri, great job and very good color. I myself am the owner of a FDR-AX100E and try to experiment in color correction. You wrote that you disabled the “Picture effect-off”, I ask You to tell more about the settings. I very much hope on Your help. Thanks in advance, regards, Oleg.

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