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Sony FDR-AX100 review – Hands on with first consumer 4K camcorder

Eight million pixels at 30fps - 4K family videos are here

Sony launched its prosumer 4K camcorder back in September, the Sony FDR-AX1, but it was a little on the big side for those who want to capture their holiday in the glory of eight million pixels a frame. So now Sony has launched the first consumer camcorder to shoot 4K (Ultra HD) footage – the Sony FDR-AX100.

The sizeable camcorder can capture video at a resolution of 3,840×2,160 with both 30fps and 24fps options. It captures this in Sony’s own XAVC-S file format. This uses an MP4 container and H.264 video, along with 2-channel PCM audio. The format is widely supported by the usual video editors, but it looks like you’ll need top-end software to handle it – such as Sony Vegas Pro – rather than the more downmarket options.

4K video is hot at a whopping 50Mbit/s. That equates to around 32GB of data for one hour of footage; thankfully 64GB SDXC cards has dropped in price considerably since we last checked and you can pick one up for around £35. You’ll need a Class 10 card too to deal with all that data, it’s pretty fussy about this too. We tried the fast Samsung SDHC UHS-I Card PRO card we had in our camera but the FDR-AX100 rejected it saying that ‘XAVC-S was not supported with this memory card’. We were a little disappointed not to find dual memory card slots here, given how storage-hungry this device is.

It will also shoot Full HD footage, with Sony claiming that it was supersample down from 4K to improve video quality, something we’re interested to test for ourselves. Full HD footage can also be shot in the XAVC-S format at 60fps (as well as 30 and 24fps), or you can opt for more traditional AVCHD at this resolution. You get 5.1 surround support from the built in microphone with AVCHD, but dissapointingly this isn’t currently supported when shooting XAVC-S.

Sony wouldn’t confirm it to us, but it appears that the sensor being used in this camcorder is the same 20.9 megapixel, 1in sensor from the excellent Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II; whose video we described as “its sailed through our video tests … details were crisp and low-light shots were bright and clean.” Of course that camera only had to resolve a quarter of the detail in video, but the sensor is certainly up to the task.

In terms of controls there’s everything you’d expect on a camcorder at this price. The front ring can be used for focus or zoom duties, and a smaller rotating dial beneath can be used to adjust a range of other settings. There’s dedicated buttons on the side for white balance, shutter speed, gain and more.

On the rear is a switch for a 3-step ND filter – great for shooting in bright light when you want to maintain a shallow depth of field or a softer appearance to motion. You could always use a filter, but you’re much more likely to make use of a simple switch than a fiddly attachment. Above this is 0.39in OLED EVF, plus there’s a 3.5in LCD with 921k dots – neither of course will let you fully appreciate what you’re shooting, though a focus assist mode will magnify the image for more confident manual focussing.

In the US the Sony FDR-AX100 will cost $2,000 (plus sales tax), and we’d expect UK consumers to be paying not far shy of that figure in sterling. That’s an awful lot of money, but if you want to shoot video footage today that will still stand up on a huge 4K TV in ten year’s time then this is the camcorder for you. Much what we said eight years ago when the first HD camcorder, the Sony HDR-HC1 was launched.

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