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

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 Reply
Brian Dowling June 10, 2015

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

 Ian Hunter Reply
Ian Hunter November 17, 2015

Any tool in the right hands..

Daniel Schweinert Reply
Daniel Schweinert June 10, 2015

Does it still have this extreme CMOS wobble?

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 10, 2015

Hi Daniel.

If you refer to rolling shutter then the answer is yes!.

Reply
Mel Feliciano June 10, 2015

Is the rolling shutter as bad as it was originally or has it improved with the firmware updates?

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 10, 2015

Hi Mel

As I don’t know how bad originally it was,
I can say that currently is very noticeable BUT, as many of the modern video cameras/DSLR are suffering from that phenomenon, we have to “live with it” and work around this limitation.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 15, 2015

Hi Mel.

Article is now updated with rolling shutter commission to some of other cameras we’ve tested before.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Dennis Brooks Reply
Dennis Brooks June 10, 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.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 10, 2015

Hi Dennis.

Thank you!.

Will run our rolling shutter “LAB test” tomorrow and will come up with a number that can be compered to other cameras. When done, will share the information.

Johnnie

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 15, 2015

Hi Dennis.

Article is now updated with rolling shutter commission to some of the other cameras we’ve tested before.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Arnold Finkelstein Reply
Arnold Finkelstein June 10, 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 Reply
Fabian Hitz June 10, 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 Reply
Arnold Finkelstein June 16, 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.

Reply
Eric Bogan September 18, 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 Reply
Pollux Chung June 10, 2015

The video quality is a lot better than I expected.

Reply
Patrick Zadrobilek June 10, 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 ;-)

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 10, 2015

Hi Patrick. Good to hear from you again!.

Both cameras are sampling 8 bit. (Canon 4:2:2 Canon, Sony 4:2:0).

The price different in Europe is around €300. The Canon will sell for €1999 and the Sony is being sold for around €1700.

Purchasing the XC10 with a 128 CFast card+reader will set you back for another €500.

I’m yet to find the information if the AX100 professional clone, the PXW-X70 will maintain its 10 bit 4:2:2 in 4K too.

UPDATE: Sony confirms that the PXW-X70 will be recording 4K in 8 bit 4:2:0 only.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Patrick Zadrobilek June 10, 2015

Yes, I think you wont find a decent camera in this price segment which can do 4k 4:2:2 10bit. Even 4:2:2 is hard to find for 4k and the data has to go somewhere.
Yes, I recently shot a press conference with the X70. Very small cam, but lacks user buttons like many inexpensive cams ;-)

Greets,
Patrick.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 10, 2015

I guess if there are more fingers then camera buttons, something is wrong…:)

Dave Contreras Reply
Dave Contreras June 10, 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!

Reply
Alan Laffs June 10, 2015

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

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 10, 2015

Probably the new Sony RX10 mII….!

Reply
Alan Rafferty June 10, 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?

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 11, 2015

Hi Alan.

Not sure how fast you need the new camera as the 1” market is warming up with Sony’s new RX10 mII announcement.

For me personally it was easier to work with the Sony AX100 (ergonomically speaking). It might be that for your needs the AX100’s lower data rate (100 Mbps) and colour sampling )4:2:0) are an obstacle, so the XC10 is the way to go.

In any case, please try before you buy or alternatively, get the XC10 from a place you can return it to incase you are not happy with the results.

Thank you!

Johnnie

Clayton Moore Reply
Clayton Moore June 11, 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.

Reply
Mel Feliciano June 11, 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 Reply
Clayton Moore June 11, 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

Reply
Mel Feliciano June 11, 2015

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

Clayton Moore Reply
Clayton Moore June 11, 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. :-)

Reply
Eno Popescu June 12, 2015

A nice review.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 12, 2015

Thank you Eno!

Reply
Isha Garcia June 15, 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 Reply
Clayton Moore June 15, 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.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 16, 2015

Hi Isha

Thank you for posting and the thumbs up. Indeed content is king!

BTW, a fresh review of the smallest yet hi resolution camera from a solid manufacturer is scheduled towards the end of the month. I’ll try to see if any good for a “proper” documentary style work.

Thanks again!

Johnnie

Pali Kaaihue Reply
Pali Kaaihue June 23, 2015

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

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 24, 2015

Hi Pali

Thank you for the thumbs up and supporting us by buying through our link. Appreciated!.

Johnnie

Pali Kaaihue Reply
Pali Kaaihue June 24, 2015

Aloha! least I can do.. love your reviews/articles and always learn a lot here! thanks again :)

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 24, 2015

Thank you Pali!!!

Reply
John Mitchell June 25, 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..

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 25, 2015

Hi John, thank you!

I’ll take a look at the original footage when at the office tomorrow morning but as far as I remember, that was not the case. If it was, I wouldn’t have written good about that camera…

Thank you!

Johnnie

Clayton Moore Reply
Clayton Moore June 26, 2015

John,

How do you like the X70 otherwise ?

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 26, 2015

Hi Clayton.

Did not play with the X70.

Very soon on my desk is the RX10II. I tend to believe that besides the higher data rate of the X70 in 4K mode, the RX10II will be a better camera (when equipped with the XLR K2M) especially because of having a constant 2.8 lens.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Eric Bogan September 18, 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.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri September 21, 2015

Eric.

“Battery computability across the line”- I’m clearly referring for using existing Sony A7…/A5000/A6000 batteries if possible.

Good to know you’ve managed to pull back over exposed highlights. I’m sure you would agree with me that adding an S-log picture profile to this camera will be beneficial for many.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Eric Bogan September 21, 2015

And my point is why would you expect batteries from a different line of cameras to be compatible with this camera? Sony has done a great job of keeping the batteries across the camcorder line compatible. The Sony A7…/A5000/A6000 are not camcorders and to expect Sony to use the same battery on all there cameras is ludicrous. My Sony RX100IV and HX90V don’t use the same batteries as the AX100 and I don’t expect them to. I would hate to have to use A7…/A5000/A6000 or RX100IV and HX90V with my camcorders.

Reply
Eric Bogan September 21, 2015

And yes, more control of picture profile and dynamic range would be great but I have no problem shooting great video with this camera (or any of the other Sony cameras, camcorders I have).

Reply
Eric Bogan September 18, 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 Reply
Darren Lafreniere December 2, 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?