The 4K Consumer Shooter

Although the 4K RED ONE was released way back in 2007, Sony has been one of the leading companies behind the 4K push, launching 4K digital cinema cameras like the F65, F55 and F5 for high-end motion pictures. But with the exception of JVC’s GY-HMQ10 ($5,500 list) and Sony’s own FS700R ($8,686.05, camera body only), most of your 4K cameras are priced north of $10K. Up until now, 4K wasn’t an attainable format for the majority of shooters.

THE AX1 IN A NUTSHELL
Shoots Ultra HD (3840×2160 resolution)
Records real-time 4K up to 60p
Contains a 1/2.3-inch, 8.3-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor
Has four filter settings: Off (Clear), 1/4 filter, 1⁄16 filter and 1⁄64 filter
Contains a built-in mic with 2x PRO XLR jacks for audio

Announced back in September 2013, the FDR-AX1 is Sony’s first "consumer" 4K video camcorder that’s targeted toward the low-budget filmmaking community. With a retail price of only $4,499, which includes Vegas Pro 12 and a 32 GB XQD memory card, the AX1 definitely could hit a new and wider 4K demographic.

Recently, Sony invited a number of photo and video journalists to attend their annual DI Press Tour, which was held in Nashville, Tenn. For the entire trip, I had access to the AX1 and was able to shoot 4K footage in various environments.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Over the years, cameras have evolved into "boxes with lens mounts," and although I’ve grown accustomed to compact and lightweight DSLRs, the AX1’s "longer" camcorder body was a welcome return. Unlike a DSLR, it’s great to alternate between a high-quality viewfinder and an LCD to monitor shots when alternating between exterior and interior locations.

Unlike a shoulder-mount ENG-style camera system, the AX1, which weighs 5.38 pounds, can be taxing on your wrists and biceps if you’re shooting for long periods. When shooting with the camera at eye level, I would typically hold the camera by using the hand grip with my right hand, with my left hand on the barrel of the lens, balancing the camera. For shooting low-angle shots, I would use the camera’s top handle or I would cradle the camera from below. If you’ve shot with Sony camcorders before, the AX1 has a similar build to their popular HXR-NX5U NXCAM camcorder, although it’s a tad heavier.

THE LENS

The AX1 has a nice Sony-branded 20x (35mm equivalent of 29.5-590mm) G Lens with a barrel that contains three rings to control focus, zoom and iris. For autofocus, the AX1 uses contrast AF, which is pretty quick, although not as quick as the dual phase detect AF found in some of Sony’s DSLRs, like the A99.

For manual focus, one function that really comes in handy is peaking, which is the feature I miss most when shooting with a DSLR. The AX1’s peaking comes in yellow, red or white. Another great feature on the AX1 is the manual focus assist, which gives you a magnified display to check your focus more precisely. Also, for shaky movement, you’ll probably want to engage the camcorder’s Optical Steady Shot when shooting handheld.

The exposure system has an ƒ/1.6 to ƒ/11 range, and the variable aperture is ƒ/1.6 to ƒ/3.4 with six blades. Overall, the G Lens is a solid, versatile video lens that allows you to shoot in almost any environment.

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