When you are seeking a flagship-class camcorder, you know that you are going to get something special and that usually comes in the form of a vast array of manual controls and professional-level video quality. This is something that the Sony FDR-AX100 clearly delivers just by looking at its robust design but it is also priced at a level that exceeds even some of the DSLR cameras that have pretty good video recording capabilities on a professional scale. Still, the FDR-AX100 manages to stand on its own because of its diverse feature set and cutting-edge hardware.
The look of the Sony FDR-AX100 pretty much defines its flagship level because the “4K” text shows right on the side of the camcorder, which doubles as the display door. You won’t see any projector components on this door but if you open it up and optionally twist it, you will see the gorgeous 3.5-inch XtraFine LCD display with a 921K dot resolution. The display responds nicely to touches and is widescreen as a result since there is no need for any extra controls making it great to review previously recorded footage.
With the display of the FDR-AX100 open, you get access to pretty much the same set of manual controls as the cheaper but still high-end HDR-CX900. This includes dedicates buttons for iris, ISO, shutter speed and white balance as well as shortcuts to the Night Shot mode and Program AE. It also has a large control ring, which you can assign to zoom or focus duty while the smaller finger-rolling ring can be set to other functions. There is a matching switch on the side of the lens just above AF/MF button so you can conveniently choose although it is best to set it to focus because you can still use the zoom rocker on top to adjust the zoom. The large control ring may take some getting used to due to its lack of precision.
The back of camcorder is identical to the HDR-CX900 as well and it is pretty rich in features including an auto/manual switch, ND Filter switch, picture and video toggle and start/stop button. The 0.39-inch OLED electronic viewfinder can be used as an alternative to the display if you need to be more focused when recording video. Like Sony’s other products that use EVF, the viewfinder is very clear and is a joy to use.
To expand the capabilities of the Sony FDR-AX100, you can add several Sony accessories to the Active Interface Shoe on the top. If you have the Vello Hot Shoe Adapter, you can use other hot shoe accessories outside Sony’s ecosystem as well.
The 1-inch Sony Exmor R CMOS was a huge revelation for the HDR-CX900 and the FDR-AX100 uses that impressive sensor as well because it makes big contributions to the overall video and image quality. But the Sony FDR-AX100 takes it even further by adding support for the 4K video format making this a camcorder worth considering if you need to make videos that take full advantage of today’s Ultra HD displays. Utilizing the full readout of the 14-megapixel sensor, the FDR-AX100 features a special QFHD mode that uses Sony’s proprietary XAVC-S format to record 3840 x 2160 resolution video at 30 fps. The XAVC-S format can be used for 1080p recordings too with a broader set of frame rate options and is the most edit-friendly of the formats. This format works best with a Class 10 SDXC card. Of course, you can opt for AVCHD if you need higher quality at the expense of file size for 1080p video and the MP4 format for Web-friendly videos. It is also capable of taking fairly impressive 20-megapixel still images. The BIONZ X processor is in the heart of the Sony FDR-AX100 as well and it intelligently optimizes specific areas of the image depending on the scene with just the right amount of noise reduction. It plays a big role in the camcorder’s ability to record super slow motion 120 fps videos.
Moving on to the Carl Zeiss VarioSonnar T lens, the FDR-AX100 can zoom up to 12x max if you want pure optical zoom goodness or you can extend to 24x Clear Image zoom which looks nearly as good as the ordinary optical zoom. The Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization is implemented as it should be to take care of camera shakes, which are usually noticeable on higher zoom levels. This makes walking and shooting video without compromising the video quality much easier. Unlike Sony’s past flagship models, you won’t find any 3D recording capabilities as the industry embraces the 4K format. While the Sony FDR-AX100 targets prosumers and 4K enthusiasts, the camcorder still preserves the fun appeal that Sony’s new entry-level and midrange camcorders have so you can still apply fun effects to videos to add some creativity to the fantastic videos that this camcorder is truly capable of doing. There is even a firmware update that boosts the auto focus and zoom speeds.
The FDR-AX100 is also very solid on the connectivity front with Wi-Fi functionality right out of the box and requires no proprietary accessories. Its primary function is to allow smartphones and tablets to easily link up to the camcorder opening up nifty remote control capabilities with the aid of PlayMemories Mobile app. It is the same app for Android and iOS that Sony’s other Wi-Fi cameras rely on for connectivity. With built-in NFC, it is also easier for the latest Android smartphones to pair with the Sony FDR-AX100.
An extra $800 premium over the Sony HDR-CX900 just for 4K functionality is quite steep but 4K TVs are already going down in price although there is still a significant lack of 4K content. But producers are slowly beginning to accept the standard so 4K may very well be a mainstream format in the next year or so. The Sony FDR-AX100 is a great early step for producers to move on to that territory and it allows 4K TV owners to really see what their displays are capable of.
Update: There is a newer model > Sony FDR-AX700