CES 2014: Sony Unveils A New 4K Camera [VIDEO]

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Sony's new Handycam FDR AX-100 Sony

Normally, I don’t find there’s much worth paying attention to in the camera market -- most of the media coverage revolves around how many megapixels the next iPhone camera will have. And iPhones are poor substitutes for DSLRs, whether you’re shooting video or still images. That said, the Lumia is crazy good for a phone. 

The argument in professional video is not “Do I need a DSLR” but rather, “Canon or Nikon?” (The correct answer is Canon, by the way). So if you’re at all serious about video, you’re prepared to drop four to five thousand dollars for a good setup. That’s remained largely unchanged -- the mark three Canon 5D still retails at $4,000 for a basic setup. Without a tripod.

But Sony might just have the right idea at CES, where it showed off its new camcorder, the Handycam FDR-AX100. Well, no gold stars for the name at least, but the spec sheet quickly silences that petty criticism: 4K capture at 30p and 24p, a Carl Zeiss F2.8-4.5 still lens, and a $2,000 price tag. It’ll also shoot 1080i at 120p, if you want a taste of slow-motion post-processing.

Judging by the footage and still images taken by the AX100, Sony’s little Handycam looks like it could be competition for some videographers who want a mobile, versatile unit without strapping on a shoulder mount. The idea behind this camera, at least in Sony’s official opinion, is that it’ll bring professional video quality to “prosumers” -- basically, people who’ve used DSLRs for video and might make some money off of their work, but don’t want to spend five thousand dollars on a Nikon or Canon setup.

For that market, though, is it really worth grabbing a 4K setup? Since, only a tiny part of the consumer base have displays that can show ultra high-definition pictures, the current benefit is questionable. That’s where that cheaper Handycam -- priced at $1,500 -- comes in. Shoot in 1080 and up to 120fps, and your equipment will produce shots on par or better than 95% of new video on the Web and TV.

Doesn’t look like there’s much option for audio recording though -- there’s a MIC out, but that’s it. No XLR input means no wired microphones for field use, which makes this a tougher sell for a one-man-band setup. You could always carry a separate audio recorder (say, a Marantz 550), but that’s just another piece of equipment to remember and sync.

The only other downside I can see are the still images. Not that the AX-100’s sample shots aren’t fantastic -- I have concerns about how well the setup will work, ergonomically. Photographers are a group of curmudgeons; once we’ve gotten comfortable with a brand or a body design, change rarely happens. The Sony AX-100 isn’t shaped like a DSLR -- as a camcorder, it’s geared toward single-handed operation. But I wouldn’t expect anyone to rely on it for still shots anyway -- the lense doesn’t look interchangeable.

I’m not convinced the awkwardly-named Handycam FDR AX-100 will usurp the positions of the Canon 5D or even the t3i -- but it could force Canon and Nikon to offer cameras with 4K capability closer to Sony’s price range.

 

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