The 4K resolution is a display specification that not all consumers understand especially if they believe that 1080p is considered very high quality. It is a display resolution that average individuals can really appreciate if they see it on a 50-inch TV or bigger, so basically, recording in 4K is necessary if you want to create great video experiences for people that own those components. Companies like Sony came out strong with 4K camcorders like the Sony FDR-AX100 but they were too expensive especially considering the fact that 4K displays are pricey too. At present, there are far more affordable 4K displays and even monitors for PCs. It only made sense for Sony to announce the more affordable Sony FDR-AX33 at CES 2015. Now all that’s left to find out is what cuts Sony had to make to hit the $1,000 sweet spot and what features are sure to delight 4K lovers.
About the Sony FDR-AX33
The Sony FDR-AX33 is Sony’s second 4K camera and is fittingly the second device in Sony’s premium AX series. This means that it doesn’t have a built-in projector like the PJ series. Interestingly, it is priced below the now discounted HDR-CX900 which doesn’t have the 4K chops but has a larger sensor. Like most other high-end camcorders, the Sony FDR-AX33 has a small 10x optical zoom with 20x Clear Image Zoom. The FDR-AX33 also has 32 GB of flash storage with an SD card reader that supports SDXC cards and the new UHS-I U3 format. UHS-I U3 is essential for 100 Mbps 4K recording.
Comparison with the Sony FDR-AX100
The bigger brother of the Sony FDR-AX33 has aged pretty well but the price is still well beyond the $1,500 mark which makes the FDR-AX33’s $999 price tag the main selling point. The Sony FDR-AX33 touts a 1/2.3-inch sensor rather than the superior 1-inch sensor found in the FDR-AX100. While the video quality of the FDR-AX33 won’t hold a candle to the FDR-AX100, both models have the same 4K/30p specifications with an option of 60p for full 1080p recordings. It is also nice to see the Sony FDR-AX33 retaining the Direct Pixel Real Out technology that smoothens edges and improves color gradation. Both HD and 4K resolutions benefit from this.
The FDR-AX33 also has a high-contrast EVF (electronic viewfinder). Although the 0.24-inch screen size makes it smaller than the 0.39-inch one found on the FDR-AX100, the EVF sports the same 33-degree wide angle benefits thanks to the four dual-surface spherical lenses. Alternatively, you can use the 3.0-inch Xtra Fine LCD touch display which is smaller than the 3.5-inch display boasted by the FDR-AX100 but it isn’t a huge deal because the display of the Sony FDR-AX33 has the same WhiteMagic technology for good usability during the day and same sharp 921K dot resolution. It is things like this that make the FDR-AX33 feel a fraction of a pound lighter than the Sony FDR-AX100.
The highly powerful BIONZ X also powers the Sony FDR-AX33 so you are sure to get better results than the entry-level and midrange camcorders. It does not, however, have the 120 fps high speed recording option that the FDR-AX100 has.
Being the newer the model, the FDR-AX33 does boast a couple of improvements over its bigger sibling. The most notable is the new Balanced Optical SteadyShot (BOSS) image stabilization technology. It works by moving the entire optical block all at once to effectively reduce shake while keeping the optical path’s integrity. This also results to reduced distortion and vignetting when taking still photos or videos. The other standout feature is the 5.1-channel mic powered by Dolby Digital. This enables the Sony FDR-AX33 to capture audio from all directions making recorded video sound far better on a 5.1-channel home theater setup. There is also this handy toggle that mutes the rear audio channels of the mic so you can actually talk behind the camcorder without the mic picking it up.
Continuing the trend of Sony consumer products, the FDR-AX33 has both Wi-Fi and NFC technology making it easy to pair an NFC smartphone like a Sony Xperia with the camcorder. This enables easy one-touch sharing and remote control functions through the PlayMemories Mobile app for Android and iOS. This is the same mobile app used by Sony’s cameras and action cameras. Owning several of these Sony camera products can come in handy thanks to this new feature added in a recent PlayMemories Mobile update. This feature is called Multi-camera Control and it allows you to link up to five compatible cameras. The idea is to film an activity in different angles while able to control the recording state of all cameras simultaneously.
It is also possible to broadcast a recording session in real-time to the Ustream service. It comes complete with social networking support so you can easily notify others when you start streaming video. While it is a nice feature to have, it isn’t entirely new smartphones have the added benefit of supporting trendier services like Periscope and Meerkat.
Because the Sony FDR-AX33 is smaller and lighter than the FDR-AX100, the AX33 is simply a better day-to-day camcorder for the average user. At 4K resolution, video quality certainly doesn’t disappoint and it is all thanks to the new BOSS system. Just about all high-end camcorders boast some form of optical stabilization tech but the BOSS is on another level. A little bit of shaking here and there didn’t affect the video one bit. Smartphones that can record 4K video don’t even come close to the quality you get with the FDR-AX33. The manual control ring should also delight enthusiasts that need more control.
• 4K recording at low price.
• Lighter and less bulky than the Sony FDR-AX100.
• Balanced Optical SteadyShot puts older stabilization technologies to shame.
• Multi-camera control is fun to use.
• Smaller electronic viewfinder.
• No slow-motion video recording capabilities.
• Smartphones still have better live-streaming options.
The Sony FDR-AX33 is a fine addition to your 4K entertainment system and collection of other Sony cameras and it isn’t going to put a massive hole in your wallet. The new BOSS system is the surprise star of the show though and it should put pressure on the 4K completion.
Update: There is a newer model > Sony FDR-AX53