4K camcorders have seen a lot of products by various manufacturers in just a 2-year period. Sony launched the FDR-AX100 which was its very first 4K camcorder for $2,000. The following year, a newer model called the FDR-AX33 took its place but the price got cut in half to just $1,000. More recently this 2016, Sony unveiled yet another successor known as the Sony FDR-AX53 but retaining the same price. It appears, $1,000 is the sweet spot for the mainstream 4K camcorder which makes perfect sense because 1080p camcorders are still a thing. There is still very little reason to consider a 4K camcorder if you don’t have a 4K screen to view the content on. But one noteworthy thing is that the FDR-AX33 got dropped to a cool $749. This essentially puts the FDR-AX53 in the middle of the pack but the new improvements over the older model could be enough to disregard the FDR-AX33 altogether.
About the Sony FDR-AX53
The FDR-AX53 is the third Sony 4K camcorder ever released and the second one being featured in Sony’s “casual shooting” category. Like the other camcorders in the AX series (which technically means 4K), there is no built-in projector feature and the overall body is larger than any of the camcorders in the CX series. It still has a smaller sensor than the aging but highly powerful 1080p Sony HDR-CX900 and still manages to be priced $300 cheaper. But because the Sony FDR-AX53 isn’t directly replacing the older model right away, most potential buyers will have to decide between going this new model or racking up some big savings by getting the now discounted Sony FDR-AX33.
Comparison with the Sony FDR-AX33
Due to some of the external improvements, the FDR-AX53 is a little bit bigger than the FDR-AX33 but not noticeably so and the weight of both camcorders is about the same. This 2016, Sony wanted to focus on refining the FDR-AX33 to something that is more appealing to the masses and Sony over delivered here. The biggest improvement that is found in the Sony FDR-AX53 is the new ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T lens which now allows shooting video at 26.8mm wide-angle. The best thing about this improved lens is that the optical zoom for both 4K and HD has been doubled to a more acceptable 20x. The Clear Image Zoom feature remains to provide an artificial boost to 30x zoom for 4K or 40x zoom for HD. Clear Image zoom still looks impressive compared to the digital zoom.
The Exmor R CMOS sensor has also been improved with bigger pixels (1.6x larger than the pixels from the previous model) resulting in better low-light performance. Autofocus is about 40 percent faster too and the Balanced Optical SteadyShot image stabilizer now has a 5-axis Intelligent Active mode to better take care of vibrations. Unfortunately, this mode does not support 4K video.
Several shooting modes have been added to the FDR-AX53 making it more in-line with the recent entry-level Sony camcorders. You can now capture 4K time-lapses and finally record 120/100 fps slow motion video at Full HD.
The Sony FDR-AX53 still uses a 5.1-channel microphone but it has a new structural design that dramatically improves sound performance.
The electronic viewfinder and 3-inch WhiteMagic LCD display haven’t changed from the old model but it is still worth noting as none of the mainstream non-4K Sony camcorders have an electronic viewfinder.
The compact size of the FDR-AX53 still means that this camcorder isn’t fully recommended for serious commercial videography but this prosumer model still has plenty of advanced shooting features with a multi-purpose ring to adjust the zoom, focus, IRIS, shutter speed, and exposure. There is a dedicated manual button that lets you pick the mode assigned to the manual ring and the electronic viewfinder does a splendid job showing a live preview.
Wi-Fi and NFC are also built-in to the Sony FDR-AX53 so you can allow a smartphone or tablet to function as a viewfinder too through the freely available PlayMemories Mobile app. NFC has the added benefit of allowing most new high-end Android phones to pair with the camcorder through a simple tap. There is also an optional feature called Multi Camera Control which you can use if you have other Sony Handycam devices that support the feature. This enables you to record various angles of a scene and letting the software synchronize the controls to make it easy to operate all Wi-Fi connected cameras at once. Live streaming to USTREAM is supported too.
Although 4K is a huge selling point for the Sony FDR-AX53, it is still possible to use the 4K capabilities to make far better Full HD feature through a process called super-sampling. This is basically a downconversion technique which records video in 4K and then downsizes it to Full HD. The end result is better video quality than native HD. Regardless of the shooting mode, video quality looks noticeably better on the FDR-AX53 especially when recording dimly lit scenes.
• Lots of refinements across the board.
• Optical zoom is a good improvement.
• Slow motion and time-lapse support finally added.
• Improved optical image stabilization doesn’t work for 4K recordings.
• Some professionals may not like the size and the sensor chip.
The Sony FDR-AX53 is really what the FDR-AX33 should have been and it looks like Sony found the proper home for the old model because that $250 price drop gives the camcorder a lot more appeal. But to really make the best of the prosumer 4K world, getting the FDR-AX53 is a great choice if you have $1,000 to spare.