Now and then one or two major manufacturers release a new, improved camcorder. One result is the reminder about how convenient it is to shoot a professional level of video without the need for years of filming experience. Announced at the IBC 2017, the intrigue of three new choices from Sony presented the challenge of which one to review first. The Sony FDR-AX700 camcorder quickly became my first choice to analyze updates and discover if filming video with a camcorder can improve on the results from a Smartphone or iPhone. Look past the fact that digital camcorders haven’t changed much in appearance for the past ten years or so, starting with a solid black frame and a screen that flips out. There’s more to this Handycam than meets the eye, and nearly all of it is good.
About the FDR-AX700
It is a pleasant surprise to find out that something described as lightweight actually is! The Sony FDR-AX700 delivers a compact, sturdy design that weighs in at less than 2.5 pounds (with the battery included). I took the luxury of carrying it while filming several nearby locations, surprised to find my arm did not get tired while moving around.
The lens hood and eyecup are comfortable to use. The FDR-AX700 has a variety of features to delight nearly every level of experience, although the price and technical details do not fit beginners. Shooting a quality 4K image, for example, requires experience with HDR and 4K pictures and their relationship with different types of lenses and resolution. The three ND filter settings allow a lot of flexibility for enhancing color and image quality. Filming results in capturing detail even in darker parts of the scenery. The well-balanced footage reflects a pleasing visual balance of brightness and depth.
Although I’d like to see a larger aperture offered, the 1-inch stacked Exmor RS CMOS image sensor on Sony’s latest Handycam is more sensitive that the smaller sensors found on an assortment of other camcorders. The swift Hybrid Autofocus (AF) system helps capture shots more quickly. An instant High Dynamic Range (HDR) with Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) is also supported. Relay and proxy recording is available along with simultaneous backup recording functions, thanks to the dual memory card slots. What a treat to watch professional-looking family videos on your 4K TV!
Sometimes the perfect shot presents itself without allowing the time to manually set up the camcorder. Sony’s enhanced BIONZX image processing capability quickly takes over focusing along with the Fast Hybrid AF system. Using technology that covers 273 phase-detection AF points, the AF frames detect, monitor, and keep in focus the subject in nearly 85% of the shooting area. Track depth range while switching subjects and discover the benefit of auto focus with amazing results.
Comparison of Sony FDR-AX700 with Previous Model FDR-AX100
Sony’s previous model in this class, the FDR-AX100, was released in 2014. The ability to record at 1080/60p gave camcorder users at almost any level the ability to pick up the device and start filming. Another reason for its popularity is the ability to film in 4K/30p and 24p as well as 60MB/sec 4K and other options using XAVC-S codec. Even after a few years, I’m still impressed by the audio controls, a front manual-control wheel, and the built-in ND filter of the AX-100. Built-in WiFi gives the opportunity to control the camera with a tablet or Smartphone. The SD cards deliver stable recording and increased resolution.
Both the FDR-AX700 and AX100 have a quality Zeiss T* lens to capture detail. A lens ring provides the ability to dial in manual adjustment for impressive video when using the 12x optical zoom. The high resolution of the touch screen 3.5-inch LCD panel delivers easy access to the menu and gives excellent viewing even in direct sunlight.
The AX-700’s multi-interface shoe is compatible with accessories like microphones and flashes, presenting the ability to add special effects to videos.
- Impressive 4K shots in a variety of light conditions and speeds.
- 4K full-pixel readout without pixel binning.
- FDR-AX700 supports slow and quick motion video.
- Reduced image distortion.
- Custom Picture Profile lowers time spent on post-production editing with settings for gradation, gamma, and color spaces.
- Limited manual controls.
- Sound doesn’t record when shooting in super-slow motion mode. A solution is being investigated.
The current upgrades to the Sony FDR-AX700 are excellent reasons to consider moving up to this recent model for anyone whose photography experience consists of more than a few snapshots of the pets, kids, and friends. The myriad of editing possibilities for a single subject, overall view and background justify the expense. Recorded memories approach or meet a professional quality. The optical zoom delivers the ability to feel like part of the action. The FDR-AX700 4K HDR camcorder offers a higher quality method of recording 4K video than the productions typically rendered from a Smartphone. The extra expense for the Handycam introduces a way for non-professional photographers to capture memorable videos of meetings, family vacations, and any other moment that will not pass this way again.