In digital imaging, CES 2015 could be remembered as the year of 4K camcorders. Panasonic introduced two new consumer models on January 5, followed by Sony’s latest 4K Handycam, the FDR-AX33.
This isn’t Sony’s first 4K Handycam, of course. The company unveiled the FDR-AX100 at CES last year – garnering a “best of” award from Digital Trends – and it has other prosumer 4K models. But the AX33 is smaller and lighter, making the look and feel of it more consumer-friendly. Yet, it has a high-bitrate 4K recording (100Mbps) and incorporates Sony’s more advanced Balanced Optical SteadyShot (BOSS) image stabilization system.
At $999, it’s in-line with Panasonic’s new WX970 4K camcorder in price; it also represents a 50-percent drop in price, in just a year since the AX100 was introduced. The WX970 (and VX870) records 4K at 50p, versus 30p for Sony’s AX33. But Sony’s XAVC S compression format allows for a high 100Mbps bitrate.
While Panasonic touts its camcorders’ 5-axis image stabilization system, Sony talks about its BOSS system, which stabilizes the entire lens unit, not just the sensor. Image stabilization, whether it’s Panasonic or Sony’s approach, is crucial in 4K video recording because of all the data that’s being processed. Advanced users will appreciate the manual ring and buttons, which mimic pro-level camcorders.
Like Panasonic, Sony touts 4K Photos as one of the benefits, which lets you grab 8.3-megapixel stills from a 4K screen grab. Even 4K videos down-converted to 2K or Full HD 1080 should look pretty good on those displays. The Zeiss lens has a 15x magnification in 4K, and 20x in 2K.
At half of what Sony’s last 4K Handycam cost at launch, the AX33 shows that prices for 4K gear are starting to come down. The AX33 is scheduled for a February 2015 release.
Besides the AX33, Sony introduced four other Full HD camcorders. The HDR-PJ670 ($700, January) records 1080 at 60p, at 50Mbps in XAVC S. The PJ670 also uses BOSS stabilization. What it has is a built-in projector, a feature Sony has built into many of its Handycams.
Like the AX33, Wi-Fi can be used to control up to five cameras at once (including the new 4K Action Cam Mini, also announced at CES), and it has Sony’s Highlight Movie Maker for creating quick, sharable movies on the fly. Both camcorders can also live-stream video via Ustream. But it uses a Sony G lens instead of a Zeiss variant.
The HDR-PJ440, available in January for $400, has the same specs as the PJ670 except that it uses regular Optical SteadyShot. The HDR-CX4r0, scheduled for January at $300, is similar to the PJ440, but it uses Sony’s regular Optical SteadyShot and lacks the built-in projector. Finally, Sony’s budget model is the CX405. For $230 (out in January) has a 30x optical Zeiss lens, but lacks the multi-camera control and Ustream support. These models use Zeiss lenses.