In what was a bit of a surprise, Sony announced not one, but two 4K 1/2" sensor size cameras back in early September -- the $4,500 FDR-AX1 and the $5,500 PXW-Z100. The industry has been moving forward with large sensor 4K cameras for a little while now, but we haven't really seen small sensor 4K cameras until now (the one exception being JVC's camera). Event and doc shooters still have a use for small sensor cameras, and we've got some of the first footage now out there from the AX1 courtesy of cinema5D.

The major specs just as a refresher:

  • Record 4K 3840 x 2160p Video at 60 fps
  • 1/2.3" Exmor R 8.3MP CMOS Image Sensor
  • Sony G Lens with 20x Optical Zoom
  • Built-In Microphone & Dual Pro XLR Jacks
  • Dual XQD Card Slots for 4K Recording
  • XAVC-S Format for 150 Mbps 4K Recording
  • Three ND Filters & Five Paint Functions
  • Independent Zoom, Focus & Iris Rings
  • Seven Assignable Buttons & HDMI Output

Here is the footage from Johnnie Behiri, which is available to download in 4K if you log into Vimeo and go here (password is J). These are the settings for the videos:

All was recorded in the following settings:
Resolution: 4K (3840X2160)
Codec: XAVC-S
Frame rate: 25p 100 (the 100 stands for Mbps, the maximum this camera can record in this mode)
Picture profile: Cinematone 1
Gama category: Cine
Gama select: Cine1
Matrix preset select: Cinema

The XAVC-S codec will save as an MP4 wrapper. I was able to edit natively and fluently the footage on my Retina Macbook pro laptop using Adobe Premiere CC.

No colour correction or sharpness was added in this post.

Some of his thoughts:

The combination of a small sensor packed with a great amount of tiny pixels does not do well to the low light capability of this camera. As you can see in the various sample footage I took, even using the gain control did not help much improving the overall dark images the camera produces. (see Oriental flavor-Night video). Instead, noise was added to the picture. (all in all I’ve used gain 3db, 6db, 9db up to 12db).

Check out some of the other videos:

While Johnny had some issues getting the camera to expose that well, the look is actually very interesting to me. We often see so much footage that overly bright for what film would have been capable of, so most of us forget what small sensors really look like in lower light environments. 4K with a small sensor is just as useful for the same reasons that it would be with a large sensor, but it will probably be a very small niche for a few years, since even event people are making "cinematic" videos with large sensor cameras.

I think the higher end Z100 has some more interesting features, and records at a higher bit rate, so it's quality should be a bit better. Either way, for the people who use these cameras, 4K can be good for cropping or stabilizing, especially when you're shooting something that is unpredictable.

Read more about his experiences over on cinema5D.

Link: Sony FDR-AX1 4K camera-First look -- cinema5D