LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

The Sony FDR-AX1 & Your 4K Future

COW Library : Sony NXCAM : Douglas Spotted Eagle : The Sony FDR-AX1 & Your 4K Future
CreativeCOW presents The Sony FDR-AX1 & Your 4K Future -- Sony NXCAM Review


Drones Plus
Las Vegas NV Canada
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


The next revolution in video production is coming, but in truth, it's already here. It's merely reaching a point of critical mass (at the production side). 4K has been around for years, first introduced around 1987, and notably used on feature films as early as Peter Jackon's "King Kong" (shot, edited, archived in 4K) in 2004.

One might expect all those pixels in one place would make a mess, and even if you already believe that 4K is going to be big, you might wonder what to do with 4K footage right now. Let's first take a look at the camera in action for some answers.

Sony have just released the FDR-AX1 camcorder, and in this review, we'll take a first look at the camera. First off, the camcorder offers multiple framerates at multiple bitrates. 24p, 25p, 30p, 50p, 60p are all available as framerates. Acquisition resolution is 3840x2160, at bitrates of up to 150Mbps. The camera also acquires HD; we'll keep the focus in this review on 4K.






The camera is quite similar to the NX5 and other cameras in its class, in terms of button layout, etc. Thankfully, Sony did not generate a new battery design for this pro-sumer camcorder; those upgrading from earlier DV and HDV camcorders will be pleased that their F series batteries will still be useful. The camera comes with an NP F970 battery in the box. The camera isn't a battery hog, yet a charged spare is something you'll absolutely want to keep in the bag. Battery life may be spared by using the EVF as opposed to the display.

Memory however, is different. SD cards cannot manage the data rate required for 4K streams, so Sony has opted for the standard XQD card format (used by other manufacturers for media acquisition, these cards may be found at most electronic stores) for storage. The cards cost around $200.00 for 32GB of storage; plan on around $60.00 for 16GB. You might also expect a bit over an hour of record time when recording at 60p, 50Mbps, and roughly 30 minutes of record time on a 32GB card. I'd recommend springing for one 64GB card as an accessory at the time of purchase.


Two XQD slots are available, SD slot can be used for HD video.
Two XQD slots are available, SD slot can be used for HD video.


The camera records in XAVC-S format. This is a highly compressed format, suitable for news, live production, and high-end hobbyist use. It can easily interface as a B-roll camera alongside its professional big brother, the Sony PXW-Z100 ($6500.00 retail). The codec, coupled with the 1/2.3/8Mp imager, makes for a very fine picture whether acquired in 4K or HD. The smaller imager will not make for a super shallow depth of field in 4K mode, so if super-shallow is part of your shooting style, don't toss that HDSLR just yet.

However, while some poo-poo the idea of a relatively small sensor on a 4K camcorder, the image remains quite sharp through its range – particularly given the price point. The image certainly softens past f5, yet is impressively managed at small apertures.

On the subject of imagers; how does it perform in low/no light? The answer is "Better than I expected." In the early days of HD, we frequently discussed how cramming a lot of pixels close together on a small imager made for poor light sensitivity. Now, we're cramming more pixels onto a relatively small imager, and doing so will always create limitations. So I've pushed the camera as hard as I could, mostly to see what kind of noise the imager would introduce. In this video, you can see as much as 18dB of gain inserted, and the blacks remain fairly clean, colors still have a little pop, while all the way down to 0dB, the image isn't useful at all, yet it is clean and does allow for some push in post.

The DSP in the camera is impressive, with a powerful DNR (Dynamic Noise Reduction) algorithm. The camera will provide a usable image in all but the most dark scenes. Very dark areas with no access to additional light may prove challenging, yet the camera does perform much better than one might expect. I was pleasantly surprised at what the camera offers. The camera was kept hand-held, as I wanted to see how the XAVC-S codec would hold up in low light with jittered movement.


The camera induces some noise; not nearly as noisy as expected for a small imager in a no/low light scene.
The camera induces some noise; not nearly as noisy as expected for a small imager in a no/low light scene.


The camera also offers in-camera cine-modes. I'm not a fan. However, for the high-end hobbyist who wants a consistent image from the camera vs. providing post-processing for the "film look," this can be a useful feature. The camera can be tweaked, however, to provide better imagery in low light, bright light, and indoor/outdoor scenes.


This is a more realistic test of the camera, shot at midnight with only small LED lighting on the edges of the buildings.
This is a more realistic test of the camera, shot at midnight with only small LED lighting on the edges of the buildings.


The peaking feature on this camera, coupled with the focusing system is the best I've seen in this class of camera. While the autofocus is fast and quite stable, my preference is manual focus with peaking to indicate the point of focus. I love that feature with this camera, as out of focus shots show up very quickly in high resolution.


The lens offers focus, manual zoom, and aperture/iris control on the barrel.
The lens offers focus, manual zoom, and aperture/iris control on the barrel.


Schools and newcomers to 4K (or HD) will appreciate the full-auto mode on this camera. While not a feature the average pro will use, the fully automatic mode provides an impressive image straight out of the box.

In the below image, I let the camera do its thing set in fully automatic mode. The resulting non-processed image is very good. The camera is zoomed approximately halfway in, for an aperture of f5.6.


The camera is zoomed approximately halfway in, for an aperture of f5.6



ARE YOU READY FOR 4K?

Like anything else new, it will have its detractors, yet taking the stance that 4K isn't a standard, or won't be a standard is simple ignorance. 4K is here to stay as the next standard, and while 4K delivery isn't ready for prime-time broadcasting, that doesn't mean it should be ignored. 4K production has occurred every day for the past several years, and delivered as HD. This will continue for some time to come.

4K offers some tremendous opportunities even for HD delivery, as it allows for re-composing frames in post. 4K downscales to HD very nicely, not unlike 35mm delivered in HD.


Original squirrel shot. This guy wouldn't hold still, so I shot it more wide than I preferred.
Original squirrel shot. This guy wouldn't hold still, so I shot it more wide than I preferred.


The recomposed shot is more attractive.
The recomposed shot is more attractive.


It's not just about recomposing shots. It's about having more information with which to create better work.

For example, the squirrel seen above was shot very quickly, white balance was set to indoor, and the image needed to be pushed quite a bit. Highly compressed HD (AVC) would not have allowed for so much 'push' before falling apart. The additional resolution allows for greater flexibility, as does the greater gamma of 4K.






4K also allows for the future-proofing of projects. While it is certainly true that most projects cannot be/will not be delivered as 4K masters, if there are project files, source files that may be used for stock, or future editorial, these files will be available in the future.


EDITING 4K

Is your edit suite ready for 4K? It may not be, but it is likely the software is ready to handle the huge file throughput. Chances are that either storage or CPU horsepower is the biggest block for most users.

Whether 150Mbps, 600Mbps, RAW files, or whatever the source may be, 4K is a lot of data to push through drives and CPUs. Some producers/editors feel a need to continue creating DI's for 4K, while others have the will to push through the storage and CPU limitations that their system may present.

Various editing software packages will manage 4K very differently. As seen in the two screenshots below, Adobe Premiere CS6(316) and Sony Vegas 12 provide very different results with the application of the same filters to the same footage.

Having plenty of storage and having a fast throughput system are important, particularly when working with lower compression formats, such as XAVC or RAW files. XAVC-S (The AVCHD of 4K) decodes quite well on a reasonably fast machine. 10 or 12 bit 4K will be a struggle for an off-the-shelf editing machine, yet 10bit 4K from the Z100 plays back at full frame rate on my dual quadcore E3 machine, with one color correction filter applied.


With a single color correction filter and Curve filter applied, Sony Vegas Pro 12 provides frame-accurate playback (source is 150Mbps XAVC-S from the Sony AX1 camcorder).
With a single color correction filter and Curve filter applied, Sony Vegas Pro 12 provides frame-accurate playback (source is 150Mbps XAVC-S from the Sony AX1 camcorder).


Premiere Pro CS struggled with playback (no GPU acceleration) as indicated in the red segment above. The clip has a color correction filter and a curve filter applied.
Premiere Pro CS struggled with playback (no GPU acceleration) as indicated in the red segment above. The clip has a color correction filter and a curve filter applied.


DISPLAYING 4K

If native resolution display is desired, obviously a 4K projector or display monitor is needed. The playback device may be as simple as the camera itself (some applications can print back to the camera) or devices such as the RedRay, PS3/4, or playback from a computer system over HDMI 1.4 or 2.0 (note that HDSDI does not support 4K over the SDI pipe).

Android devices already support 4K playback, but it's important to note that none of the supporting devices have 4K displays available.

The FDR AX1 is a powerful step forward in the 4K evolution, given that pro-sumers have access to a moderately priced camera that delivers professional bang for the buck. While it's not the perfect go-to in all situations, it is a very affordable camcorder that will act nicely as a secondary cam for HD shoots, a toe in the water for 4K production and the associated learning curve, and a means of getting into the game early without having to lose a right arm (or any fingers). Kudos to Sony for pushing the envelope ahead of their competitors. For what it's worth, after having spent a few days with this camcorder, I've ordered one for myself, to be used in a wide variety of settings (including aerial photography).


 


 

Douglas Spotted Eagle

Douglas Spotted Eagle is a multi-talented, Grammy award winner with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly and recipient of several Emmy awards. Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, and has authored books & DVDs. He's a well-known trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters.

He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others.

He has also authored other books, the first of which was published world-wide when he was 18 years of age. His technical books include subjects such as Apple's Soundtrack, Sony's Vegas, Adobe's Encore, and DV Basics, and author of the industry best-selling "HDV: What You NEED to Know," and "Instant Vegas."

A versatile artist, Douglas' music is heard in a wide range of films from "Last Samurai" to "Star Wars-Ewok" cartoons.

Douglas is also an aerial camera operator, and has produced training videos on skydiving/aerial camera work. He is one of the first skydivers to fly HD and 4K camcorders.

Douglas Spotted Eagle has been working with Creative COW for nearly 15 years, since before it was even called The COW.







Comments

Re: The Sony FDR-AX1 & Your 4K Future
by George Sealy
How is the auto-focus with this camera? Does it do a good job of tracking a face or a particular person? We do a lot of documentary work, and we need a camera that can help with focusing.

Thanks.

Pensarz
http://pensarz.com
Re: The Sony FDR-AX1 & Your 4K Future
by john campbell
Great article. Its nice to have a real pro go through this cool camera. I used mine on a pro shoot for an 8 person rap collaboration in the bright full sun with lots of shadows from buildings and high contrast stuff. It was great to run and gun all over the city with- just a tripod, and a reflector. I was a little nervous pulling a pro shoot for the first time, but they wanted slow mo, and lots of detail, so it was perfect. after some some quick preliminary checks of the footage, I am super happy with the results. Shot about an hour of footage on full res. Somehow I got 72gb on one 64gb card (?)
Spot on review!

Blind Eye Video


Recent Articles / Tutorials:
TV & Movie Appreciation
Avengers: Infinity War - Thanos, Titan, and Weta Digital

Avengers: Infinity War - Thanos, Titan, and Weta Digital

At the center of one of the biggest films in history, Marvel Studios' Avengers: Infinity War, stands Thanos, a CG character whose emotional range became a major contribution to the film's success. Creative COW Contributing Editor Hillary Lewis spoke with Weta Digital VFX Supervisor Matt Aitken about the challenges of their work on this remarkably compelling character and his world.

Feature, People / Interview
Hillary Lewis
AJA Video Systems
AJA Video Systems Celebrates 25 Years of Professional Video Systems

AJA Video Systems Celebrates 25 Years of Professional Video Systems

John Abt started AJA Video Systems with his wife Darlene in 1993 to develop simple digital parallel to serial and serial to parallel converters. Many of AJA’s products at their core continue to bridge connectivity and simplify pro video workflows through video up, down, cross format conversion. A great read that you will find at Film and Digital Times.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview, Business
Film and Digital Times
TV & Movie Appreciation
VFX Legion Completes Effects for SUPERFLY Remake

VFX Legion Completes Effects for SUPERFLY Remake

Producer Joel Silver and Director X called on VFX Legion to tackle 100+ shots designed to amp up the impact of the raw violence in Sony’s reboot of the iconic ‘70’s film. The reboot of ‘Superfly’ puts a modern, stylish spin on the original 1972 film about a Harlem drug dealer trying to score one last deal before getting out of ‘the game.’ Set in present-day Atlanta, the Mecca of today’s popping music scene, the action is driven by a hip-hop soundtrack curated by Future. The city’s distinctive style is the backdrop for a new generation of affluent, extravagant drug kingpins that takes violence to the extreme.

Editorial, Feature, Project
VFX Legion
VR Filmwork: Immersive Begins to Emerge ... Slowly

VR Filmwork: Immersive Begins to Emerge ... Slowly

Want to see a storage person's heart skip a beat ... or two? Flutter even? Just mention VR and BAM!, they get real excited. Some people think we like 360/VR just because it devours so much storage capacity. Ok that's a good reason but still the good VR stuff is really really good. Not just scare your pants off good but good to experience, enjoy, be immersively entertained, informed.

Editorial, Feature
Andy Marken
Christina Rzewucki: Thor: Ragnarok, Tomb Raider & more

Christina Rzewucki: Thor: Ragnarok, Tomb Raider & more

Christina Rzewucki is a Texture and Look Development Artist at Rising Sun Pictures. A 2016 graduate of the Academy of Interactive Entertainment in Adelaide, she began her career with the game company Monkeystack. Since joining RSP in 2017, she has applied her diverse technical and creative skills to projects including the blockbusters Thor: Ragnarok and Tomb Raider. Next month, she will be teaching the texturing component of ‘Look Development and Lighting,’ a new second year elective course associated with UniSA’s Media Arts degree.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Risingsun Pictures
Cinematography
RBG's DP: Claudia Raschke, Ruth Ginsburg & Canon C300 Mk II

RBG's DP: Claudia Raschke, Ruth Ginsburg & Canon C300 Mk II

In his conversation with Claudia Raschke, the cinematographer of the acclaimed documentary "RBG" featuring Supreme Court Justice and folk hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg, DP Jimmy Matlosz speaks to her about the Canon C300, the challenges of shooting such a high-profile subject, and the influence of dance on her approach to documentary filmmaking. A truly remarkable conversation about multiple remarkable subjects.

Feature, People / Interview
Jimmy Matlosz
Business & Marketing
Media after Millennials: A Teen’s Research on Viewing Habits

Media after Millennials: A Teen’s Research on Viewing Habits

As a fifteen year old high school sophomore, Helen Ludé has her priorities in order: varsity soccer, Snapchat and Instagram, and presenting research on Post-Millennial Media and Cinema Consumption Habits at SMPTE’s Future of Cinema Conference. Spurred on by a dinner conversation with her family (including her father, RealD’s Peter Ludé), Helen conducted a survey of her peers to uncover the viewing habits of her generation, otherwise known as Gen Z. You're going to be surprised by what she found, and deeply impressed (and a little intimidated) by this enterprising young woman.

Feature, People / Interview
Kylee Peña
TV & Movie Appreciation
Star Wars: How Much Is Too Much?

Star Wars: How Much Is Too Much?

When Disney announced that they would be making a new Star Wars movie every year for at least 10 years I was both excited and a bit skeptical. In 2012 when Lucas sold his company to Disney for $4billion, he included his outlines of Episodes VII, VIII and IX. But Disney and Co. decided to discard these stories and start over, also discarding the extended universe of comics and books that millions of SW fans had grown to love. Adding JJ Abrams to the mix was icing on the cake for SW fans who have become critical of SW. But Lawrence Kasdan was the saving grace, who wrote a script for VII that the original actors could get behind. So, how much Star Wars is too much?

Review, Editorial, Feature
Mike Cohen
Art of the Edit
Editing Marvel's Black Panther: Debbie Berman ACE

Editing Marvel's Black Panther: Debbie Berman ACE

This is an epic tale spanning two decades, three countries, 12,000 miles -- and that's just the story of Debbie Berman, ACE, starting in reality TV and indie film in South Africa, making her way to Canada and then the US to edit Marvel's Spider-man: Homecoming and, most recently, Black Panther, already one of the most popular films of all time. In this exclusive interview with Creative COW Managing Editor Kylee Peña, Debbie talks about struggling toward US citizenship, a serendipitous meeting with an ambitious young director, helping to bring representation to the big screen and pride to her home country.

People / Interview
Kylee Peña
Broadcasting
Westdoc Online interview with National Geographic Channel's VP of Development, Charlie Parsons

Westdoc Online interview with National Geographic Channel's VP of Development, Charlie Parsons

Charlie Parsons is Vice President of Development for the National Geographic Channel, responsible for developing new projects, discovering new talent and serving as one of the network’s main points of contact for the global production community. Since joining the Channel in 2010, Parsons has developed popular series “Doomsday Preppers”, “Inside Combat Rescue”, “Mars” and “One Strange Rock”, as well as the global natural history event “Earth Live”. He developed the Emmy Award winning Special “Space Dive”,as well as the Emmy Award winning feature doc “LA 92”. He also served as an Executive Producer on the network’s most watched program in history, the Emmy nominated three-hour movie event “Killing Jesus”, as well as the second and third most watched programs, “Killing Kennedy”??"also Emmy nominated for Outstanding Television Movie??"and “Killing Lincoln”, respectively.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Chuck Braverman
MORE
© 2018 CreativeCOW.net All Rights Reserved
[TOP]