It’s official and I can talk about them now!
Sony are bringing four new cameras to the market from their pro, consumer and semi-pro department. These cameras straddle the market and will find a place in the hands of both home shooters and professionals.
Starting with the smallest, this one will look very familiar to many of you. It’s a new version of the Gopro like ActionCam. The new model is the HDR-AS30. Not hugely different from the previous model it offers HD recording at up to 120 fps in 720p and 60p at 1920×1080 and WiFi connection for remote control and monitoring. The great news for us here in Europe and other PAL regions is that the new model now includes 25 and 50fps frame rates. Add in electronic image stabilisation as well as the very sensitive EXMOR-R sensor and this really is a great alternative to the GoPro. As well as the improved frame rates the AS30 now comes with a much lighter housing. The original AS10/AS15 housing was built for deep water diving and as a result was quite bulky and heavy.
The new housing is very similar to the old but of thinner plastic so it’s much lighter and less bulky. However the slim housing is only suitable for use in shallow water or to withstand the occasional dunking that it would get on say a surfboard or windsurfer. Another new feature is that the housing now incorporates buttons that allow you to change the camera settings without having to remove it from the housing.
Sony are well aware that what really matters with these mini cams is mounting flexibility. So along with the camera Sony are extending the range mounts, brackets and adapters available. They even have a clever device that turns the camera into a small handheld camcorder with flip out screen. Another add-on coming soon is a wireless wrist strap monitor and remote. Oh, and one more thing. Just in case you forget where you took your pictures the camera now has a GPS receiver built in that tags your videos with the shooting location.
Next up is a new type of camcorder for Sony…. or is it an audio recorder with a built in camera? When I was first shown the HDR-MV1 I really didn’t know what to make of it. It is referred to as the Music Video Camera by Sony. The concept is for a camera that can shoot good video in low light along with excellent quality stereo audio for bands and musicians to shoot simple YouTube videos etc. The camera is certainly very capable of doing exactly that, but there is also a lot more that this camera can be used for. Not much bigger than an electric shaver and sporting a pair of stereo microphones with 120 degree separation this camera is so easy to use for capturing stunning quality sound with reasonable HD pictures. It is one of those gadgets that will find it’s way into many camera crews kit bags. I’ve been playing with one and it’s great. For example, when shooting some steam trains I was able to just place the MV1 on a bridge parapet or beside the track to capture wonderful stereo sound of the trains puffing past. OK, I’ll have to sync the sound up with the main video in post, but as the camera shoots pictures too that’s pretty straight forward. To have done this conventionally would have required a good stereo mic, a stand, cables or radio links etc. Costing less than most decent stereo microphones it’s so simple and convenient that I’ll be looking to get one as soon as they are released. Click here to download a sample audio clip from the MV1. mv1-audio-sample
Finally we have two new 4K camcorders. The Sony FDR-AX1 and PXW-Z100. Starting with the AX1 (on which the Z100 is based), this is a compact handheld camcorder that has a Sony G series 20x zoom lens with a single 8.3 Megapixel back illuminated EXMOR-R 1/1.23″ sensor (that’s just a little smaller than 1/2″). The sensor allows for 4K shooting at up to 60fps. Interestingly for a consumer camera this one uses a variation of Sony’s new XAVC codec from the pro line of cameras to record the 4K footage. XAVC-S records 4K at 150Mb/s and HD at around 50Mb/s (compared to 220+ and 100+ Mb/s at 25fps for regular XAVC). This is a Long GoP version of the XAVC codec and is limited QFHD or (UHDTV) at 3840 x 2160 along with 8 bit 4:2:0 encoding . As this involves some quite high bit rates so the camera used XQD cards for recording. There are 2 slots for the XQD cards. Another first for a consumer camcorder is a pair of XLR audio connectors, clearly this camera is aimed at the high end of the consumer market. The camera has an HDMI output that will output 8 bit 4:2:0 4K for connection to a consumer 4K TV.
Taking the AX1 up a notch is the Z100. Many of the specs are the same, but the recording codec on the Z100 is the same XAVC I frame codec as used on Sony’s F5 and F55 cameras. This allows the Z100 to record the full 4K 17:9 4096 x 2160 sensor output at 10 bit 4:2:2. The down side to this is the data rates are now much higher at 232Mb/s for HD and up to 600Mb/s for 4K (at 60fps). This is a lot of data to manage and I can’t help but think that for many the QFHD and long GoP codec of the AX1 might be a better option (rumour is that there will be a firmware update for the Z100 that will allow it to recording using XAVC-S later in the year). In a later firmware update there will also be the option to record AVCHD to an SD card alongside the XAVC recordings. Other outputs include composite AV outputs on phono jacks as well as timecode out (also phono).
Both the AX1 and Z100 use Sony’s NP-F type batteries, so no expensive batteries need here!
As well as HDMI the Z100 has a 3G HDSDI output which can output a HD 60fps signal or a downscaled HD image when shooting in 4K.
The Z100 (and AX1 I believe) use the same paint and scene file settings as the PMW-F5 and F55 so it should be quite straightforward to transfer picture settings between the various cameras.
So just how will a small sensor 4K camera perform? Well the pixels will be very small so the camera won’t be as sensitive or have the dynamic range of the many large sensor 4K cameras on the market right now. As this is an EXMOR-R sensor it will be good for it’s size, but don’t expect it to be a great performer in low light. Other issues will be resolution and diffraction. When you have very small pixels and high resolution you run into an optical effect where the light passing through a small aperture gets bent and de-focussed. This limits the cameras useable aperture range. I think your going to be limited to keeping the iris more open than f8 to get the best results from this camera. Fortunately both cameras have a 4 position ND filter system that will help keep the aperture within the best range.