Video Review: Sony AX53 camcorder

Sony’s AX53 camcorder is the successor to the AX33. It shoots 4K at 25 or 30p depending which country version you have, as well as high bitrate XAVCS HD, and standard AVCHD as well. It can also do a genuine 24p for that filmic look.

It has several useful improvements over the old model. The new Zeiss lens has a wider angle than before, at 26.8mm compared to 29.8 on the AX33. It now offers a 20x optical zoom range instead of 10x.

A Clear Image Zoom function crops in on the sensor pixels to give a virtual 30x zoom in 4K; 40x in HD and this is automatically switched on, whether you want it or not, in two of the stabilisation modes, which we’ll come to in a moment.

The sensor is new and is now 16×9 aspect ratio, with fewer but larger pixels. This translates to substantially better low light performance, with noise much lower (or masked much better in software, we’re not sure how it’s done but it’s significant). Where the AX33 was unpleasant after even a few dB of gain, the AX53 is remarkably clean even at high gain; impressive for such a cheap and compact camcorder.

The sensor delivers splendidly crisp images whether in 4K or HD – this is, we think, actually an excellent HD camcorder regardless of whether you’ll use 4K. And in HD mode, you get 50p or 60p, again depending on where in the world you are.

HD also offers a bonus of slow motion shooting at 100 or 120 frames per second which, when slowed down in playback, is super smooth. Timelapses are available even in 4K, with a variety of settings. And you can take still pictures too, in either 4K or HD resolution.

As before, the AX53 has Sony’s excellent Balanced Optical Stabilisation System or BOSS. This holds the sensor and lens on a gimbal for unbeaten steadyness when handheld.

Four modes are available if you include “off” but the highest spec, called Intelligent Active, is only available when shooting HD. That’s because it uses the spare pixels that would otherwise be needed for 4K to calculate an electronic stabilisation on top of the optical one. It’s best used for walking shots and is like a magic carpet, saving you all the bother of expensive external gimbal cages and the like.

Footage is saved onto a single SDXC card, with 4K at 60 or 100 megabits, the latter requiring a UHS-3 Class 10 card to keep up.

A mic jack is included under a cover on the side, and a headphone jack as well at the front. Audio levels can be controlled manually – the auto setting just seems to make everything crashingly loud and then limited to stop distortion so you lose any dynamic range.

There’s a standard shoe on top for accessories, which includes Sony’s proprietary connection for items such as their XLR audio adapter. But it can just be used as a normal cold shoe without any problem for mics like Rode’s VideoMicro.

Autofocus is fine for 90% of uses but the camcorder retains the control ring at the front which can be used for manual focus if preferred. This ring can also be toggled to control iris, shutter and overall exposure. Be aware though that Sony cripples this camcorder such that only iris or shutter can be in manual mode at any time – the other switches itself to auto, so you’re not really in control at all.

Other annoyances include the camcorder always switching on when you open the LCD, something that you used to be able to switch off in older Sony’s – but not this one or the AX33 for that matter.

The auto white balance seems fine though it can take a few seconds to adjust sometimes. The screen is nice and crisp but can be hard to see in bright daylight but this always happens.

Battery life with the included NP-FV70 is OK, a little over an hour so a spare is probably a good idea. Charging is through a DC jack or the micro USB socket on the side.

Overall, we like this camcorder a lot. It’s not the most compact model – you won’t get it into a pocket – but it’s got great images, amazing stabilisation and well-masked noise levels in low light. With headphone and microphone jacks and a degree of manual control, this is a camcorder for the enthusiast or even the professional where compactness, stealth or handheld stability are required.

If you’d like to buy the AX53 (or AX33) or accessories, please consider using our links below so that we get a small commission from Amazon which helps to keep this site running. Thank you.

Sony AX53 camcorder: http://amzn.to/29jI4ca
Sony AX33 camcorder: http://amzn.to/1BCZCO2
Sony NP-FV70 battery: http://amzn.to/29jHF9V
Duracell equivalent battery (much cheaper): http://amzn.to/29jHzPq

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9 Responses

  1. Heinz says:

    David,
    you said in your video about the AX53 that the B.O.S.S. is automatically switched off as soon you mount it on a tridpod. This is in line with my observation about the sound: the noise I noticed reduced significantly within a second after having dropped the camera onto a desk. As soon as I took it in my hand again, after a second the noise was back. So this indicates the noise issue seems to be connected to the B.O.S.S. I couldn’t get completely rid of it in manual mode.
    regards
    Heinz

  2. Heinz says:

    Both – I could hear it in headphones and on the film. But, as I wrote, just in silent environments and only in my hands. I like to watch birds and want to be able to film spontaneously – without any preparation, that’s why it’s an issue for me. The workaround is clear – tripod or external mic.

    It’s hard to describe, it’s comparable to noise of other cams when you work with auto mode. You can listen to it in a youtube video of a german magazine on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FS2yJhN-BA – starting from 5:57. There they switch between hand and tripod back and forth.

    Meanwhile somebody posted in a forum of this magazine that also Sony has confirmed this, but does not accept this as a bug.

    • admin says:

      I’d always recommend an external mic anyway although precisely which one depends on what you’re trying to do.

  3. Ron Evans says:

    As with most of these small Sony’s it is not possible to have full manual control but it is possible to constrain the camera significantly. Set shutter manually, set a gain limit, set the ring to AE shift and use that to manage exposure. The camera is of course always in control but by setting the gain limit low it has very little to work with other than iris on the ring in AE shift. This is how I operate my AX53, NX30U and even my AX100. Watching zebras.

  4. Vital says:

    Thank you. That´s a one great review. Well, as allways.
    I am considering to upgrade from my Panasonic TM900. Along to family videos I accasionally shoot weddings and lectures, but also outings and light sports events. Well, I am both inside and outside, still and moving.
    This is my so to say “hobby” so it doesnt bring any income, which means the finantial side of me upgrading the gear has some definete limitations.
    Now, I am considering either to go to something small in the HD PRO category (older cams now in decent price range), or new 4K in the PROsumer category. Watching close to all of your reviews, I came down to few cams: Sony AX53, NX30, Canon XA20, Panasonic VX870 (or the new 9… series), and after watching your AX53 review, it seems this one is the game winner.
    Would you also think so, or is there still something else worth of my consideration?
    THANK YOU.

    • admin says:

      Hello. For me, the AX53 is a standout camcorder, the best of the bunch in that type and price. Excellent image, various format options, super stability etc. The only downside is being unable to precisely set exposure manually (ie exact values for iris and shutter, only one or the other) but since the cam does a decent job anyway and you have an exposure compensation function, I’ve not found it a problem. But is is very much a camcorder that you pu on Auto and let it get on with it, apart from the occasional manual focus if it’s having trouble.

      • Vital says:

        Thank you for your answer. The unavailability of the full manual control scares me a bit, but I take your word for it. Actually, I saw the footage from your camcorder, and it really looks good. Thanks again.

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