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.
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