First Look at a Sony FDR-AX700

Discussion in 'Video' started by Ed_Ingold, Dec 2, 2019.

  1. I normally film using a Sony FS5 or a brace of Sony A7 cameras, which is a very flexible combination, using the same lenses, with cinematic quality. I was looking for a small camera with broadcast quality video, without the weight and bulk of my go-to cameras. The Sony HDR-AX700 struck me as a good choice, with due consideration for my lower back.

    The AX700 shares the same lens and sensor (1" Exemor) with the FDR-AX100. The lens is a fixed, Zeiss Vario-Tessar f/2.8-4 Zoom, 29-305 mm equivalent. The menu is nearly identical to that of the FS5, and much friendlier than in the A7 cameras. There are several enhancements over the AX100 which push it near the top in the pro-sumer handicam category.
    • Full-sized HDMI connector
    • S-Log2/3 picture profiles with a dedicated access button on the side
    • Cine and Log color gamut
    • Full Auto/Manual selector, with flexible auto selection in the manual mode (e.g., S priority with Auto f/stop and ISO).
    • Auto Focus with push-to-focus in Manual mode
    • Manual focus with 5x, 12x magnification (independent of recording format)
    • Dual SD card slots, with parallel or sequential option and hot-swap (in sequential only)
    • Records in XAVC internally, but only 4,2,0 8-bit with GOP-L codec
    • Records externally in 4,2,2 10-bit, GOP-I to a ProRes or DNxHD codec (e.g., an Atomos Ninja V)
    • LANC and micro USB MultiPort connections for handle operation.
    • Recording battery life (NP-V70) of about 190 minutes (NP-V100 battery has 50% more life)
    Power turns on when the 3.5" finder is opened or the EVF is pulled away from the body. If the EVF is left in, the automatic eye detector doesn't black out the screen when you approach it. The power turns off in a few seconds if both are closed, unless you're recording.

    On the down side, the touch screen is limited to selecting the focus area. The menu is accessed using an on/off button and the 4-way toggle on the grip. There is no lock on the record button, but it is recesses inside a bezel. The DC power port is proprietary rather than a barrel type, and only available with a line-lump AC adapter. I'm looking for a D-Tap adapter or dummy battery, but so far without luck. There is only an unbalanced 3.5 mm TRS for a microphone, but I don't use the XLR connectors on other cameras either. I record separately and sync in post.

    The image quality is compatible with my FS5, and the color and rendition are easily matched in Premiere Pro.
     
  2. I forgot about another "pro" feature until I needed it today. The AX700 has a built-in ND filter, off, 2x, 4x and 8x, plus a reminder in the viewfinder suggesting what's needed (or not needed). While the shutter speed is as fast as 1/8000, you need an ND filter because a shutter speed faster than 2x the frame rate causes action to look jerky.
     
  3. As with the FDR-AX100, the AX700 cannot record 4K internally and via HDMI at the same time. If you press record in 4K mode, the HDMI signal is turned off. In HD mode or lower, simultaneous recording is allowed.

    There is no such restriction with an A7 (or A9) camera, nor with a Sony FS5. Internal recording provides a convenient backup, but GOP-L codecs fare poorly in comparison to external ProRes or DNxHQ recording at much higher bandwidth.
     
  4. I was able to use the VX700 alongside a Sony FS5 for an extended comparison. Both cameras were recorded in 1080p60, using S-Log2 gamma, in ProRes422 on a Ninja V recorder. Editing was done using Premiere Pro, and an S-Log2 LUT from Sony. The sample is a 100% crop, 500x500 pixels, shown pixel=pixel. It was fairly easy to match color. I shot test clips of an X-Rite white card, but fine tuning was still necessary.

    Resolution of the VX700 is clearly less than that of the FS5, and there is more noise in the shadows. You would expect such, considering a $5K price difference and 17 lbs (built out) v 3 lbs weight. Direct comparison aside, the VX700 does a good job, and is more than adequate for B-Roll, or even A-Roll in a non-critical application. "Critical" includes making an impression on clients with professional gear. "Non-critical" includes schlepping up a ladder, or anything more than 200 yards from the car.

    Left = Sony FS5 + PX28-135; Right = Sony FDR-VX700
    Comparison.jpg
     
  5. I am currently gearing up to do live stream video of various musical events. The Sony FDR-VX700 will definitely play a role in this endeavor. Its excellent low-light sensitivity and color control make pairing with full-sized cameras relatively easy. The full-sized HDMI connector is another plus. However HDMI is limited to cables 15 feet long or less, and only high quality cables (ie thick and stiff) will handle 1080p60 without glitches. SDI cabling is more flexible, and good up to over 300' for 3G signals. Black Magic makes relatively small, inexpensive HDMI-SGI HD converters, which can be powered with a USB battery pack.

    There is no way to power the VX700 from a 14.4 V video battery at present, so any event longer than about 2 hours will require an AC power source, or a quick battery change.

    I will be using multiple cameras in conjunction with a Black Magic switcher and monitor, with 12G SDI and HDMI inputs. Based on recommendations by colleagues, I will transmit using WireCast software, which makes it easy to incorporate graphics and video clips into the stream. I'll be running it on a MacBookPro, using an AJA SDI to USB3 video card. WireCast will downsize the 1080 (or 2160) video to a stream-worthy version.
     
  6. As I use the VX700 more, I find some helpful hints. The camera does very well under good light, but has problems when the lighting is poor. Shooting under LED lights in a jazz club, the color was off the wall. I was able to get decent results with the FS5, but barely adequate with the VX700, recording internally. The FS5 uses 4,2,2 color sampling internally and externally, but the VX700 is 4,2,0 internally, which doesn't give enough latitude for major color correction. Based on limited testing, recording externally at 4,2,2 and lower compression should do the trick.

    The whole idea of this camera is to get good results without a lot of extra hardware. However an Atomos Ninja V in a flash shoe adapter will do the trick, yet compact and easy to set up.
     
  7. I have used my VX700 extensively since my last post, and find its results highly compatible with that of my FS5. The only fault I find is with stability of AF when shooting groups of two or more people. While it is highly effective distinguishing faces from inanimate objects in the foreground, it doesn't always choose the right face, and can change its "mind" unpredictably. The solution is to focus manually, which should come as no surprise to anyone shooting groups (e.g., concerts). While smaller than Super-35, the 1" sensor of the VX700 has a shallow depth of field, especially when the lens is wide open (also common under room or stage lighting). Focus magnification allows very precise manual focusing, and has no effect on internal or external recording. You need to select the ring function as focus rather than zoom. This has no effect on the rocker switch zoom function.

    AF/MF selection is toggled with a push button on the lens. It is thus possible to switch to AF momentarily while centered on the desired subject. Whether you focus manually or by momentary AF depends on the situation. The former can be done without changing the field of view, using the 4-way toggle to move the focus point. The latter is more effective when setting up a hand-held shot.
     
  8. What about cooperating with these musical bands and making videos from their concerts? Like, you know, these musicians having their concerts recorded on DVD. I think they would be glad to cooperate. My friend's a musician and he asked if I could make a video of their performance, it was a completely new experience for me and honestly, I went through hell trying to figure out how sony vegas works. Eventually, I gave up and chose a simpler editor, if you need a bit of advice, this Movavi Video Editor [Free Download] | Video Editing Software, and just cut it and added some filters, really basic stuff, but my friend was happy to have it.
     
  9. Making a DVD is pretty easy compared to streaming. You have all the time you need to polish the video in post. When streaming, you're doing all of that in real time. It's like playing an harmonica and banjo at the same time, while shaking your coin cup.

    Club lighting is pretty grim with respect to video, contrasty and odd colors. I get the best results using the S-Log2 setting, but that requires processing to be useable, which can't be done in real time. It's best to avoid AWB, and set the white balance to 3200K.

    I capture multi-track sound in Steinberg Cubase, and edit the sound track in Steinberg Nuendo. I edit video in Adobe Premiere Pro, adding the Nuendo sound track. For streaming, I convert the HDMI camera output to SDI 3G, into a Black Magic Design ATEM 8-channel switcher. Audio from a mixer is also connected to the ATEM, and wrapped with the video. The ATEM output (SDI) is routed to a laptop running Wirecast, hence to the internet.

    Vegas is very hard to use. It achieves "non-destructive editing" by bouncing (copying) mix tracks, which takes a lot of time and disk space. A truly non-destructive editor works by reference, not copies. Avid Pro Tools is the industry standard, and can cost as little as $250. Pro Tools (Cubase, Nuendo, etc) are primarily audio editors with the option of a video track. Premiere Pro is primarily for video, including multi-track video with added sound. It helps to pick the right tool for the right task. Apple Final Cut is also popular, for about $250. Black Magic daVinci is another popular video editor, with excellent color grading tools. You can get a free copy of daVinci, but you have to pay to edit HD or higher video.
     
  10. Very colorful metaphor, thanks, I got it. It's like recording a song in a studio vs live performing. I've got lots to learn then :)

    And RAM as well, I got my computer frozen the first time I ran it. I guess I'll keep figuring it out if I decide to make videos again.
     
  11. Products like Vegas and Audacity rely heavily on hardware and IO bandwidth. Pro Tools, Cubase and Nuendo take relatively few computer resources, except when loading audio/video and rendering the results. Editing changes are nearly instantaneous, and can be reviewed in real time. If you qualify as a student or teacher, you can get them for a very attractive price.

    You invest a lot of time and energy learning their use. It's important to choose a product which is stable in the long term, and backwards-compatible with earlier projects. Most of all, it has to do what you need it to do, without hacks and banging your head in frustration.
     
  12. I was somewhat disappointed in the VX700 when recording a concert last night, small chamber ensembles at a distance of about 50 feet. In order to frame the groups properly I had to zoom nearly to the limit, about 300 mm equivalent, and wide open. The results were definitely soft compared to what I get from an A7iii or Sony FS5 at that distance. The same framing at half the distance and stopped down slightly is as sharp as the FS5 (with a lens which, alone, costs twice as much as the VX700 complete).

    The VX700 can be set to extend the optical zoom range with digital zoom with a seamless transition, for 600 mm equivalence in HD mode, without exceeding the pixel resolution of the sensor. I did not cross that threshold (it's displayed on the screen), but it wouldn't have mattered.

    I had no issues with the color and (digital) noise, shooting in S-Log2 mode. Log gamma does a fantastic job in natural light, because it prevents blown highlights while preserving shadow detail. Of course, it can't be used without post processing. The standard modes are required for Vlogging and streaming.

    I will not hesitate to use the VX700 in professional applications, but with consideration to its limitations (and mine). Last night I had to climb a wobbly attic ladder with camera and tripod. That's not going to happen with a 17 lb FS5 rig with dangling cables, when I have a 3 pound alternative. A bare, Sony A7 with a 70-200/4 (in Super-35 mode) would do the trick, but the setup is a bit more fiddly once you add an external battery and recorder/monitor.

    These are the vicissitudes of life as a freelancer, rather than shooting in a comfy studio.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2020
  13. Ed - Thanks for your insight on the AX700. I'm thinking of getting one myself. Do you know if the AX700 records 4K 422 8bit into an Atmos Ninja? I've read various conflicting reports online - but seeing as you own both, I thought I'd ask you!

    Cheers

    Luke
     
  14. Sony specifications don't say, but it is at least 4,2,2 8-bit, and possibly 10 bit. According to the app, Mediainfo, it is definitely 4,2,2 and 286 MHz in the Ninja V using ProRes 422. The results are much cleaner than internal recordings, and they grade nicely without excess noise, at least if you are reasonably close to the right color temperature setting.
     
  15. Right! Thanks for your reply - I've been thinking about either a AX700/NX80/Z90 or the Canon GX10/HF400-5. Whilst I really like the Canon HLG look and the 60fps in 4k, it only really does that one thing (and is more expensive!). Now I know the AX700 can do at least 4/2/2 8bit into my Ninja - I'm sold. Thanks for your help :)
     
  16. HLG looks great, if you have an HLG viewer. On everything else, it looks flat. Its main use is as a substitute for log gamma without a need for post-processing.

    One of the things I like about the AX700 is the picture profile options which parallel those of the A7xxx cameras and the FS5. That makes life a lot easier for me, but not necessarily for others. Rather than HLG (which is an option), For live streaming (or hand-off jobs) I use on of the standard profiles with a REC709 gamut (e.g., PP1). For everything else I use S-Log2, then applying one of the Sony 3D LUTs in post. I am seldom in complete control of the lighting, and S-Log2 has been a god-send for dealing with harsh light, open windows and white backgrounds.

    I would not use a mini-HDML connector more than twice without a cable clamp or better yet, a cage, with a short mini to normal adapter cable.
     
  17. Thanks for your reply - I'm looking foward to getting my hands on one and have a play! :)
     
  18. The VX700 does not seem to have an anti-flicker option, which adjusts the shutter to align with the peak brightness of fluorescent lights. I have noticed a periodic dimming in the video taken under fluorescent lights when shooting at 1080p60. The effect was minor, since I prefer to use 1/60, or 100% shutter angle
     
  19. Many months on, I find I'm using the VX700 regularly, instead of a Sony FS5 video camera, or even a Sony A7iii. Business has changed and I'm no longer recording live events (mostly concerts) with an audience present. The new paradigm is live-streaming video, or at least recording for subsequent streaming. The immediate consequence is a lot more gear to move around and set up. Every ounce and package counts, so I've made every effort to consolidate everything into 2-3 packages which fit on a cart, even though the packages are necessarily heavier. My typical setup time for audio/video has increased to 3.5 hours, not including the last half hour reserved for setting up and testing the streaming connection. This compares to less than an hour for single-camera plus audio recording.

    The VX700 produces high quality video, and the largest NPV battery lasts over 3.5 hours on a charge. Sadly there is no option to use a professional battery like an IPX V-mount of Anton-Bauer Gold Mount. In practice, the extra capacity has not been needed. The most difficult situation I've encounted is a large group in a small room. The VX700 only zooms to the equivalent of 28 mm. For these situations, I use an A7iii with a 16-35/4 Zoom, also light and easily carried.

    I use the VX700 as a fixed camera set with a wide view of the scene. Switching and monitoring is a full time desk job, so I rely on a PTZ camera with remote control for roving. I switch to the VX700 while changing the PTZ.
     

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