Quick Review: Sony FDR-AX43 Camcorder

Extraordinary as it sounds, we haven’t had the chance to review a Sony camera since this time last year, and that was the fabulous little RX0 Mk II. And I do mean fabulous. If you are in the hunt for a serious, serious on-the-go-camera with all the bells and whistles and everything  models like GoPros want to be when they grow up, have a look at it.

But I digress, in February of this year, we told you that Sony had announced the FDR-AX43, a new camcorder that Sony says alleviated the need for a gimbal as it had one built in.

On Friday, no less than 7 months later, we received one for review. And no, I don’t know why it is taking so long either, considering Australian Videocamera is the only publication of its kind in Australia (and one of the few left in the world in effect dealing with the issues of filmmaking etc) you’d think they would get new models to us as soon as ….

Ditto GoPro by the way.

But as Trump says, “It is what it is”, and at least we can now give you our hands-on impressions.

First Impressions

The FDR-AX43 is a handheld camcorder that is heavier than you’d expect, but the weight is mainly caused by a heavy-duty battery hanging off the back. Sony claims 235 minutes continuous shooting which is impressive for say, those who record sporting and social events like weddings and so on.

Sadly, there is no viewfinder so all framing has to be done via the flip out touch-screen 7.5cm LCD, which is just usable in bright sunlight unless the sun is actually on the screen, even from an angle, at which point it turns into a very good mirror.

As mentioned, the FDR-AX43 is a tad on the bulky side, compared to say a Panasonic WFX-1, but the main controls of record on/off and zoom fall easily to the fingers and the camera is quite balanced, although I would still recommend a two handed approach with the palm of the right hand holding the base and the left giving stability support.

Technical

Being a Sony, the lens is a ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T*Zoom with a wide angle of 26.8mm and shoots 4K (3840 x 2160) with the image being processed by an ½.5-type Exmor R image sensor using Sony’s BIONZ X image processing engine.

Low light quality is very good by the way.

High bitrate shooting is supported at 100Mbps for XAVC S 4K and 50Mbps XAVC HD.

There are plenty of built-in shooting modes to play with including Time Lapse in 4K, but do realise not all do work with 4K shooting such as Golf Swing or Smooth Slo-Mo. Speaking of which, Slo-mo rates of up 120fps are available. and there is a very responsive and fast auto focus system.

Sadly, as one on-line reviewer laments, Night Mode shooting is no longer there, so as this punter noted, being a ghost hunter, the AX43 is useless for that profession. No really. He was quite angry too.

But you can actually record in either 4K, or simultaneously Full HD 1920 x 1080 and HD 1280 x 720. And, yippee, in-camera you can add transitions and music – but please don’t.

Optical zoom is 20x, and if you must, a “Clear View” of 30x is available for 4K and 40x for HD modes.

Audio is picked up via 3 built in mics and both headphone and external mic ports are standard as is HDMI and USB, Wifi and NFC. Storage is to a single SD card.

Gimbal / Stabilization

The party piece of the AX43 is its built-in gimbal system, which Sony touts as stable while walking, running and at full zoom.

I took the FDR-AX43 down to our local foreshore and whilst adverse to making a dick of myself running with a camera in my hand, you can see the results of the walking up some stairs at the beach while shooting.

You can see other footage from Sony demonstrating the gimbal stabilisation at https://www.sony.com.au/electronics/handycam-camcorders/fdr-ax43

Conclusion

I admit it still baffles me that manufacturers continue with the zero viewfinder policy in some model ranges. It can spoil what otherwise could be a very good camera, and the Sony FDR-AX43 falls into this category.

At the price I would have expected a proper viewfinder quite frankly, and in my short test of for the gimbal shooting, I could not see a damn thing. I had intended a further test by zooming into an anchored cargo ship on the horizon, and whilst I did try by shooting blind (but pointing in the general direction), whilst there is a glimpse of it half way through, after that all you see is sky.

I’ll try again tomorrow when it is supposed to be a bit cloudier.

Sony is not alone in this; surely the saving of a few bucks in manufacture is not worth the letdown and the real risk of selling or not selling a model.

This one thing, to me, lets the FDR-AX43 down and badly.

Oh and we were told on announcement it would sell for AUD$1299, but the current list is AUD$1699 so I assume some currency fluctuations kicked in over the interim.

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