Friday, 22 January 2016

Sony FDR-AX33 Camcorder: Zoom Range and Steady-Shot

I ended my last post by saying I was puzzled by the zoom range of the AX33 and the effect of using Active Steady-Shot (Balanced Optical SteadyShot, BOSS). This is a snippet from the manual:

And that is all it says. I wondered if this affected both ends of the zoom range. While you might expect zoom magnification to be noticeable at the long focal length end of the range, is there also an effect at the short (wide angle) end?

The additional apparent focal length is very welcome indeed for wildlife. Sony’s 10x zoom range has been extremely limiting in the past and I have carried a 1.7x extender for previous models.

I have extracted some stills to show the effect of the three Steady-Shot settings: Active, Standard and Off at both ends of the zoom range. I used a Full HD setting, rather than 4K since the effect is more pronounced.

Zoom at it longest focal length with
different SteadyShot settings
Zoom at its shortest focal length with
different SteadyShot settings. The angle
of view is slightly narrower with Active; the
window frame is included to show the effect
more clearly
As you can see there is a huge effect at full zoom between Active and Standard or Off. There is an effect at wide-angle but it is not so pronounced. However, it is worth noting that if you seek to gain the longest apparent focal length then set Steady-Shot to Active. On the other hand if you want the widest angle shot possible, set SteadyShot to Standard or Off, depending on how the camera is held.

What Sony does not mention is whether there is any effect on video quality of using Active Steady-Shot to get a longer effective focal length. I have seen it said that there is a very small effect which is hardly noticeable but that it the only information I have found.

Having had the camcorder since the summer, I find it has already been superseded - by the newly-announced AX53 with a true optical zoom range of 20x. Still the same viewfinder though.

Sony FDR-AX33 Camcorder: On location

It is one thing testing and using a camcorder around the house and on tame holidays; it is another using it in the wild, in extremes of weather and on land, air and sea to video wild life varying in size from a Blue Whale to a small insect. Neither is it useful to read most reviews and forum comments from ‘film makers’; they are looking for something entirely different.

I have now put this camcorder through the wild test for the first time and so I can add to the comments I made in my post of 12 June.

The video quality was excellent in medium to good light; less so, with noticeable apparent compensation for noise, in poor light. I made use of infrared Nightshot as I thought I would (and a good reason to buy Sony). Active Steady-Shot (BOSS) proved to be superb.

However, the electronic viewfinder (EVF) although improved from the last Sony I had is still a weak point: too dark (with no control over brightness) and with a seemingly low refresh rate. It is still an essential in a camcorder but all I can say is that it is better than nothing. By comparison with the EVF on a modern CSC, it can only be rated as poor.

I missed the GPS built into my last Sony. I carried a separate battery charger (essential when travelling but not supplied with the camcorder) and four batteries.

One annoyance was that after being outside in the sleet in the mountains of Tasmania, condensation misted the lens when back in the warmth. The condensation was not simply on the outside of the lens. I eventually got rid of it by leaving the camera on (i.e. taking video) for about 10 minutes; as it heated up the internal condensation cleared. I though condensation problems disappeared with the last tape drive but this was clearly not the case. Incidentally, when cleaning the lens, it is a case of first catch your lens; the lens assembly moves on it gimbal as you try to clean the surface.

The USB lead which emerges from the side and is tucked into the strap was a small worry; it seems too vulnerable to damage.

I am, overall, very pleased with this camcorder. I am also pleased that that is the case because there are not many options in the fairly light and useable (for my interests) camcorder category. However, I do feel Sony could have done better, as I said originally, by including features like GPS and charging more.

One aspect has been puzzling me, and others too judging from the comments on forums. That is the non-digital zoom range with different Steady-Shot settings. That will be the subject of my next post.