Hands on preview: Sony’s PXW-Z100 4K camcorder

4K cameras

4K in the hand

hands on with the  Sony PXW-Z100
Audio Video Pro’s editor hands on with the Sony PXW-Z100. Picture courtesy of Visual Impact.

The PXW-Z100 has a similar look and feel to Sony’s HXR-NX5, AVCHD camcorder, or the HDV-based Z7. This is no coincidence. The NX5 shares a body, and most of its functions, with a consumer model. Sony is taking the same approach with its 4K camcorder, with a slightly cheaper, “prosumer” model, the FDR-AX1E, launched at the same time as the PXW-Z100. This may make commercial sense: consumer camcorder volumes are likely to be higher than sales of professional models, so developing two models with shared components cuts costs.

The PXW-Z100 does not, though, feel cheap, certainly not alongside the current generation of Sony — or other — camcorders. Whilst some producers and news videographers miss the tank-like build of the Z1, most of today’s camcorders are plastic. The PXW-Z100 is no exception. But the black plastic design looks smart and professional.

This is also a relatively compact camcorder. It is larger than the PMW-100 and closer in size to the PMW-150, PMW-200 or NX5. In fact, the camera uses the NPF-series batteries of the Z series, FS-100 and FS-700, and NX5. Ergonomically it feels well-balanced, and all the controls are where any Sony user would expect them to be. Sony is starting to standardise its menu items across its camera ranges, and this helps operators who need to pick up a new camera, and use it quickly.

Sony PXW-Z100 controls
Consistent controls: the most button layout on the Sony PXW-Z100 is similar to those on other Sony camcorders. Picture courtesy of Visual Impact.

The similarity to the PMW-150 and NX5 is also enhanced by the lens: the 4K camera has Sony’s G lens, rather than the HD Fujinon on the PMW-200. The lens has separate focus, aperture and zoom rings. Although these are servo-controlled, they are smooth and responsive. You have to listen very carefully to hear the servo motors.

The lens is a 20x unit, which gives a useful reach at the long end and the ability to “punch in” on a subject: something that’s handy for news, nature or observational documentaries. Hitting critical focus is vital, though, on this type of camcorder, as 4K is even less forgiving than HD. The Push AF function worked well on the pre-production model, but manual focus needs practice. It’s worth keeping in mind that the camera’s screen is not 4K, so it pays to adjust peaking to suit the subject being filmed.

At the moment, 4K monitors remain expensive: the PXW-Z100 was connected, via HDMI, to a Sony domestic Ultra HD TV, which sells for £3200. Higher-resolution screens will come down in price, though.

Next: 4K, for more options?