TOKYO -- Sony has announced that it will release the first-ever full-fledged, home-use 4K video camera, on March 14.
The FDR-AX100 is the Japanese electronics giant's attempt to boost its profile in the video camera market by taking advantage of its ability to make compact, high-performance devices.
Roughly 1.1 million video cameras are expected to be sold in Japan in the year through March 2014, down about 30% from fiscal 2011, the highest year on record. This sharp decline is due in large part to the spread of smartphones. Handsets are getting high-spec video capabilities on board and they are improving day by day.
Sony has the largest share in the Japanese market, but earnings have been weak due to the overall shrinking market.
"We want to regain lost ground by adding new uses," said Takao Kanzawa, product design manager at Sony's Digital Imaging Business Group.
Sony began developing the AX100 in earnest about 18 months ago when it decided to create a product that allows one-handed shooting of 4K-resolution video comparable to that shot by broadcast-caliber cameras. This was before the popularization of the term 4K, which denotes video that is four times the resolution of full high-definition video. Work was started behind the scenes under the orders of CEO Kazuo Hirai.
In 2005, Sony introduced the HDR-HC1, which served as the benchmark size for the AX100. The HC1 was the first model capable of easily shooting high-definition video, and it proved very popular with customers who are particular about image quality. With the AX100 being seen as the replacement to the HC1, Sony was determined to keep it about the same size.
"The hurdle of miniaturization was extremely high," Kanzawa said. The AX100 needed to be about a quarter the size of the smallest professional-use 4K cameras. Also, Sony adopted a 1.0 type of its Exmor R image sensor, which is larger than those widely used in video cameras, for further improvement of image quality, and this made shrinking the camera's size that much more difficult.
Usually, a larger image sensor means a larger lens to gather more light. But making a bigger lens would add bulk. So the company developed what it calls the 11 group/17 element lens that incorporates five advanced aspherical lenses. This shrunk the 72 mm diameter of a commercial-use lens to the size of a 62mm lens.
In the end, the AX100 measures 81 by 83.5 by 196.5mm, with the lens taking up 80% of this volume.
The AX100 also consumes far less power than commercial-use video cameras. This was made possible by adopting a semiconductor for home-use video cameras that uses less power. The camera also allows for any one-quarter sized portion of a full 4K video to be selected and cropped for viewing in full resolution on high-definition TV. This means users can take video from a wide field of view and later focus on a particular segment of the image.