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You gotta' love the rapid pace at which technology is advancing. Prosumer video cameras today can be even better than some of the professional cameras of only a few years ago, and the line between prosumer and professional keeps blurring more and more each year. Judging by the upcoming Sony HDR-AX2000 prosumer video camera, the accelerated pace of technological advancement shows no sign of slowing.
The HDR-AX2000, expected to sell for around $3500, is a solid state AVCHD camera that crams a whole lot of professional features into a prosumer camera. Able to record at up to 24 Mbps in the AVCHD format, the HDR-AX2000 can capture 1920x1080/60i HD video as well as progressive scan video at 1080/30p and 1080/24p directly to Memory Stick PRO Duo or SDHC cards (the 24p/30p footage is converted to 60i when recorded to the memory stick/SDHC, and 2-3 pull-down is used when converting the 24p to 60i).
Shooting in the 24p mode comes in handy if you want to go for a film/movie look, since most movies are shot at 24 frames-per-second, and this slower frame rate gives the footage a unique ‘movie' feel, very different from the hyper-reality of standard 60i video. The camera also has built-in color and gamma settings to emulate film, if that's the look you're going for. Aside from its high bit-rate HD footage, AVCHD is also a great format if you want to ultimately burn your footage to Blu-ray, since the AVCHD2 codec is compatible with the Blu-ray format.
The AX2000 has three 1/3" Exmor CMOS sensors and should be able to record nice sharp images, even under less than optimal lighting conditions. It can capture footage in lighting situations as low as 1.5 lux. The Sony-branded Exmor sensors have on-sensor A/D conversion and dual noise reduction, which Sony claims will result in a high signal-to-noise ratio, resulting in sharper, cleaner video footage.
Optically, the Sony AX2000 has a broad (20x) focal range equivalent of a wide 29.5mm to 590mm telephoto that should satisfy most videographers' needs.
The camera has 2 memory card slots, and you'll get about 180 minutes of 24Mbps 60i recording per card. With two 32GB cards, you can grab 6 hours of full resolution HD footage before you need to swap out cards. And when one card is full, the camera automatically starts recording onto the next card, no more losing takes because you ran out of space. Also, since everything is recorded to solid state media, there's no tape to fast forward or rewind through. You can easily review takes in non-linear fashion, keeping the ones you like and deleting the ones that you don't, all in-camera.
The camera has a 1,227 pixel high-resolution viewfinder to make focusing and composing your shots a snap, and if you're more of a viewfinder person, the AX2000 also sports a 921,000-dot touch LCD display. The touch display allows you to control some of the cameras features with a touch of your finger and allows you to easily view and navigate through all the footage saved on the cards.
When dealing with video, the more control you have over your footage, the better, and the AX2000 does not disappoint. It has three manual rings, giving you full control over the zoom, focus and iris. In addition, the camera gives you control over gain, shutter speed, and white balance; it has zebra display to help you find overexposed areas in your frame and a lot of other manual goodies that really help you get the exact look you want for your footage. The camera also has assignable buttons, so you can program it to easily access the features you use most without having to go through the menus. You can save up to 6 picture profiles of your favorite manual presets for different shooting situations. So if you encounter a lot of similar shooting or lighting situations, calling up your needed presets is a snap.
The camera features optical image stabilization, which should help out those of you with shaky arms, and the AX2000 has three different built in neutral density filters, 1/4, 1/16 or 1/64, which makes the camera a whole lot more versatile when working in glaring sunlight and other bright situations. The camera also has Minus ACG (Auto Gain Control) to let you shoot in extremely bright conditions: you just set it to negative gain to get great footage.
On the audio side of things, the camera features dual XLR inputs, and can provide +48V phantom power to external microphones. The camera also has an HDMI connection, making it really easy to connect the AX2000 to an HDMI equipped HDTV.
I did not have a chance to try out all the camera's features because of the deadline for this article. On a positive note, over the next few weeks, I'll be putting the AX2000 through its paces, testing it in a whole bunch of different shooting situations, and I'll come back with a full hands-on review in our next B&H Pro Video newsletter.