In the Field: The Sony FDR-AX53


Out to capture on-the-go video and want to shoot smooth footage without toting a tripod? Take a look at the FDR-AX53 4K Handycam, Sony’s top-of-the-line 4K consumer camcorder. Here are a few thoughts after taking the AX53 out for a quick spin recently, with an emphasis on the handheld performance of its OIS (optical image stabilization).

Sony FDR-AX53 4K Ultra HD Handycam Camcorder

First, the AX53’s image stabilization really helped smooth out the jarring look of handheld tracking at a fast walk/slow jog. The “BOSS” system (Balanced Optical SteadyShot) with 5-axis Intelligent Active mode lives up to its name—the stabilization really showed in these shots of my friends jogging while I tracked with them at a quick walk. Even though I was almost jogging on an uneven grass surface, the Intelligent Active mode clearly makes a difference. The standard stabilization smoothed out the action but the Intelligent Active mode really did the trick.

No Stabilization

Standard Stabilization

Intelligent Active Mode

One caveat: the IA active mode is not currently available in the 4K mode, as with many similar cameras.

In addition to a standard model, Sony also provided us with a body housed in clear plastic that allowed for a peek at the internal workings of the stabilization system. I could see how, much like a wee gimbal, the lens block maintained a level position even as the camera body was jostled around it. Again, I tested the camera sans tripod; if you’re planning to do whip-pans you’ll want to turn off the stabilization to avoid any lens “bounce-back” at higher-speed movements.

Overall, the AX53 has several features setting it apart from its predecessors. The Zeiss lens is crisp and clear and, at 26.8mm, is wider than the AX33’s 29.8mm—plus, it offers 20x optical zoom for getting in close, twice the range of the earlier model. Its back-illuminated CMOS sensor sports larger pixels (1.6x) compared to prior versions, producing less noise while capturing both lower-light shots and brightly lit scenes beautifully.

The AX53 offers a choice of up to UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) or 1080p HD video, both with various bit rates providing storage options. Even if you’re not editing or viewing your projects yet in the higher 4K resolution, you’ll appreciate the way its 4K capability enhances HD capture. By shooting in 4K and playing back in HD, you’ll end up with super-sampled, automatically down-converted, very detailed full HD images. You can also play back just a portion of your 4K frame, in effect enabling you to “zoom” in on a portion you might not have had time to notice while shooting a fast-paced event. The handy dual-recording function enables you to record easy-to-edit MP4 files simultaneously, along with higher-resolution XAVC S or AVCHD.

I used the AX53’s assignable lens ring for iris control, letting me easily adjust the exposure on the fly for the buildings and train platforms as I recorded from the elevated #7 train, in New York. This way, the camera did not automatically adjust for the brighter background and underexpose the foreground as we steamed past the buildings interspersed with the sky. You could alternately control focus or zoom via the lens ring, depending on your action.

Long Island City

A minor drawback was that the Menu overlay disappears a little too quickly for my taste while changing settings and, as on most cameras at this level, the LCD screen can be hard to see in bright daylight.

The AX53 camera offers a bundle of features including 8.29MP still photos, faster autofocus, 4K time lapse, timecode and user-bit data, live streaming (available via your Wi-Fi router or tethered smartphone), face detection, remote sharing via your smartphone or tablet, and multi-camera control. Audio features include 5.1-channel AVCHD and 2-channel stereo XAVC S shooting, reduced noise, and the “My Voice Canceling” function that enables you to direct the action without your voice overwhelming the subject audio.

Besides the stand-alone camera, B&H Photo also offers a Vlogging Kit that bundles the Sony FDR-AX53 camcorder with an on-camera mic with shotgun and zoom modes, and a handgrip/mini-tripod unit for supporting the camera while you record your content.

Do you find yourself shooting more often with or without image stabilization? Leave your comments below and check out the full Sony FDR-AX53 specs and more on the B&H Photo website.