AX700 Project Members Voices

New Handycam®
flagship-for all
movie-making
pros and enthusiasts.

Meet our engineers.

Sony’s professional movie cameras have long been highly acclaimed in movie shooting venues including TV studios and movie productions. Now, Sony unites advanced camcorder technologies and expertise in a single consumer model — and the result is the FDR-AX700. Why is Sony introducing this high-performance Handycam® model — which can be almost called a professional camcorder — to the general consumer market? We interviewed three development team members to share their insights and aims.

Junichiro

Junichiro Tamagawa 

[Product Planning]

Nobuhiro

Nobuhiro Onouchi 

[Product Design (Project Leader)]

Hitoshi

Hitoshi Ueda

[Software (AF) Technology]

Concept

Functionality and design realize genuine movie-shooting prowess that wins over pros and meets the needs of amateurs.

First of all, how did the AX700 reach its advanced stage of development? What’s the background?

AX700

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

Recently, 4K TVs are becoming more and more popular and general use of movie-editing software is expanding, creating dramatic changes in the overall movie-shooting environment. Amateur users who enjoy movie shooting as a hobby are demanding high performance and operating ease comparing favorably with professional models. This means the border between professionals and amateurs is becoming ambiguous. In the past, Sony introduced clearly distinguished cameras for general consumers and pro-use cameras for TV broadcasting and movie productions. But at present, imaging products are “borderlessly” chosen by both types of users. For example, the α series of high-performance digital interchangeable-lens cameras for general consumers is enthusiastically supported by pro movie creators. So now, we’ve introduced three camcorder models — XDCAM PXW-Z90 (hereafter “Z90”), NXCAM HXR-NX80 (hereafter “NX80”), and Handycam® FDR-AX700 (hereafter “AX700”) — to meet the needs of both professionals and amateurs in our video camera field.

Z90 and NX80 are characterized as professional video cameras while the AX700 is categorized as a consumer video camera called Handycam®. Actually, these three cameras are like siblings that share almost equal image quality performance. In terms of specific differences, Z90 and NX80 provide convenient handles for low-angle shooting and easy carrying, as well as XLR connectors required for professional use. Moreover, Z90 provides another connector supporting the professional XAVC format that is popular in the broadcasting industry.

What was the development objective of AX700 in the Handycam® lineup?

Junichiro Tamagawa

Junichiro Tamagawa
Product Planning

FDR-AX100 (hereafter “AX100”) introduced in 2014 was the previous Handycam® flagship model. Its support for 4K movie recording and extremely high-quality imaging capability — like fine photos transformed into stunning movies — was highly acclaimed. Now, the AX700 surpasses its predecessor, uniting inherited high-quality performance with newly featured functions for highly utilizable value. As advanced amateurs explore movie shooting like a full-scale hobby, we hear users say they want greater movie-shooting enjoyment and capabilities for making meticulous setting changes. In addition, pros using Handycam® as a work imaging tool want truly professional functions. We’ve reflected such opinions and requests in development of the AX700.

Nobuhiro Onouchi
[Product Design (Project Leader)] 

To develop the AX700, we created a mixed team consisting of members from general consumer video camera and professional video camera groups, and this unified team brought the project forward. This kind of organization — not mere pickup of members from two teams — was unprecedented. As we aimed for a pro-quality camcorder, what kind of team could be the ideal one? We repeatedly discussed this and came to the conclusion that we should choose design staff from professional video cameras as leading personnel while borrowing know-how accumulated by the consumer camera team to tackle the development challenges of this new camera.

Nobuhiro Onouchi

What kinds of specific requests does the AX700 model address?

4k

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning] 

The commonest request of AX100 customers was for autofocus, and we put greatest emphasis on AF capability during AX700 development. The combination of large 1.0-type image sensor and 4K recording feature can capture images with shallow depth of field, but such performance requires exceptionally precise focusing. Even if a subject seems to be in focus during movie shooting, users are sometimes disappointed when they view footage on the large screen of a 4K TV at home and recognize that the subject is not as clearly focused as expected. The camera must focus accurately on subjects at all times and at the right moment since scenes don’t repeat and are “one time only.” This may sound like ordinary basic performance, but we must enable our customers to capture subjects anytime without failure when precious shooting opportunities arise. This was our foremost aim and why we concentrated on AF performance.

Has the AX700 inherited other important features from professional video cameras?

Nobuhiro Onouchi
[Product Design (Project Leader)]

Handling ease is essential to professional users. Menu structure and operation are the major differences from Handycam® models. The AX700 allows even more meticulous setting changes, and we paid great attention to ease of operation. We heightened the resolution of the OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) and LCD monitor panel to reduce eye fatigue when checking images, and proactively equipped the AX700 with premium devices used in our professional video cameras. In addition, we also examined the shape of the camera grip during AX700 development to ensure greater stability in shooting operation, and aimed for the durability standards of pro models to allow tough usage in harsh environments.

oled viewfinder lcd

Technology

AF speed proven in α interchangeable-lens cameras now shows its true potential in the movie-shooting field.

Please explain more about AX700 autofocus and how developers gave it priority attention.

Hitoshi Ueda

Hitoshi Ueda
[Software (AF) Technology]

For the first time in the history of Handycam® camcorders, the AX700 incorporates the Fast Hybrid AF system of autofocus technology, which gained its positive reputation through Sony’s interchangeable-lens α series and Cyber-shot compact digital cameras. A notable feature is newly employed phase-detection AF combined with conventional-type contrast AF, which shows remarkable autofocusing performance — extremely fast, accurate, and steadfast tracking. As an additional advantage, the LCD monitor displays the position of camera focus in a green AF frame.

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

What’s important in autofocusing for stills is how quickly and accurately the camera can focus on the aimed subject. However, movie shooting uses a process of transforming an out-of-focus image into a focused image for recording movie expressions. In this case, rapid focusing doesn’t necessarily assure a remarkable movie image result. In movie production, slow yet smooth focusing is frequently and deliberately chosen for impressive image expression. In some cases, quick and accurate autofocus is of course important for movie shooting, but smooth focusing motion and its quality feeling are also essential.

Hitoshi Ueda
[Software (AF) Technology]

AF technology achieves not only quick but also natural, comfortably smooth focusing motion, combining an image sensor with phase-detection AF and a new algorithm developed exclusively for movie shooting. How does the camera shift its present in-focus point to its next aimed subject? Thanks to the phase-detection AF system that predicts the aimed goal, the camera makes a back calculation of appropriate focusing speed to achieve a smoothly focused movie image. Therefore, the AX700 is equipped with a choice of seven different focusing speeds.

You mentioned steadfast quality autofocusing. Can you provide more details?

AF

Hitoshi Ueda
[Software (AF) Technology]

Certainly. The steadfast nature of subject tracking is another selling point of the AX700. A total of 273 phase-detection AF points provides approximately 84% AF coverage of the whole picture area, and each one of these AF points plays a role in calculating a spot on the focus subject. Then, the system combines data from each of those AF points and identifies the user’s aimed subject. Moreover, it detects the size and motion of the specified subject and steadfastly continues tracking it.

However, steadfast tracking is not always required. For example, if you [the camera user] suddenly encounter a new situation - your child suddenly darts into the picture while you’re shooting a landscape - you may feel tempted to swiftly focus on your child. In another situation, you may not require steadfast tracking as you quickly change your camera’s aimed direction, but instead request quick transit from one focused subject to another. Therefore, we let the AX700 provide AF Subject Switching Sensitivity range. This enables the user to choose one from five levels of sensitivity to switch from one subject to another — ranging from RESPONSIVE to LOCKED ON. Also, the camera provides five levels of AF Tracking Depth Range settings from WIDE to NARROW. Thanks to these highly customizable features, the camera enables the user to capture image expression just as intended.

A newly developed algorithm also plays a key role in judging subject switching. In addition, highly sophisticated tuning skill is required to realize diverse setting customization. As a Sony development team member and as an individual, I’ve gained considerable know-how in this area. The new camera incorporates what I felt was necessary plus my ideas from when I was in charge of focal-plane phase-detection AF development for α interchangeable-lens cameras. I wanted to give users the ability to shoot various types of movies with diverse setting patterns. So I examined many tuning patterns repeatedly and finally got the results I wanted.

So, the AX700 responds to various shooting situations and needs. Do you have any suggestions for how you’d like customers to try this camera?

Hitoshi Ueda

Hitoshi Ueda
[Software (AF) Technology]

Well… you know in Japan, many camera users take pictures of trains. But trains don’t come by frequently. With limited shooting opportunities, it’s hard to capture trains in clear focus via manual focusing, and it’s especially hard when making 4K-quality train movies that require advanced focusing techniques. In such shooting situations, the AX700 provides Fast Hybrid AF for highly effective results. In other situations like shooting movies in crowded venues full of complicated motion, the steadfast AF setting delivers very helpful performance.

Device

Sony’s strength is based on in-house development of all major devices. This enables us to deliver the best solution mix and technology match.

So Fast Hybrid AF achieves clear focus to maximize 4K quality. Now, can you explain the selling points of 4K movies?

Nobuhiro Onouchi

Nobuhiro Onouchi
[Product Design (Project Leader)]

The AX700 features a 1.0-type stacked Exmor RS™ CMOS sensor. The design of this image sensor is a layered (stacked) circuit structure that enables high-speed signal processing and pixel processing on different layers, resulting in swift data readout. This not only contributes to improvement of image quality but also suppresses image distortion caused by the rolling shutter phenomenon.

This Exmor RS CMOS sensor is combined with BIONZ X high-speed image processing engine for natural hue and texture expression; ZEISS® Vario Sonnar T* lens including Sony’s proprietary thin-type AA (advanced aspherical) lens for corner-to-corner high-depiction performance; and an algorithm developed in-house to deliver exceptional high-quality movie images. These “four pillars” — image sensor, image processor, lens unit, and algorithm — are made possible by Sony’s close teamwork in highly sophisticated in-house development. This indeed is Sony’s greatest strength.

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

This Exmor RS CMOS sensor is combined with BIONZ X high-speed image processing engine for natural hue and texture expression; ZEISS® Vario Sonnar T* lens including Sony’s proprietary thin-type AA (advanced aspherical) lens for corner-to-corner high-depiction performance; and an algorithm developed in-house to deliver exceptional high-quality movie images. These “four pillars” — image sensor, image processor, lens unit, and algorithm — are made possible by Sony’s close teamwork in highly sophisticated in-house development. This indeed is Sony’s greatest strength.

bionz x

Is 4K HDR (hereafter “HDR”) now featured to maximize the attraction of 4K movies?

HDR

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

In the first place, you may wonder what HDR is. In short, HDR delivers images similar to human perception of reality. Compared with conventional TVs, this technology achieves expression of a wider dynamic range of subtler gradations. Beautiful image consists not only of remarkable image resolution but also a variety of elements. We explored HDR in pursuit of rich color gamut and color reproduction, ideal gradations from highlights to shadowed areas of the picture, and overall, images that people perceive as beautiful.

HDR-compatible TVs are needed to enjoy HDR movies, and availability of 4K HDR-compatible TVs is rapidly increasing. In response to this growing market, we determined to create a movie-shooting environment that allows users to make HDR movies and immediately enjoy HDR beauty on HDR-compatible TVs without complex editing. Sony has already introduced professional HDR-compatible video camcorders, and this expert technology is incorporated in the AX700. In fact, members of the professional camera team joined AX700 development — a great advantage. We hope AX700 users will enjoy watching their movie works through Sony’s 4K HDR-compatible BRAVIA TV to fully savor the beauty of 4K HDR movies on a large screen. Note: To display HDR movies, the user can connect AX700 to an HDR (HLG)-compatible Sony TV via a USB cable. When connecting via an HDMI cable, an additional TV setting is required.

4K HDR-compatible

Usability

We respond to requests for handy menus and accessories, providing design that helps users choose and use selections swiftly and easily.

Besides providing top image quality and diverse imaging expressions , how else does Sony help users put more passion into movie shooting?

Junichiro Tamagawa

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

Currently, there are many ways to shoot video. But since the AX700 is a video camcorder, it should provide the utmost operational comfort for shooting movies. Our goal was to make AX700 the best choice for ease of operation because we believe Sony customers expect and look forward to this.

Nobuhiro Onouchi
[Product Design (Project Leader)]

Therefore, we sought to achieve an operational feeling that users can enjoy, as though the camera is a part of the body. The AX700 has been designed with the aim of allowing customers to easily capture images as intended without difficulty. With this idea in mind, we incorporated ingenious designs — including weight balance that users notice when holding the camera to shoot it, ease of pressing keys, and ease of menu operation. For example, the AX700 has been somewhat upsized from the AX100. This result is a larger grip design more common among professional camcorders that provides the operational ease of products for pros. Because of this, users can firmly hold the camera and smoothly handle minute adjustments of zooming speed, for example. Additionally, the lens zoom ring is well-matched to the fingers so users can achieve precise operation. I’d like users to notice this subtle feature.

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

Although consumers tend to take time to compare specifications when choosing a product like this, we paid attention not only to factual specs but also to feelings when using the product. We really wanted to enable users to make movies comfortably and devote themselves to concentrating on shooting. For example, the EVF and LCD monitor have evolved in precision, providing a reliable check of whether a subject is in focus and enabling execution of setting changes and shooting operation without difficulty. We’ve mentioned heightened EVF and LCD monitor resolution, and noted that green square frames indicate the focus areas of the phase-detection AF sensor. But since these green indicators appear right on the desired focusing spot, these moving frames can be rather distracting if they flicker on and off while moving around the subject. That’s why we repeatedly discussed the number, size, and color of such frames, not only with software team members but also with designers, before determining what satisfies us.

Nobuhiro Onouchi
Product Design (Project Leader)]

The precision of the peaking function, which shows the focus area when shooting with manual focusing, is significantly increased. Even when shooting high-resolution 4K movies, focusing can be manually operated with desired precision, since we reexamined the system to ensure that it clearly shows the area of camera focus. We’re confident that customers will be satisfied with this. It’s a great advantage, made possible by the enhanced resolution of the EVF and the LCD monitor.

 High-performance devices equivalent to those in professional video cameras have been liberally added to the design. Major examples of such devices include the EVF and the LCD monitor, which we truly hoped would satisfy customers’ high expectations. I believe high cost-performance is a major part of AX700 appeal.

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

Additionally, in response to the AX100 user feedback, we ensured that the AX700 features plenty of handy functions for shooting movies, including a large zoom key and dual-slot that allows users to insert two SD cards simultaneously. 

There’s a lot to say about the user interface (UI) menu, isn’t there?

menu

Nobuhiro Onouchi
[Product Design (Project Leader)]

The number of menu items is substantially increased. But if a menu becomes overly complicated, this  “improvement” is meaningless. That’s why we’ve situated six assignable keys on the camera body that allow users to promptly access and utilize desired functions. These can be set up in advance to select frequently used menu items from more than 40 selectable items.

If “Direct Menu” is set on one of the assignable keys, the user can control and adjust such settings as aperture value, ISO sensitivity, and shutter speed via cross key operation. Moreover, such setting changes can be made with the right hand only, so the left hand is free for other tasks.

Hitoshi Ueda
[Software (AF) Technology]

When an outdoor shooting venue is too bright for checking the LCD monitor, I suggest combined use of the EVF and cross key, which work well together.

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

Here’s another advantage. Even if the menu window is displayed on the LCD monitor, the menu doesn’t entirely cover the screen. Many pro users dislike features that obscure what the camera is currently shooting. So this UI design reflects the opinions of customers who have experience in professional camera use.

Message

There are myriad ways to make intriguing movies. We hope the AX700 will appeal to as many people as possible.

Please tell us how Slow & Quick Motion and Super Slow Motion shooting functions expand the range of movie expressions.

Super Slow Motion

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

Among a variety of ways to shoot movies, the AX700 supplies two special modes of “time” expression. Thanks to the Exmor RX CMOS sensor, one such feature is Super Slow Motion mode, which allows the camera to record images at the speed of 960 fps. As a result, the AX700 can shoot up to 40x slow motion movies, a feature that was only available in expensive professional video cameras just a few years ago. Another such feature is Slow & Quick Motion mode, which allows the user to choose a frame rate from a range of 120 fps to 1 fps. Since slow motion technique is often seen on TV, many people are familiar with it. Additionally, quick motion shooting technique connects a series of still images shot at intervals to produce a movie that appears to progress at high speed. The camera captures interesting moments through each shot . I hope you and many fellow users will enjoy this effect.

I’ve heard that the AX700 target segment is not gender- or family-specific but appeals to users who are fastidious about movie shooting. Please send a message to these movie enthusiasts.

Junichiro Tamagawa

Junichiro Tamagawa
[Product Planning]

Lately, not only professionals but also general users join in shooting movies and enjoy production of inspired videos. And now, they can release their works through social networks and share with people around the world. I imagine that such movie producers — including users who plan to shoot movies with the AX700 — are devoted to movie shooting and to their works. That’s why I want to continue developing products, keeping the expectations of these enthusiastic users at heart. Please show and share your AX700 movies with audiences out there. I’m looking forward to seeing works that take advantage of extremely beautiful autofocusing effects. 

Hitoshi Ueda
[Software (AF) Technology] 

This time, I experienced many challenges in development of Fast Hybrid AF, and I’m satisfied that we gave the AX700 a generous selection of technological advantages and strongly recommended functionalities. The AX700 reflects the Handycam® legacy that allows users to immediately shoot beautiful movies with ease, without changing default settings. Yet this camera’s greatest asset is its customizability, which responds to varied demands like a professional camcorder and expands shooting freedom. I’d like you to take full advantage of flexible settings according to your needs in many different shooting situations. The more you use the camera, the more you’ll love it, I believe.

Hitoshi Ueda
Nobuhiro Onouchi

Nobuhiro Onouchi
[Product Design (Project Leader)]

The AX700 is the result of significant camera innovation befitting a flagship Handycam® model designed with meticulous passion to capture the dreams of professional and amateur users alike. I’d like potential users to pick it up, touch it, feel it, and use it for shooting to get to know its true performance potential. This camera will bring you moving images that are far smoother and more stunning than you ever imagined.