New PXW-Z100 Records 10-bit 4:2:2 XAVC Video via 1/2.3-inch CMOS

Sony is aiming for an attractive compromise on the lower end of the 4K production equation with today's announcement of the PXW-Z100, a pro 4K camera list-priced at under $6500. Also revealed today was the FDR-AX1, a consumer camera with the same imager and lens but a much more limited feature set, which Sony will price at less than $5000.

The PXW-Z100 will record at "true 4K" (4096×2160) and UltraHD (3840×2160) resolution at up to 60p, using the XAVC (I-frame) 4:2:2 10-bit codec in the MXF file format. (That's the same codec, of course, that's used by the F5 and F55.) The camera comes with a fixed 20x Sony G lens resolving an image onto a 1/2.3-inch (read as: slightly smaller than 1/2-inch) 4K Exmor R CMOS sensor. When shooting HD, the camera can shoot 2.5x slow-motion and 60x fast-motion and has a 3G-SDI output for current HD and SD production. When shooting 4K, single-cable 4K monitoring at 50p and 60p is supported on the Sony PVM-X300 monitor or a 4K Bravia TV. (A future upgrade is planned to bring the camera up to the HDMI 2.0 spec and support more display devices.)

Outside and Inside

Mouseover product shot above to see what's on the inside. (Click image for big version.)

The Z100 has two XQD media slots that work with Sony's new S series XQD memory cards, which support writing at up to 180 MB/sec — enough speed to handle 4K footage rolling out of the camera at 60p. A 64 GB XQD card should sell for less than $300, Sony said, and will hold something like 15 minutes of 60p footage, give or take a minute.

The camera can also be controlled over Wi-Fi via smartphone or tablet, indicating Sony believes the camera could find a home in surveillance and weather-camera applications. Officials said it uses an L-series battery, either the NPF-770 or -970, the same as Sony's FS700, and weighs less than seven pounds.

Future upgrades to the camera, slated for mid-2014, will enable XAVC long-GOP recording, for a trade-off between quality and bandwidth consumption.

Differences Between FDR-AX1 and PXW-Z100
  FDR-AX1 PXW-Z100
Imager 1/2.3-inch Exmor R CMOS
Lens 20x Sony Lens G
Recording Formats QFHD/HD (XAVC S MP4) 4K/QFHD/HD (XAVC Intra 422 MXF)
QFHD (XAVC Long) (future upgrade)
HD (XAVC Long) (future upgrade)
  AVCHD2.0 (future upgrade)
Additional Features   3G-SDI (for HD output)
    Slow & Quick (for HD)
    Wi-Fi Remote
    Monaural Directional Mic Supplied
    Content Browser (one license)
Source: Sony Electronics

Sony demonstrated the Z100 for members of the press in New York City last week, pointing the camera out the window of a midtown high-rise. The 4K image was of remarkably high quality given the camera's small sensor size, fixed lens, and aggressive price point. It's always hard to tell what the real resolving power of a camera and lens is, outside of a test environment, but this camera delivers a picture that's way beyond HD in terms of detail in the frame. 

Sony officials are promoting it in much the same way HDV was originally sold to pro users, as technology that will help them prepare for a higher-resolution future while still delivering HD content — thus the 3G SDI output and variable frame rate features for HD shooters who require those capabilities today, along with true 4K recording that will allow shooters to bank high-resolution footage for future use. The camera will output HD over 3G SDI while 4K is being recorded in camera, but HD and 4K (over HDMI) cannot be output simultaneously.

And the price point, specifically, seems to be in part a response to Blackmagic Design's new Production Camera 4K, which records CinemaDNG RAW and ProRes 422 and will sell for less than $4000, sans lens, when it finally ships. Speaking of which, that's one thing Sony didn't announce — a ship date for this camera. But we're told it should be out by the end of the year. Look for more news from Sony, Blackmagic, and perhaps other rivals as well when IBC gets under way next week.