I’ve been shooting on Canon DSLR’s for the last couple of years. When I first realised what these cameras could do, I couldn’t believe my luck. A cinematic film look hidden inside a camera designed to take photos? And all for an outrageously low price? Amazing. But I soon found out their limitations. Mainly no ability to record decent quality sound internally, a 12-14 minute clip limit, ugly moire and aliasing and no ability to push a colour grade due to the H264 compression. Still, I found a way to work with these limitations and make the best of the cameras.
Like most people in this game, I am a camera geek. I love keeping an eye on new camera technology and in the last 6 months I knew I was going to have to upgrade from DSLR’s. I held out for the 5D MKIII which was a disappointment. It seems Canon are making the most of their accidental break into the video market and have begun to separate their photo and video camera line up, keeping the attractive video functions in more traditionally priced camcorders and not really improving any video functions in their DSLR’s. So I began looking at other options. Sony’s FS100 was a camera that kept popping up everywhere as a suggested alternative to DSLR’s but to my eyes it had a very “video” look. It seemed to have an inability to handle highlights well and it lacked overall character. To me it seemed like a step backwards.
So when Sony announced their new FS700 earlier this year I have to say I wasn’t too excited. The high frame rates and 4K were cool but I just assumed it would have the same video look as the FS100. And besides, everyone will get sick of the high frame rate gimmick! However, the more I looked at the footage being released, the more I realised something was better. It seemed much closer to the F3 than the FS100 to my eyes. Helped by a new 4K Exmor Super 35 CMOS sensor and the inclusion of cine gammas, the FS700 became a no-brainer. I just had to buy. Since ordering it I am pretty sure there have been more hours in the days and more days in the weeks. I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. It arrived with the first batch to New Zealand last week and and what a few days it has been!
I have been blown away by this camera. First off, I am a fan of the ergonomics. I know a lot of people don’t like this design but I do. It even seems well balanced to use handheld (depending on the lens attached), but a lens with IS is essential for this. However, I will be building a shoulder rig for this in the near future which was part of my decision in buying this camera. The handle and grip are obviously a massive improvement over the FS100. The built-in ND’s, XLR inputs and HD SDI & HDMI outputs reminded me of what video cameras are supposed to have. As for ease of use, well it will take some getting used to with regards to button placement, etc, but everything seems well thought out and I found myself getting used to it very quickly. It is a breath of fresh air. And of course the most important of all – the image. Amazing! I love it. Cine gamma 1 with a few tweaks is my new best friend. A nice highlight roll-off with a healthy amount of detail in the shadows. Superslomo is a breeze once you get used to it. The trick with this mode is to be fast on the trigger and keep an eye on the LCD to hit cancel after you’ve seen what you want captured. This way, you will spend more time filming and less time waiting for it to write to the card. 240fps is really a gimmick and useful in only a handful of situations but I’m really liking the ability to record 120fps in 1080p. It is extremely good in low light and even when you have to push the ISO, the noise is quite acceptable as it has a fine grain. I am also amazed by how good the 24MB/s 8-bit AVCHD codec holds up in grading. A welcome change from working with Canon’s extremely limited H264 compression. As for the cons, well there are some minor aliasing issues but I don’t see it causing me any major problems (like asking a person to change their clothes 3 times which has happened with DSLR’s!). The biggest con for me is the LCD and peaking. It is very hard to be confident of what is in focus without using expanded focus due to the lame peaking function. I hope Sony can sort this out with a firmware update in the future. The LCD itself is a little bit flimsy and not the brightest but I am planning on getting a DP4 EVF anyway.
So all in all my first impressions of this camera is that it is an extremely good camera. I’m liking it more and more every hour I use it. The “4K ready” and superslomo USP’s are not the main attractions for me. It is simply the quality of the 24fps 1080p image and the camera’s ease of use that does it for me. If you are looking at upgrading from a DSLR and not looking to spend more than $10K, then this is the only choice as far as I’m concerned (the BMC is not an option for me due to the 2.5 crop).
I compiled some test footage to make the short below. The frame rates were 1fps, 4fps, 24fps, 60fps, 120fps and 240fps. I must admit I had a lot of fun with the superslomo so I thought I would get it all out now as I know we will all be sick of it soon! Lenses were Sigma 50mm F1.4 with the Metabones adapter running firmware 0.5 and an old nikkor 50mm F1.4. (One note about the Metabones adapter is that it will not work with the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 Macro or the Sigma 30mm F1.4 lenses). Edited in CS5.5 and graded slightly using Colorista II. Music is Gymnopedie No.1 by Erik Satie.
Here’s some fun with smoke @ 240fps…
A simple and fast FS700 setup with the UWP wireless receiver:
What are your thoughts on this camera? Feel free to comment below.