The Super-35mm sen­sor Sony FS100 video cam­era has been out on the mar­ket for sev­er­al weeks now and yet there still seems to be con­fu­sion and a lack of good hands-on mate­r­i­al. Prob­a­bly because those that have the cam­era are hav­ing so much fun shoot­ing with it that they haven’t made time to sit down and type up their thoughts and expe­ri­ences! Cer­tain­ly since the FS100 showed up around here we have been very busy shoot­ing work or fea­ture film footage — and enjoy­ing almost every minute of it!

What It Is:

A great replace­ment for the Sony EX1/EX3 and any DSLR for film­mak­ing. Like the off­spring of the EX3 and the Canon 7D, with the abil­i­ty to use most any lens you might have access to. A cam­era with a real work­flow for shoot­ing. A true 1080/60p device. A low-light rock star.

What It Isn’t:

A DSLR killer (although it is pret­ty close). The Arri Alexa Mini or the RED Epic Mini. Why? Read on…

Why The FS100:

I loved shoot­ing on my Sony EX3 cam­era but was always striv­ing, even since my DVX100 days, to have more cin­e­mat­ic images. This led to the Letus Elite and Canon FD 35mm lens­es, which I used to great suc­cess on my first fea­ture film TRIUMPH67. But this rig was a beast in terms of weight and size and wasn’t con­ve­nient to set up or tear down. Plus, no mat­ter what any­body says, the motor­ized adapter was noisy (audi­ble) in close quarters.

This led to adop­tion of the Canon DSLR cam­eras for the film look on some projects, but I grew to despise the dual work­flow of video AND audio and the prob­lems inher­ent in the cap­ture due to alias­ing and moire — which was so damn ugly to my eye. And the short focus throw of the lens­es was high­ly frus­trat­ing. You shoot with DLSRs and love it? Great. I do too… When I shoot peo­ple or scenes with depth of field. But some­times clients just want you to get the shot of the per­son or the busi­ness or the archi­tec­ture and they might actu­al­ly want to see the details in sharp focus. Guess what? It can look like sh*t — with alias­ing and moire all over the place, no mat­ter what you do. This isn’t accept­able to me. I do not like that, even if you use a fil­ter in post to min­i­mize the effect.

When I heard the news about the new Sony F3 and the FS100, I was very excit­ed. The minute there was a demo in town, I was over there slid­ing my sweaty hands all over the cam­eras and test­ing their qual­i­ty (I brought one of my own SxS cards and cap­tured some footage to load up at home). They were very promis­ing and stun­ning, with depth of field, usable size, qui­et oper­a­tion and full video cam­era fea­tures! (Yeah, DLSR boys, things like zebras and peak­ing and audio meters and XLR inputs, things we used to have but gave up to get an eye­lash in shal­low focus). I ordered one as soon as I could sell my EX3 to some­body who need­ed it (which didn’t take long, it is still a rockin’ cam­era system).

The day after I received the FS100 was my first shoot with it. After stay­ing up late load­ing cus­tom pic­ture pro­files (thanks Abel­Cine!) and tweak­ing the set­tings (very much sim­i­lar to the EX3), I was off and run­ning. I thought the form fac­tor of the cube would be annoy­ing, but it isn’t. The SDHC cards are just fine. The stock lens isn’t half bad. The LCD is sharp and bright. And hav­ing full audio con­trols is a true joy again. In the past cou­ple weeks I’ve shot some­thing like 60 hours on it and loved it!

The things that are not cool are the following:

  • Design (sup­pos­ed­ly) influ­enced by DLSR shoot­ers. Not per­fect. The LCD on the top? Stu­pid. No rea­son they could not have put it on the left side like any oth­er cam. Some but­ton loca­tions? Stupid.
  • The 18–200mm kit lens. Sure, the image is nice and sharp and the aut­o­fo­cus DOES work sur­pris­ing­ly well, but the infi­nite focus ring BLOWS. Ugh, I hate it. And it is veloc­i­ty sen­si­tive so it is either real­ly slow or real­ly fast. Try­ing to repeat a focus pull will be frustrating!
  • The hand grip works fine but feels a bit wimpy. Plus, it attach­es with a mini plug! Ugly and stu­pid. And it only has a a start/stop but­ton. Which brings me to…
  • The Expand­ed Focus but­ton is in the wrong spot entire­ly! It should be on the right hand like on the EX3 so you can pop it on and off while focus­ing with your left hand! Ugh. So lame.
  • You can­not rename your Pic­ture Pro­files. Real­ly?! On the EX3 I had them named some­thing sim­ple, like “Day­light” or “Night” or “Wed­ding” so it was OBVIOUS what they were for. Now I have to remem­ber that “PP3” means… well… some­thing I set up… for some rea­son… Bright Day­light? Kids? Broccoli?
  • No Sony soft­ware on OS X, like the XDCAM Brows­er. Hey Sony! Wake up. If you can’t make cus­tom soft­ware, then at least add AVCHD sup­port to the XDCAM soft­ware you already have. We need to view, copy, move, save stills and the like with­out always hav­ing to work inside our NLE!
  • You shoot out­doors in day­light? You will NEED an ND fil­ter like the Fad­er ND or the Genus or in your mat­te box. Absolute­ly. Don’t even try to shoot with­out one.

What I love about the FS100:

  • Impres­sive image qual­i­ty and depth of field. The huge sen­sor means great shots are with­in easy reach.
  • The shal­low flange depth. Don’t know what flange depth is? Doesn’t mat­ter. What it means is that you can use most ANY exist­ing lens (Sony, Canon, Nikon, Minol­ta, Leica, PL, etc, etc) and make beau­ti­ful imagery. The Novoflex Nikon adapter is par­tic­u­lar­ly nice as it de-clicks the lens.
  • The bat­ter­ies can lit­er­al­ly last all darn day.
  • Dis­creet size. Shoot­ing down­town on a busy street is no big deal.
  • Mul­ti­ple mount­ing points on top and bot­tom, for stuff like the Berkey Sys­tem plates and rigs (get ‘em, they are great!).
  • The video looks amaz­ing! Did I men­tion that already?
  • The low light per­for­mance is jaw-dropping good and makes the cats in my neigh­bor­hood feel inad­e­quate. I can cap­ture more light at 30db with a cus­tom pro­file THAN I CAN SEE WITH OWN EYES. Some­how they put feline visu­al tech­nol­o­gy into the FS100 sen­sor. This is amaz­ing for run-and-gun or doc­u­men­tary shooting.
  • Full 1080/60p

In Summary:

Sure, I have some strong opin­ions about this cam­era (and the dSLRs), but only because they are actu­al­ly so good (and could be even bet­ter). The Sony FS100 is, all-in-all, a huge win­ner that I can high­ly rec­om­mend. It isn’t a DSLR killer because of the cost fac­tor (pro stills shoot­ers will already have invest­ments in the bod­ies and lens­es). It isn’t a mini-Alexa or mini-RED because it lacks ProRES and only goes to 60p. But, If you are tired of dual-system cap­ture or qual­i­ty issues with DSLR cam­eras, you’ll love the Sony FS100. If you are an indie film­mak­er and can’t afford the F3, RED or Alexa, you’ll love the Sony FS100. If you want great low-light per­for­mance, you’ll love the Sony FS100. If you already have DSLR acces­sories (exter­nal mon­i­tors, shoul­der braces, fol­low focus, etc) you’ll be pleased to know that much of it will work just fine with the FS100. Now get shooting!