A new member of the “Sony Cinema Line” has just been announced: the Sony FX3. But not only that, we are actually looking at the non-identical twin of the Sony a7S III. So with such a heavy weight on its’ shoulders (“Cinema Line” and “Next of kin” to the mirrorless a7S III), I went outside to check how this camera performs in the field.
Last week it was cold and rainy in Vienna. Almost to the point of leaving all duties aside and jumping back into bed. Wishful thinking indeed, but a package labelled with Sony’s logo had just been delivered to the office and inside it a new born. It’s small, robust, cute and has a black and grey color combination to it (Wow, for a second I thought I’m describing myself). Well, no. I’m talking about the new Sony FX3. A filming device that was labelled by its creator with the “Cinema Line” badge and soon will have to live up to its name.
Sony FX3 – Sony a7S III
Okay, close your eyes and smell. Can you distinguish between the two ingredients? Well, thankfully we are not in the business of filming cooking shows (yet), but if we were to do so, the chance to determine between the two would be extremely slim.
Sensor, sensor pixel count, processor, resolution, codecs, autofocus performance, touch screen AF operation, 5 axis optical stabilization system, lowlight performance, menu structure, CFexpress Type A and SDHC dual slots, video picture quality, picture profiles, high frame rate performance, 10-bit 4:2:2 / 16-bit RAW signal output to an external recorder, vari-angle LCD, photo capability, are all to the point of almost being 100% identical to the a7S III. So, what is new and why should one even consider buying this camera? Keep reading my Sony FX3 review.
Sony FX3 – What’s new
“Box type cameras” are gaining popularity among camera manufacturers and Sony is obviously no exception. But with so many identical points to the Sony a7S III, what is actually new? Here we go (in no particular order):
- Active cooling system (Or “inside fan” in simple words): Sony is seriously tackling the potential overheating issue is small cameras, and unlike with the a7S III, the camera is better structured to sustain heat and allow a much longer 4K/60p recording time. The activity of the fan can be controlled from within the camera menu.
Unfortunately, when filming the interview with the lovely Katerina at 4K/25p (Fan off in Rec) the “overheating symbol” turned on. The reason I had it turned off was to film silently while in a very quiet room.
If I’d film at the same place again, I guess I would choose to keep the fan setting on “minimum”.
- NO EVF: A personal sore point…. such a nice camera, but with a missing key feature. Like other camera companies in our industry, Sony is following a very un-healthy root. The absent of EVF is really unfortunate and to make it even worse, it’s not that there is a Sony EVF accessory to compensate for that. (Sony has a small EVF, the FDA-EVM1K, but I’m sure it is not compatible with the FX3).
- Top handle and built-in full audio XLR connectivity: Upon receiving the Sony FX3 the package will contain a nice top handle that features a lot of extra secure points. On top of this, this handle serves as a full professional audio input solution for the camera, including 2 standard size XLR inout connections.
- In-body headphone and microphone input jacks: Despite having an external XLR audio handle, Sony chose to equip the camera with those two connections – and please don’t take this lightly, as the bigger brother, the FX6, has no microphone input on the camera body itself. I know, for many of you it might not be an issue at all, but for me, when running and gunning “documentary style”, the ability to be “as compact as possible” at any given time is very important.
Am I recording or not?: Professionals or not, we’ve all been in the situation of “thinking we are recording but are actually not”… Sony tried to minimize this issue by having lots of “illuminated red color recording reminders” aka “Tally lamps” everywhere. Of course when working in a team, your sound engineer or your focus puller will appreciate this extra attention to details, too. Very usefull!
S-Cinetone: In our industry, Sony has been known for providing somehow “cold looking images” for years, tending to be on the blueish cast (Broadcast tone). By introducing the S-Cinetone picture profile (PP11) they managed to overcome this. S-Cinetone was originally developed for Sony’s high-end camera, the VENICE. Having a “Cinematic tone” in mind, the idea was to create a “cinematic look with a film like color and pleasing rendering of skin tones”. Additional information about S-Cinetone can be found here. Staying on the subject of S-Cinetone, the popular Sony a7S III will be getting this picture profile on February 25th, narrowing the gap between the FX3 even more.
Robust handling feeling: This new camera simply felt great in my (small) hands. Generally, the physical buttons layout is logical but what I could not find is a way to route the “Rec button” to the “shutter release button”. (Please let me know if you find a way to do so). Intuitively that is where I wanted to press most of the time in order to start recording. (Button number 6 is also serving as a start/stop Rec button, which is a good thing). I also wish there was a jog dial at the back of the camera for easier operation, but all in all, no complaints here. When it comes to “attachment points”, Sony really went beyond the norm with five 1/4-20 thread holes within the camera body. (And three more on the supplied handle itself). Depending on your needs and shooting style, a cage might not even be necessary. Oh and speaking of which. I wish Sony would have given the same attention to the tripod plate attachment point at the bottom of the camera. Unfortunately there is only a single screwing point only.
Autofocus and Stabilization System
As a documentary filmmaker, I grew to loving and maximizing the use of these two features. (Yes, I’m now using AF A LOT…) And in this regards, the Sony FX3 is doing a great job, truly! The AF was very reliable while filming with Katerina and the 5 axis stabilization system really is a blessing, especially when using “Active mode”, even on the expense of having a slight image crop.
Sony FX3 – “Cinema Line” Camera
So, what makes this new camera a “Cinema camera” and why did it gain the honer of being a part of Sony’s “Cinema Line”. Like with the FX6, it seems as if the Sony Marketing team is flexing their muscles. Simply put, there is NOTHING that indicates “cinema” with this camera. No internal RAW recording, no de-squeeze mode or 4:3 sensor for true anamorphic filming/monitoring, no internal ND (just in case, not that this is a requirement in any way for a true “cinema camera”, but all in all, if the FX3 is a camera that belongs to Sony’s cinema line, the a7S III easily belongs there, too).
Come to think of it, since Sony reorganized their internal structure by merging their professional and consumer departments, it seems as everything evolves around marketing, marketing, marketing. I guess this is a sign of modern times and tough competition.
The Sony FX3 is a very nice camera. Who it is for is yet to be seen, but I’m sure it will find its way into the market. After all, who does not want to shoot “cinema”, especially for YouTube these days….Joking aside, like with its non identical twin brother the a7S III, it is a very solid performer which in my opinion is being let down by the absent of EVF. Is it worth investing the extra $400 over the a7S III? I’ll let you guys decide for yourself, as everyone works a bit differently.
I would like to thank Katerina Joumana for allowing me to film her. I’m actually very proud that we managed to complete this project in around 5-6 hours. You can find out more about Katerina’s activities by clicking here and here. I would also like to thank our in-house editor Luciano. His talent to create nice short stories from everything I throw at him is simply amazing.
The above video was shot on a Sony FX3, 4K/25p, XAVC S-I 4K, PP11 S-Cinetone picture profile with some color adjustments made with Lutify.me. The selection of lenses used can be found below in the buy links section. Music taken with permission from epidemicsound.
Guys, what do you think about the new Sony FX3, do you think that this camera deserves to be part of the Sony Cinema Line? And in your opinion, is there any significant advantage in choosing this new camera over the a7S III? Please share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.