As soon as a camera hits the market, there’s often a plethora of unboxing videos and immediate reviews. But what I offer up for your eyes here, is a long term review, to show what it’s like to live with day in, day out.
At Spectrecom, we bought a Sony FS7 as soon as it came out. It suited our needs so well, that a few months later we bought two more. We’ve shot in all kinds of conditions with them, on all kinds of shoots, and we’ve had a chance to fully export its strong and weak points.
• They’ve been exceptionally reliable. Gradual firmware updates continue to improve what is already a great camera. We’ve used this camera in the heat of Africa, the humidity of Singapore, and covering rainy triathlons in the UK. It doesn’t overheat, it doesn’t crash or freeze up, it doesn’t have a loud fan. It just works, every single day.
• The compact form factor makes it great to travel with. It’s small enough to get into tight spaces with but bulky enough to make for good on-the-shoulder work.
• Built in ND filters. The FS7 is a hybrid style camera – it’s half a cinema style camera, half an ENG style camera – and having built in ND’s really helps speed up shooting. Ideal for documentary, but also useful in the studio environment.
• It’s the most versatile Super 35 style camera on the market. We can be filming documentaries one day, and cinema adverts the next. Its form factor makes it very flexible and versatile, but it’s also the many recording and output options that also make it flexible.
• It can take any lens (with the right adaptor). One minute you can be using a speed booster and an EF mount zoom lens, for a full frame look on a budget, and the next you can be using high-quality cine lenses with a PL adapter. The ability to use canon EF glass one minute, and cinema glass the next, just adds to this camera’s versatility. However, this strength is also a weakness… see more in the next section…
(Photos: Versatile Camera – Left image, camera rigged with a long photography lens for filming motorsport, on the right rigged with cinema lenses for a TV advert in our studios)
• It takes a great image. Great dynamic range, super slow motion, and that large sensor look. It’s hard to beat at this price point. It’s been out for a while, but there’s little to touch the FS7’s specs at its price point. We’re still pleasantly surprised by the images we get from our FS7s.
• The video codec – it’s a great balance between quality and file size, for 4K work.
• Battery life is phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve used another 4K camera that seems to be so efficient. Just 3 Sony BPU batteries, and it’ll work all day. Give it a V-Lock adapter and a 100wh V-Lock battery, and you may not even need to change a battery on your shoot. Note: I also recommend Hawk woods BPU batteries that have D-Tap plugs in the back – it’s very convenient to have all your accessories running off the one BPU, and needing fewer batteries keeps everything lightweight.
The Not So Good
• The paint is very thin – on both the body and the camera itself. The original handle’s paint specifically is very soft. In no time at all, the black paint around the main thumbscrew, had rubbed off.
(Photo left shows how easily the paint has come off)
• As standard, there are too many bits on the camera that need tools to adjust. The handle needs imperial allen keys to undo (these could have been thumbscrews). The viewfinder / Mic horizontal bar has an allen key to adjust – and the main handle needs a screwdriver to adjust. In fact, we replaced the handle on ours, with the shape camera arm, something a lot of FS7 owners do, which dramatically improves the ergonomics and makes it much easier to flip out the handle when you are against the clock.
• The E-mount – The cameras greatest strength is its greatest weakness. It’s fantastic that you can mount any type of lens – but it means you are forever reliant on swapping lens adapters, and they can cause a bit of wobble in the way the lens is mounted. This can be negated by mounting a baseplate and bars, and using a lens supporter to support the mount or the lens itself – but this bulks the camera out a little. A part of me misses ENG style cameras, where the solid bayonet mount made the lens truly a load bearing part of the camera. With the FS7, and Sonys native E-mount, I’d at least like to see Sony implement a new, more robust mounting system for the E-mount itself. Canon has done this with EF mount on the C500. They engineered a way to make it a positive lock design, that holds the lens more firmly. If Sony were to do this with the E-mount, then lens adapters would mount on in a much more solid way, and then there’d be one lens place where lens wobble can occur from.
(Photo right: Lens adapter. Even when not using long lenses, I’d always recommend some kind of lens support to prevent wobble)
• That Sony menu system. Sony – please see Arri and Black Magic, and take some notes. The Sony menus are bloated, slow and unresponsive, and a bit unintuitive. Keep it simple, keep it responsive.
• Viewfinder and Mic holder. The viewfinder is ok to live with – a lot of people replace the way it mounts, but I don’t mind. It’s simple and it does work, although I’d prefer something that moves on a clutch mechanism. However, the mic holder is a terrible design. It puts the mic a little too high and is attached in a very loose, flimsy way. All 3 of our FS7’s have had the mic holder fall off – it just can’t cope with the weight of a small top mic. However, as the mic holder is attached to the end of a 15mm rod, it’s possible to rig a new mic holder onto that rod end very easily.
(Photo left: Mic holder. This shows the rod, where the original sony used to be until it fell off)
Overall, the good far outweighs the bad. With a few modifications, that camera becomes much easier to use, and once you learn the ins and outs of the menus, you can be quite fluid with it. I can see this camera remaining current for quite a few years – it has a great image, and a strong list of specs, and has already made a name for itself in many sectors. The only direct rival it has is the Blackmagic URSA mini – and even then, I’d say that is a slightly different camera. The Blackmagic is a great camera, but with no built-in NDs, and battery consumption a little higher, it feels more suited to promo work. You also have to choose your lens mount – PL or EF. Whereas the FS7, to me, is a much more flexible camera – the ability to use any lens, the good battery life, the built-in NDs, make it equally suited for high-end promo work or as a cinematic documentary camera.
This camera was a great step in the right direction for Sony – a hybrid super 35 camera, equally at home on a documentary, an advert, a drama or a high-end promo. Since Spectrecom undertake all of those, the FS7 will continue to be a great workhorse for us for many years ahead.
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About the author
Pete is straight out of our Directors Roster and has worked with us on hundreds of projects. We doubt there’s anything about filmmaking that he doesn’t know.