Ever since I started making films back in 2009, I considered myself very lucky to be born in an era where the DSLR had made filmmaking accessible to everyone. Naturally, I was a big proponent of the technology and purchased my Canon 600D soon after followed by a Canon 5D Mark III in 2014. I loved using DSLRs for the form factor and the image quality they provided me at a cost that was unthinkable just a few years ago. But over the last year as I moved into doing larger scale productions and more corporate work, the limitations of a DSLR which I was well aware of before started bothering me a lot more. The less than desirable battery life, inability to record audio using XLR internally, lack of internal ND filters and more just made shooting harder for me without splurging more money buying accessories. So I started looking at upgrading my DSLR to a full blown professional camera last year and after a long search, I fell in love with the Canon C100 Mark II. It had a great form factor, all the features that I felt were missing from the 5D Mark III and ran all of my Canon lenses easily. Yes, it lacked 4K which I debated if I really truly needed but decided that it wasn’t a priority at that time. I’m a happy user of the C100 Mark II.
So I was quite surprised when I saw Sony release the FS5, which was clearly built as a C100 competitor first and foremost considering how popular the C100 is among videographers and indie filmmakers. I had no previous experience with Sony cameras before, but I was always in awe with the Sony a7S and appreciated how they packed so much value into an affordable. So when I was contacted by Sony Professional Solutions MEA to test drive the camera for a weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. Below are my honest thoughts on using the camera as a first time Sony user coming from a Canon background.
- I really love the modular design of the camera and how it can break down to just the basic body. Even fully rigged up, it’s quite a bit lighter than my C100 when rigged up which is great for doing handheld shots for a long time without your arm feeling like it’s going to break off. I think Sony nailed the design of the camera and everything from the placement of the hand grip to the top handle is similar to the way C100 does it but also very well thought out and ergonomically beneificial.
- One design element that it does better than the C100 is the fact that there’s a single XLR port on the body itself instead of both of them being on the top handle. This means that if you’re using only one XLR port (which I am most of the time), you can take the handle off entirely and have a lighter rig to move around with.
- The highlight feature of the FS5 to me was its electronic ND filter system. For the C100, I have the traditional built-in ND that has three stages and flips around. With the FS5, you have a knob that can change the ND setting in a smooth manner and to a precise control rather than just three traditional settings. Not only is this very useful to fine-tune your image, it means that you can change the setting mid-shot and it feels natural rather than an obvious setting change. For long takes that go from indoors to outdoors, this is a god-send.
- This was my first time trying super slow-motion, which I was aware Sony professional video cameras have had since the FS700. After shooting a few random things at 240FPS, I was really surprised at how sharp the footage looks. Just make sure you aren’t shooting at ISO’s higher than 4000 because things can get pretty noisy in that mode, but I loved the way the camera has a pre-record system that continuously records the last 8 seconds of footage from the camera so you never miss a crucial shot. The 60FPS on my C100 looks tame in comparison.
- There’s a feature on the FS5 that I’m still trying to wrap my head around how it was made possible and it’s called Clear Image Zoom. Basically, it lets you digitally zoom during recording past the focal length of your lens even if it’s a prime lens without any noticeable quality loss at all. I don’t know the magic behind how Sony really pulled that off, but in my use, it worked flawlessly and I can see this being a great tool for videographers when they want to get a tighter frame especially on prime lenses.
- Battery life was pretty good on the camera and lasts multiple hours, more or less matching the battery life I get out of the C100 Mark II. Shooting in 4K or slow-motion drains it faster but that’s expected. With two batteries, you can run a day-long shoot comfortably.
- The 4K footage looked great. I shot on S-Gamut2 for the most part and noticed that the footage is great for grading in post later on. Just make sure you have fast SDXC memory cards though if you want to continuously record 4K. Unfortunately, 4K recording is limited to 8-bit only but I’m hoping a firmware update at least allows external recording in 10-bit in the future.
- As a Canon user, I had to use the Metabones adapter to use my Canon lenses on the camera and it was a surprisingly smooth process. Though most of the time I was using the Sony zoom kit lens that they provided and it actually proved to be quite a solid lens for run and gun shooting which I like to do a lot. Knowing that Sony has a lens lineup that isn’t the most robust, that part surprised me.
- The menu interface is functional, but I still prefer the C100’s interface instead. It was a little confusing to move around in terms of categories and could be laid out in a more efficient manner.
- While I’m sure the XAVC-L codec allows for the camera to record efficiently. the codec itself is pretty taxing to work on a regular system compared to AVCHD. This really only matters in 4K since you can shoot in AVCHD in 1080p on the FS5 too. Here’s hoping the codec gets more optimised as time goes on.
- The auto-focus on the camera isn’t nearly as fast as the brand new auto-focus system that the C100 Mark II has, but thankfully it’s not something I use a lot anyway so it wasn’t a big bother.
- Something odd that I noticed was when using S-Gamut, you’re unable to change the white balance individually and that it’s actually a part of the picture profile you choose deep into the settings rather than its own setting. That took a while to get used to since I’m used to changing white balance on the fly depending on the scene and lighting.
- Not really a con, but I do wish that the camera also featured the amazing in-sensor stabilisation that the A7sII boasts.
So there you have it. My two cents on the FS5. As a current C100 Mark II user, I’m well aware that the FS5 surpasses the features of my camera in a lot of ways and I’m glad that there’s healthy competition for Canon to step up their game in the arena. It will be a solid choice to consider for me the next time I want to upgrade.
Thanks to Sony Professional Solutions MEA for letting me try it out!