Moving from a DSLR to a dedicated camcorder which is “all that and a bag of potato chips” can be (in addition to thrilling) intimidating and surprising — as we found out over a rain-drenched weekend exploring the new Sony FS7.
The weather wasn’t cooperating and it was only a loaner, so the short time I had with the Sony FS7 was spent looking, poking and prodding.
Yeah, if you haven’t worked with a camera like this before, it’s best to wade in gently.
The good folks over at Resolution Rentals had just gotten in their FS7, so a call from owner Matt Bruce with a “hey, want to play with it over the weekend?” was met with the only possible response. An Austin Powers-inspired “yeah, baby, yeah!”
After all, the specs on the FS7 truly are sufficient to make it the last camera I’d need to upgrade to for years.
Internal 4K recording? Check. 10-bit? Check. Decent EVF? Check. 120fps? Check (in HD). Good focus and exposure aids? Wide dynamic range and low noise? Access to Canon glass via adapter? Internal ND? XLR inputs? SDI? Check, check, check, check, check, and…check.
And while more than twice as expensive as any DSLR I’ve ever owned, relative to just about anything else out there at $7,999 for the body only it’s a steal. Forthwith, the musings of a relatively new filmmaker contemplating the step up from a pair of Canon Rebel SL1's. Your mileage may vary.
The first surprise was when it arrived the next day in a Pelican case big enough and tough enough to withstand a tactical nuclear strike (Resolution doesn’t fool around).
Even after opening the case to reveal the much smaller camera body inside (along with a Metabones Canon EF>Sony E mount adapter), the FS7 felt and looked big compared to the C100 I’d been messing about with only a couple of weeks earlier – and ginormous compared to the Rebels that are my daily shooters.
Then again, it looks absolutely dainty compared to the Blackmagic URSA, a camera which I also find very interesting. And it was a snap to mount the handgrip and extendable, adjustable arm to the camera itself. I secured the LCD with attachable loupe (yielding a pretty decent EVF) in seconds. It had all of the physical controls I wanted, labeled clearly (in stark contrast to a camera I like very much, the Panasonic GH4 with its five – count ‘em, five – assignable function buttons), from ND to XLR inputs, audio levels, and more.
So far, so good.
I put the whole kit up on my right shoulder and nestled it in.
Whoa. As a Rebel SL1 user, the FS7 felt heavy. It took me another couple of seconds to adjust the EVF and grip to my liking once the lens was in place, and that’s when the second surprise hit. I thought to myself “Right – it’s like the Panny DVX100b I had ages ago – but why did the DVX feel more stable on my shoulder?
Chalk it up to the weight of the Sony FS7 and that cine prime — and the fact that with the adjustable arm/handgrip combo, you need to apply incremental torque from your wrist the farther away from the camera you set it.
Not a criticism, mind you – just a surprise.
The Metabones adapter dutifully reported T-stop numbers on the LCD from the Canon 24mm – COOL! — but here was surprise #3: it was funky. As in: there was a very noticeable and inconsistent lag in reporting it (I had no such problem when attaching one of my crop-factor Canon EF-S lenses, which gave pretty much instantaneous and correct f-stop readouts, and at least as far as I could see, suffered no vignetting). And other than noting how much I liked the hand grip, EVF and top handle – and shooting a couple of stills so you can get a better look at it – that’s just about all I could do.
Well, not quite.
I did hit the record button a couple of times, but honestly, I haven’t figured out the FS7’s file structure yet.
None of the files could be directly imported into FCP X. Thus, surprise # 4: the Sony FS7 is so new (as of this writing) that online manuals aren’t yet…online (confirmed by a call to Sony pro service; the person I spoke with told me that the entire U.S. support team was at a meeting so I couldn't actually reach a live tech, and I never heard back from them — call this surprise # 4b).
Surprise #5: when I removed the memory card, I realized (I should have known this from a closer reading of the specs) that the FS7 uses Sony specific memory cards. Not quite sure what to make of that fact. I can see some people being mildly annoyed that they can’t rely on the cards they already have, but my inclination is: get over it. If you want what this camera can do, it’s a small price to pay.
The menus themselves were rich — yet less daunting than I imagined they might be. I especially appreciated the multiple options for focus peaking. It would have been nice, on the other hand, if when I first tried to access 120fps (unsuccessfully), the system had asked if I wanted to take the resolution down from 4K to 1080, which is the resolution at which 120 fps is available — rather than simply, mutely, not letting me do it. But I'm keenly aware of my own inexperience with cameras like this, and many of you may have no problem with things like this at all.
Anyway — there you have it: first impressions of what is shaping up as a landmark camera by a filmmaker who has never worked with anything like it and has much more to learn.
I’m looking forward to getting another go at it when time and weather — and user manual availability — permit.
(cover photo credit: snap from Hugh Brownstone)