After watching six-plus hours of tutorials before even taking the FS7 body, standard EVF and FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS lens [B&H|Amazon] out of the box and then putting them together, I shot my first footage. GAWD, it’s beautiful. And manipulable in post. I get it now. I want what the FS7 can give me. Bad. But do I want it in this package? And do I want it badly (OK, the grammar police have arrived) enough? Welcome to our third installment of “Is the Sony FS7 the Last Camera You'll Ever Need?” Be sure to check out the footage after the jump.
Let’s get straight to it, this time with more detail (this installment is less writing and more showing): I LOVE the imagery coming out of the FS7. I can see the difference – I can feel the difference — without pixel peeping. Difference compared to what? The Canon 5D Mark III [B&H|Amazon]. Panasonic GH4 [B&H|Amazon] – at least shooting internally. My ever-faithful Sony a6000 [B&H|Amazon]. And – no joke (more on this later as well) – the iPhone 6s Plus.
But I had to shoot with it and see the footage with my own eyes on a Final Cut Pro X timeline on a 27” monitor before I got to that point.
I needed to get my learn on.
First: What Can I Do with the FS7’s “Standard” Lens?
28mm-135mm zoom? Sounds like a kit lens for an APS-C camera.
Maximum aperture of f/4? That also sound likes a kit lens for an APS-C camera.
And so what if I can do a manual focus pull?
The reality: within the limited settings in which I tested it, this is a magnificent lens with a fantastic manual focus ring even as it comports itself well as an autofocus lens. The power zoom is neither here nor there for me (it is smooth, but I don’t zoom during filming). The gearing is non-standard, but if you want to do a focus pull by turning the focusing ring, I’ve never seen anything as good. Colors are beautiful. The lens is sharp without being “video-y.” Bokeh is beautiful and shallow depth of field is surprisingly doable – again, under the right conditions – which makes me WANT to do focus pulls because I can see with my own two eyes how they can support the kinds of stories I like telling. I’d still like the wide end of the lens even wider but I think I’m being a little piggy about it.
Second: Are The EVF and LCD Good Enough?
I generally like hybrid camera EVFs better than dedicated cam EVFs – I certainly prefer the viewfinder in my little Sony a6000 [B&H|Amazon] to those found in the Canon C100 II and C300 Mk II (never mind the original C100).
But would the Sony combo LCD/magnifier really do the trick?
Not only is the LCD very legible for me – it works remarkably well with the low-tech magnifier – but it and the magnifier can be easily positioned using the double collar and the rod mounted through the handle. It’s a very credible and surprisingly usable EVF.
Third: What Do UHD, XAVC-I and 10-bit 4:2:2 Do for Me?
Yeah, yeah – I know the theory. But to my ears, it all sounded like medium format guys in the olden days of film-based still-photography telling me why I needed to spend 5-10 times more than I was already spending on 35mm to get truly stellar results.
Especially when the limitations of the display devices and distribution channel (6-stops-of-dynamic-range flat panel TVs, tiny smartphone and only slightly-less-tiny tablet screens, and cable providers and cable networks compressing the heck out of whatever signal we can capture anyway) made the higher end stuff seem useless.
Besides: 4K, 10-bit 4:2:2 – even in XAVC-I, let alone RAW – would bring my editing suite to its knees and cost me a small fortune to upgrade.
The reality is they do a LOT. But the question remains: does it matter? I’d argue that for most viewers, it really doesn’t – but hold that thought, because while the film business is a business, it’s also an art. Sometimes pragmatism is just a word an artist uses when he’s trying to prove he’s a reliable businessman and not an “artiste.” But there is NOTHING wrong – and so much right – with being an artist.
If you're work is being projected onto a big screen, well — that's another story entirely. You want what this camera can do.
Fourth: So What If They All Give Me…A Lot?
Three Blind Men and an Elephant is a very tiny production company with a very large animal logo, but it’s my company and makes me happy.
But when a company is that small – and I know many planet5D readers are in the same boat – we have to be able to do (and pay for)…everything. We’re DPs and camera operators and sound guys and editors and directors and grips and writers and producers and drone operators.
It’s exhausting and expensive.
It’s not just pragmatism – it’s survival. How often would I need all the things this camera and lens might give me, when I also need all the rest?
What if the biggest differentiator in my work is my approach as a writer, director and editor? Do I still need all of this then?
The appeal of the footage coming out of this combo is intense. I love it and want it. But I know I don’t need it. I know I have other, higher priorities. I don't know that I love the experience of using this gear (OK: I don't). And I’m not at all sure I'm getting everything out of the gear I already have (OK: I'm not).
Enough words. Let’s look at some footage
Sony FS7, Episode 3: Let's Look at Some Footage!
Make sure to set the resolution to 4K!
Beyond the fact that the Sony FS7 really can deliver stunning footage that most of the time I – a single data point – may not need but oh-I-really-want, I’m not going to draw final conclusions yet (other than when I don't have an internal neutral density filter in my little a6000 and no screw-in filters to cover that massive 95mm of the PZ, I can't recover blown highlights).
Instead I'll let you sit with your conclusions – and your questions. In installment four we’ll look at more footage and at the other elements of seeing with the FS7: the Zacuto Gratical-X and the Atomos Ninja Assassin Recorder/7″ Monitor [B&H|Amazon]. We'll cover Veydra Mini-Primes and the CAME-TV Wireless Follow Focus Controller in episode 5.
See you soon!
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)