In the first installment of our five-part series entitled “Is the Sony FS7 the Last Video Camera You’ll Ever Need?” I share my experience with the most complicated and robust camera I’ve used to date – and begin at the ending, when during final beauty shots just before shipping the loaner back the entire rig crashed to the floor. Oh — and the image quality is breathtaking.
I didn’t realize how much the Sony FS7 terrified me until it arrived.
OK, that was a bit hyperbolic.
Only a little bit.
You get the idea: the FS7 is a very different kind of beast from the typical Canon 5D Mark III [B&H|Amazon], Sony a7s II [B&H|Amazon], Panasonic GH4 [B&H|Amazon], or even Canon C100 Mark II with which most planet5D readers are familiar.
Today, let's just deal with initial impressions – but I will cut to the punch line right now: this is a spectacular camera, and it really could be the last one you ever need, depending on what you're doing (more on this in upcoming installments).
First laying eyes on the FS7 – and its menu system — is akin to plopping yourself into the seat of a Williams FW15C Formula 1 car (arguably the most complicated Formula 1 racer ever built), looking around and thinking “what do I do now?”
You know it has a gas pedal, a brake pedal, a steering wheel, a gear box, and an ignition switch. This is all stuff you know like the back of your hand. You know it can go faster than anything you’ve ever driven before. Cool.
But you’re also afraid that if you push the wrong thing (or forget or don’t know to push another thing first), it might combust spontaneously.
And you’d be right.
If your shooting experience has been limited to the kinds of cameras I mentioned above, you face a steep learning curve and what can best be described as culture shock when you first lay your hands on the FS7 (or pretty much any other camera of this caliber).
By comparison, the FS7 is huge. Heavy. Complex. With menu logic and terms you haven’t seen before. Distinctly NOT run ‘n gun. Distinctly NOT “out of the box, up and running.”
Want to see what I mean?
Just compare Zacuto’s VCT Universal Base Plate (part of the Recoil Rig for the FS7 with what I used to think was the incredibly robust, expensive and overkill Cartoni quick release plate for my latest go-to cam, the Sony a6000 [B&H|Amazon]:
Photo by Hugh Brownstone
Or try shooting slow-mo on the FS7 before you’re intimately familiar with the relationship between frame rates and resolution, frame rates and Custom/CineEI settings.
Want to know what I really mean when I say “built like a tank??
Loaded up with Sony’s brilliant FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS lens [B&H|Amazon], the equally brilliant Atomos Ninja Assassin 4K Recorder/1080p 7” monitor [B&H|Amazon], the Sony XDCA Extension Unit with V-mount battery, and Zacuto’s tasty Gratical-X Micro OLED EVF [B&H|Amazon] – all connected to a set of Cartoni sticks and fluid head [B&H|Amazon] via Zacuto’s Recoil Rig and VCT Tripod plate – I turned away for three seconds during set up for my video summary only to hear the whole thing go crashing down against the concrete floor of my studio.
Want to know what’s even more wild?
Other than a shattered plastic lens hood and a bayonet mount for the hood on the lens itself, the whole set-up continued to work flawlessly.
I’d call that professional grade.
I’d also say this particular combo is mongo heavy (I'd had the FS7 without all the add-ons mounted to this particular tripod/head combo a number of times earlier without problem); imperfectly balanced left to right; and one of the Cartoni’s leg friction locks was just a little less frictionful (I know this is not a word, but from now on for me it is) than it needed to be. I need to sort that last one out.
Who is the FS7 For – and What Does It Demand?
The FS7 demands a very, very knowledgeable and experienced operator; an ambitious DP who plans on capturing the full dynamic range, smooth tonality and 4K resolution of which the sensor is capable (including 12-bit RAW – though apparently not without problems Sony is now aware of and working on); and raises the bar on every piece of equipment and every step in your workflow, from quick release plates on up to hard drives and the use of proxy files.
If you’ve come up through the FS100/FS700 ranks or are already using an F5 or F55, the FS7 will be cake; you’ve probably already beefed up the rest of your gear to suit, and you'll think the FS7 is very maneuverable — even light — by comparison.
I get it. In which case, ignore the stuff about how big and complex it is, but stay tuned for everything else, because we’ve put together one heckuva kit with which to explore the FS7 – in addition to what you already see here, we also got our hands on a set of native E-mount Veydra Mini-Primes and a CAME-TV wireless follow focus.
Over the next 4 days, we’ll explore and then sum up all of this gear and — importantly — their interactions.
Our test case includes my first documentary, a long-term passion project entitled ENID'S PREOCCUPATIONS.
The image quality I've seen coming out of this kit is breathtaking. More on that in the coming days.
We start in earnest tomorrow, so get ready.
(cover photo credit: snap from Hugh Brownstone)