Cinematic Sony FS5: things to like and not to like
A Cinematic handycam?
When you look at the FS5 it seems like the perfect marriage between size and function, it has the right buttons and the fantastic variable ND. It comes with ‘real’ audio, the Mi hotshoe that can plugin your wireless receiver and use real audio pots to set the volume. It has the right picture profiles including S-LOG 2, 3 and Hybrid Log Gamma for HDR work.
To shoot in several record modes you can use the two SD card slots, continues recording from card to card and simultaneous: recording in duplicate creating an instant backup copy.
The camera feels solid, it has a nice rotating grip that can be removed from the body and extended. The overall idea behind the camera is excellent, but there are a few things that don’t work as well as I would have liked. I didn’t buy the FS5 because it is cheaper than the FS7, with all the extra’s it is more expensive than the FS7. But I wanted something small, light and compact, something you can build up as a shoulder camera or break down into a tiny package.
Putting the grip on an extension arm, like the one I got from Shape, seems like a great way to turn the camera into a shrunken FS7: just add the Zacuto LCD Z-finder kit and you got yourself a little shoulder camera. Sounds great right? I’m afraid this FrankenStein 7 is not the great compact, yet versatile solution you might think. There are several issues: The Zacuto set doesn’t really fit the camera, if you put the top plate in the four screw holes and slide the EVF arm in the position you notice it hits the XLR connector on the top handle. this means the EVF will not be in line with the body and you will have to twist your head a bit: This sucks, you buy this solution to be comfortable for hours, not have it only work 80%. The solution is not that difficult: I also have a top plate set from SmallRig, this lets me mount a 15mm bracket on top of the mounting plate which holds the EVF arm and I can now put the EVF arm where I want it. It also lets me add a rosette for the Shape arm so I don’t have to screw a roset into the Sony grip mount and have a system that can only be one configuration or another unless you bring your workmate, chainsaw and toolbelt.
This sucks, you buy this solution to be comfortable for hours, not have it only work 80%. The solution is not that difficult: I also have a top plate set from SmallRig, this lets me mount a 15mm bracket on top of the mounting plate which holds the EVF arm and I can now put the EVF arm where I want it. It also lets me add a rosette for the Shape arm so I don’t have to screw a roset into the Sony grip mount and have a system that can only be one configuration or another unless you bring your workmate, chainsaw and toolbelt.
It’s ergonomics but not as we know it
So you put the Shape arm on, get the Zacuto Z-finder in the right place and when you put it on your shoulder the EVF position feels good, but the Shape arm seems to be designed for torture: It is too far from the camera body and will give you serious problems with your shoulder. How did we end up with this mess? Every ENG shoulder design has had the zoom/grip next to the lens, this is over 30 years old, why is this new stuff so completely out of touch with whatever came before this?
So we drop the Shape extension arm and decide to just use the LCD/EVF solution from Zacuto, this should work, right? Get a nice big screen and be compact, like a mini EX3. But for some reason, Sony has decided to give the screen a decent resolution, but not such a great clear output image. It is hard to use it for critical focus, even with the punch in zoom it’s not easy to judge your image. Using just the EVF to focus on will give you the same kind of problem: the image just isn’t sharp enough to judge your focus on. After the last update, it seems the HD image is a bit sharper and easier to focus with, but in 4K it looks like I’m watching a line-skipped blurry image and you end up ‘hunting’ for the least out of focus shot.
This basically means that if you really want to use this camera run and gun you need to buy a separate viewfinder like the Zacuto Gratical which is at least another $2000.- meaning you either opt for the D-tap option with the D-tap enabled Sony compatible batteries or you get the more expensive version that works with the Canon batteries. This means you end up with a second set of batteries to carry with you, charge etc. It also means you need the additional arm and EVF support system. Whatever option you choose: it is expensive and shouldn’t be necessary. And after you fixed the EVF problem, you are still stuck with the shoulder/extension arm problem. Off course this can be solved but only by adding more weight and this was exactly the reason not to buy the FS7. This isn’t just me complaining about it, but every other experienced shooter who bought this set up thinking they were getting the FS5 and a little FrankenStein 7.
The audio connection
If you work with a sound person, having the two audio channels on different parts of the camera is not that handy. Sure it is a great idea: break down the camera, take the handle off and you still have an XLR input. But most default multicable ‘spiders’ don’t spread that far and you need an extension cable to make the audio persons multicable fit. Now we can go external recorder and sync up later, but I’m old-school (not THAT old school because really old school is separate audio and film..) I like my video to come with the audio I need.
The kit lens isn’t that great, it’s F4, which is pretty slow because this is not a low-light camera. Do not expect A6500 type low light capabilities, it does produce very clean 4K but it needs light. Overal I prefer the 4K from the A6500 and A7RII over the FS5, but in general, especially when shooting interviews, the FS5 is a more practical camera and the codec seems to be a little bit more robust, especially when shooting FullHD 422 50mbit.
For some reason, it eats the battery when you leave it on the camera overnight. Not only that: all your time and date settings are gone, wth Sony? Every time a new fancy camera is released it feels like some of the basics in ergonomics and practical stuff we have acquired over the decades is gone and we are back to blank.
So what is good about this camera?
If you use it in it’s most compact form: just as it comes, no extension arms or external recorders, and with a Sony prime lens like the 35mm it works really well. It is small enough to keep people as natural as possible when doing interviews, the Sony 35mm APS-C F1.8. has optical image stabilization, decent manual focus so it works well handheld or on a tripod.
It shoots nice 4K, has a picture profile options that, if you don’t want to use S-LOG still gives you some nice dynamic range, it does slow motion in Full HD. If you want you can shoot S-log but you really need to be sure you have enough light to expose +1.5 stops at least to make it work. If you use S-log and underexpose it, it is a lot of work in the edit to get it to look right. Here is a video shot in S-log2 because it was a nice sunny day with a lot of crispy highlights:
It shoots 100mbit XAVC 4K and super slow-motion when you use the buffer. This is a lot of fun, it just ads gravitas to the simplest of situations. Here are two examples: one is the veteran day in The Hague: 1500 veterans march through the city past King William Alexander and Prime Minister Mark Rutten. In typical Dutch fashion, you can almost walk up next to them. All I had for this was the FS5 and the Sony 70-200mm F4, no tripod because I was a bit late and the audience was packed around the route. It was just finding a little spot to look in between or over the crowd and grab a few shots. Because I shot this at 100FPS the image was steady enough and I got the shots I wanted: keep it simple, focus on the veterans. It is about them after all:
The second video is a little experiment: filming slow-motion in a storm. Wrapped inside the Camrade FS5 cover with an extra rain cover on top of it I went to the beach. Sand get’s everywhere, and I’m not talking about the sand you see, but the superfine sand you only hear when turning the lens at home. Again I just bought the Sony 70-200 F4 because the metabones + Canon 100-400 would mean I had to use rails and long lens support plus much bigger dust cover and probably bring a tripod which wouldn’t have helped at all because we had 65kph winds. Pretty sure shooting with 400mm, so 600mm equivalent would be pretty much impossible unless you can hide behind a wall.
For some shots, I sat or lied down on the beach being sandblasted, a few others I took from behind the concrete blocks next to the harbour pier. Not that that made much difference wind wise, you just end up in these weird vortex winds, but it did give something concrete support.
This is a very capable camera, but it needs to be used the way it was designed, it’s a shame the EVF is not great, the RX10IV has a much better viewfinder which is just weird. You buy this camera to shoot nice shallow depth of field shots which is difficult unless you spend at least half the price of the camera on a proper EVF. The variND makes it easy to walk in/outside, sound is pretty complete although it would have been nice to have 4 usable audio channels, especially when Adobe Premiere sees 4 channels although two of them are empty?!?
Right now I use it a lot for interviews and grab the A6500 for general shots and gimbal to shoot nice little moves. If Sony produces a nice 16-50 F2.8 and perhaps a software upgrade that gives us a more usable EVF image this would be a killer camera. Right now there are too many parts missing to spend more money on a recorder and those nice Fuji e-mount zooms.