About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about returning to Canon, the company with which I started my videography journey. I had made the move to Blackmagic Design cameras in 2017 (and I still love Blackmagic), but missed Canon's efficient codecs and simple user interface that made run-and-gun style shooting more enjoyable.
This year, we're making another change: Sony Digital Imaging.
One thing that frustrates me about Canon is their slow adoption of 4K / QHD capabilities in the middle range of their product spectrum. Sure, the 5D Mark IV has 4K recording, but the Motion JPEG codec is a little ridiculous, not to mention capped at 30fps. The C100 Mark II and C300 are getting long in the tooth and don't offer the high frame rate and resolution options often requested by clients.
The Sony PXW-FS5 seemed to check all the boxes we were looking for in a mid-range cinema camera. 4K recording at 60fps? Check. FHD recording at 120fps (burst)? Check. 4K RAW output for when you really need it, but internal options at a variety of bit rates to keep file sizes manageable? Check and check.
Thus far, the FS5 has been a great fit for our workflow and client needs. Here's a quick breakdown of what we like, and what we don't, thus far:
1. Image quality. The FS5 has a super-35 sensor with great image quality. The images coming out of the camera are crisp in both 4K and HD, and the wide variety of color profiles are much appreciated. Sony provides 6 different Rec 709 profiles and 4 S-Log profiles (S-Log2 and S-Log3), all of which are very usable. This provides options where you can turn projects quickly when needed, or capture flatter images with more range when you have the time. 4K is 8-bit 4:2:0, and HD is 10-bit 4:2:2, so the color holds up really well under grading.
2. Codec options. This was a really big advantage of the FS5, as you can select from XAVC in either HD or QHD sizes, and also AVCHD, when space is at a premium. Beyond that, you can also select from multiple bit rates, depending on the project demands. HD files can record at 35 or 50Mbps. QHD at 60 or 100Mbps. Then you have the RAW option when recording externally (assuming you purchase the RAW upgrade, as I did). The output rate has several options, up to 4K/60p, which you can run to an Atomos or Blackmagic Video Assist and capture in up to 12-bit 4:2:2 color.
3. Build quality and form factor. Another thing we really appreciate is the modular nature of the camera. The FS5 is essentially a rounded box, and the side grip, top handle, and monitor are all removable, which makes it ideal for gimbal work. The knobs and buttons are well laid out, and while the menu system can be a little frustrating, the physical switches on the camera all make sense and are placed where they should be. Sony gets big credit for placing the second XLR mic input on the camera body instead of the top handle, so if you have the mic stripped down on a gimbal, you can still plug your mic receiver into the camera body.
An honorable mention also goes to Sony's continuously variable electronic ND filter system. After using it, you'll never want to go back to a stepping ND filter again.
The Not So Good:
1. The menu system is... weird.
2. The slow motion system takes some getting used to. On our model, when capturing at 120 or 240fps, the camera records to a buffer, then writes to the card. Monitoring what's actually going on while capturing the super slow-mo is difficult, then you have about 10-15 seconds of lockup time while the camera writes to the card. The Mark-II version of the camera improves this.
3. S-Log profiles have the white balance settings baked in to the color setting. Canon had the win here, where you could record in C-Log and still manually set the color temp. On the Sony, you have to select the closest applicable color temp in the S-Log setting, then it's locked in and the white balance selector doesn't do anything.
We're pretty excited about the images coming off this camera, and look forward to putting it through its paces for our customers in the year(s) to come. Paired with an A7s-II, we feel like this simple Sony setup can tackle just about anything thrown our way.