Hands-On With the Sony FS7

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I've now had the opportunity to shoot with the Sony FS7 on both cinematic and doc-style projects. I wanted to see how the camera performed in both situations before posting my thoughts on the camera. Our team has recently been considering adding either the FS7 or the Canon C300 Mk II. Since I've now had some hands-on time with the FS7, I wanted to post my impressions of the camera for anyone else thinking about making a purchase.

First, it's worth mentioning the price point of the FS7. Listed at $7,999 for the body (half the price as the comparable C300 Mk II - $15,999), it's hard not to give serious consideration to the FS7. Next, let's consider ergonomics.

Ergonomics

The Sony FS7 is pretty much ready to go right out of the box. You really don't need to rig it up (like a DSLR, Sony a7s, or Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera) to make it feel like a video camera when shooting hand-held. That will save you the money of having to purchase additional rigs, cages, etc. The camera itself is light and manageable. It's perfect for run-and-gun doc-style shooting and can quickly and easily be moved and set up on sticks, dollies, sliders, jibs, etc.

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When covering the annual St. Jude Memphis Marathon earlier this month, I used the FS7 with a shoulder rig from Shape, but I found it just as easy to use the camera without the rig. I just pressed the body of the camera into my shoulder and it still felt very stable. I found that the camera could feel very front heavy when using the shoulder rig and the included hand grip. You will have to spend some time adjusting the placement of the camera on a shoulder rig, along with the placement of the hand grip to find the balance that works best for you. 

My rig for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon: The Sony FS7 complete with the included hand grip and EVF, along with an optional Shape shoulder rig, Metabones EF to E-mount adapter and Canon 24-105mm f4.0 lens.

My rig for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon: The Sony FS7 complete with the included hand grip and EVF, along with an optional Shape shoulder rig, Metabones EF to E-mount adapter and Canon 24-105mm f4.0 lens.

Speaking of the hand grip, it's nice to have for hand-held shooting, but feels a bit fragile and makes the rig awkward whenever you need to set the camera down to change out a lens, insert a new card, or swap batteries. It's impossible to lay the camera down flat with the hand grip attached.

The included EVF is mounted via rods to the camera body and I found that I had to be very careful when attaching the viewfinder. If it isn't perfectly level and even with the camera body, your horizon may be slightly off while the EVF makes you believe the shot to be level. It took me a few minutes of trial and error to get it just right. 

Performance

In short, I've had a very positive experience while using this camera. Only one time did I have an issue and that was during power-up. The camera came on, but when I hit record, nothing happened. When I tried it again, the camera shut itself off. I powered up once more and never had another problem.

If you are using the FS7 with EF lenses (as I was), I strongly recommend the Metabones adapters. These adapters will allow you to mount your EF glass to the FS7's E-mount system. Plus, the adapter talks to the EF lenses electronically, so you can still control f-stop with the camera's built-in iris wheel. I did notice a slight lag between the time I turned the wheel and the aperture's response. It's not a huge deal, but it is something to be aware of.

Setting up the FS7 to capture some laboratory b-roll footage

Setting up the FS7 to capture some laboratory b-roll footage

What I Like

There are so many things to like about the FS7. One would expect to pay a lot more for a camera with these specs. Here are some of the great features worth mentioning:

  • internal 4K recording at up to 60fps
  • S-Log gamma recording
  • the ability to send the S-Log gamma to the memory cards while simultaneously sending a LUT to the EVF or external monitor for gauging exposure and lighting
  • variety of codecs to choose from
  • variable frame rates up to 180fps at 1920x1080
  • built-in XLR inputs
  • variety of built-in professional outputs
  • good battery life
  • traditional ND filter dial
Using the FS7 to shoot the annual Liberty Bowl halftime video for St. Jude

Using the FS7 to shoot the annual Liberty Bowl halftime video for St. Jude

To Consider

As with any camera, there are also limitations and things to think about before making a purchase. With the FS7 I feel as though the pros outweigh the cons, but here are a few items worth mentioning for your consideration:

  • The required memory cards for the FS7 are proprietary to Sony and are expensive. 
  • The menus are extensive, complex, and not incredibly intuitive. You will probably have to dig to find what you're looking for. 
  • The hand grip makes for an awkward rig when you have to sit the camera down for any reason.
  • The base ISO for the FS7 is 2000, which some may find too noisy, although I didn't notice any undesirable noise in some high contrast scenes I was shooting.

There are plenty of useful tips and tutorials about the FS7. I would recommend starting with Alister Chapman's article "Guides and info for the PXW-FS7." 

Also take a look at Den Lennie's demo of the FS7 for Sony, as well as some behind-the-scenes commentary.

Have any tips on using the FS7? Be sure to leave them in the Comments section below.