By Robert Loughlin
IBC is an incredibly exciting time of year for gearheads like me, but simultaneously frustrating if you making it over to Amsterdam to see the tech in person. So when I was asked if I wanted to see what Sony was going to display at IBC before the trade show, I jumped at the chance.
I was treated to a great breakfast in the Sony Clubhouse, at the top of their building on Madison Avenue, surrounded by startling views of Manhattan and Long Island to the East. After a few minutes of chitchatting with the other writers, we were invited into a conference room to see what Sony had to show. They started by outlining what they believed their strengths were, and where they see themselves moving in the near future.
They stressed that they have tools for all corners of the market, from the F65 to the A7, and that these tools have been used in all ranges of environmental conditions — from extreme cold to scorching heat. Sony was very proud of the fact that they had a tool for almost any application you could think of. Sony’s director of digital imaging, Francois Gauthier, explained that if you started with the question, “What is my deliverable?” — meaning cinema, TV or web — Sony would have a solution for you. Yet, despite that broad range of product coverage, Sony felt that there was a missing piece in there, particularly between the FS7 and their cheaper A7 series of DSLRs. That’s where the PXW-FS5 comes in.
The FS5 is a brand-new camera that struck me as the FS7’s little brother. It sports a native 4K Super 35mm sensor, and we were told it’s the same 12 million-pixel Exmor sensor as the FS7. It records XAVC-L as well as AVCHD codecs, in S-Log 3, to dual SD card slots. The FS5 can also record high frame rates for both realtime recording and overcranking. The sensor itself is rated at EI 3200 with a dynamic range of about 14 stops. Internal recording is 8-bit 420 (at 4K — HD is 10-bit 4:2:2), but you can go out to an external recorder to get 10-bit 4K over the HDMI 2.0 port in the back. The camera also has one SDI port, but that only supports HD. You can record proxies simultaneously to the second SD card slot (though only when recording XAVC-L), and either have both slots sync up, or have individual record triggers for each. There is a 2K sensor crop mode, as well, that will let you either extend your lens, or use lenses designed for smaller image formats (like 16mm).
Controls on the side of the FS5
Product manager Juan Martinez stressed the power of the electronics inside, clocking boot time at less than five seconds, and mentioned that it is incredibly efficient (about two hours on the BP-U30, the smallest capacity). Additionally, he added that the camera doesn’t need to reboot if you’re changing recording formats. You just set it and you’re done.
The camera also has a new “Advanced Auto Focus” technology that can use facial recognition to track a subject. In addition to focus tools, the FS5 also has something called “Clear Image Zoom.” Clear Image Zoom is a way to blow up your picture — virtually extending the length of your lens — by first maximizing the optical zoom of the glass, then cleanly enlarging the image digitally. You can do this up to 2x, but it can be paired with the 2K sensor crop to get even more length out of your lens. The FS5 also has a built-in variable ND tool. There’s a dial on the side of the camera that lets you adjust iris to 1/100th of a stop, allowing the operator to do smooth iris pulls. Additionally, the camera has a silver knob on the front that allows you to assign up to three custom ND/iris values that you can quickly switch between.
In terms of design, it looks almost identical to the FS7, just shrunken down a bit. It has similar lines, but has the footprint and depth of the Canon C1/3/500, just a bit shorter. It’s a tiny camera. In like fashion, it’s also incredibly light. It weighs about two pounds — the magnesium body has something to do with that. It’s something I can easily hold in my hand all day. Its size and weight certainly make using this camera on gimbals and medium-sized drones very attractive. The remote operation applications become even more attractive with the FS5’s built in wireless streaming capability. You can stream the image to a computer, wireless streaming hardware (like Teradek), or your smartphone with Sony’s app. However, you can get higher bit-rates out of the stream by going over the Ethernet port on the back. Both Ethernet and wireless streaming are 720p. With the wireless capability, you can also connect to an FTP, enabling you to push media directly to a server from the field (provided you have the uplink available).
It’s also designed to work really well in your hand. The camera comes with a side grip that’s very repositionable with an easily reachable release lever. Just release the lever, and the grip is free to rotate. The grip fit perfectly in my palm, with controls either just under where my fingers naturally fell or within easy reach. The buttons included the standard remote buttons, like zoom and start/stop, but also a user definable button and a corresponding joystick, for quick access to menus.
Top: the handgrip in hand, Bottom: button map
The grip is mounted very close to the camera body, in order to optimize the center of gravity while holding it. The camera is small and light enough that while holding it this way without the top handle and LCD viewfinder it’s reminiscent of holding a Handicam. However, if you have a long lens, or a similar setup where the center of gravity alters significantly, and need to move the grip up, you can remove it and mount an ARRI rosette plate (sold separately).
The FS5, without top handle or LCD viewfinder
The camera also comes with a top handle that has GPS built-in, mounting points for the LCD viewfinder, an XLR input, and a Multi Interface hot-shoe mount. The handle also has its own stereo microphone built into the front, but the camera itself can only record two channels of audio.
Sony has positioned this camera to fall between DSLRs and the FS7. The MSRP is $6,699 for the body only, or $7,299 with a kit lens (18-105mm). The actual street prices will be lower than that, so the FS5 should fit comfortably between the two. Sony envisions this as their “grab and go” camera, ideal for remote documentary and unscripted TV or even web series. The camera is small, light and maneuverable enough to certainly be that. They wanted a camera that would be unintimidating to a non-professional, and I think they achieved that. However, without things like genlock timecode, and its E-mount lens mount, this camera is less ideal for cinema applications. There are other cameras around the same price point that are better suited for cinema (Blackmagic, RED Scarlet), so that’s totally fine. This camera definitely has its DNA deeply rooted in the camcorder days of yore, and will feel right at home with someone shooting and producing content for documentaries and TV. They showed a brief clip of footage, and it looked sharp with rich colors. I still tend to favor the color coming out of the Canon C series over the FS5, but it’s still solid footage. Projected availability is November 2015. For a full breakdown of specs, visit www.sony.com/fs5.
However, that wasn’t all Sony showed. The FS5 is pretty neat, but I was much more excited for the other thing Sony brought out. Tucked away in a corner of the room where they had put an FS5 in a “studio” set-up was a little download station. Centered around a MacBook Pro, the simple station had a Thunderbolt card reader and offload drive. The PSZ-RA drive is a brand new product from Sony, and I’m almost more excited about this little piece of hardware than I am about the new camera. It’s a small, two disk RAID that comes in 4TB and 6TB options. It’s similar to G-Tech’s popular G-RAIDs, with one notable exception. This thing is ruggedized. Imagine a LaCie Rugged the size and shape of a G-RAID (but without that awful orange — this is Sony-gray). The disks inside are buffered; it’s rated to be dropped from about a foot and can safely be tilted four inches in any direction. It supports RAID-0, -1 and JBOD. To me, set at RAID-1, it’s the perfect on-set shuttle drive. It even has a handle on top!
Overall, I saw a couple of really exciting things from Sony, and while I think a lot of people are really going to like the FS5, I’m dying to get the PSZ-RA drives on set.
Post production professional, specializing in dailies workflows as an Outpost Technician at Light Iron New York, and all-around tech-head.