We’ve now had the FS7 in our hands for just over a week but this camera has already made a big impression on us. Although I think there’s room for a much longer review, I just wanted to put together a little something to let people know what a pleasant experience the last few shoots with it have been.

Having started this company with a depth of field adaptor, then moving onto 5D mkiii’s and finally using Magic Lantern firmware, it’s safe to say that we’ve been through a fair few gear changes. We’ve shot in all kinds of formats, with all kinds of cameras and it’s safe to say that we do not regret our decision to move to the FS7 one bit!

Apologies for the wall of text, but there really is so much to say about this camera, so if you’re interested, please read on!

The Specs

Before I talk about our actual experiences, let me fill those of you in who have no idea about what this camera can do on paper.

The PXW-FS7 is Sony’s new super 35 camera. It’s closer to a classic ENG style camera than a DSLR, and as such it’s packed with a lot of the practical elements that you would expect to find. The camera comes with built in ND filters, built in XLR slots and is much more suited for the kinds of video work that most people are used to than a DSLR.

The most obvious leap forward from our previous cameras is the ability to shoot in 4K. Now at the moment it isn’t true 4K ( it shooting only 3840 x 2160) however this is still going to pack in a massive amount more detail into our image compared with the 1080p of the 5D. It also shoots in a much nicer format, a 10-bit XAVC, as opposed to the heavily compressed h.264 of the canon DSLR’s, a format that I have never really cared for.

Not only does it have the ability to shoot in 4K, it also has wonderful slow-motion capabilities. The PAL version shoots 150 fps at 1080, and as fast as 60fps at 4K. As it stands we don’t have the necessary add-ons to shoot raw or higher frame rates in higher resolutions yet, but this is certainly possible and certainly a future investment that we’ll be making.

There are masses of other specs and features that I don’t really want to talk about here, but for a full list of specs and details head over to the Sony website (http://www.sony.co.uk/pro/product/broadcast-products-camcorders-digital-motion-picture-camera/pxw-fs7/overview/)

Ergonomics

Having come from a DSLR I have to say it was an absolute delight to move over to more of an ENG style camera.

Firstly, the handle that comes bundled with the camera is a huge help. Our first test shoot was a run and gun style shoot so we were entirely shoulder mounting and having that extra point of contact was a huge benefit. Not only that, but having access to controls like iris and the assignable buttons just made the whole process of shooting so much quicker and easier.

The other thing that to be really great in terms of ergonomics was the layout of the controls. Even though I’d never really used a camera like this before, it wasn’t really too hard to get to grips with the physical controls. Everything seemed to be laid out in order of convenience and it seemed as if all of the most commonly used features were in the easiest to reach places. Also, having so many buttons decreased the number of times that I had to go delving into menus which for a run and gun shoot is a big plus. I should add here that when I did have to go into the menus it was really easy to navigate, especially having set up a user menu before I started shooting.

Usability

For the most part I found the camera to be very user friendly, although there was a bit of a learning curve.

For one thing, exposure was a lot more difficult than I was used to. Although I usually shoot flat on my 5D3, I certainly wasn’t prepared for just how flat S-log 3 was going to be. Getting the proper exposure wasn’t as easy as using the meter inside a DSLR, I had to aim to get my whites at 61%, no mean feat in the lowlight conditions I was working in. If I had chosen to use the waveform instead of the histogram then I think it may have been easier. It’ll take some practice, but with time I think that this could be learned.

The viewfinder is another nice feature and I really appreciate that it was included with the camera and it wasn’t an expensive extra. One of my gripes with DSLR shooting was that in bright sunlight the screen was basically unusable and although this could be fixed with a viewfinder or monitor, this was an added expense that not everyone could afford. As well as being yet another point of contact, the display on this thing was great. It was very clear and once you’ve set up your viewfinder with all of the features you need it becomes an absolute dream. A side note about the monitor is that it’s really easy to adjust so it’s useful for all kinds of situations.

Post-workflow

The thing I was probably most excited and worried about was the post workflow. Having come from using Magic Lantern I was excited at the thought of ingesting footage quickly and easily and frankly I was not disappointed. After downloading Catalyst Browse it was incredibly easy to upload, transcode and even colour correct my footage. The program is fairly powerful and transcoding to ProRes will be a lifesaver for those who can’t bring XAVC directly into their NLE. If you have a program like Adobe Premiere CC then it is even easier to directly drag in your clips and begin to quickly edit and colour your footage.

For me the main worry about the postproduction side of things was the colour correction. I had heard a lot about how hard it could be to properly colour S-Log3 footage and on my first attempt I found this to be very much the case. Having been used to raw video and being able to push and pull the image a crazy amount it was a bit of a shock to the system to find that although there is a lot of room with exposure, you have to aim for perfect exposure for the best results. Once I realised that I needed my whites to be hitting at least 61% it then became quite easy to colour with LUT’s and to get a decent image very quickly.

The final thing that I want to say is that I absolutely love the XAVC codec, especially compared to what I’m used to working with. For me (and plenty of other people) h.264 was practically unusable. I hate the 8-bit banding and the limited grading potential that comes alongside of this and although I loved how small the files were, I quickly looked for an alternative. Enter Magic Lantern. At first I was ok with the huge file sizes and long workflow as the image was just so great but after many late nights of transcoding for quick turnaround projects, I was very much looking to move on. I feel that XAVC gives me a lot of freedom with grading but without the mammoth file sizes and is basically the perfect middle ground between RAW and h.264. The other great thing about the FS7 is that IF I decided that I did want to shoot raw in the future then I could buy the XDCA-FS7 add on and an Odyssey 7Q+.

Other Features

Besides the conventional video features, there were also a few others that I found to be massively helpful.

It’s always been hard for me to capture slow-motion with the equipment I had. The best way for me was to use Magic Lantern with FPS override, but even then I was forced to drop my video down to 720p if I wanted to get continuous recording. Even after all that, I had to stretch the video manually out in after effects, all in all a pretty terrible slow-mo experience. Now, I’m getting up 60fps in 4K, and the results are absolutely mind blowing. The smooth slow-motion that I’ve always wanted is now possible and I couldn’t be happier.

The other feature that I want to talk about that I found to be really useful was the flicker reduction feature. I’ve mostly been shooting run and gun projects with the camera so far and a lot of the of the locations had horrible, fluorescent office lights as the main or only light source. The flicker reduction did really well in reducing the banding patterns that these caused, and most of the time completely removed them. I definitely see this being a feature that will have regular use!

There are some features that don’t quite live upto expectation and for me sum up some of the camera’s “quirks.” The example I’m going to use here is the focus magnification function. I’ll start by saying the feature is great and really helpful when focusing in a super flat profile like S-Log 3. The only problem is that, as of yet, there is no way for you to move the area that the camera uses for magnification. Instead, you have to reframe your shot, check your focus, then find your original framing. Like a few other functions, this isn’t a massive inconvenience, and it shows that the camera has all of the necessary features, just that a few tweaks need to be made to make it completely user friendly.

Build Quality

This is probably one of the few areas that I am not completely satisfied. The camera feels pretty plasticy and I get the feeling that is relatively delicate. I’m not sure whether it’s because a new camera and I’m still very careful with it but I feel that if I’m not then a piece might break off or snap. This may wear off and when then I think about it, Philip Bloom took one all around the world and it made out the other side so I may have nothing to worry about. The other thing that goes hand in hand with this is the metal components that are painted black. Even though I am very careful with this camera, a lot of the parts that are painted black such as the rod for the viewfinder already have little chips of paint missing. This isn’t too much of a concern, however I do like to keep my cameras in pristine condition to maintain as much resale value as possible (although something tells me I won’t be selling this one!)

Overview

For me, the FS7 is my absolute dream camera. It’s the perfect balance between easy of use and really high quality video features. I haven’t used this camera all that much, but I can already see that it’s perfect for nearly every situation that I am likely to find myself in. Overall, I am very happy with the purchase and look forward to implementing it even more into my projects. The camera has its quirks, but they’re certainly easy to deal with and I wouldn’t let them put you off.

The great news for our customers is that we can now offer you 4k videos, giving you a whole new level of quality. Get in contact to find out about how we can help you!

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