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Sony FS5: Who is it for and what does it do?

Monday, December 7, 2015 10:00 AM

The newly released Sony FS5 handheld 4K camera has been put under scrutiny by WTS' production specialist and freelance cameraman, Patrick van Weeren. In this blog, he rounds up what the FS5 brings to the Sony line-up and looks at who might benefit from using the camera, and how.

Sony FS5 4K camera

Announced at IBC 2015 in September, the Sony FS5 is a small and lightweight 4K handheld video camera, the missing link between the Sony FS700 and the incredibly popular Sony FS7. So who should consider buying the FS5 and how do we rate it?

When you think about the way users have filled the gap between the FS700 and the FS7, you realise that people shooting with DLSR cameras, Blackmagic’s pocket camera, the Panasonic GH4, or Sony’s own a7S or a7R II have survived for years without standard video features such as on-board audio, ND filters and easily accessible manual control of colour, shutter and gain. They’ve even managed without something as simple as an ergonomic handgrip.

The trade-off for that was that they got a small, versatile camera that would generally work well in low light, accommodate interchangeable lenses and even shoot in 4K.

The new Sony FS5 had to fit within that lightweight profile while still being able to fulfil the needs of video users, including professional audio inputs. As with any camera it’s a fine balancing act between size, specs, technology and price. The manufacturer has to serve up what the user considers to be an acceptable step up or down from one of the other cameras within the family or their budget. Sony has been able to do this.

What should I use the Sony FS5 for?

Sony FS5 4K camera mounted on a drone

The Sony FS5 is still close to the DSLR stills cameras that also offer filming functions, in the sense that it can be used in the same scenarios where you might previously have used a DSLR. Its small size and lightweight body of only 850 grams means the FS5 will easily fit on mid-range drones, Steadicams and gimbals.

And by using such a small camera you may well find that you avoid disturbing private scenes – such as weddings – by turning up with a huge camera, changing a vibrant, convivial atmosphere into the equivalent of a dentist’s waiting room silence.

Looking at the rest of the specs, it’s clear the FS5 offers a lot more than a DSLR or pocket camera has before – it’s a bit like an FS7 on a diet.

Base sensitivity and variable ND filter in the Sony FS5

The base sensitivity of the Sony FS5 is ISO 3200 – which is a lot higher than the FS7, with ISO 2000 or an F55, with ISO 1250.

To compensate for this high base sensitivity, the FS5 comes with a built-in variable ND filter just like the one we’ve seen on the Sony PXW-X180. This will give you more control over the exposure of your shots. Especially when using a drone to shoot a wide-angle landscape, having a shallow depth of field is not always what we want. A landscape should preferably be in focus from a couple of metres’ distance until infinity.

The FS5 does have a shallow depth of field – it has an S35 sensor, after all – but with the step-less variable ND filter, you do benefit from being able to fix your aperture to keep a consistent depth of field (e.g. choosing F16 over 2.8 to create a greater depth of field when needed, even when the light conditions aren’t necessarily helpful). It also prevents you from having to resign yourself to the annoying clicks when changing aperture stops during a shot. Now you can smoothly change the exposure with the ND filter and avoid the aperture click of a stills lens.

E-mount lenses are perfect for the Sony FS5

Sony E-mount lenses for  Sony FS5 and Sony FS7

Considering the low weight of the camera is one of its big selling points, it’s almost a shame to use large lenses on the FS5. While the larger FS7 is commonly used with a lens adaptor for larger EF or PL mount glass, the Sony FS5 will most likely be at the front of the queue when it comes to using native E-mount glass. Built in conjunction with Zeiss, Sony’s lenses have a natural low weight and compact form factor. 

The E-mount lenses might not be as popular as the larger glass but for use on drones, small Steadicams and gimbals, the weight and balance of the camera is just as important. With the dedicated Sony lenses it will be possible to use auto-focus and even face detection. Apart from the Sony/Zeiss lenses, Schneider Optics and SamYang/Rokinon have announced that E-mount versions of their cine-style lenses will be available soon.

Does the Sony FS5 do slow motion?

In terms of slow motion features, the Sony FS5 is closer to the FS700 than the FS7, as the incredible 240fps maximum HD recording speed only works in eight-second burst mode (and in HD, not UHD). The burst mode works with a start, middle or end trigger system, just like the FS700.

For UHD you are maxed out at 25fps for PAL in XAVC-L 100 Mbps 4:2:0.

The camera will give you 10-bit 4:2:2 HD at 50Mbps (including the previously mentioned slow motion burst). If we just forget about the 4K resolution race for a moment, this is not bad for an HD camera.  You’ll need to shoot at lower resolution than HD to avail yourself of the 480fps and 960fps options.

What codec does the Sony FS5 use?

Sony FS5 4K camera

The best XAVC codec is the XAVC-I codec (Intra)frame – such as we find in the Sony F55 – with a maximum bitrate of 600 Mbps. Versions of this codec are also found in the Sony PMW-F5 and FS7.

For the smaller a7s, the XAVC-S codec was designed to record into an .mp4 wrapper rather than an .MXF wrapper. The maximum bitrate for this codec is 50 Mbps for full HD.

The XAVC-L codec in the new FS5 gives you a maximum of 100 Mbps for 4K (4:2:0) and 50 Mbps in full HD, but in an .MXF wrapper. The FS5 doesn’t have XDCAM codecs so for use in an ENG or broadcast environment, this might be one reason to go for the FS7. Just like many cameras within this range it is possible to directly link the camera to FTP, streaming Wifi and /or use browser-based camera control software.

Sony FS5 recording options

The camera comes with two slots for SD memory cards. Even using top quality SD cards, which I would always recommend, this media is relatively cheap compared to the XQD cards required by the FS7.

 The camera can do simultaneous recording on both cards, or relay recording (after one card it switches seamlessly to the card in the next slot). Using the REC button on the handle records on the card in slot A, while the REC button on the handgrip records to slot B (or onto the same card in certain conditions) – which might prove handy for live events or long takes with dual recording needs.

Features of the Sony FS5's handgrip, top handle and monitor

Even though the handgrip looks similar to the one from the FS7 it is actually smaller, and the FS5 doesn’t come equipped out of the box with the industry standard (Arri) rosette mount. You have to buy the rosette mount separately if you want to use the handgrip extender we’ve seen on the FS7 – or a third party accessory.

Sony FS5 LCD monitor screen configuration

The LCD monitor screen can be repositioned for use in gimbals and even completely removed. You can choose to put the screen on the centre/rear of the camera (as with the FS700) or the side (as with the FS7). 

The top handle houses the second XLR audio input, but can also be removed while filming from a drone or in other tight places as the camera body has an XLR input for the first audio channel. The top handle also has a multi-interface hot shoe that can support two extra XLR audio channels via the XLR-K2M adaptor, or a UWP-D wireless audio receiver via the SMAD-P3.

Using 2K centre scan with the Sony FS5

As I write, the FS7 is still waiting for an imminent firmware update to benefit from 2K centre scan, so the FS5 is ahead of its big brother in this regard, but both cameras should soon be capable of using centre scan. This is a welcome bonus for slow-motion users and people with B4 or Super 16mm mount adaptors (adaptor manufacturer MTF has recently launched a special adaptor for this purpose).

Using S-Log3 in the Sony FS5

The FS5 does feature S-Log3 – but for me this seems to be too ‘steep’ to put into a Long GOP codec in the UHD mode. I would be very careful with this. It’s a big surprise to me that Sony have included it, and I would test this extensively before using it for real.

4K RAW output from Sony FS5 coming in the future

Even though the Sony FS5 can only record UHD internally (with an XAVC-L GOP codec) there are plans for a future 4K RAW output. At 4352 x 2662, the sensor size is large enough and the camera comes with 3G-SDI, and HDMI 2.0 (4K). External recorders are feasible accessories.


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