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Sony FS7 II: A true shooter's camera

Friday, December 23, 2016 3:30 PM

WTS' Technical Product Specialist Denis Moldovan finds himself well and truly won over by the tweaks that Sony have made to their hugely popular FS7, in the new FS7 II.

A little over two years ago, Sony launched the PXW-FS7, a camera that has taken the video world by storm, setting the bar in terms of specs and performance (at an affordable price no less), and establishing itself as the number one camera for ENG/EFP productions in the UK.

Boasting 14 stops of dynamic range, 4K DCI recording at up to 60p, a robust professional codec capable of undergoing arduous post processing without breaking down, not to mention the ergonomic design (it was the first Super35mm camera that could be shoulder mounted with minimal or no rigging) and a host of other great features, the original FS7 quickly became the camera of choice for many, be it solo operators, production companies or TV networks.

That being said, it was not a perfect camera. None of them are!

Fast forward two years (and a lot of user feedback) and Sony introduce the PXW-FS7 II (confusingly called FS7MII although it is not a mark II), a camera meant to answer the various operability gripes that users have had in the field with the original FS7, and offer an overall more efficient and pleasurable experience whilst shooting with the FS7II.

FS7 II's variable ND filter

Probably the most significant upgrade to the camera is the addition of the LCD-based variable ND filter that was initially introduced with the Sony PXW-FS5 and proved incredibly popular with users, particularly due to the fact that you no longer had to rely on preset ND levels, but rather could seamlessly adjust exposure without having to change any other exposure parameters.

The addition of it to the FS7 II means you are able to record tracking shots through environments with different lighting conditions without ever having to adjust aperture, shutter speed or gain to achieve perfect exposure, meaning you are not altering the overall look and aesthetics of the shot.

The variable ND can be used in three different modes. The first one is very much like a traditional variable ND filter, where you turn the dial up and down to achieve the desired level of ND.

The second mode is Auto ND, which will automatically maintain the level at a constant exposure, throughout a shot with dynamic lighting, without altering your aperture, shutter speed and gain, thus maintaining the overall look and aesthetics of your shot.

The third mode, is reminiscent of classic glass ND filters, in which you set three different presets for neutral density, and toggle through them with the dial, like you would on the original FS7. 

The FS7 II's locking E-mount

Although initially designed as a stills camera mount (Sony NEX-3, NEX-5), the E-mount made its way into the video world with camcorders such as the NEX-VG10, and later on the FS100 and FS700, both industry workhorses.

The evolution of lens adapters in the past couple of years (Metabones, MTF, Fotodiox, etc) suddenly meant that operators could put heavy PL cinema glass on small camera bodies with minimal effort and no permanent modifications to the camera mount.

But from its initial design, the E-mount was never meant to support the weight of even widely popular Canon L series lenses, much less that of, say, a Fujinon Cabrio lens.

Sony have re-engineered the E-mount on the FS7 II and equipped it with a locking mechanism similar to the PL mount and the very popular B4 mount found on most ENG cameras, where you no longer attach the lens by twisting it into the mount but rather use a rotating locking mechanism to securely attach the lens to the camera body.

The result is a much more solid connection capable of handling much heavier lenses safely, without needing to use additional support for the lens.

EVF/LCD mount, loupe and LCD hood 

The EVF/LCD mount has also been subject to a redesign. Each axis of adjustment now has its own dedicated locking knob, and the 15mm rod has been replaced with a square rod which will prevent the off-axis rotation of the LCD screen during adjustments.

The loupe attachment has also received an update. As opposed to the loupe on the original FS7, the new one has a fixed hook that easily slips over the lug on top of the EVF, leaving only the bottom latch left to be locked.

This is a welcome change, as the original FS7 loupe proved fiddly, and sometimes difficult to attach, particularly for solo operators. By contrast, attaching the loupe on the FS7 MII is a one hand operation. 

Sony now also include a snap-on collapsible sun hood for shooting in bright sunlight, that doubles up as a protector for your screen. 

FS7 II boasts a new extension arm

The handgrip extension arm has also received some TLC. The two screws have been replaced with a wingnut, making fore / aft adjustments a simple tool-less operation.

To be fair, there are quite a few after-market solutions that allow you to have this on the original FS7, but I would argue that it just makes sense to have it right out of the box.

More assignable buttons 

The number of assignable buttons has been increased from six to ten, giving the operator access to more functions at the touch of a button, as opposed to diving into Sony’s slightly confounding menu system. 

BT.2020 Colour Space

Although it has the sensor and processing as the original FS7, and it is essentially a REC.709 sensor, the FS7 II is now BT.2020 workflow compliant.

It is worth noting that the camera cannot actually see the entire gamut of colours present in BT2020 (no camera actually can yet), but it does record more than REC.709, and, thanks to the color matrix, what it does see can be mapped to the BT2020 colour space.

So is it worth the price difference?

It is important to note that the PXW-FS7M II does not replace the original FS7 (which makes the “M II” even more confusing), but rather is an overhauled version of the same camera, with the internal hardware and processing being almost identical and the only real changes being on the usability side.

So given the almost £2.5K price difference between the FS7 and the FS7M II, who would it be worth it for?

Because we are talking about a very much streamlined camera, that has been “re-designed” in accordance with two years' worth of user feedback from the field, I would argue this camera is indeed designed for shooters who would use it on a day-to day basis.

If your shooting style implies mostly locked-off tripod shots, like say corporate videos, than most likely this camera would not be worth the asking price for you. But if you find yourself constantly shooting through jungles, deserts and other demanding environments, where one minute extra time for adjustments makes the difference between getting the shot and not getting the shot, then the FS7 II  is the camera for you.

Sony have taken what was already a stellar camera, and enhanced it further with features that give it unparalleled ease of use and ergonomics. The camera no longer gets in your way whilst shooting, and you no longer have to work around design flaws, however smaill, or alternatively sink hours of research and hundreds/thousands of pounds in after-market products in order to bring the camera to a level of usability you are comfortable with.

And whilst the heckler in me would say that the extra £2.5K for a variable ND and a bunch of extra buttons is maybe not the best spend, after a day with the FS7 II I am convinced it is the better camera.

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