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Is Sony Becoming The Best Cinema Camera Manufacturer Today? Here’s Why They Are Positioned To Dominate The Industry

My very first video camera ever (in the early 2000s) was a 3ccd Sony TRV900 – which at the time was an awesome miniDV cam. Somehow though, it became the first and last Sony camera that I’ve ever owned as I eventually moved onto Panasonic’s lineup, and later came around to own cameras by nearly every other major brand. While Sony has continued to make great cameras all of these years, the areas where they have really excelled have never really crossed over with my needs as a filmmaker.

Sony TRV900

The original Sony TRV900

The Sony FS700 is a great example of one of Sony’s cameras that in theory would be the perfect camera for a filmmaker like me, yet still didn’t quite fit the bill. On paper, the camera is pretty incredible – especially considering the price point. It has all of the pro-level features that you want (including extremely high frame rates), and is exceptionally reliable. All that said, for whatever reason the camera has always felt a bit too ‘videoy’ to me, for lack of a better word. It’s not that it doesn’t have great image quality, resolution and low light ability… But somehow the resulting image just never had that intangible cinematic pop that a true cinema camera can deliver, which is why (in my opinion at least) it was better suited for documentary-style/event productions. 

Sony FS700

So the FS700 and FS100 were never quite right for my needs as a narrative filmmaker, but what about their cinema lineup? Specifically the F3/F5/F55…

The issue for me with regards to their cinema cameras in the past has always been the price point. The F-series lineup offers some truly excellent options that can rival some of the best cinema cameras out there, but their relatively high price points have prevented filmmakers like me from wanting to invest in one. Until the last couple of years, I hadn’t been regularly shooting on high end cinema cameras, and my productions often didn’t have the budget to justify renting them, so even though Sony has been offering some powerful cinema-style cameras for some time now, they were somewhat reserved for larger scale productions. Sony has always been a major player in the game (particularly in the documentary/high end cinema space), but many filmmakers that were looking for an affordable cinema camera have had to turn to Panasonic/Canon/Blackmagic and other brands to satisfy their needs, as Sony hasn’t covered that area particularly well in a long time. This is something that is clearly changing as we speak though, and I personally think that’s a great move by Sony considering how many shooters in the affordable cinema camera realm end up moving on to higher end cinema cameras.

Why Sony Is Taking Over

Since their release of the initial 5D MK II and continuing on until just a couple of years ago, Canon had the strongest foothold in the low-budget market. In 2011/2012, just about everyone I knew owned a 5D, and many of those shooters eventually moved on to Canon’s cinema lineup (namely the C100 and C300). Once Canon’s development and innovation started to plateau though, lots of shooters started looking for other solutions. Many went to smaller companies like Blackmagic/RED, others turned to Panasonic (in particular the GH4), and some have simply been hanging on to their Canon gear, waiting for something else to come along. For those that are in the latter category – it’s looking like Sony may be offering the exact tools that they have been waiting for.

My rationale behind that is pretty simple – Sony is covering every last corner of the camera market, and doing an exceptional job at it. They now have one of the best DSLRs (or DSLMs) out there – the A7s, the incredibly powerful and affordable FS7, numerous broadcast cameras, and their cinema lineup (F5/F55), just to name a few key highlights. The fact that they are not only covering the needs of such a wide spectrum of filmmakers, but also pushing ahead technology (by offering unmatched lowlight performance, high frame rates and more) is simply staggering.

Sony_A7s

 

Companies like Blackmagic and RED conversely make amazing cameras too, but they are intended for a smaller and more specific type of user and likely will never reach the masses in the same way that Sony may be able to – at least in the very near future. And then there is Panasonic, who is currently lacking in the sub $10K cinema camera market… Yes, the GH4 is amazing, but they really don’t have a strong C100/FS7 competitor and desperately need to fill that gap. So once again, we’re left with Sony who seems to be attempting to cover every end of the spectrum by offering a fleet of cameras for the needs of any type of production.

Sony also seems to have a better approach to their product development and innovation at the moment when compared to other companies – namely Canon. They are pushing for high end features like 4K, high ISO, smaller bodies, better color science, etc. even on their lower-cost offerings. And unlike Canon they don’t seem to be afraid of cannibalizing their high end product lineup by releasing powerful and affordable cameras…. And that is paying off big time for them.

The Lumix GH4 seems to have taken more of Canon’s business than the A7S has (at least from my highly subjective experience), but the A7S is still going very strong and arguably is the best full frame DSLR for video. Many former 5D users have converted over to the A7S, just like many current C100 users that I know are considering the FS7, which clearly signals a movement that is happening in the industry today. And then there’s the F5/F55 which are quickly becoming some of the most sought after cinema cameras out there, and are being being chosen over RED on many higher end productions. RED cameras are great (don’t get me wrong!), and I use them all the time… However the demand in the industry is shifting, and while cameras like the Alexa (the gold standard) are too expensive for many productions and owner/operators, the F55 offers a very nice and less-expensive alternative to the Alexa. In my opinion it falls somewhere in between RED and Alexa in terms of overall image quality, with it’s ergonomics being closer to the Alexa.

Sony F55

All of this clearly shows Sony’s dedication to their products and customers. But if that wasn’t enough, yesterday news was leaked about this –

Sony 6K 240fps sensor

For those of you that haven’t heard anything about this yet, in a nutshell some specs were leaked that detail a new 6K sensor from Sony capable of shooting at up to 240fps at 6K and up to 16,000fps at 2K – which is absolutely incredible. It’s worth pointing out that this is a 1.5″ sensor (near Micro four thirds in size) and there is no knowing where this sensor is intended to be used, but one thing is for sure: Sony is innovating like crazy right now. Not only are the specs ridiculous on this sensor, but in many ways it represents a completely new type of sensor technology.

Sony 6K Sensor

Here’s an except from nofilmschool.com:

Instead of using the traditional bayer method of color interpolation, where there are individual pixels for the red, green, and blue channels, the new sensor has pixels that can sample each of the three colors using a technology called Active Pixel Color Sampling. Essentially this means that the new sensors only need 1/3 of the pixels in order to output the same resolution. At 4.85 megapixels, a number that seems minuscule compared to many modern cameras, this new sensor will be able to output data roughly equivalent to a 15 megapixel sensor.

Another implication of the Active Pixel Color Sampling technology is that these sensors can have much larger pixels than traditional sensors, which in theory, means that we might be seeing low-light performance in the future that exceeds even that of the venerable Sony A7s.

This new sensor, combined with Sony’s already widespread lineup of video offerings is truly positioning them to be the most relevant camera manufacturer across the entire spectrum. Only time will tell, and who knows what Panasonic, Canon, and the rest of the big players have up their sleeves, but if nothing else it’s safe to say that right now Sony is taking the lead. While I don’t currently own any Sony cameras – there’s a good chance that my next purchase may just be a Sony.

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

19 Comments

  • Damien
    January 5, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    Hi Noam!!

    Nice to meet you!

    I`m thinking to buy 2 cameras for a tv program about tourism and sports and i´m between the canon 6D and the SONY NEX-FS100.

    What do you think?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      January 11, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Hey Damien – Unless you need stills, I would definitely go with the FS100. I have a 6D and although it’s incredible for stills, it’s not great for video… Hope this helps!

      Reply
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    Reply
  • Charles
    November 29, 2014 at 3:33 am

    The color science of Sony cameras always bugs me when I use the FS700 compared to a Red, or Blackmagic even. I should get my hands on the FS7.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      December 3, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      I can definitely agree with this, especially on the lower end of the spectrum. The cinema cameras have been great, but the less costly options such as the FS100/FS700 always felt behind the curve with regards to color.

      Reply
  • Dan
    November 24, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I will upgrade my GH2 to BMPCC. If I need something better, I can always rent. I’m just worried that there will be something better in the BMPCC price range before next summer.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 24, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      When are you planning to upgrade? If you’re not upgrading right away, you could always wait until April and see what is released at NAB.

      Reply
      • Dan
        November 26, 2014 at 11:41 am

        I’m selling my GH2 before the end of the year but I will only (need to) buy the a camera in the summer. So I can easily wait until after NAB. Hopefully Blackmagic will at least lower the price of BMPCC, if they don’t announce a new camera to replace it.

        Reply
  • Tom Sylvester
    November 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I’ve owned a Sony FS700 for a few years, and with S-Log2 it has a beautiful, smooth, rich feel. Then I bought a new Sony AX-100 4K for one QUARTER of the price–$2000–and the image quality is equal to or better than the FS700 (4K notwithstanding). Granted, it doesn’t offer interchangeable lenses or super slow motion. But it has many pro features, has stunning image quality, and is 25% of the price! I’m BIG on Sony…. -Tom

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 24, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      Thanks for the note Tom! I appreciate you sharing this with the readers.

      Reply
  • John Brune
    November 15, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I will stick with both of my FS100 cameras. My workflow is excellent. Why would I “upgrade” to 4k — my clients have no use for it and don’t ask for it. 4k is great for cinema but impractical for my purposes. Only camera manufacturers and writers like you who are paid to push these products are benefitting from this

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 24, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      Agreed! 4K is overkill for 90% of projects, even today. That said there’s still the other 10% that do need 4K, and that number is growing every day.

      Also for the record I can’t say that I am paid or have ever been paid to push these products! I don’t know anyone at Sony and haven’t owned any of their cameras (since I was a teenager), just to set the record straight. I simply like what they’re doing.

      Reply
  • Alain
    November 14, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    Funny, I sold my 5d mark3 for an a7s to use as a b-camera for my c100, and ended up liking the sony so much I sold my c100 for an FS7 pre order..Just as your article mentioned I am one who sold both my 5d and c100 for sony offerings…Canon can comeback and match sony spec wise but I doubt thy will match them price wise..

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Thanks for the comment Alain! I think many people are in the same situation as you and as such have decided to make the switch. Canon’s biggest issue right now is their pricing, so unless they do something about that they are going to be in trouble. Their cameras produce great images, but for the money they are charing you can get more bang for your buck elsewhere.

      Reply
  • Brecht Vanhoenacker
    November 14, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Hi Noam,

    I have one or two questions. I think you might have the answer.
    I am thinking about ordering a FS7 myself, but I haven’t seen any convincing footage so far. It all seems very “videoish” to me. I really like the image coming out of the C100 and C300. It looks cinematic, without even having been graded. All the footage from the FS7 online seems like the opposite. Is this because people don’t know how to handle the camera, specs, etc…?
    Does the F5 produce the exact same image as the FS7.
    I was hoping for this camera to produce a very nice look, without having to go in post-production all the way..
    I hope you can give me some insight!
    Thanks again for the review.

    Brecht

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 24, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Hi Brecht,

      I also just responded to your last comment which covers most of your questions here, but in terms of the F5, I would definitely say you are going to notice a big difference in image quality when compared to the FS7. The cameras are designed and intended for different purposes and I certainly think the F5 is more cinematically oriented. That said, you can get great results with any camera if you know how to work around it’s quirks!

      Reply
      • Brecht Vanhoenacker
        December 4, 2014 at 12:35 pm

        Hi NOam,

        thanks for replying. I have been watching different blogs and checking out the latest footage from the FS7. It is still hard to tell because there is so little shot on this camera so far.
        I was wandering if you v had some more first hand experience with this camera in the meanwhile?
        I read that the image is almost indistinguishable from the F5. I don’t want to second guess your comments, but do you think it might actually be the case?
        Dan Chung talks about his experience compared to the F5 and C300: http://www.newsshooter.com/2014/11/01/sony-fs7-field-report-week-1-the-canon-c300-killer/
        I am asking again because I have to invest really soon in a new camera, and I won’t be able to get my hands on this FS7 before 2015.. We are starting a new documentary the beginning of jan 2015 and renting isn’t an option ( for several reasons)
        When there is a difference, could you describe the difference visually?
        Thanks again!

        Brecht

        Reply
        • Noam Kroll
          December 15, 2014 at 10:42 pm

          Hi Brecht,

          Thanks for sharing Dan’s article – I will give it a read! If he has used it and already tested it, then he would definitely be the better source of info on this… I am just basing my opinion off of footage I’ve seen online and unfortunately haven’t shot with it myself yet, but will certainly do a post or review once I do. It’s hard to describe the difference without looking at them side by side, but generally I didn’t love the way colors were rendered. That said my opinion may very well change once I actually shoot with one.

          Hope this helps in some way!

          Reply
  • Brecht
    November 14, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Hi Noam,

    thanks for your insight. Interesting. I think I have to agree with you for most parts.
    I was wandering if the FS7 has te abilities to shoot ‘cinematic’. Most videos posted on the Facebook user page of the FS7 are not ‘cinematic’ whatsoever.. especially compared to similar videos shot on the C300..
    It’s hard to say at this point if this is due to bad vimeo compression, bad video handling, or the the camera itself.. I see a lot of noise, strange contrasts, videoy looks, etc..
    In your opinion, does this camera have a lot more in store than what we’ve seen so far?
    Is it better, image quality wise, than a C300?
    I like the specs, the ergonomics, the price a lot and I am thinking about getting one, but I have serious doubts about the image..
    I am looking for a good reference. Not one that is graded all over the place just to get the right feel.
    I am looking for a camera with the right ‘look’ out of the camera, without having to go into post production every single time.
    As you mentioned, the FS700 has a video look, the things I’ve seen so far from the fs7 have that same feeling..
    Please, help me out here..
    thanks,

    Brecht

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 24, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      Hi Brecht,

      Thanks for visiting, and that’s a very good question. Unfortunately I haven’t shot with the FS7 yet myself so I can’t speak from personal experience but I do believe that it will be more cinematic looking than the FS700. Often times initial test footage doesn’t quite do the camera justice, as it isn’t coming from proper productions, and often isn’t being color corrected as well as it could be… But with that said I have to agree with you that so far I haven’t seen anything from the FS7 that has blown me away. Looking forward to testing it (and hopefully reviewing it) soon.

      Reply

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