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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.