Sony FS5 Review: First Look

We got our new Sony PXW-FS5’s this week and I’ve had a few days to play with our rental unit, here is a brief Sony FS5 review with some of my first impressions.

Sony FS5

 

Lens

We ordered a unit with the kit lens for our rental pool. The 18-105mm f/4 lens that comes with the kit is light weight and versatile. It is not an expensive lens and as such does have some limitations. In the past this lens has been much maligned for excessive distortion, with due cause. However, the FS5 (and other newer Sony cameras) are programmed to compensate for this phenomenon in camera and the distortion is well within acceptable limits. The distortion does seem to reappear when the camera is in Center Scan mode (more on center scan later) though.

The power zoom on the lens works very well with the rocker switch on the camera’s hand grip. It is faster and more responsive than the 28-135mm f/4 kit lens that comes with the FS7.

Overall I think the kit lens, with its weight, quality and cost, is a good value and a good fit for this camera.

 

Camera Body

Sony FS5 Bare Camera BodyRight out of the box I was surprised at how small and light the body of the camera was. I knew ahead of time that those were some of the camera’s key attributes, but I was still amazed. The body, without the hand grip, is about the size of a box of pop tarts and weighs less than 2 pounds.

Assembly of the camera was easy, no tools required. The hand grip mounts exactly like a camera lens; there is even a body cap for the mount if you aren’t using the hand grip. The top handle is attached with 2 thumb screws which will make stripping the camera down to its lightest and smallest configuration fast and painless. The LCD display is just as simple to attach with a single 1/4 20 thumb screw, and can be mounted to any 1/4 20 threaded hole, of which there are 4 on the top handle and 6 on the top of the body. You can even eliminate the LCD completely and use the built in viewfinder on the rear of the camera.

The hand grip on the side of the camera is a great feature. The grip is comfortable and you can easily support the weight of the camera one handed. Being able to rotate the handle makes angling the camera up or down easy and comfortable. I will note that I have taken to plugging the cord for the grip in with the cord angled towards the rear of the camera. The first time I plugged it in I had it the other way around and when I went to remove it I had a real hard time getting a grip on the plug to pull it out.

The rear viewfinder is a good quality OLED that give a nice crisp image. It is a bit on the small side, and the only setting that will allow you to use the rear viewfinder while the LCD is attached is to have it on auto select, exactly like on the A7’s. This can be very annoying when trying to shoot using the LCD and holding the camera close to your body as it will keep switching back and forth between the LCD and viewfinder.

 

Features

I won’t go into the main features of the camera in this post, I think for the most part they are self evident from the specs, XAVC-L, 4K UHD, 120 fps etc. I will hit on a few key features that I think stand out about the FS5.

Menus

The menus have been redesigned (again) and I haven’t decided if I like them or not. They are similar enough to the FS7 menus for me to not be entirely lost, but they are more condensed with fewer options. The menus are much faster to navigate which is a big plus.

Clear Image Zoom

Clear Image Zoom is an intriguing new feature, and if it holds up image quality wise is going to be indispensible for a lot of shooters. Essentially what clear image zoom allows you to do is leverage the extra resolution of the sensor to add extra zooming capabilities to the lens you have attached. Depending on if you are in HD or 4k you can get up to 2x or 1.5x the focal length out of your lens. So the kit 18-105mm lens becomes an 18-210mm lens in HD mode. Additionally this would allow you to get some zooming capabilities on prime lenses as well. This added flexibility with lenses could be a life saver for fast paced documentary type work.

Center Scan

Center Scan is another feature that will add lens flexibility to the camera, allowing you to punch in on any lens by cropping the sensor in to a super16 size HD. Interestingly enough clear image zoom is still an option when in Center Scan mode, in theory this would give you up to 4x the rated focal length on any lens. It is still unclear if the image quality will hold up doing both Center Scan and Clear Image Zoom.

Variable ND

The internal variable ND filter has already been the topic of much discussion around the internet so I won’t add much to it here. I think it is worth noting that in addition to having the continuous variability, you can set the presets on the knob to any level you want so you can have customized ND filtration without having to scroll the wheel on the side of the camera.

WB Shift in S-log

The last feature that I want to bring up is one of the biggest in my opinion, and I hope that it gets brought over to the FS7 in a firmware update. The feature in question is white balance shifting in S-log shooting. Of the FS5 when shooting in S-log you are limited to three preset white balance points, like you are on the FS7, F5 and F55. On the FS5 however you are able to make tweaks to the color balance using WB Shift under the picture profile settings. This will let you dial in the color temperature to a much more accurate degree making post work that much easier. This feature addresses one of the biggest complaints we have heard with shooting log footage on Sony cameras.

Sony PXW-FS5

Summary

I think the FS5 is a capable, professional camera that offers users a host of powerful tools at an affordable price.  I would not hesitate to recommend this camera for documentary or news gathering applications.  It’s easy to use and light which is ideal for one man operations, and offers superb imaging and lensing options.  Hopefully I will have an opportunity to take the camera out into the field and really put it through its paces.

 

-Keith M


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