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Sony NXCAM FS100

So the much rumoured baby brother to F3 has finally broken cover.  It has been greeted with a mixed reaction covering a broad spectrum.  One of the first people to shoot with it was my friend Den Lennie from F-Stop Academy.  Den had a hand in the development and is a fan.  Some reviewers have not been so kind but then most of the comment flooding the web is speculation based on the spec with only a few people getting hands-on the pre-production samples.  

The most obvious competitor is Panasonic’s AF100.  Both cameras are significantly more expensive than a DSLR but deliver some functionality DSLRs lack particularly better audio handling, longer shooting times and uncompressed output.  However, these are video only cameras so they are not hybrid devices.  The sheer volume of DSLRs sold due to their dual purpose will always give them a sizable price advantage.  Prices are not confirmed but it looks like the Sony may go on sale at $6000 which would make it more expensive than the AF100.  Given that it lack some features like built-in ND and SDI connections that make it seem a poor deal.  However, what it does have is the sensor out of the F3 a significantly more expensive camera, where as the AF100 technology is more closely related to that in their DSLRs.  That sensor has been much praised in the F3 especially for its sensitivity and lack of noise.  It is also a larger S35 size, making it perfect for use with Cinema lenses.  It may well be worth the difference on its own.  The E mount lenses have added features (AF & IS) but I haven’t seen any lenses that interest me yet in that format - micro 4/3 is better supported to date.

Ergonomically and styling is very different and perhaps most like RED’s new Epic.  The Epic has been almost universally praised for its form factor and modularity so it is a slight mystery to me why the Sony has taken so much stick.  It has a handheld configuration but will probably need help from third parties to rig for all occasions.  However, I think that probably applies with most of the alternatives.  The number of mounting points that the camera offers should certainly ensure the likes of Zacuto and Redrock should not be short of options.  The external output is via HDMI and is 4:2:2 uncompressed with timecode.  Its only 8bit but I am not sure how much that will effect the issue.  I have never met a pro who had a kind word for HDMI connectors.  However, the HDMI option does tend to mean that peripherals like monitors and recorders are cheaper.  My two main concerns are perhaps the lack of NDs.  I have never had a camera that had them but then I have never had a camera with a native ISO of somewhere in the 400-800 range either.  Even in the UK, external ND is probably going to be a necessity.  I also think not having the choice of 24 & 25fps on the cameras is deeply irritating.  I am afraid the justification of it allowing them to protect higher margins outside the US makes it even worse.  With so much footage being piped round the globe via the web, regionality is an anachronism.

As an amateur enthusiast with a dual hobby with the still and moving image then the FS100 would be a massive luxury.  It also worries me that video development on DSLRs might stagnate in favour of this class of camera.  If I needed to cover events where I wanted to keep that big sensor look with a longer shooting time or I wanted to start using cinema lenses then I think the Sony would be my choice.  I haven’t seen anything yet from the AF100 which I feels moves the game on from DSLRS whereas I have seen some F3 footage that impressed.  All hypothetical for now though as it may be several months before we see footage from production FS100s and there are rumours doing the rounds about an AF200 response.  A response from Canon is also well overdue (in my opinion, possibly not theirs).  Will there be any last minute surprises for NAB?

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