A Step Up- Sony’s NEX-FS700

I’ll admit it – I’m one of the FS700’s early adopters. By early I mean within the first year it was available. Who knows what nightmares the future may bring as its shortcomings and gotchas come into the light. What marvelous new product might pop up just around the corner, putting this otherwise amazing bit of technological marvelousness to shame, and oh, what angst will I feel at not having waited just a bit longer to step up from the HDV cams, HVR-Z5U and HVR-V1U, that I had been using for years?

There was a bit of a quandary just before my purchase. I thought perhaps the new PMW-200 might suit me better, and I still think it might be a “better” camera. But ultimately, the lure of interchangeable lenses, the hope that the FS700 was better in low light, and yes, even the prospect of Super Slow Motion all conspired (among other things) to sway me to the contraption known as the NEX-FS700.

In short, I like it, but I also kinda hate it. Being used to the Z5, (which is what the PMW-200 looks like) I really hate having weird configuration doodads and cables hanging off every which direction, and it takes me many addition (crucial!) seconds to get set up and shooting. This will get better with use, and with the further development of a rig that I can trust, and possibly even toss about as I would the Z5 or V1. Hopefully it survives.

The internal codec is certainly superior to that of HDV in color depth and the lack of hideous, blocky artifacts, especially in slate-blue skies and clouds, but when it comes to finely detailed motion, it falls apart pretty fast. What this camera has going for it is the fact that the larger sensor affords the use of shallower depth-of-field, thus keeping distracting detail from being lost, since it’s not there in the first place…case in point: Tracking a soaring eagle past distant trees. It’s a lot better if you can get that background blurred – not only for the artistic sense of it, but also to hide the unsightly mush.

I will be doing tests with the PIX220 fairly soon, after winter preparations slow down and allow me to spend more time mucking about with gear and driving myself nuts pixel-peeping. Nothing too scientific will be going on here, mind you – I leave that to the trained professionals. I’m just looking for solutions to problems that plague me in everyday shooting, where I don’t know what I’ll be pointing the camera at from one moment to the next.

I’m hoping the aliasing I’ve seen hints of here and there don’t become a problem. One thing I do is to always shoot at 60fps. I may be wrong in this, or foolish to admit it, but I figure if you want that “film-look” judder or pacing, then it’s fairly easy to create that from something shot at 60fps. Obviously it’s not so easy the other way around. But I notice that shooting at 24fps and 30fps, the lower bit rate of these as implemented in the FS700 tends to be a little lacking when it comes to re-creation of fine diagonal and horizontal lines, and also patterns, especially if they are moving…..and these are things I shoot a lot, so it’s not like I’m in the position of asking an actor to change out of that striped shirt. Artifacting due to aliasing is not so evident at the 28Mb/s 60p. I also use this when shooting slow-motion…..for the same reason, but more so, as the SSM does cause a noticeable loss of visual quality. Almost too much to stomach, actually, but it’s something I’ll have to learn to live with.

I’m messing about with Picture Profiles, like everyone else seems to be. I’m about to dial in this one, as suggested by Alister Chapman, whose articles have been extremely helpful to me. It will be interesting to me to compare the settings I’m about to try to the settings I currently have, which are as follows (slightly modified and intermixed settings gleaned from multiple sites):

Black Level -2
Gamma Cine 2 (interesting – I thought it was on Cine 4 – I must have been messing around and forgot!)
Black Gamma Range Low, Level -5
Knee Mode Manual, Manual Set: Point 80, Slope -2
Colour Mode Cinema Level 8
Colour Level 0
Detail Level 0 Manual Set On (all 0 except B/W Balance = Type3, Limit 7)
Color Phase 0
Color Depth R 0, G 0, B 0, C 0, M 0, Y 0

OK…so I must have been messing about in my sleep. But I do know that of the various PP settings in camera at the moment (most have been slightly modified, if not more, by me) this one is what IU like best so far. So now we look at Alister’s latest Picture Profile, designed to maximise dynamic range, and allow for maximum grading decisions….something I prefer, as I tend to make the wrong decisions in the field, and would rather have all my attention available for framing, focus, exposure, and not falling off whatever I’m balanced on, getting hit by a truck, or getting eaten.

Alister’s Profile:

Black Level +1
Gamma Cine 4
Black Gamma Range Low, Level +7
Knee Mode Manual, Manual Set: Point 105, Slope +5
Colour Mode Pro Level 8
Colour Level -2
Detail Level -7 Manual Set Off
Color Phase -2
Color Depth R+2, G-1, B 0, C-1, M+2, Y 0

I’ll report later, and after I settle in for the winter a bit, I’ll post some footage or something….maybe even some Aurora footage, if I can work with what I got last night!

OK….finally, a note about lenses. I purchased the kit lens with this camera. I kinda hate it. Worst $600 I’ve spent….maybe I should have sprung for a faster Sony prime so I could play with the autofocus tricks and the stabilization, but there are a few things I can’t stand – like the fact that there is already dust inside the lens! And I’ve been taking care of it too…I haven’t had a chance to abuse anything yet! Also, it’s darn slow. And when I put the Metabones adapter on, and stuck a Canon 100-400mm L lens on that, the difference was immediately apparent in the dinky little thing Sony calls an LCD screen. Yes, the screen is too small for real use, but hey, it’s just there so you can smudge something. Anyway, the Canon glass really rocks, and this is supposed to be an “OK” lens…not great…so what does that make the Sony 17-200mm kit lens?

Anyway, in case you really like my drivel, here’s the text from my review as written on B&H – I’ll leave you with this, for now, and promise some sort of positive write-up after I get better acquainted with this camera!

Review on B&H http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/853660-REG/Sony_NEX_FS700UK_NEX_FS700UK_Super35_Camcorder_with.html (I will re-edit and update this original review now that a year has passed! See Reviews section on this site)