In September 2015, at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam, Sony Professional released the PXW-FS5, a Super 35 interchangeable-lens camera.
The PXW-FS5 is the PXW-FS7’s little brother, offering many of the same options with a smaller, more compact form-factor. There are a few notable changes between the two cameras, namely a different codec with XAVC Long, 4K shooting in only UHD without the option for DCI 4K and a built-in variable ND with the addition of a linear adjustment from 1/4 to 1/128.
The PXW-FS5 is a more compact and far lighter camera than the PXW-FS7, coming in at only 1.76lbs. It’s perfect for a small gimbal and light enough for hours of hand held shooting. With its adjustable grip, it’s reminiscent of the Canon C-100 and C-300 form-factor. It’s amazing how just a few adjustments differentiate this camera’s feel so much from the FS7.
What can it do
Before we get into our experience with the FS5, let’s rundown some of the noteworthy specs. The PXW-FS5 has a Super 35 Exmor CMOS image sensor — the same size as the PXW-FS7. The sensor delivers 14 stops of dynamic range and can shoot up to 960 fps in burst mode. With 960 fps being the fastest frame rate, it also offers 240 and 480 fps. That gives you the ability for 40x slowmo — impressive! It offers wireless file transfers of full resolution via Wi-Fi to an FTP server, plus wireless streaming to MPEG TS receivers and computers for remote monitoring. It records via SD card and is equipped with two card slots. When loaded with two cards, the FS5 can simultaneously record proxy files along with your desired resolution with the same name and timecode. For this review we shot on two Sony U3 Class 10 SDXC I SD cards.
Feel and Shooting Experience
We started our PXW-FS5 experience packing the camera up for a trip across the country, where we had the distinct pleasure to shoot in New York City for some of our tests. The size of the camera made it easy to pack and carry on to our flight. The adjustable LCD screen was easily rotated into a storable position. Once in New York City, we shot around and in the High Line urban park area. The location offered many beautiful shooting situations. Shooting from midday to about dusk, we were able to challenge the dynamic range in situations that had dark shadows and bright sun light. Walking around with the camera, we shot buildings, the water, onlookers and cars in traffic.
We first noticed the camera’s ergonomics, influenced by both its weight and the grip integration. It felt nice in-hand, allowing simple shooting at both low and high angles. At first, the grip felt strange because it requires multiple fingers to operate. This was a temporary setback, however, as we quickly adapted our muscle memory and found it to be very intuitive. Rotating the grip was easy, which made it possible to quickly find the optimal grip no matter the shooting angle. The grip can be rotated with the press of a button, so the left hand remains free for focus control.
We were especially happy with the weight of the camera. Toating it around the city for hours was no problem. Because of its handle, it was easy to carry when not shooting.
Once we began shooting, there was no avoiding what we experienced first when shooting in S-Log3: a minimum ISO of 3,200. Thats a lot of light to compensate for. It’s good that the FS5 has a variable neutral density (ND) filter because without it that minimum ISO would be a huge problem. Once shot, all we needed to grade the S-log3 footage was a simple LUT. It made the footage look great and got rid of the little noise we experienced.
Back at Videomaker world headquarters, we tested the FS5’s low light capabilities. We shot in the picture profile 1 — one of the six standard picture profiles on the camera. It didn't perform poorly, but it wasn’t mindblowing either. Everything above ISO 4,000 needs some noise reduction and everything above ISO 8,000 is not salvageable. An unfortunate aspect of the PXW-FS5 is that the minimum ISO for non S-Log picture profiles is still high at 1,000. A native ISO that high is a big bummer.
Because the camera needs to operate at a high ISO all the time, applying the ND in more than just a step at a time is very nice.
Because the camera needs to operate at a high ISO all the time, applying the ND in more than just a step at a time is very nice. The ND is linearly adjustable, making getting the right exposure not only possible but easy. The location of the ND is the same in the FS7; it’s easy to find and the grip is textured for an easy turn. We felt that the ND being linearly adjustable is a great feature and a no-brainer. We’d love to see every camera offered with this option. It’s just so convenient when shooting run-and-gun video.
We shot with the Sony E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS, the kit lens for the PXW-FS5. The 35mm Equivalent is 27-158mm. It has a power zoom function with a consistent aperture through the throw of the lens. It also offers Optical Image Stabilization. Overall, the picture quality from the lens was nice, but it’s functionality was not so impressive. The focus ring was slow to respond and offered very few degrees of rotation, making find focusing difficult. It was just too touchy. The FS5 and lens use Sony’s E mount.
If we were to buy this camera, we’d buy it without the kit lens. Sony offers a few better lenses for run-and-gun shooting and many other options for more controlled shooting situations. The value for us was just not there with the PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS; we’d just rather spend the saved money on a better piece of glass.
The LCD for the PXW-FS5 is the same as the FS7, however unlike with the PXW-FS7 where it felt lightweight and cheap considering the cost of the camera, the LCD fit the smaller form factor better and felt more in line with the value of the camera. It also rotates and moves very easily. Just a few knobs to loosen and the location of the LCD can be personalized. Because the camera is smaller, the LCD appears larger in scale. It was just far more usable on the FS5. Another great improvement with the FS5 is that there is now a viewfinder. The viewfinder is OLED and, in times where the LCD fell short, it was nice to have another option.
A big problem with the FS7 was the menu operation. It was very slow to respond and just not conducive to changing any menu option quickly. With the PXW-FS5, the speed of the menu operation is a non-issue. It operates fast enough that you don’t think about it. It wasn’t till we went back to our FS7 review that we considered it worth mentioning. The slow menu of the FS7 was a big problem for a camera at its price point. Sony did a lot of things right with the FS5 that, in our opinion, they got wrong with the FS7.
If you’re used to DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, then you might also be happy to find that the FS5 is not bogged down by having a 30 minute record time limit, a short battery life or any overheating issues, and it has 2 XLR inputs. It’s really everything that would improve photo-first cameras. Plus, the FS5 will shoot UHD 4K in 24 and 30 fps at 100Mbps.
One last big improvement over using DLSRs or mirrorless cameras is that all of your controls are at your fingertips and not in-menu. Want to change the white balance? A flip of a switch and you are ready. This is big for shooters who need to use muscle memory and shoot by feel instead of flipping through menus. Switches and knobs are not valued highly enough when evaluating many small form factor detachable-lens cameras.
The nice thing about this camera is that it doesn’t require overly-expensive media. All you need are SD cards. The PXW-FS5 doesn’t have a short battery life like many mirrorless cameras and doesn't have any overheating issues, so continuous recording can last till the battery dies or your media fills up.
It’s easy to love this camera. The picture quality is superb and the form factor is easy to use — but those things don’t come cheap. The PXW-FS5 is $6,700; that’s not chump change. What we we’d have really loved to see is the low light capabilities of Sony’s a7S II put into a better form factor with easier controls and XLR mic inputs. Alas, that might be Sony’s next camera, but for today we’ll just have to stay in want. We were discouraged at the minimum native ISO of 1,000 and even more unwelcome is the minimum ISO of 3,200 in S-Log3. It’d be nice to not have to deal with that much light. Lastly, it’d be awesome for Sony to give this high-end camera a full frame sensor, but now we’re just dreaming.
Who is it for?
Because of the cost, we would most definitely label the ideal users of the FS5 as professional. If you are an event videographer, news gatherers, documentarian, marketing agency or studio, then this camera is for you. The expanded flexibility of having onboard XLR inputs, a grip that makes handheld shooting easier and linearly adjustable ND will make catching the right moment easier, allowing for better results. This camera really excels at run-and-gun shooting. Get a great quality images with ease of use and all the necessary tools at your fingertips.
Low budget filmmakers, semi-pro videographers or hobbyists probably won't get enough benefit out of the FS5 to justify the cost. A camera with fewer high-end options and a lower price tag might fit the bill a lot better. There are several mirrorless cameras that would get you into UHD 4K at less than half the cost of the FS5. However the drawback of a small form factor mirrorless camera is that accessories are almost always needed to get the most from your camera.
Value in the Marketplace
At release, the MSRP of $6,700 puts the FS5 in the same space as the Canon C-100 Mark II at an MSRP of $5,700 and the Blackmagic Design URSA Mini 4.6k at $4,995. The C-100 Mark II is a bit cheaper but doesn't offer 4K. The URSA Mini is also cheaper and does shoot 4K — 4.6k in fact — but has the drawback of weighing about 5lbs and lacks the ease of use of the FS5. It seems with this release that Sony intended to make a camera that feels more like the C-100 Mark II. Compared to these two cameras in this price range, the FS5 is a greater value and offers very few weaknesses when compared to both the C-100 Mark II and URSA Mini 4.6k.
We feel that the Sony PXW-FS5 has great build quality, image quality and value compared to its competition. We most definitely recommend it if you’re in the market and it fits your needs. With little investment needed for accessories, flash memory and batteries, it’s good to go straight from the store. Is it everything on you want? Maybe not, but it might just be everything you need.
Sensor: Super 35mm Single-Chip 11.6MP Exmor CMOS
Effective Picture Size: (H x V) 3840 x 2160
LCD Monitor: 3.5" / 8.8 cm
Viewfinder: 0.39" / 0.99 cm OLED
ND Filter: Variable: 1/4 to 1/128 Presets: Clear, 1/4, 1/26, 1/64
Sensitivity ISO Rating: 3200 (S-Log3 Gamma)
Recording Format: XAVC Long, XAVC Proxy, H.264 / AVC, 4:2:0 8-bit, MP4 wrapper, AVCHD
Audio Recording Format: XAVC Long, Linear PCM 2, ch, 24-bit, 48kHz, AVCHD, Linear PCM - 2 ch, 16-bit, 48kHz, Dolby digital - 2ch, 16-bit, 48kHz
Shutter Speed: 60i: 1/8 to 1/10,000
Gain Selection: 0, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 24,27, 30dB,
Media Card Slots: 1 x MS/SD (dual Memory Stick/SD)
Audio Input: 2 x 3-pin XLR
SDI Output: 1 x BNC HD/3G-SDI
HDMI 2.0: 1 x Type A
USB: 1 x Multi/Micro
Headphone: 1 x Stereo mini jack
AC Adapter: 12 VDC
Weight Body Only: 29.2 oz / 827.8 g
Body, Lens & Accessories: 4.9 lb / 2.23 kg (with 18 to 105mm lens, lens hood, large eyecup, LCD viewfinder, top handle, grip)
- Grip has great function
- Portable size
- Super 35 sensor not full frame
- Event videographers
- News gatherers
- Marketing agencies
The Sony FS5 is a lightweight camera with loads of options. Shooting in UHD 4K with its Super 35 image sensor, its image quality is superb. If it’s a video-centered interchangeable-lens camera you are after, the FS5 is best in its class.
Chris Monlux is a native of Northern California and is Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.