Sony PXW-FS7M2 XDCAM

Sony first announced the FS7 in 2014, and since then it has become one of Sony Pro’s most popular cameras. Its form-factor lends itself to both cinema and ENG work alike. Since its announcement, Sony brought forth the FS5, a smaller and somewhat stripped down version of the FS7. With the announcement of the FS7 II in November of 2016, we quickly pulled up the spec sheet to find out what’s new.

Just like with their consumer line with the release of the a6300 and the a6500, the FS7 II isn’t meant to replace the FS7, but to add a camera above the original FS7. Coming in at just under ten grand at 9,999 dollars, the FS7 II is about 1,500 dollars more than the original. That begs the question, what does 1,500 dollars get you?

It gets you the integration of the electronic variable neutral density (ND) first released in the FS5. Another consequential change is the new locking E-Mount for added support when using heavier lenses, like cine lenses, and when using lenses with adapters. Additionally, there are now 10 customizable buttons up from the six available on the classic FS7. Lastly, the most notable upgrade is the ability to record internal Rec. 2020.

The FS7 II has a Super 35 CMOS sensor and can shoot up to 59.94p in DCI 4K. It can also shoot in HD and unlock the ability to shoot 180 frames per second internally. Its upgraded electronic variable ND Filter gives you two to seven stops of ND with three assignable positions, plus clear. It’s a really cool option for going indoors to outdoors or visa versa. If offers a few different codecs, including XAVC-I/L and MPEG-2. With XAVC-I, it can shoot up to 600 megabits per second. The FS7 II supports Rec. 709 and BT-2020 color space and records to XQD memory cards. We reviewed the camera with two Sony XQD 64GB cards that retail for 100 dollars each. Not quite as cheap as SD cards, but an affordable option for shooting high bit rates. It offers dual HD 3G-SDI and HDMI output along with a redesigned grip and monitor articulation.

Shooting in DCI 4K at 24 frames per second in XAVC-I with the standard gamma curve, the image was wonderful.

For the majority of our shooting, we were after the best image quality possible. Shooting in DCI 4K at 24 frames per second in XAVC-I with the standard gamma curve, the image was wonderful. In lots of situations, this is the go to set up. However, if you want the broadest color space and dynamic range, S-log3 is key. Though something to consider is that S-log3 is more time consuming to grade than other gamuts; it shines when dynamic range is needed.

Lenses, Lenses and More Lenses!

We set out an ambitious task for this review. Because the FS7 II is as expensive a camera we cover, we wanted to make sure we covered some affordable cine lens options along with the camera. Because it’s likely the camera could represent most of your budget, we wanted to offer relief to the wallet. We got in a wide selection of E-mount cine primes and zooms to review alongside the camera.

The first lens that we used is the Sony E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS; it’s the kit lens for the FS7 II. However, unlike your typical kit lens, it might be one of the best fit lenses for it, not just an added value. Next, we got our hands on the MK Cine Zoom line from Fujinon that consists of the MK18-55mm T2.9 and MK50-135mm T2.9. They are a nice zoom pair that should cover most focal length needs and they have a wide aperture of T2.9. We next shot the Sigma 18-35mm T2 and 50-100mm T2 cine zooms. They are designed for Full frame sensors and are the largest lenses of the group. Lastly, we wanted to mix up all the zooms with some cine primes from Xeen by Rokinon. We shot the 14mm T3.1, 35mm T1.5 and 85mm T1.5. We have full reviews of each of these lens lines, so if you’re considering the FS7 II, you ought to read them, too.

With all of these lenses to test, we ended up dealing with the new locking mount quite a bit. The added stress to the lens mount when using heavier glass was enough that Sony upgraded it for this camera. However, we found that it requires two hands to add or remove a lens. Even after swapping out lenses extensively, it was still cumbersome to do.

Sony PXW-FS7M2 XDCAM electronic variable ND
Sony PXW-FS7M2 XDCAM lens locking mechanism

In the Fie?ld

We first took the FS7 II out on one of the hottest days of the year. At a blistering 110 degrees fahrenheit, both the camera and crew were stressed to our capacities. Being in the heat while learning a camera can be a frustrating experience. Add in the FS7 II’s constant reminder to execute APR, and it’s likely to make you go batty. Once we were out of the heat, the camera stopped its constant reminder. APR requires you to put the lens cap on, select execute and less than a minute later it’s done. Sony states that APR (Automatic Pixel Restoration) is for image sensor auto adjustment. A few things played into the camera requiring this a dozen or so times during our first shoot. Because we had only one battery, and it was the smallest capacity, we turned the camera on and off between shots. The heat seemed to be triggering the need to execute APR whenever we booted the camera in the field. This was a mild nuisance once we understood the issue.

Right away, from the first shot, the electronic variable ND was super helpful. Our shooting ranged from shooting wide open aperture for shallow depth of field to almost completely closed aperture for deep DOF. Being able to slide between stops with the ND to get perfect exposure is a great feature. During all of our evaluation, the ND was used on almost every occasion. It’s a very usable feature that is so handy, it could be the most used option on this camera. When out in the field, we were shooting a group of cows tightly grouped together under the shade of a tree. While shooting the shaded cows, the background was bright with midday summer sun. Shooting in dynamic lighting like this can cause a shooter to have to compromise for an exposure that works for both full sun and full shade. The dynamic range of the FS7 II makes this compromise easier, and fine tuning the exposure is a breeze with the variable ND. On top of being able to fine tune, you can also create an ND preset, just in case you’re going in and out of different lighting situations while shooting.

Sony PXW-FS7M2 XDCAM electronic variable ND
Sony PXW-FS7M2 XDCAM electronic variable ND

When we evaluated the original FS7, we noted that the menu operation was slow and the menu was poorly laid out. With the FS7 II, the system operation now works as fast as you can navigate it. However, they have not changed the way the menu is laid out. It’s just not intuitive. It’s typical to have some functions buried in a menu, but the whole menu is super deep. For control, it’s good to have many adjustments and functions. However, if you’re looking for something simple, it’s likely you’ll scroll past it a few times before you find it. On top of that, changing functions like resolution or framerate require a restart of the camera. The restart doesn't take a long time, but if you're in the moment, the moment might have passed, by the time you are ready to shoot again. But don’t freak: there is a saving grace to the too deep of a menu — it has a the customizable menu. Put all of the controls you need in the custom menu, and it will all be as you want or need.

When shooting in hot weather, you begin to look for ways to limit your exposure to the heat. With four added assignable buttons on the FS7 II, making a total of 10 customizable buttons, we were able to get all the controls we needed at our fingertips. Assigning functions to those buttons is simple and easy, and most if not all functions can be assigned to a button.

Going a bit further into usability, the grip is fantastic. We loved it on the original FS7 and the FS5. With the Sony E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS, you’re able to have pressure sensitive servo zoom control via a rocker. Its right where you need it to be and can be adjusted a million different ways. It rotates and extends to allow for adjustment. For those of us with long arms, we would have like it to extend a bit longer, but it’s not uncomfortable — just a few inches shy of ideal. It has a built-in shoulder pad that is a nice touch, but it’s a bit tiny.

Sony PXW-FS7M2 XDCAM grip.

Lastly, if you are using the FS7 II for run-and-gun shooting, it’s a treat. Form and function come together nicely. The only problem with the camera when the grip is mounted is that it doesn't sit on a table very well. It would be a big problem if you were to have it fall off a table, so added caution is recommended.

The monitor hasn’t been updated from the FS7. The monitor doubles as a viewfinder with an added on plastic loop. The plastic loop and monitor is a better fit for the cost of the FS5. With the FS7 II costing more than the original FS7, we feel even more adamantly that the monitor, though improved, is not adequate. With that said, they did improve the amount of movement the monitor can achieve and upgraded the mic mount to a 15mm rod. With this update, left eye shooters are now able to swap the side of the monitor.

The monitor doubles as a viewfinder with an added on plastic loop

Studio Tests

We started our studio tests with our low light ISO noise test. Starting at ISO 800, the lowest ISO, we doubled the ISO and shutter speed to counteract each other to show at what ISO noise is introduced. We started with the internal noise suppression off. We got only one step before noise started at ISO 1600. With that result, we decided to test with internal noise suppression on. Set on high, we were able to get to ISO 6400 before seeing noise. The major concern when turning on noise suppression is usually a loss of sharpness. In the case of the FS7 II, any loss in sharpness was not noticeable. We would recommend having it on, as the gained noise headroom surpasses any sharpness loss.

Next, we were on to testing the rolling shutter. A very simple test shows us that when we do a whip pan, straight lines become jello like. The rolling shutter on the FS7 II is there, however, at the rate one must pan to experience it, it’s not noticeable because of the motion blur you'd get at the same time. The rolling shutter effect on the FS7 II is as insignificant as is possible for a rolling shutter camera.

We normally cover battery life with DSLRs and MILCs by talking about how long one battery will last. In this case, there are three battery sizes that Sony offers, and in practice, the one we tested offered almost double the battery life that Sony predicts.

We reviewed the camera with the BP-U30, costing 145 dollars when bought by itself. It's also the battery included with the camera. It is the smallest of the three battery offerings. Sony says it should last one hour when using the camera at its highest power consumption. What we experienced was an average of 110 minutes. The other two batteries are the BP-U60 and the BP-U90 at 265 dollars and 400 dollars, respectively. If you are looking to purchase a battery outside of the one that comes with it, we’d recommend getting the largest (BP-U90), as it’s just nice to not be limited by battery life. Since the BP-U30 lasts almost double what Sony claims, it goes to figure that the BP-U90 should last nearly six hours.

Marketplace

Let’s look at the three cameras that are most directly in competition with the FS7 II. Because we have already discussed the original FS7 throughout this review, we will look at three other cameras: The Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K, Canon C200 and the RED Raven.

Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K is the cheapest offering at 6,000 dollars. It shoots 4.6K up to 60p on its Super 35 CMOS sensor, and offers both CinemaDNG and ProRes up to 444 internal Recording. The Pro was added to indicate a full set of external controls and two, four, six-stop ND filters. It shoots on CFast 2.0 and SD memory cards and includes 12G-SDI output, Timecode and REF Input. Lastly, it has two XLR audio inputs with phantom power and a magnesium alloy body.

The next competitor is the new Canon C200 at 7,500 dollars. It also has a Super 35mm CMOS Sensor and shoots up to DCI 4K 59.94p. It offers both dual pixel CMOS AF and dual DIGIC DV 6 processors, letting users shoot in Canon RAW light, MP4 and MP4 proxy. It has an Integrated EVF, two XLR Audio Inputs along with SDI, HDMI and ethernet connectors. Plus, you get a rotating four inch LCD Monitor and a camera grip. The C200 shoots on CFast 2.0 and SD Cards.

Lastly is the RED Raven at 8,950 dollars. It shoots on the RED DRAGON 9.9 Megapixel CMOS sensor, shooting up to 120 frames per second in 4.5K. Plus, you get 16.5 stops of dynamic range and can shoot up to 240 frames per second in 2K. It shoots in REDCODE RAW  and Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD. It records on to RED MINI-MAG SSD’s and is constructed with lightweight aluminum. Keep in mind that at 8,950 dollars, the camera is not operational and will require more accessories to function.

Final Thoughts and Recommendation

The FS7 II is an easy camera to grab and go. It has a great looking image but doesn’t come without flaws. The menu is convoluted but can be organized via a customizable user menu. The updated lens locking system is a nice idea, but the execution is weak. Is the FS7 II worth the extra 1,500 dollars over the original FS7? That greatly depends on if you’d make good use of the upgraded features. We really enjoyed using the FS7 II; the footage looked great and gave lots of flexibility in post. It’s a very nice camera, and if you have a bigger budget, you should consider it.

Sony
pro.sony.com

$10,000

Strengths

  • Integrated Electronic Variable ND Filter
  • Grip ergonomics

Weaknesses

  • Monitor quality does not match price point
  • Menu is convoluted

Summary

The Sony FS7 II is a robust and smartly designed camera. It has great ergonomics for ENG shooting, yet it offers deep cine features as well. The Mark II offers an electronic variable ND filter, improved design for the viewfinder, locking lens mount and it can record internal Rec. 2020.

Recommended Users

  • Indie and Corporate filmmakers
  • Event Videographers & Documentarians
  • Commercial producers
  • Jacks of all trades
  • Journalists

Image Sensor: Super 35mm Single-Chip Exmor CMOS
Effective Picture Elements: 17:9 4096 (H) x 2160 (V), 16:9 3840 (H) x 2160 (V)
Built-in Filters: Clear, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64
LCD Monitor: 3.5" / 8.8 cm
Approx: 1.56M dots
Shutter Speed: 1/3 to 1/9000 of a sec
Gamma Curve: STD, HG, User, S-log3
Shooting Formats:

  • 4K 4096 x 2160 12-bit raw
  • UHD 3840 x 2160 10-bit 4:2:2 XAVC-I or 8-bit 4:2:0 XAVC-L
  • 2K 2048 x 1080 12-bit raw
  • HD 1920 x 1080 10-bit 4:2:2 XAVC-I or 10-bit 4:2:2 XAVC-L or MPEG2 4:2:2
  • HD 1280 x 720 MPEG2 4:2:2

Audio Recording Format: LPCM 24 bits, 48 kHz, 4 channels (Recording/Playback 2 channels)
Recording Formats: XAVC-I QFHD MPEG-4 H.264/AVC
Frame rates: up to 180 fps in HD, up to 59.94 fps in 4k
Bit rates: up to 600 Mb/s in XAVC-I QFHD MPEG-4 H.264/AVC 59.94P CBG
Media Card Slots: 2 x XQD, 1 x SD (for configuration data only)
Audio Input: 2 x 3-pin XLR, Line/mic/mic +48
Mic Reference: -40. -50. -60 dBu
SDI Output: 2 x BNC HD/3G-SDI, SMTPE292M/424M/425M
HDMI 2.0: 1 x Type A
USB: USB device, miniB
Headphone: 1 x Stereo mini jack, -16 dBu 16 Ohms, Stereo mini jack (?2.5 mm)
Accessory Shoe: Multi-Interface (MI) shoe
Power Requirement: 12 VDC
Temperature Operating: 32 to 104°F / 0 to 40°C
Dimensions (WxHxD): 6.14 x 9.41 x 9.72"/ 156 x 239 x 247 mm
Weight:

  • 4.4 lb / 2.0 kg: Body Only
  • 9.9 lb / 4.4 kg: Body, Viewfinder, Eyepiece, Grip, BP-U30, SELP28135G, XQD card

Chris Monlux has two Westhighland Terriers: Roger and Wilco. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.

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