What we like

Handle
Two media slots
Full-size XLR inputs

What we don’t like

No built-in ND filters
The top resolution is only UHD 4K
External recorders can’t capture
    16-bit RAW through HDMI

Bottom line

The image from the FX3 is great. It’s easy to use and offers so many options to a shooter on the go. This is a great cinema camera for content creators that are ready to up their game and create more professional, cinematic footage.



If you have ever shot a mirrorless or DSLR camera for video, the Sony FX3 is going to feel very familiar. Consider the FX3 as an a7S III with a handle. However, there are some notable differences.

First off, the Sony FX3 doesn’t have an electronic viewfinder. If you are accustomed to using a rear screen for monitoring, it won’t be missed much. The camera offers zoom control for use with a servo zoom or when using Sony’s digital zoom — clear zoom. Connected to the handle are full audio controls and two XLR inputs. The camera features a cage-free design of multiple ¼ 20 mounting points and you’ll never wonder if you are recording with its multiple Talley lights. Lastly, although it uses the same battery as the a7S III, it touts a longer battery life and has active cooling fans to keep the camera from overheating. The biggest shared feature across the a7S II, FX3 and FX6 are that they all offer the same full-frame, back-illuminated 12.1MP Exmor R CMOS sensor with the BIONZ XR processor. 

The key features

The Sony FX3 is flush with features, making the camera well-rounded. Although it might only capture up to UHD 4K, it offers up to 10-bit 4:2:2 internal capture or up to 16-bit RAW externally. It has a top bit-rate of up to 600 Mbps in All-I XAVC S-I in 4K or 1200 Mbps when shooting in S&Q mode. With a top frame rate of 240 frames per second (fps) in HD, it offers a fantastic 120fps in 4K. Along with the XLR inputs, the camera has a total of 4 tracks of audio, depending on what format it’s capturing in.  Connecting via Sony’s multi-interface shoe and two thumbscrews, the handle is a quick connection. Along with the XLR inputs, the camera either captures the stereo audio from its built-in mic or via its 35mm jack. 

The best and worst features

Handle/Grip

The handle is a great addition. It’s functional, expands the usability of the camera and looks cool. Having to adapt a mirrorless camera without XLR inputs leads to a painful workflow. Adapters make it easier, but having tactile control of the input gives faster control. Overall, the grip feels good and because it has a quick-mount for a shotgun mic, you can set up and go in no time. 

No built in ND filter

The biggest feature that might deter you from this camera is its lack of built-in ND filters. As much as we love the electronic variable ND in the FX6 and FX9, the void of an ND filter is just not good. Likely, a built-in ND would make the camera larger and heavier and likely even more money. However, in our opinion, it would be well worth it. 

Dual card slots with two types of media

Just like the a7S III, the Sony FX3 has dual media slots for either SD/SDHC/SDXC cards or the faster, but more costly CFexpress Type A. There is only one setting that you will need the CFexpress card: when recording S&Q 10-bit 4:2:2 Intra 60p, data rates go up to 1200 Mbps, requiring the faster card. Unless you plan on shooting at the highest data rate, the more affordable SD cards work fine. 

The top resolution is just UHD 4K

While the rest of the camera world offers higher and higher resolutions, Sony stuck with a top resolution of just UHD 4K in the FX3. This is a minor gripe because most don’t need more than 4K and that they give us high bit-rates in all frame rates at all resolutions. This camera has so much to offer, but higher than 4K resolution isn’t it. 

Full size XLR inputs

This is more of a dig at other manufacturers for offering mini XLR inputs like Blackmagic on the Pocket cinema cameras or the Canon C70. When a camera is for video shooting first, we expect the workflow options we need. We don’t want to use an adapter to plug in a mic to the camera. On top of that, the 35mm audio input on the port side of the camera also functions — in some formats — even when you are using the XLR inputs. Having multiple audio input options makes the camera even more dynamic. 

16-Bit RAW is useless until we have a device that can capture it

Although most situations would do just fine with 10-bit internal capture, the Sony FX3 offers 16-bit RAW via HDMI. With an Atomos Ninja V or a Shogun 7, the FX3 outputs to the recorder for it to capture 12-bit ProRes RAW. That’s fantastic, however, that’s not 16-bit RAW. We hope that something in the future will capture that full data, but at the moment, there isn’t anything. This is a minor gripe, but if you are hoping to use the 16-bit RAW, you are currently out of luck. 

Ergonomics and usability

Weight and size

The FX3 is 640 grams and 3.06 inches x 5.11 inches x 3.33 inches without the handle, battery or media. This is just slightly heavier than the a7S III by 26 grams. Both the a7S III and the FX3 are also close in size, with the FX3 being almost the same width. It’s not as tall because it doesn’t have an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and it’s a bit deeper due to the new cooling space just behind the rear monitor. 

Cage-free mounting 

The Sony FX3 adapts easily to different setups because of the mounting points all over the camera. It has ¼ 20 mounts on all sides except the port side. With three on top, one if you are using the handle, one on the grip side and then the obvious one on the bottom. When the handle is attached, there are three additional mounts — two on top and one on the rear of the handle. 

The new handle

The handle feels really good and keeps you from holding on to the camera by the lens. Shooting from a low-angle handheld is a breeze. It attaches by two screws that adjust without tools. They are spring-loaded, so you can get the handle off without having to put it down. The audio connections are made via the multi-interface shoe and then secured to ¼ 20 mounts on either side of it.

One drawback is if you need a cold shoe for a wireless microphone receiver pack, the camera does not have another when the handle is installed. However, there are three mounting spots on the grip where a cold shoe could be installed. They are affordable with lots of options for under $10. If it matters to you, the handle makes the Sony FX3 much cooler looking. It definitely says “This isn’t a camera made for photos, it’s a video camera.” 

Button location

The camera has 6 custom function buttons and is labeled to their defaults. Although marked, the buttons can be reassigned to 140 menu different controls. A new type of control for the FX series — also not found in Sony’s alpha cameras — is a new zoom control. A toggle control found on a ring around the shutter button gives zoom control at your fingertip.

This is a similar switch that some cameras use for the on and off function of a mirrorless camera. Instead of being a switch, it’s a zoom rocker. The lens needs a servo-controlled zoom, like the amazing but expensive Sony FE C 16-35mm T3.1 G for $5,500. Using Sony’s clear image zoom, you can add a small zoom to any lens. Although not a huge change in the field of view, clear image zoom works pretty well and is not like the digital zooms of the past. It retains detail, so it looks like optical zoom. Lastly, the on/off switch is more in line with the FX6 and FX9, although smaller.

Fully articulating rear screen

Since the camera doesn’t have an EVF, the rear screen is your only way to monitor what you shoot — that is if you aren’t using an external screen. Its a 3 inch 1,440,000-dot LCD. Its touch-sensitive, offering menu control and touch auto-focus (AF).

It’s fully articulating, and there are a vent and fan between the screen, the sensor and the processor. The screen can get a bit brighter, and it’s enough to help when brightness is needed, but not bright enough for proper HDR monitoring. However, because it is fully articulating, it adjusts to a more viewable angle.  

Tally light

Sony gave us video shooters a bunch of tally lights so we know when we are recording. The record button illuminates red, there is a red tally light above the screen and the frame of the monitor is red when recording. It has a forward tally for the subject to know when you are capturing. 

Menu function

Many cameras that require deep menu control can be frustrating to use or just not fast enough to operate for some shooting situations. Sony continually evolves their menu and featured some stinkers in the past. We are happy to say that the FX3’s menu is great. The main menu is laid out so you can see all of the levels as you go. If any control is deep in the menu, you can find it quickly. Make sure when you get a new camera to learn how that manufacture refers to some operations. This will keep you from endlessly scrolling past the control you need. 

The Sony FX3 also has a quick function menu label Fn. It gives you a menu to quickly change the things you need to access quickly like picture profiles, frame rates, S&Q, peaking stabilization and you can customize it. 

Shoot assists

The camera has peeking and focus assist, zebras, audio meters and histogram. These are the standards we expect from mirrorless cameras. However, the camera does not have waveform, vectorscope or false color. This is unfortunate, but they are not common on cameras of this size. However, they are common amongst cinema cameras. We would have liked to see a waveform monitor at a minimum. 

Media

The camera takes two different media; CFexpress type A and SD. The camera can use one of each, both the same or just one card at a time. There is only one shooting setting that isn’t supported on SD because it has a data rate up to 1600 Mbps. The camera can be set to fill one card, then move on to the next — so they can be hot-swapped while shooting. If you need proxies made, it can create those on one card and put the native files on the other. So capture 10-bit on one card and 8-bit on the other. You can set them to put stills on one card and video to the other or capture the same thing on both at the same time so there are always two copies of what is being shot. 

The image (the sensor stuff)

Dynamic range

Sony states the camera has 15+ stops of dynamic range on the Sony FX3 and our tests did not confirm that. We saw 14+ stops, but the 14th stop was hard to see, and would likely not be of any use when needing to capture a dynamic setting. The best setting for the most dynamic range is S-Log3 gamma and S-Gammut3.Cine color mode. Is either the 14th or 15th stop in dynamic range a big deal? We don’t think so. These are the stops that would have very little detail in them anyway. 

File format, bit-rate and bit-depth

The camera shoots in XAVC. HS 4K, 4K, S HD, S-I 4K and S-I HD. When shooting in 10-bit, the camera captures in H.265 and H.264 8-bit. XAVC HS 4K and XAVC S 4K capture up to 280 Mb/s in 4:2:2 10-bit at 120fps. However, the heaviest data rate is in XAVC S-I 4K in 60p and you get a 600 Mb/s 4:2:2 10-bit capture. 

Rolling shutter

The camera has a rolling shutter, so there will be some effects from it. Even though you can choose to control the exposure with shutter angle or shutter speed, the camera still suffers from some rolling shutter. It’s not enough rolling shutter where normal handheld shooting will expose it. Overall the rolling shutter is there, but not enough to be overly concerned about. 

Rolling shutter performance on the Sony FX3

Image stabilization

The camera has 5 axis in-body image stabilization of the sensor. It works just as well as the full-frame Sony Alpha cameras and works well. On top of that, if you have a lens with optical image stabilization or OIS, the two work together to give an even more stable shot. If that isn’t enough, there is also digital image stabilization internal when the camera is set to active stabilization. Even better, if you use Sony Catalyst, it uses metadata to stabilize even more in post-production. 

Performance tests

Low light

The camera has an ISO range of 80 to 409,600. To test when noise is introduced into the image, we did an ISO ramp going from ISO 100 up to 409,600. We countered the increase in light with the shutter speed and then with aperture when we reached the top shutter speed of 1/8000. We started to see noise at ISO 32,000 and is usable to 128,000 ISO, where the noise starts to color shift.

 

Battery life and overheating

The camera can be powered from its USB-C port, so it can be operated with uninterrupted power. However, when a battery is needed, we wanted to find out how long it would last. We turned the camera on to its highest data rate with the monitor up against the body. In a climate-controlled room of 76 degrees Fahrenheit, we saw 74 minutes before the camera shut off due to heat. We then turned on the heat safety on high and it lasted another 46 minutes for a total of 120 minutes. We then ran the test again with the heat safety on high from the start and it also lasted 120 minutes with no interruptions. The new internal fan is meant to prevent overheating, but the camera still overheated. But since you can just tell the camera to ignore it till it gets overly hot, two-hour battery life is very good.

Other cameras to condsider

Let’s take a look at a few cameras you might consider alongside the FX3. The first up Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro for $2,500. The camera has a Super 35 image sensor a 1500 nit bright Tilting LCD, the Canon EF lens mount. It captures up to 120 fps in HD to one of three different kinds of media, CFast 2.0, SD/UHS-II and USB Type-C.  The top resolution of 6K captures up to 60fps. Lastly, it has a built-in ND filter and EVF. The Sony tops it in sensor size, low light sensitivity and autofocus function. 

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro front
Image courtesy: Blackmagic Design

Next up is the Panasonic Lumix S1H for $4,000. The S1H and the FX3 both have a full-frame image sensor, a Log gamma, IBIS, internal 10-bit 4:2:2 in 4K, a fully articulating screen and dual card slots. Where the two cameras differ is the S1H has the L lens mount and has an EVF. Where the FX3 shines is its top frame rates in both 4K and HD, it offers 16-bit out of it’s HDMI over the 12-bit on the S1H and lastly, the FX3 has two full-size XLR inputs. 

The last camera — the Canon C70 — is the most expensive at $5,500. Both cameras shoot 4K up to 120fps, offer internal 10-bit 4:2:2 capture, have a Log gamma and have dual media card slots. The two cameras have different lens mounts, with the C70 having Canon’s full-frame mirrorless RF lens mount, but only a super 35 image sensor. Although the C70 has two XLR inputs, they are mini XLR. The Sony tops the C70 in sensor size, top frame-rate of 240fps in HD, 16-bit RAW out of its HDMI and full-size XLR inputs. 

Final thoughts

The image from the Sony FX3 is great. It’s easy to use and offers so many options to a shooter on the go. We would have loved to see built-in ND filters, shoot a higher resolution and have an additional shoe mount when using the handle. We hope we just need to be patient when it comes to being able to capture the 16-bit RAW output, but until then we will have to settle for 12-bit ProRes RAW. Sony offers loads of lenses that can add features like zoom and additional image stabilization. If you wanted an a7S III with a handle, you got it and more. 


Specs

Sensor sizeFull Frame
Sensor typeCMOS
Sensor resolution
– Actual 12.1 Megapixel
– Effective 10.2 Megapixel
Color filterBayer
Shutter typeRolling shutter
Lens mountSony E-Mount
Built-in microphone typeStereo
Media/memory card slot
– Dual slotCFExpress type A
– Dual slotSD/SDHC/SDXC
Variable frame rates
– UHD Up to 120 fps
– 1080p (Windowed)Up to 240 fps
Internal recording
– XAVC HS/XAVC S-I/XAVC S 4:2:2 10-Bit3840 x 2160p at 23.98/25/29.97/50/59.94/120 fps (600 Mb/s) 
1920 x 1080p at 23.98/25/29.97/50/59.94/120/240 fps (600 Mb/s)
– XAVC S 8-bit1280 x 720p at 23.98/25/29.97/50/59.94 fps
Gamma curve HDR-HLG, S Cinetone
Audio recording4-channel 24-bit LPCM audio
Still image supportJPEG, MJPEG, Raw
Raw output HDMI in Raw mode3840 x 2160 16-Bit at 24/25/30/50/60 fps
1920 x 1080 16-Bit at 24/25/30/50/60 fps 
Video connectors1 x HDMI output
Audio connectors 2 x XLR / 3.5 mm TRS Combo Input
2 x 1/8″ / 3.5 mm Stereo Mic Level Input
1 x 1/8″ / 3.5 mm Stereo Headphone Output
Other I/O1 x USB Type-C
1 x USB Micro-B
Wireless interfaces 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Display typeTilting touchscreen LCD
Screen size3″
Resolution1,440,000 Dot
Battery type Sony Z-Series
Power connectors1 x USB Type-C Input
Material Magnesium alloy
Dimensions5.1 x 3.3 x 3.1″ / 129.7 x 84.5 x 77.8 mm
Weight22.6 oz / 640 g

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