First Sony FS5 Hands-On Impressions of an FS7 Owner

Recently, I had a chance to have a nightly Sony FS5 hands-on with a preproduction model of the camera, and as an owner of the FS7,  I was intrigued to check out its new little sibling.

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The most important things first: While I was able to record footage with the camera, Sony asked to not publish any footage from a preproduction camera as firmware and hardware updates might change the characteristics of the footage until the release in December. We always respect those wishes because there is no sense in judging the image from an “unfinished” product.

Having said that, before going into details, the body of the camera felt practically final and clearly came out of a production line already. I expect any hardware changes in the last minute to be minor. It was interesting to see a “Made in China” label at the bottom of the camera, which is unusual for a Japanese camera – but this can probably be attributed to the high volumes Sony is anticipating to sell of this camera model. (They might have learned from the introduction of the Sony FS7, which became very popular very quickly, resulting in thousands of backordered units because they didn’t expect that much demand for it.)

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Size and weight

What struck me first about the FS5 was its incredibly small footprint and low weight. With all its versatility, the FS7 is much heavier and larger. The FS7’s length is a particular problem as it’s too long to put on my MøVi M10 gimbal (or DJI Ronin M, for that matter), while the Canon C300 fits on those gimbals nicely after you take off its side handle and monitor/XLR combo. There is no such problem with the FS5. When you take off both the top handle, monitor and side handle, you end up with a tiny box with the footprint of a larger smartphone. It still has a different shape, but the barebones body is comparable to the size of a small DSLR or even mirrorless camera.

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Handling & Ergonomics

In many ways, the FS5 feels like Sony has taken some “inspiration” from what people like about the Canon C300 / C100 cameras and combined it with what they have learned with their FS7 ergonomically.

The handle which is attached to the side of the camera has a nice fit for larger hands like mine. Users with smaller hands might have a harder time, just like with the FS7 – however I’m sure Sony did some research on their users and probably made this work for the average user. It feels like it can be held comfortably for a long time while shooting.

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Another nice treat: The handle can be repositioned with the press of a button. This is a clear advantage over the C300, where you need a second hand to reposition the handle (which however works very well and comfortably too).

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Small cameras usually come with a built-in problem: They don’t work on the shoulder out of the box, which generally means less stability without an added rig. This is also true for the FS5 of course. The FS7 is one of few cameras that can be used without a rig (with a small lens) as the camera kind of works on the shoulder out of the box (only “kind of”, because the shoulder pad cannot be adjusted, is way too hard and too far back on the camera as soon as you use an average sized zoom lens of any kind).

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One of the biggest downsides of the modular design that Canon invented with the C300 is the fact that you lose all professional XLR connectors once you take off the monitor / XLR part of the camera. Sony learned from Canon’s mistakes and put one of the FS5’s two XLR ports onto the body itself, directly below the handgrip, and the other one remains on the removable top handle. The positioning seems quite smart and it looks like an XLR cable wouldn’t be in your way of shooting in most cases.

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Monitor & viewfinder

To use the viewfinder of the camera, it needs to be awkwardly held in front of you just like with cheaper camcorders, because the viewfinder sticks out of the back (this is also the same for the C300). This isn’t a good position in the first place, but it doesn’t help that the quality of the viewfinder isn’t particularly great … it’s worse than the viewfinders of the A7s or other A7 series cameras, and that’s clearly a point where Sony tried to save some money unfortunately. The eyepiece itself is also too hard and small to look through over an extended period of time.

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The monitor on the FS5 can be put onto several connection points on the removable to handle and that gives a lot of versatility for different shooting modes – nice to see that much built-in versatility. Its quality is much superior to the viewfinder and seems like the one on the FS7, which is absolutely usable for critical focusing (especially combined with the punch-in magnification).

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Battery

It’s nice to see that the same battery standard is used for both the FS7 and FS5, Sony’s BPU. This standard was introduced many years ago with the EX1 and EX3, and if you are like me and still have your EX3 lying around, you have some additional backup batteries for your FS5 or FS7.

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Built-in Variable (Fader) ND

There is some real innovation in the FS5 in terms of ND filters. We’re used to having a set of switchable built-in ND’s in our pro cameras – three steps in the FS7 and the same amount in the FS5, for example. However, the FS5 can be switched to a variable ND mode in which the intensity of the neutral density filter can be adjusted stepless, “fading” from low to high intensity by turning a wheel. This is a brilliant function that I have been missing in these camcorders for years. This means you don’t have to adjust the aperture of an electronically controlled lens if the sun comes out or goes away during an outdoor interview shoot, for example.

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Menus

The FS7, like the F55 and F5, has an annoyingly laggy menu, and this wasn’t really enhanced significantly with firmware updates yet. The FS5 on the other hand has a menu that reacts very quickly to input, which is nice to see.

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Conclusion

There’s much more to test and review about this camera, but these were just my first impressions. We will try to get our hands on a production version of the camera as soon as possible and of course shoot a review with it, comparing its footage to the FS7’s footage (and the XAVC-L codec to the FS7’s superior XAVC-I codec).

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Villads Engel Reply
Villads Engel October 7, 2015

Suggestion for the production unit review: could you look into how the codec holds up when transcoded to different editing formats. Eg.: I work at a major production company where file sizes are of the essence when working with the material on our Avid ISIS-setup. Therefore our post-crew takes all footage and dumps it down to XDCAM HD 50i. I think this is a reality in many major production workflows, causing the result not holding up to expectations when graded. Unfortunately online/offline proxy solutions are yet to be implemented because of extra costs. How would the FS5 hold up?

Reply
Jörg Niggli October 7, 2015

Very good point. I’ve had the issue recently with A7s footage, wich grades nicely as XAVC/ProRes, but was harder to grade after being converted to XDCAM HD422 for our Avid workflow. I’m now thinking about converting stuff with Sony Catalyst Browse first and apply some pre-grading there first…

Marc-Ferdinand Körner Reply
Marc-Ferdinand Körner October 7, 2015

JESUS! That looks super tiny in your hands!

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner October 7, 2015

You know what they say about men with large hands.

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner October 7, 2015

Large gloves!

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User Experience October 7, 2015

Thank you for your impressions Nino. May I ask what lens do you have on the FS5?

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Johnnie Behiri October 7, 2015

Hi User Experience

It’s a ZEISS MILVUS 2/35 (EF mount) together with a metabones adapter.

Martin Bleazard Reply
Martin Bleazard October 7, 2015

Would love to hear more about the Milvus 35mm, its on my list. How’s the focus throw? And is it standard along the line?

Ed Roflington Posharoo Fousset Reply
Ed Roflington Posharoo Fousset October 7, 2015

Looks amazing!

Jonathon Sendall Reply
Jonathon Sendall October 7, 2015

From the shape looks like a Zeiss Otus

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner October 7, 2015

Nope it’s one of the new ZEISS Milvus manual lenses

Jordy Vandeput Reply
Jordy Vandeput October 7, 2015

There’s only one thing holding me back from this camera and that is 4K at 60fps. At this point I don’t see the benefit of upgrading from my GH4 with the type of work that I do.

I had the chance to test out the FS5 at IBC this year. The weight, size, functions, etc are all amazing. I would pay $1k extra just to have that 4K60p internal feature.

Jake Hellbach Reply
Jake Hellbach October 7, 2015

Love the size of the camera and price. But can’t get around 4.2.0 8bit in 4k. That seems like a $5000 DSLR.

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User Experience October 7, 2015

Can anyone comment on what would make a good zoom lens with a decent range for this camera? I do not want anything fly buy wire. Metabones can be an option. Thanks.

Reply
User Experience October 8, 2015

That good huh?

Jim Mundell Reply
Jim Mundell October 7, 2015

Yes concerned about the XAVC-L codec too with working around motorsports and it holding up with a lot of motion. So could you please include a review on that too? Thanks for doing the reviews, very helpful.

Patrick Lockerman Reply
Patrick Lockerman October 7, 2015

Nino – did you say you tried this on the DJI Ronin M? I was hoping they work together because I ordered the FS5 specifically for that.

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner October 7, 2015

No I haven’t tried that yet, but I am sure it works – that’s what Sony says.

Reply
Matt Mead October 7, 2015

One quick question that leapt to my mind:

Assuming the variable ND works using polarisation (like manual variNDs) when it’s set to off, is it completely out of the light path. So, if you’re getting unusual effects on reflections etc. caused by the polarisation in the variable ND, can it be switched out?

Not sure if you’ll know the answer, but just thought I’d ask. Thanks for a great preview.

Nino Leitner Reply
Nino Leitner October 7, 2015

Matt, I don’t think it works with two polarizers as do most variable ND filters available on the market. I’m not 100% sure but the way the camera switches from the fixed stages to the variable ones looks like there is something electric going on, with a tint that changes when electricity is applied to the glass. But I can be wrong!

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Anonymous December 19, 2015

It is NOT polarized at all. And Sony claims zero color shifting as well. This allows instant changes to match inside and outside shooting with no aperture changes. This is a major feature.

Jason Tyler Reply
Jason Tyler October 7, 2015

Thanks Nino, I can’t wait to see impressions and footage from the final review build. I’m really excited about this camera and the info you provided. I got my first DSLR camera to shoot video based on your recommendations from your blog (Canon 550D) and now years later here I am again, ha.

Fabian Linder Reply
Fabian Linder October 8, 2015

cuuuuuuuuuuuuute!

Piotr Motek Reply
Piotr Motek October 11, 2015

How much more sensitive than FS100??

Reply
Javier Alvarez Solís October 14, 2015

Short but great review! At least some not so positive comments as everybody does. I was wondering about the viewfinder and now you confirm that it is what it looks. Cosmetic. I wonder why the loupe for the FS7 does not fit in the FS5 monitor (as I have heard). For me the final question for this camera is the difference in price with the FS7 once in the market, and with the FS7 reduced.

 Joe Blogs Reply
Joe Blogs January 11, 2016

I too thought the viewfinder was crappy and I have decided not to purchase this camera. Jeepers I’ve got to see what I’m shooting eh!
Looking for some other suggestions for a 4K camera that’s broadcast acceptable. Thanks for your advice and thoughts.
Peter