Sony has announced the FX3, the latest member of the Cinema Line of cameras that is also the smallest and most compact of the group. Many of its features are borrowed from A7S III with the main differences lying in the body design and benefits to additional shooting time thanks to an internal fan.
The FX3 is powered by a 10.2 megapixel, backside-illuminated full-frame sensor that promises low noise and high sensitivity up to 409,600 ISO and 15+ stops of dynamic range in SLog-3. It includes the S-Cinetone color matrix found on the Venice, FX6, and FX9 to allow it to better match with footage captured on those cameras. It also has eleven selectable picture profiles including S-Gamut3 and S-Gamut3 Cinema.
The new cinema camera can capture footage at up to 600Mbps in All-I, can shoot in either XAVC S/H.264 or MPEG-H HEVC/H.265, and can capture 4K up to 120 frames per second (with a 10% image crop from Full Frame) and up to 240 frames per second in Full HD 1080p. Video can be captured in 10-bit depth and 4:2:2 color sampling in all formats and it can also shoot 16-bit RAW video via HDMI out. Finally, it will allow for Proxy Recording in 10-bit and 8-bit XAVC HS in both 1080p and 720p.
The FX3 has a 627-point focal-plane phase-detection autofocus system, the same as the one found on the FX6. It features Eye-AF (in video modes, Eye-AF only supports human eyes) and Real-Time Tracking AF which are available in all video modes. Touch tracking is incorporated into the rear LCD and there are extensive autofocus control parameters that can be customized to change how quickly the camera will rack focus between subjects.
The body features 5-axis on-sensor image stabilization (a first for the Cinema Line) and for an additional 10% crop, Sony says that a digital stabilizer can work in tandem with the on-sensor stabilizer to dramatically improve it. This feature, called Active Mode, is not available in the 120 frames per second and higher framerate shooting modes.
If those specifications look familiar, it’s because they are pretty much the same as what the A7S III offers. When asked about the features of the FX3 versus the A7S III, a Sony representative agreed that it looks very similar from a certain point of view.
“From the standpoint of the technology, perhaps,” a Sony representative said. “From the standpoint of the usability, we think they are very different.”
Sony maintains that with the FX3 and the A7S III it has created a different benefit proposition for those who don’t really need the still capture capability of the A7S III but want the video-centric features in a body designed to work in camera rigs. That isn’t to say it can’t take photos: it can. It has a mechanical focal plane shutter just like the Alpha series, but Sony also says that its electronic shutter should be quite capable as well thanks to fast readout speed of the sensor.
As is immediately noticeable (and likely not a surprise given the numerous leaks that emerged over the last two weeks), the design appears to blend features of the Cinema Line with the Alpha line. Sony says that the camera is made for solo-shooting comfort and should offer an “extraordinarily different” hand-holding experience.
The FX3 is the most compact Cinema Line camera from Sony. The top of the camera is completely flat, as Sony removed the viewfinder and top dials and it weighs 640 grams (~22.6 ounces) without a card and battery, 715 grams (~25.2 ounces) with a card and battery. Unfortunately, unlike its Cinema Line brethren, it does not have the space for SDI connectors and it also was too small to allow for the built-in neutral density filters as well. These were tradeoffs Sony decided to make to keep the camera small.
The result is a camera that is more compact than an A7S III. It is the same width, but shorter. The depth of the camera is slightly less if you count the viewfinder eyecup of the A1 or A7S III.
The FX3 has what Sony called “optimally positioned controls.” On the top are frequently used buttons located on the top face to enable thumb operation, and along with other controls such as the menu button and focus magnifier which enable convenient right-handed operation. Instead of an on/off switch, Sony replaced that toggle with a zoom rocker for powered zoom lenses. The front has a customizable record button, and the back of the camera features the familiar (it is the same as on the A7S III) 1.44 million-dot til-swivel touch LCD that gives the shooter access to autofocus control and autofocus selection. Touch tracking was implemented into the LCD to allow for it to become a genuine control area. To the right of the screen, the back of the camera has ISO and shutter control, and these along with the other buttons can be customized by the user.
Sony wanted the FX3 to be a camera that did not need a third-party camera cage and added multiple attachment points to reduce the system’s size and weight. It sports five 1/4-20 inch UNC thread holes on the body that enable direct mounting of peripherals and three 1/4-20 inc UNC thread holes on the supplied handle. The threads are not just drilled into the magnesium allow cabinet, but supported by a stainless steel substructure inside the body that Sony says makes it extremely strong and supportive.
As mentioned, the XLR handle is included with this camera which is further evidence of its Cinema Line emphasis. It includes XLR/TRS combination connectors, a digital audio interface for four-channel 24-bit recording, and a 3.5mm headphone jack (in addition to the one on the FX3 body). This handle does not include a microphone though, but the FX3 has a built-in stereo microphone on the body.
Speaking of the FX3 body ports, it includes two USB-terminals (Type-C and micro), a headphone jack, and an HDMI Type-A port (full size). Two USB ports were included for the situations where the USB-C port can power the camera endlessly (more on that in s moment) while the microUSB port can be used for control or file transfer. Just like the A7S III, the FX3 has dual CFexpress Type A and SD memory card slots. Sony says that essentially the same requirements for memory card writing from the FX3 are shared with the A7S III.
The slight buldge behind the rear LCD is where Sony has hidden the FX3’s active cooling system and built-in fan. The fan can be set to multiple operating modes (Auto/Minimum/Off) and works together with the heat dissipation structure of the camera to keep the device cool. It takes in air from the bottom, moves it across the heat sink, and blows it out the side of the unit. The fan is nearly silent and in cases where it is quiet enough to be heard, it can, as mentioned, be turned off.
One of the main benefits of the aforementioned active cooling system is the expanded recording time: the FX3 supports “endless” 4K recording at 60 frames per second when paired with external power. Sony did actually find the limits of the recording to be about 13 hours of continuous shooting, but for all intents and purposes that is as “endless” as video shooters need.
Despite the inclusion of a fan, the FX3 is dust and moisture-proof (though Sony states that is it not guaranteed to be 100% dust and moisture-proof, and the XLR handle does not feature any kind of dust or moisture resistance) thanks to sealing provided at all body seams, the battery compartment, media slots, and other areas. The FX3 also features a dust removal system via a filter on the front of the sensor that automatically activates to remove dust and particles.
The camera supports the same battery as the A7S III, but as mentioned it can be powered externally via USB-C. It also differentiates itself from the A7S III (aside from body design) with the inclusion of S-Cinetone (despite rumors this is coming to the A7S III as well) and three tally lights (one on the front, one around the record button, and one on the back, all of which can be toggled on or off). Unfortunately, the FX3 does not support user-installable LUTs and doesn’t have SDI ports or built-in NDs, which differentiates it from the FX6. In a somewhat odd choice, Sony does not allow the shutter speed to be adjusted as shutter angle, which may annoy some filmmakers. It also does not support waveform or vectorscopes. However, the battery life should be better than the A7S III because it does not have to run the power-hungry EVF.
All these things taken into consideration, it’s no wonder that in Sony’s mind, these differences perfectly place it between the Cinema Line and the Alpha Line. It does have sacrifices that come from both sides of the aisle, but the end result is a very capable, extremely compact, full-frame, video-focused camera.
It is slightly more expensive than the A7S III, but bear in mind that it does come with the included handle which may explain the slight price difference: The Sony FX3 is set to hit the market in mid-March for $3899.99.