March 23, 2011

Sony NEX-FS100 takes on DSLRs

Sony has unveiled a new lower-priced Super 35mm NXCAM camcorder. The large-sensor NEX-FS100E is an E-mount camcorder (taking interchangeable lenses) and can be seen as Sony's answer to the rise of HD DSLRs.

It complements the recently released PMW-F3, which uses the same CMOS sensor, but with lower-cost recording options. It records AVCHD 4:2:0 at up to 28Mbps internally, either to an optional 128GB solid-state drive (the existing £600 HXR-FMU128 familiar from the HXR-NX5) or to a single SDHC card or Sony's own Memory Stick Pro Duo (which fit in the same slot). It also has a full-size HDMI output, which delivers 8-bit 1920x1080 4:2:2 video, with embedded timecode, for use with an external recorder.

Its Exmor Super 35 CMOS sensor offers shallow depth of field similar to that of a movie camera, and it can record 1080p 50/60 (at 28Mbs) as well as capturing slow and quick motion (enabled via a single button press and thumb wheel). The 28Mbps format is not yet part of the AVCHD standard, so not all non-linear editing systems can cope with it. It also records 50/60i or 24/25p at 24Mbps.

“The NEX-FS100E NXCAM Super 35mm camcorder enables budget content creators and videographers to experience a new level of cinematic expression” claimed Bill Drummond, Strategic Marketing Manager, Sony Professional. “Sony has responded to professional user feedback to create this new camcorder with an ergonomically designed body and accessories offering really flexibility in use.”

Controls and menus should be familiar to anyone used to Sony's EX1 or EX3, and there are six assignable buttons, a top-mounted rotatable 3.5-inch LCD with touch-screen controls for video playback, and two XLR audio sockets built into the camera body rather than in the usual breakout box. It uses the same batteries as the Sony Z1, but is reported to get much longer operating times from them.

The E-mount lens system is used in Sony's NEX-5, -3 and NEX-VG10E cameras and has a very short flange back distance (the distance between lens mount surface and sensor surface – unfortunately this means there is no room for built-in neutral density filters, which would be necessary to make the most of the shallow depth of field in bright light). It allows various A-mount lenses to be mounted via an adaptor. It will also be possible to attach a wide range of other lenses, such as PL-mount, Canon and Nikon lenses, using third-party mounts.

The FS100EK lens kit model comes with an E18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS zoom lens, which gives users optical Steadyshot and auto focus.

The grip, handle and hybrid LCD viewfinder are detachable for use in confined locations. The camera weighs about 2.7kg including kit lens and battery. It includes a built in GPS receiver to geotag footage on location.

Cozi: 'Vertigo' Music Video from Den & James on Vimeo.

"The images coming out of this camera are absolutely stunning," according to Den Lennie, founder, F.Stop Academy, who was the first independent filmmaker to shoot a video with one of the two pre-production FS100 models. "The picture quality is absolutely amazing." He shot a pop promo, mainly at night, and found the sensor worked well in low light (with sensitivity of about 800 ISO). "Where there was noise it was very clean noise, very soft noise," he said. He likened it to a cross between the EX1 and a DSLR.

The first formal review of the camera, by Nigel Cooper, isn't so complimentary. He prefers Panasonic's AF100/AF101, which costs about $1,000 less. Although the FS100's Super 35mm sensor is about 10% larger than the AF101's Micro Four Thirds chip, that will only deliver a marginal difference in depth of field, and the AF101 does have built-in ND filters.

Sony's own promo video shows some nice shots in only candlelight (although it was shot with an f1.2 lens), and some examples of how it handles slow motion.

The €5,500 NEX-FS100E and €6,000 EK model will be available in May.

By David Fox

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