Sony's Compact FX3 Blends Cinema Line and Alpha Systems02/23/2021
Emphasizing compactness, Sony's FX3 Cinema Camera is the latest take on blurring the lines between Sony's Cinema and Alpha lines of cameras, marrying the top-end video capabilities of the FX cameras with a portable, handheld-optimized form factor like the a7S III. As a camera straddling the lines of capability and versatility, the FX3 takes some of the most coveted features from both to make the ideal camera for solo shooters, for travel needs, for use as a B-camera on high-end shoots, or simply as the main camera for filmmakers who treasure the idea of a sleek and well-spec'd full-frame cinema camera.
Correction: The Sony ECM-XM1 Microphone is not included.
What Is It?
Covering the imaging tech, the FX3 has a familiar set of features, which is honestly fine because it's complementing two lines that have just been marked by homeruns in terms of imaging assets.
• Just like the a7S III, the FX3 features Sony's full-frame 12.1MP Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor and BIONZ XR processor. This sensor-processor combination gives you that desirable "full-frame look" along with 15+ stops of dynamic range, impressive write speeds to help limit rolling shutter, ISO 80-102400 sensitivity that can expand to ISO 409600, and the BSI design limits noise and promotes clarity for low-light shooting.
• UHD 4K recording up to 120p using the full-frame recording area, as well as Full HD shooting at 240p within a Super 35mm area.
• Internal 10-bit 4:2:2 recording to CFexpress Type A or SD memory cards. Recording externally, via the full-size HDMI port, 16-bit raw output is possible along with 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, too.
• XAVC HS codec uses H.265 encoding to retain detail at smaller bitrates while the XAVC S-I ALL-I H.264 codec supports recording up to 600 Mb/s.
• S-Cinetone support for distinct film-like colors and matching to VENICE, FX9, and FX6 sources, or even a7S III or Alpha 1 cameras. Also, S-Log3/2 gamut support and 10-bit HLG for simple HDR productions.
• Fast Hybrid AF, which uses 627 points covering approximately 89% of the image frame, is a feature well known to Alpha-series users and also affords Eye AF, Eye and Face Detection, and subject-tracking capabilities.
• Built-in cooling fan and heat-dissipating design for uninterrupted recording up to 4K 60.
• Weather-sealed body features a magnesium-alloy chassis, stainless-steel components, and an anti-dust system to reinforce working outdoors further.
• USB Type-C port for in-camera battery charging or power delivery via an external battery pack.
• Same NP-FZ100 battery as the a7S III; however, offers more efficient performance for 1.6x longer battery life.
The core specs are great, and what you'd expect from a camera of this class. The FX3 relies heavily on the well-regarded a7S III capabilities, but with a bit more emphasis on just video rather than catering to photo users.
So, What's Unique About It?
The design. The FX3 is distinct because of how it looks, how it feels, and how it operates. While it borrows a bit from the FX6 in terms of imaging, it leans more into its video-oriented nook with regard to operation and handling.
• It's compact! Measuring roughly 5 x 3 x 3", it's about the same size as the a7-series of cameras but sheds the viewfinder hump for a more streamlined and minimal rectangular shape. There's still a large right-hand grip for handheld shooting, and the touchscreen 3.0" LCD flips out to the side and tilts for working from high and low angles.
• As a camera meant for handheld shooting, it features the Alpha series 5-axis image stabilization, which offers an Active mode to help steady shots when walking, even without a gimbal.
• Catalyst Prepare/Browse software can use the "shake metadata" to help compensate for shake and realign footage during post.
• Included removable handle attaches via the Multi-Interface Shoe and makes it easier to shoot handheld from low angles.
• Newly designed body is specifically meant to be used without a cage; it features five ¼"-20 mounts for direct accessory attachment, as well as three more threaded mounts on the handle.
• While the physical exposure controls match Cinema Line cameras, and it includes direct dials for adjusting Iris, ISO, and Shutter settings, along with integrated zoom adjustment and a tally lamp, the menu system is taken from the a7S III for intuitive navigation.
• The removable handle incorporates dual XLR/TRS connectors to make use of the four-channel, 24-bit digital audio interface. The body itself also has 3.5mm ports for a mic and headphones.
• Wireless connectivity using 2.4 or 5 GHz speeds, along with 2x2 MIMO support, for mobile tethering. Also compatible with optional USB Type-C to Ethernet adapter.
The FX3 feels inspired by the Alpha series, because it's a camera that's more at home in the hand rather than atop a tripod in the studio. It's something that's meant to be used outdoors, on the go, and it has the feature set to complement this type of shooting.
FX3 versus a7S III
Anyone considering the FX3 may also be thinking to themselves, "How does it differ from the a7S III?" The two are fairly similar in many ways but are apparently targeting different imaging sectors. According to Sony, the a7S III is still very much a photo and video camera, whereas the FX3 is a cinema camera that can shoot stills in a pinch. More than just a twist of words, the FX3 is deliberately lacking some of the photo assets to make room for more video operability. Whereas the a7S III has the built-in EVF, and the characteristic viewfinder "hump," the FX3 opts for a more minimal and functional rectangular profile with purpose-built design elements, including multiple ¼"-20 mounts on the body and a removable top handle that slots into the Multi-Interface Shoe for improved audio and low-angle ergonomics.
Looking at the two side by side, there's little in it if you just want to go spec by spec. The biggest practical differences for filmmakers, beyond form factor, will be access to improved audio recording via the XLR ports in the handle of the FX3 and the inclusion of an internal fan to regulate temps for longer, unrestricted takes, and the FX3's inclusion of the S-Cinetone profile to make it a better fit within the Cinema Line of cameras, which includes the VENICE and FX6.
When you take those advantages, plus the optimized body design, you get what the FX3 is all about: a great option for solo, handheld shooters and a perfect choice for a B-cam when the FX6 or VENICE is your A-cam.
FX3 versus FX6
While the FX3 versus a7S III is the more realistic comparison for most, you might also be curious how the FX3 stacks up to its bigger brother, the FX6. The ergonomic and operability differences alone make the FX6 a more serious option for high-end productions, and also contribute to the FX3's position as being an ideal tool for solo, portable use. The FX6 offers improved exposure control via its built-in variable ND filter, support for timecode in/out, and raw output possible via 12G-SDI. However, the FX3 does have some distinct capabilities of its own compared to the FX6, including mechanical image stabilization and the obvious smaller form factor to better suit handheld shooting.
In terms of imaging performance, the FX3 and FX6 are certainly complementary and can be a great pair for two camera setups or when mixing studio and handheld footage within a production. The FX3 punches high in its class, and it's too bad it's missing a couple of the key features of the FX6 (namely timecode support and an ND filter) that would make it a no-brainer for professional filmmakers looking for a portable option on the next shoot.
So, Who's It For?
At its core, the FX3 appears to be a marriage between the photo/hybrid-oriented Alpha-series of mirrorless cameras and the high-end series of Cinema Line video cameras. There has been a major push, within the Alpha series and photo-based cameras in general, for cameras to address the multimedia shift in image making. More photographers are turning to video, more videographers are looking for photo capabilities. The lines are blurring and the FX3 is in the middle but strongly leaning toward the filmmaking end of the spectrum. Surprisingly, this makes the FX3 a strong contender for photographers or primarily stills-based image makers to make the jump to high-end video, especially if they're already a Sony Alpha shooter and have a stable of E-mount lenses.
For those already working in the video world, the FX3 is a trickier piece to fit into the puzzle. Its greatest and most distinguishing assets are its form factor, its inclusion of image stabilization, and its physical design that's meant to shed the need for a cage to add on whatever accessories you're likely to use, ranging from monitors to mics. However, despite the FX3 missing out on some features of the FX6, if you were already contemplating an a7S III strictly for your filmmaking needs, the FX3 makes an enticing option from a workflow standpoint.
What are your first takes on the FX3? How do you see it fitting into your workflow? Let us know, in the Comments section, below.