November 20, 2015 at 5:49PM, Edited November 20, 5:54PM
Why FS5 instead of FS7 or Ursa Mini 4.6k
This began as a response to a comment, but got too long. So, here it is:
My day job is at Baron, a meteorological company that does an amazing amount of weather stuff—weather data processing, weather data products, alerting systems, radar development, on-air display software, etc.
My job is the in-house video guy, so I do marketing communications like promotional videos, internal communication videos, videos for tradeshow booths, sales tools, testimonial videos, and occasional events like our conferences.
I shoot, edit, grade, animate, mix, and everything else nearly every day. It’s really fun. As far as corporate gigs go, it’s hard to beat.
After years of waiting, 2015 is finally the NAB where I felt it’s time to make a camera purchase. In no particular order, these are the things we considered:
- Cost - Everyone likes to save money. The cost included camera, media, power, and anything else necessary to shoot. We have sticks and all that.
- Future-proofed (as much as is reasonable)
- Size - fitting a camera kit into a carry-on is really important to me and my job.
- Practicality - how much harder or easier will it make my life.
- Image quality - obviously, everyone wants the best image they can get.
Initially, the decision was between the Ursa Mini 4.6k and the FS7. Then the FS5 came out and changed things.
Here are specific reasons I ultimately chose the FS5 over each of the others in regard to the above list. Granted, whenever the camera arrives and I use it, I might very well hate it and send it back for something that’s been missed in early reviews. We’ll see.
- Cost. The FS5 is the cheapest option of all three once the kit is put together. Power, viewfinder, and media costs killed the Ursa Mini’s initially low cost.
- Future proofing. The Ursa Mini won out here, since everything on it (media, power, etc.) is all universal. But the FS5 was future-proof enough due to UHD recording, a future raw output option, Sony batteries being basically a universal power solution, and SDXC cards. The FS7 kind of lost this one due to their proprietary media, but really—if Sony only just now announced the end of Betamax, they’ll likely support these cards for a long while. Look at the inexplicable life of the Memory Stick.
- Size. This was really in the FS5’s favor. The Ursa Mini does break down kinda small, but when you consider the accessories needed to operate it, being a small body doesn’t count. If everything I need can’t fit in a carry on alongside audio equipment, sticks, etc., it’s not small enough. The FS5 is. This is also the biggest knock agains the FS7.
- Practicality. This is really where the FS5 won out over the Ursa Mini. As much as I'd rather be able to ignore them, file sizes are a real thing. When you have to shoot and keep footage for years and years (which I do) sensitivity to file size matters. Raw and ProRes recording are great, but they are an expensive chore to keep up with. Literally almost everything I shoot will be used in videos for years at my job—so I have to keep all of these files accessible. Yes, you can compress ProRes files down to a smaller codec, but when I’m away from my desktop I have to dump footage to SSDs after every shoot before I get back, so they have to be able to be small enough. It hurts me to say it, but sometimes a compressed codec is a good thing.
Another major practicality concern for the Ursa is its lack of internal NDs and (even worse) its sensitivity to IR contamination. So you need proper IRND filters, which is an added expense. I’ve been shooting with the a7s, so I’m used to shooting with a set of good ND filters—but still, to remove that step from my life isn’t a bad thing. So the FS5 wins out on that with its built in variable ND.
Still another practicality concern for the Ursa Mini is low-light performance. We haven’t seen it yet, but it’s safe to say it won’t be as sensitive as the FS7 or the FS5. We have lights, and I know how to use them—but not every shoot lets you use them. Even when you can light, it never hurts to be able to worry less about raising the ambient level and instead focus on shaping the light. Additionally, it’s nice to have the option to stop down in a low-light environment and crank up ISO so I can pull focus more reliably. I’ve seen this with the a7s, and it’s really been nice.
- Image quality. This is the FS5’s worst area vs the other two. But even so, the FS5’s images look really, really good. The codec is weaker, sure, but a camera is more than the codec it puts out, and there are other factors to consider—especially when you’re buying a camera instead of renting.
Besides, the FS5 will receive a future upgrade that will allow raw output which will hopefully end up giving me the best of both worlds—uncompressed recording when I need or want it, compressed when I don’t.
Additionally, I’ve gotten really used to XAVC-S on the a7s. I’m no master at grading, but I feel comfortable with Slog2 on 8-bit footage. You learn how to shoot with it, and you learn how much you can and can’t push it. I like the look. I’m sure I’ll like the Ursa Mini 4.6K sensor look better, but it’s a balance.