It's official. The Sony FX9 has a brand new buddy, the FX6, which promises to be just as, if not even more, popular.
The Sony PXW-FX9 is a very popular camera. Replacing the FS7, the camera is so popular that when Fujifilm first launched its MK zooms, they did so in Sony E-mount before its own X-mount. In hindsight, it was a smart move, as the FX9 turned out to be a massive hit.
What made the FX9 in demand was the combination of a full-frame 6K sensor that oversampled 4K, amazing autofocus, and a revised color science built around a form factor that didn't require much rigging right out of the box. The FX9 was designed to out-class competitors in nearly every feature with the exception of pure resolution numbers, which is a battle Sony rightly isn't focused on.
Now, a year after launching the FX9, the smaller, more affordable Sony PXW-FX6 is here.
The FX6 is an evolution of the FS5, another popular camera in the Sony cinema lineup. The FS cameras, however, had roughly a Super 35mm sized sensors, while the FX line-up moves into full-frame sensors. This means that the FX6, coming in at roughly $6,000 for the body only and $7,200 with a kit lens, is one of the most affordable cinema full-frame cameras available on the market right now.
There are of course countless hybrid cameras that have full-frame sensors, and Sony itself has the widely popular Alpha line, headlined at the moment by the a7S III. But all hybrid cameras have sacrifices that can be frustrating to filmmakers, especially on long shoot days. They overheat, sometimes shutting down in the middle of a take. They have tiny batteries that are hard to swap when rigged and require many spares on chargers. Most of all, they lack the robust input/output infrastructure that filmmakers need to interface with larger crews. But all of that comes at a price.
Enter the FX6.
The FX6 sits between the Alpha cameras and the FX9, making it ideal for filmmakers transitioning out of the mirrorless line who want something more robust but don't want to spend top dollar for top-dollar features. It replaces the FS5 and FS5 MK II and offers a ton of options that nip at the capabilities of the FX9.
The FX6 is built around an Exmor R full-frame 10.2MP (12.1MP total) back-illuminated sensor, unlike the 24.8MP sensor on the FX9. The FX9 24.8MP sensor allows the camera to capture images at 6K then downsamples them for a crisper image. This means the footage has been bayered inside the camera for a very clean, high-resolution image by the time it's recorded in 4K.
The FX6 has a 4K sensor that delivers 4K files. While debayering is getting more sophisticated, the image is still debayered without the benefit of the oversampling that you get from the FX9 and its higher-resolution sensor.
How will this play out for you in real-world use? A lot of that depends on the final output for your project. On anything below a 50" or 65" screen, the difference will likely be unnoticeable, and the similarity of the sensor size and color science will make these cameras intercut seamlessly.
Where you might see some issues is in projection on larger screens. For reference, I work regularly on a 20-foot screen and show demos intercutting between 1080 footage and 4K UHD footage, and audience members more than 8 feet from the screen have issues telling the difference between the two.
The FX6 should have plenty of resolution for projection up to 20 or 30 feet. Beyond that, when you get to really big screens, you might see some difference in the fine detail between the two cameras, though that depends on a lot of factors. If your lenses are vintage and have some softness, you won't see a difference in the cameras. If you are adding any noise or grain in post, that will help hide the differences too. It'll be very small, but if you are working on a big screen, and with ultra-sharp modern lenses, there will likely be some resolution difference in terms of how much detail you can see, even though both record to the same 4K file sizes.
The one place you will really notice this difference is in reframing. If you have a shot you want to punch in on, you'll get more punch-in room on the FX9 than on the FX6 before you start to see artifacting. Since directors tend to love reframing, while DPs are more reluctant, this will be a personal preference issue for most.
The Sony a7S III, the most "cinema focused" of the Alpha line, comes in at 12MP, which is interesting since it'll have roughly the same final resolution as the FX6. This means the FX6 could be a good camera to graduate to if you love your a7S III but want something more robust for long shoot days, and it means that you can likely intercut between the two nearly seamlessly. An FX6 for A-camera and an a7S III for B-camera or action work might be quite the pairing.
Especially interesting is that the a7S III is 12MP and this is 10.2MP, which implies a somewhat fresh sensor design for the FX6. While they're likely very similar, they aren't identical, which means that Sony likely optimized a lot of this sensor design purely for motion and let go of some features that also optimized for stills shooting, which the a7S III sensor also has to do.
We asked Sony if the FX6 was the same sensor as the a7S III or similar, and they would not officially comment.
The main difference between the FX9 and FX6 is the oversampled sensor on the FX9, where the FX6 limits you to 4K. In terms of video formats, it gets a little tricky.
Both cameras support XAVC Long GOP and XAVC-I All Intra 4:2:2 10bit recording formats. Both offer external RAW. Both offer Slow & Quick options, but the FX6 does offer internal full-frame 4K UHD at 120fps, where the FX9 does not. The FX9 tops out at full-HD 120p internally. However, the external RAW on the FX9 offers 2K DCI up to 120p, where the FX6 RAW tops out at 60p.
Since shooters coming from the Alpha world may want 4K UHD 120p, it makes sense for Sony to add this on the FX6. As 4K 120p rapidly becomes a common shooting format in sports and action cinema, even when finishing at 24fps, it's great the FX6 has it out of the box.
The FX6 also offers an EI Cine mode with base looks for S-Cinetone, Standard, Still, ITU709, s709, 709 (800%), S-Log3, HLG Live, and HLG Natural. In terms of gamma, the FX6 has S-Gamut and S-Gamut3 Cine, so you're not missing much when compared to the FX9.
Audio is another area where the FX9 keeps its advantage.
Both cameras support four recording channels, which is great for allowing a mix track, a boom, and separate lavaliers all to be recorded to isolated channels directly, along with the video file. However, the FX9 has two built-in XLR ports native to the body, while the FX6 has its XLR ports located on the removable handle. Both cameras support external accessories to add more ports (the FX6 will support the XLR-K2M XLR or XLR-K3M XLR adapter units), but the FX9 has a very nifty feature where you can slot in a Sony DWR audio receiver for receiving wireless audio straight into the camera body.
For the FX6, if you take the handle off to rig the camera in a gimbal, you are unlikely to be worried about patching in XLR, so it does make sense to move the XLR port out there to save on weight. Audio is one of the places where the lines really diverge, with the FX6 catering more toward action, while the FX9 is better prepared for interview setups and having receivers live in the unit.
There are two things to notice about the FX6 body. First off, it's more square than the FS5, physically shorter and a bit taller to compensate, and it does not have a rear viewfinder/eyepiece.
The square-ish shape is a new one for Sony, with the FS line and the FX9 having a more traditional rectangular shape. The square shape really tells you a lot about where Sony thinks the camera could end up, which is on a gimbal. It's no accident that this is a similar shape to the RED bodies of recent years, including the Komodo, and Panasonic pulled a similar trick with the EVA1 and the LUMIX BGH1. All of these ideas are there to make it easier to rig in a stabilized gimbal system.
Length is often your enemy in a gimbal, especially once you start sticking a lens on the front of the camera. The longer your lens/body combo, the larger/more powerful a gimbal you need, and the harder the motors need to work to stabilize it. A shorter lens, and a shorter body, is a great goal for camera designers as they think about cameras that are going to spend a lot of time rigged and mounted.
This is the same reason it's great that the FX6 has a separate viewfinder attachment like the FX9. Since a rear-mount viewfinder isn't going to help during shoulder mount operations and is only going to get in the way of the rear arm on a gimbal, it's an annoyance more than a benefit. If you need one, you can attach it as an accessory, but it's better if you can strip it off when you don't need it.
The FX9 is, of course, a classic long rectangle body. This is a camera designed to sit on your shoulder.
You can rig the FX6 to sit on your shoulder, and its touchscreen viewfinder can be placed anywhere on the body, which should help with menu navigation.
Sony is famous for its amazing low light sensitivity. The FX9 has a Dual Base ISO with a native ISO 800 and a secondary High Base sensitivity of 4,000. The FX6 offers the same base ISO of 800 and a high sensitivity of 12,800. But Sony isn't saying the FX6 has a Dual Base ISO.
Dual Base ISO generally means there are two signal paths at the sensor receiving different processing earlier in the signal path, before the gain stage that we normally associate with ISO. If you take a Dual Base ISO camera at 800 and just turn the ISO setting up to 4,000, it'll have more noise, but then if you switch to the other native ISO, you'll see less noise and artifacting at the same ISO setting.
From what we know, the FX6 doesn't have a Dual Base ISO but a "high sensitivity 12,800 ISO."
This could mean Sony did some sort of customized processing to make the 12,800 settings perform better without creating a whole separate signal path. Either way, based on Sony's reputation with low light performance, both the FX6 and FX9 are going to be low-light monsters, making them equally popular with indie filmmakers and event videographers.
In addition to low light response, the other area Sony has been a dominant player in is autofocus. Autofocus was long derided in high-end filmmaking, but it's finally getting good enough that it can help in a variety of situations, especially for doc work.
The FX6 is a hybrid autofocus system that utilizes both contrast detection and phase detection while supporting both face recognition and eye recognition. With the FX6, the autofocus can be adjusted by pressing and holding the multi-selector or through the touchscreen. Like the FX9, the FX6 autofocus area can be adjusted to a flexible spot, a particular zone, or a wide AF.
Both the FX9 and FX6 have autofocus adjustments for the transition speed and the shift sensitivity between subjects. In terms of performance, the FX9 does edge out the FX6 in low light conditions. At times, the FX6 just couldn't find focus when shifting between two subjects in darker conditions, where the FX9 always found focus.
What's great about the FX6 is while you can use it with an external recorder to shoot RAW, an external recorder isn't mandatory when comparing to something like the Sigma fp. The FX6 uses the same dual combo CFexpress Type A and SD card slot found on the a7S III.
The FX9 features two XQD memory card slots, which Sony was pushing as a replacement for SD and CF cards. XQD and CFexpress are actually identical form factors, so it's possible that we could see a firmware upgrade for the FX9 to support CFexpress in the future. For users who own both the FX9 and FX6, having interchangeable cards would be nice.
That said, we do like that the FX6 has the combo CFexpress Type A and SD card slots. It seems more logical one would jump from the a7S III to the FX6, and being able to use the same memory cards is fantastic.
Who Is It For?
Sony seems to be targeting a few key areas with the FX6.
The first clear market is shooters who have launched careers off of Alpha cameras and are ready to step up to something a bit more professional. If you learned and built a client base off of a Sony a7S II and just got an a7S III, but are starting to see the need for better audio I/O, the FX6 is the camera for you. You'll still be able to do a lot of the handheld, run-and-gun-style shooting you are used to with the Alpha cameras, but in a more robust setup with easier-to-change batteries.
And if you use a gimbal every now and again, the FX6 is going to better suited than the FX9.
Sony's also targeting event shooters, where the FS5 and FS7 have been huge hits. If you're shooting a wedding, the small form factor (versus the FX9) and the amazing low light performance are going to be appealing. Whether they're weddings or corporate speeches, those events are often dark. With the FX6, you'll be in excellent shape.
We also shouldn't leave out narrative storytellers. The imagery from the Alpha cameras has shown up in theatrically released motion pictures, including some shot entirely on the a7S II. By making it such a close match for the FX9, which itself is a close match for VENICE, there is a real-world where this camera is used to shoot narrative content.
It will also be an appealing camera for owner/operators who get hired on bigger shows and like to bring along their own C-camera for extra shots. Considering just how popular VENICE is, this makes an appealing action camera option which will work better with a big crew as opposed to the Alpha cameras.
Why the FX6 Is a Good Thing
The FX6 is particularly exciting for independent filmmakers, especially those who have multiple revenue streams that include sports or action camera cinema. It promises to provide imagery that comes close to and even matches the FX9, but in a body that is smaller, lighter, and more mobile. It supports workflows such as external RAW over SDI that independent filmmakers love, but even the internal recorded images should be stellar and should satisfy most clients.