Sony launched its latest cinema camera, the FX3. Here's what we like about it so far.
The new Sony FX3 is the size of the a7s III with the functionalities of the FX6 and is the smallest cinema camera from Sony to date. It has a full-frame 4K sensor, a BIONZ XR processor, and a ton of cine-style functions. Read a comprehensive spec breakdown and competitor comparison here.
I know what you’re thinking. Sure, it’s small, but what will it look like when you build it out to make it fully functional as a cinema camera? I got my hands on a Sony FX3 test unit, and here are my initial impressions, including six features I like, and a few I don’t. Let's get into it with what I like first.
Like: It’s small, and you can actually use it this small
It’s a hilarious ruse when a camera is purported to be "small" but needs eight pounds of cage/gimbal/monitor/sound/rails just to make it usable. Here’s where Sony delivers: you can use it without an elaborate build.
This stems mostly from the fact that Sony included the 5-axis IBIS that we saw in the Alpha line, so your footage is pretty damn stable without a gimbal or post-processing trip through Catalyst Browse.
It's also got a "cage-free" design that includes multiple 1/4"-20 UNC threaded holes directly in the body, so no cage needed. And last, a pro-audio handle allows you to plug in XLR audio directly while adding a nice grip. I tested the camera out handheld in the worst possible scenario—running full speed on rocky terrain chasing my dogs. Even after tripping on some barbed wire, the footage was miraculously decent when using the most intense IBIS “Active” mode. (Keep an eye out for this test footage to come.)
When you throw on a medium-sized lens and the optional audio handle, you're looking at something around 1500 grams. Still pretty lightweight, and good enough for some serious hand-held shooting days.
Like: Filmmaker-intuitive controls
The FX3 is the first small body I have seen that has completely re-imagined the controls for filmmakers. Finally!
Ever since the first DSLR added video capability, videographers have been struggling with the photographer-centric controls. I guess we all just learned to live with the fact that we have to hold down the + sign, toggle left, and spin around three times counterclockwise on one foot to do something simple like change the aperture.
Iris, IO, WB have big, fat buttons (and dials) smack dab on top of the right side of the camera so you can easily adjust with your right-hand digits. And nearly all of the buttons are customizable to set up your own special recipe.
Like: Cinema look out of the box with S-Cinetone gamma
Sony first released S-Cinetone with the FX9 as a cinematic look that would be as close as you could get to their top-end Sony VENICE. Now, S-Cinetone comes on the FX3 at the cheapest price to date.
Why is this great? Rich, soft colors straight out of the camera, no grading required. It looks awesome.
You can still shoot in S-Log3 if you are looking to come up with your own stylized graded look or match to other cameras. But if you just want your footage (and the people in it) to have that cinematic look as-is, S-Cinetone is subtle and lovely.
Like: Crazy phase tracking autofocus
Sony’s AF focus is the biggest game-changer in the realm of single shooters. Building on the tracking available on the a7S III, the FX3 also offers the revolutionary features of Hybrid AF, Eye-AF, and the bloody brilliant Object Tracking AF. I used it on my dogs in the shoot mentioned above, and holy hell, it actually kept those wild beasts in focus.
Imagine you're following your subject around an underground bunker full of junk. You tap on their face, and the autofocus locks on. As they move through the frame, the person is partly obscured behind a couch. Then they walk towards the foreground, then the background. All the while, the focus tracks them. It almost makes me cry thinking of all the hand-racked footage I’ve shot, where I’ve pulled the wrong way as the person walked towards me, ruining my shot. (No, wait—I mean that was for creative effect, of course.)
Like: Pro XLR audio through the included handle
The FX3 ships with a pro-audio handle with fully controllable XLR inputs and a nifty controllable interface allowing 4CH 24-bit recording. Whether miking your subject or just looking to get better audio than the on-board, now you can plug in and record directly from the handle, no external recorder required.
And because it's removable, with a 3.5 mm jack on the camera body itself, you can take it off when you don't need it.
Like: Quiet but powerful internal fan
Goodbye, overheating! With the great mirrorless options of late come the dreaded overheating problem. And it usually kicks in right when you need your footage the most. Like that time you were shooting a parade, and you needed to get a shot of the person in the very last float. But all the other floats were so good, you imagined editing a cool sequence of all the floats leading up to it, and filmed accordingly. Then, right as your main subject rounds the corner waving atop a three-foot polyvinyl-and-chicken-wire masterpiece, the overheating icon appears.
Sony reports that the FX3 can run for 14 hours with no overheating. I shot for about 60 minutes straight before I noticed the slightest whir, which I assume to be the internal fan. How did they fit this functional, soundless fan inside such a small body? Alchemy.
Dislike: No ND filter
As many fans are sure to lament, there’s no built-in ND filter.
The FX6 has 1/4 to 1/128 ND options, so it will be a disappointment that the FX3 doesn’t have any. No room to put it, I guess.
Dislike: No physical viewfinder
If you’re feeling sad about your new a7S III right now, you can take heart there is one thing that you have that the FX3 doesn’t: a physical viewfinder.
While some shooters could care less, I’m an avid advocate for keeping the option to peep your eyeball into an enclosed box. And while the FX3 flippy EVF touchscreen allows for a lot of flexibility when composing your shot, my initial impressions are that it’s really hard to see in direct, piercing daylight.
I am often a solo shooter and almost always in run-and-gun situations following documentary subjects, live events, DIY commercial work, and shifting indie production environments. I’ve not been a user of the Alpha line before, but the FX3 could get me. I could definitely see the FX3 thriving in my shooting environments while giving my footage a professional cinematic look.
If this sounds like your shooting style, and you’re thinking about a new Sony, this one could be for you. It’s more geared toward cinema than the a7S III, and it’s cheaper (and more solo shooter-friendly) than the FX6.
As far as beating out other brands of cameras for the lone cinematographer? It’s definitely a contender.
Stay tuned for test footage and a hands-on review on the FX3 that will take a deep dive into how this new camera performs.
What are your thoughts? Would the FX3 fit your shooting style? Leave us a comment.