6 Things I Like About the Sony FX3... and a Few I Don't

Credit: Sony
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.

Small?

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.

Credit: No Film School

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.)

Credit: No Film School

The FX3 body weighs about 640 grams. By contrast, the FX6 weighs in at 890 grams and the A1 at 737 grams.

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.

Credit: No Film School

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.

Credit: No Film School

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.)

Credit: No Film School

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.

Credit: No Film School

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.

Credit: Sony
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.

Final Thoughts 

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.     

Your Comment

8 Comments

I for one and HAPPY there is no physical viewfinder. I know some still use them, but I find them pretty awful on anything but higher end bodies like the FX9 and C300m2.

If this was a camera built for stills I would lament having one but cramming my eye into a small screen for long periods of time .... naw.

February 23, 2021 at 8:35AM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
713

Hopefully Sony is done with the new cameras based on the A7S3 sensor and can finally get to making a real update to the FS5 with a Super 35 sensor.

February 23, 2021 at 8:38AM

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As am F-Series user since 2014 I'm still pretty frustrated about the fact that Sony doesn't support S35 anymore.
Anyway, since I use the A7 series for stills, I went with the A7sIII. I probably would go with the FX3 if I hadn't.
Veryery happy with the quality and features but still sadly glimpsing at my unusable and btw much lighter S35-lenses (especially zooms for run&gun).

Regarding dislikes:
I totally agree with Oakley regarding the missing viewfinder. Small monitors are nice but I want an old school peep hole. @Justin: It's not for long periods, just to have a reliable control feature if needed.

NDs would have been a major distinguishing feature between the Alpha and Cine line and one reason for buying a motion picture oriented camera. I know, ND is for video, real cinema... bladibla... it's 2021.

Speaking of distinguishing cine features:
Nobody talks about about the fact that the FX3 uses the same still photo-oriented software? This already made me furious when reading the specs (and price!!) for the "video-oriented" a7sIII.
And now, six month later, the FX3 Cine-Wannabe at 4000 bucks still has no LUT-support, waveform or vectorscope!!! W.T.F.? Panasonic understood that seven years (!) ago when they released the GH4.

February 24, 2021 at 2:51AM

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Matthias Schäfer
DoP, Editor, Photographer
115

I'm old school videographer/photographer. When I shot news I used to viewfinder to stay focused on the image and never took my eye off of it. Even used a patch in bright sunlight so my eyes wouldn't adjust.

The closest thing I've found to that experience with these smaller cams is the Zacuto Gratical Eye. It's spoiled me.

February 24, 2021 at 12:27PM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
713

No DCI frame sizes is total fail for a "cinema" camera. If you can't even support the official standard, global cinema frame sizes and aspect ratios (and lot of cheaper cameras do), please drop "cinema" from your product description. A a bonus fail for no anamorphic support at all either.

February 24, 2021 at 9:19PM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
666

I totally missed that one. A cine-cam without DCI res support.... Thanks for pointing that out. Sony will argue, that the HDMI RAW output is 4.2k and surpasses DCI requirements though.

LUTs and waveform are things everybody needs for preview and customizing a matching look in multiple cams maybe even with burnt-in look into the footage.
Not only cine but also documentaries, indies, corporate films etc.

But nobody is complaining. Everything is about nerdy tech spec dick comparison. Seems like nobody is actually using those cameras properly or they would recognize those missing features.

February 25, 2021 at 1:05AM

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Matthias Schäfer
DoP, Editor, Photographer
115

Except the raw aspect ratio is the wrong direction i.e. square so while you have the pixels for horizontal you have to crop alot for vertical. If they have broad anamorphic support (which GH5 and BlackMagic do at much lower price points, not to mention full DCI), then it could be useful that way.

And you are totally right about LUTs and waveforms. I have very cheap gear (Pocket 4K , Sirui anamorphic set, sub $500 on camera monitors. But every piece fully supports LUTS, waveforms (and much more) as well as anamorphic. This is what I need for making narrative films, i.e. filmmaking i.e. cinema.

February 25, 2021 at 9:20AM

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Stephen A van Vuuren
Filmmaker
666

In my experience with the a7 family the monitor is pretty much useless in any kind of sunlight at all. I rely heavily on the EVF or a shaded external monitor when shooting outdoors. I would be sure to include the later on any rig I would build with this camera.

February 25, 2021 at 11:31AM

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Dave Palmer
Retired Electrical Engineer
187