The Sony Cinema Line Explained

Credit: Sony
"We live in a new age of content consumption where we can choose to connect with distant people, unseen places, exotic cultures, and untold stories at will. We can change the way we experience the world." 

The Sony Cinema Line is the culmination of the company's historical past that dates back over 20 years with the release of the HDW-F900, the world's first 24p digital cinema camera. It's Sony's expertise in sensor technology, image quality, and recognizing what we as filmmakers and creators want in a camera that has evolved the Cinema Line today.

Neal Manowitz, Deputy President of Imaging Products and Solutions Americas at Sony Electronics, has said, "The voice of our customer is critical to everything we do. We have the deepest respect for filmmakers, cinematographers, and storytellers, and will continue to evolve our product line to meet and exceed their demands."

The series includes VENICE, FX9, FX6, and FX3, and will continue to grow in years to come. What's exciting about the Sony Cinema Line are the possibilities. We've already seen a crossover in feature set with the lineup as it shares technology from its higher-end cinema cameras and popular mirrorless cameras in Alpha. As filmmakers, cameras that are an extension of one another shorten the learning curve when using one camera to the next. It's invaluable when it comes to workflows on set allowing you to shoot fast and comfortably. That's what the Sony Cinema Line really brings to the table. 

Not only do the cameras share similar technology but body design, durability, and functionality have been tuned to shooting video. We've always said at No Film School if you want to shoot video, invest in a dedicated video camera. DSLR and mirrorless cameras will only take you so far. 

More importantly, the look of the Cinema Line is designed to create luxurious film-like video expression, with color tones resembling those of film. And when it comes to lens choice, all four cameras are equipped with E-mount, for which Sony offers over 60 different lenses, with many having robust autofocus features. Plus, if you need to adapt a lens with a different mount to Sony E-mount, it has a shorter focal flange depth of 18.0mm, allowing you to adapt a number of lenses to the camera body. 

The Cinema Line is being designed to push the boundaries of what a camera can do. Let's dive into what each model has to offer. 

VENICE 

The flagship of the Sony Cinema Line is VENICE, which features a 24.7MP full-frame 6K (6048 x 4032) CMOS sensor, integrated ND filters in 8-stages, 15+ stops of dynamic range, dual base ISO, a wide color gamut, RAW and ProRes recording and a unique extension system that allows you to separate the sensor from the camera body. The latter feature is one of the reasons why James Cameron is shooting the Avatar sequels with VENICEFor full-frame recording, VENICE sets the standard among Sony cameras.

While VENICE touts a 36x24mm full-frame image sensor. You can switch imager modes allowing you to natively shoot Super 35 (24.3x18.0mm, 4096x3024) and Super35 (24.3x12.8 mm, 4096x2160). Essentially, the camera provides 4K window modes in Super 35 that are equivalent to 4-perf and 3-perf, which can come in handy depending on the visual story you want to tell. 

You can also capture nearly any format, including full 18 mm-height Super 35 anamorphic and spherical as well as full-frame 24 mm-height anamorphic and spherical in just about any aspect ratio, including 1.85:1, 2.39:1, 17:9. While there are dozens of different combinations available, it is important to point out some formats require a special software license to activate higher resolutions and anamorphic shooting. For example, shooting 4K 2.39:1 is available directly out of the box, but 6K 2.39:1 will require a license. 

Credit: Sony

While VENICE is a flagship camera, it's still compact enough for gimbal, aerial, handheld, and studio setups. VENICE features a dual base ISO mode. The base ISO of the camera is 500, and there's a secondary high base ISO of 2500 which has an exposure latitude from 6 stops over to 9 stops under 18% Middle Gray, for a total of 15 stops.

As we know, low light conditions can introduce unwanted noise when there's not enough lighting. With the dual base ISO, it helps when using slowing lenses or in those darker environments to retain shadow detail without overexposing out highlights. 

VENICE supports S-Log3 gamma curve and offers both auto white balance (AWB) and white balance 2000~15,000 Kelvin with green/magenta adjust possible. It also exceeds BT.2020 color space. Sony says that this means the color range is wider than DCI-P3 to produce true color and reflect accurately what you see. The color science of VENICE has been adapted for the FX9, FX6, and FX3 in what Sony calls S-Cinetone. 

S-Cinetone expresses the cinematic look cultivated from the color science in VENICE but tailored for the video world. Whereas VENICE and s709 provide images close to the film color found in movie and drama productions, S-Cinetone provides images with a more cinematic look in tone and color for the video world. As a result, you can create richer content compared to conventional processing straight from the camera. Even the Sony a7S III now offers S-Cinetone as a color profile. 

VENICE features a dual display for menu control on both sides of the camera so your camera assistant or DIT can adjust shutter angle, ISO, ND selection, white balance, and frame rate, while the main camera menu is accessible by the camera operator. With a modular and compact form, you can add on-board accessories with ease. 

Another highlight of the camera is the ability to accept existing PL lenses. Sony has designed a PL mount that attaches on top of the native E-mount with connection points for six screws, allowing the adapter to mount to the face of the sensor block offering more support. When using E-mount lenses there's a level lock you can change lenses by rotating the locking collar, rather than the lens itself. That means that your lens support won't need to be removed so you can save valuable time on set. VENICE also supports Cooke/i Technology through 4-pins lens contacts which comes in handy for visual effects workflows or when metadata is necessary.

VENICE Extension SystemCredit: Sony

The VENICE Extension System is an optional feature that allows the camera body to detach from the image sensor block. The tethered cable system allows you to extend up to 18' without any degradation in image quality. It's ideal for underwater work or enclosed spaces that don't provide enough room for the operator and camera body. 

No matter the production type, VENICE is an option worth considering. 

Sony FX9 

The FX9 is the second camera in the Sony Cinema Line and is wrapped around a 20.5MP (total) Exmor CMOS sensor that oversamples 6K resolution to produce 4K DCI images. It offers 15+ stops of dynamic range, dual base ISO, 4:2:2 10-bit internal recording or 16-bit RAW external, HDR using S-Log3 or Hybrid Log Gamma, and user loadable LUTs. What separates the FX9 from VENICE is the autofocus functionality which the VENICE camera does not offer—yet. 

Similar to VENICE, the FX9 has imager scan modes for 5K and Super 35. The full width of the sensor is 35.7 x 18.8mm and when windowing to 4K Super 35, it's reduced to 24.3 x 12.8mm to shoot up to 4096x2160 at 60fps. In 5K, you're shooting with 83% of the full sensor at 29.7 x 15.7 with 5008x2640. 

The FX9 has a base sensitivity of ISO 800 and a secondary high base sensitivity of ISO 4000 for low-light. ISO 4000 is also ideal when using slow lenses. Combining dual base ISO with the camera’s electronic variable ND filter provides superb creative control in almost any shooting environment, with truly next-generation responsiveness to changing conditions.

S-Cinetone is the default look of FX9 and is also part of the FX6 and FX3, allowing you to easily match the look of the image when shooting different cameras. Additionally, the FX9 can record HDR using S-Log3 or Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG). When shooting S-Log3, users can store up to 16 different LUTs internally on the FX9 for easy preview when shooting Log. 

Additionally, you can shoot 16-bit RAW when using the optional XDCA-FX9 extension unit with a single BNC cable connection to compatible external RAW recorders like from Atomos. 

More impressive is the FX9 has autofocus performance that takes its cues from the Alpha line. Fast Hybrid AF at your fingertips is fantastic. With 561 phase detection points that cover approximately 94% of the whole image area width and 96% of height, it's going to give you accurate, responsive AF tracking, even with fast-moving subjects. On top of that, there's Face Detection and Eye AF that locks on to humans' faces for accurate and sharp focus. 

Credit: Sony

While the AF is top-notch, Sony took it an extra step, allowing you to adjust the AF transition speed and AF subject shift sensitivity of the autofocus. The 7-level AF transition speeds from fast—switching between subjects as quickly as possible—to slow, where speed is reduced to fit a more measured shooting style, such as a historical TV drama. The 5-level AF subject-shift sensitivity ranges from locked-on—ignoring other moving subjects in the frame—to responsive, which switches focus from one subject to another, ideal for snapping between race cars as they speed by.

The FX9 has built-in electronic ND filters that can be adjusted in increments from 1/4 to 1/128. To help navigate the menu system as well as trigger autofocus there is a touchscreen display. Like VENICE, it also has an E-mount, but is supported by Catalyst Browse and Catalyst Prepare, two post-production tools from Sony. The software allows you to use metadata combining FX9’s built-in gyro and lens information to creatively smooth out your shots as if you were using a gimbal. You can choose the balance between the level of shake-compensation and the resolution to add extra stability to your shots. 

FX6

The FX6 features an Exmor 10.2MP (12.1MP total) back-illuminated sensor alongside a next-gen BIONZ XR processor that offers 4x faster processing performance than the FS5. It's a lot like the FX9, but instead of oversampling 6K for a 4K image, the sensor tops out at 4K in a smaller, more compact body. Since it's part of the Cinema Line you can expect 15+ stops of dynamic range, S-Cinetone for richer tonal reproduction as well as S-Log3, S-Gamut3, and S-Gamut3.Cine for post-production flexibility. It even shoots external RAW without the need for the optional XDCA-FX9 extension unit. 

The FX6 is capable of recording in XAVC All Intra 4:2:2 10-bit depth with stunning image quality in DCI 4K 4096x2160 up to 60p, QFHD 4K 3840x2160 up to 120p, and FHD 1920x1080 up to 240p. When small file size is necessary, the FX6 can record in XAVC Long GOP 4:2:0 8-bit QFHD 4K up to 120p and 4:2:2 10-bit FHD up to 240p.

The FX6 also has a base sensitivity ISO of 800 and an enhanced sensitivity ISO of 12,800. To be clear, this is not the same as dual base ISO, but when the sensitivity is set to 12,800 it's ideal for low light conditions as it will greatly clean up image noise. 

Autofocus is also available on the FX6 as it offers Fast Hybrid AF by combining 627 focal plane phase-detection AF points with advanced Face Detection and Real-time Eye AF in high frame rates with continuous AF, allowing camera operators to effortlessly and precisely track fast-moving subjects in slow motion without losing focus. The camera can also capture up to five times slow-motion with 4K 120fps.

Credit: Sony

Additionally, the FX6 has internal electronic variable ND filters for easy and seamless control of the camera’s filter density. Users can set variable ND to auto or adjust the filter density manually in smooth increments from 1/4 to 1/128 without affecting the depth of field or shutter angle, even during changing lighting conditions. 

What stands out about the FX6 is its size and weight. It's versatile enough to be mounted on a shoulder rig and light enough for gimbal or drone work. The magnesium alloy chassis measures just 4.6"x6"x4.5" (116x153x114mm) and weighs just 1.96 pounds (0.89 kilograms) making it easy to pick up and start shooting. 

Because of its modular design, the 3.5" LCD viewfinder can be mounted to multiple locations on the camera body. To record media, it features Sony's CFexpress Type A card slots that can also accept SD cards using the same slot. The card slots are also available on the FX3 and Sony a7S III, making it easy to use the same cards across multiple cameras. Like the FX9, it's also compatible with Catalyst Browse and Catalyst Prepare to stabilize your shots. 

FX3 

The FX3 is the newest camera in the Sony Cinema Lineup and has similar recording functions to the popular Sony a7S III but in a very compact camera body. The FX3 shares the same full-frame 10.2MP back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor and BIONZ XR image processor as the FX6 and a7s III, but unlike the FX6, it does shoot stills. Another feature it has over the FX6 is 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS). 

Creators can record in 4K at up to 120 frames per second and smooth slow-motion up to 5x at QFHD (3840x2160). The standard ISO range is 80 to 102,400 (expandable to 409,600 when shooting video) and the dynamic range is a wide 15+ stops when shooting S-Log3. Additional to S-Log3, the FX3 supports S-Gamut3.cine, which records in a high dynamic range and wide color gamut.

It also supports internal recording in XAVC S (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Long GOP) and XAVC S-I (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Intra) formats in 4K (QFHD) and FHD, and XAVC HS (MPEG-H HEVC/H.265, 4K only) format. 4K 60p video in 10-bit 4:2:2 or 16-bit RAW format can be output to an external device via the FX3 full-size HDMI Type-A jack.

Like the FX9 and FX6, autofocus is part of the FX3. The Fast Hybrid AF system delivers precise focusing even when shooting at a shallow depth of field and at high frame rates of 120p in 4K. Real-time Eye AF ensures precise focus on the face and eyes, while real-time tracking is powered by Sony's unique AI-based subject recognition algorithms. You can even adjust the AF Transition Speed and AF Subject Shift Sensitivity for greater control when using autofocus. 

The FX3 features 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization. A high-precision stabilization unit and gyro sensors have made it possible to provide an Active Mode that is dedicated to movie shooting in each format, including 4K. In-body image stabilization means that effective stabilization can be achieved with a wide range of E-mount lenses, including those that do not include stabilization on their own. Alternatively, the FX3 records image stabilization metadata that can be adjusted during post-production using Catalyst Browse and Catalyst Prepare like the FX9 and FX6. 

The compact size of the FX3 provides shooters with great flexibility. It's designed for handheld, gimbal, and drone work and weighs approximately 1.58 pounds. (715 g). The body features five 1/4"-20 mounting points to easily attach compatible accessories while remaining light enough for handheld shooting and making it easy to set up and carry.

Credit: Sony

Additionally, the supplied XLR handle securely attaches to the body via the Multi Interface Shoe without any special tools and provides three additional threaded mounting points for accessories. The XLR inputs can record 24-bit audio, and the FX3 offers 4-channel audio without the need for any additional accessories. 

The controls frequently used in movie shooting such as ISO, iris, and white balance adjustment are located on the grip and on the top of the body for easy access. In addition, 140 functions assignable to 15 custom keys allow for ultimate efficiency.

The zoom lever located on the top of the grip not only controls compatible powered zoom lenses, but also allows Clear Image Zoom to be used with unpowered zoom and prime lenses. This lever also enables smooth zooming that is difficult for manual zoom-ring control.

Recording lamps (tally) are provided on the top, front, and back of the camera, so that the operator and talent can easily confirm recording. A side-opening vari-angle touch-panel LCD monitor allows for easy operation and is suitable for gimbal-mounted shots, complicated angles, and handheld operation. Even with the compact size, the FX3 has a dust- and moisture-resistant design and a durable magnesium alloy chassis. 

Summary 

The Sony Cinema Line is only the start of what's to come next for Sony. As new generations are released, expect to see more features that blur the line between high-end cinema and mirrorless cameras. 

What do you think of the Sony Cinema Line? Let us know in the comments below.      


Want more insight on the Sony Cinema Line? Check out all the stories in our Sony Focus Week here

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1 Comment

So, does this mean Sony will be phasing out the FS5 and 7 later? And doesn't the a7S III fit in to this line up too since it's virtually identical to the FX3? In fact, I've seen many reviewers saying they like the a7S III better than the FX3 and it's cheaper.

April 9, 2021 at 12:38PM, Edited April 9, 12:38PM

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Dave Stanton
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