With competition from the Blackmagic Pocket 6K Pro, Canon C70, and others, Sony has released the FX3, its latest cinema camera with a design crafted to dominate a crowded market.
The market for a "compact cinema camera" is getting crowded. A few short years ago, if you wanted something small targeted squarely at filmmakers with the ports and connectors needed to work on a busy set, one of the few choices was the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Then came the Sigma fp, and just last year, the Canon C70.
Now Sony is moving in on the territory with the FX3 and the previously released FX6. Let's take a look to see how it stacks up.
FX3 Key Features
The new FX3 offers a ton of power in a tiny package. A full-frame sensor, amazing low light performance, dynamite autofocus, in-body image stabilization, 4K 120p image capture, and 16-bit RAW over HDMI. They also add full XLR inputs through a modular top handle, which is a smart move.
It saves us the weight of XLR ports when we don't need them, but lets us have them when you want. It's also covered with eight different 1/4-20" mounting points to save the need for an accessory cage. On paper, it has at least one feature to beat every competitor. Better I/O than the Sima fp. Better autofocus, IBIS, and ergonomics than the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. Lighter weight and a larger sensor than the Canon C70.
While it lacks internal RAW (but then again so does the C70), we'll most likely see external RAW recording become an option with Atomos. What's great about the FX3 as well as the FX6 is that you don't need the very expensive XDCA-FX9 extension kit to record external RAW as you do with the FX9. This is obviously a smart move by Sony to keep the cost down on both the FX6 and FX3 to record RAW.
Though the Sigma fp and BMPCCs offer multiple RAW recording formats, neither of them is going to match Sony for autofocus. And that's really the key feature that's going to make the FX3 appealing. Better yet, the FX3 has the same touchscreen autofocus as the a7S III.
That's where the FX6 really messed things up. The autofocus has some quirks and takes some getting used to. You simply just can't touch the screen where you want the autofocus. You have to adjust it using the joystick.
The FX3 reverts back to the Alpha mirrorless style of autofocus.
FX3 Lens Mount
If you are a filmmaker, the goal is to own maybe one nice zoom and a prime in the native mount for autofocus gigs, but then rent beautiful cinema glass when you need it. The newer mounts just make that easier with E mount being the system with the widest selection of native lenses and yet still easy to adapt to other lenses.
The FX3 likely wouldn't exist if it weren't for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. It's rare in the world of products that you clearly see the influence of a single object on the design of its competitors. Maybe the release of the iPhone in 2008 and the Android imitators a year or two later is similar, but in camera design, you cannot deny how the BMPCC influenced the market.
Before the BMPCC, the major players were happy to have their cinema cameras like the Sony FS7 and the Canon C100 keep more traditional cinema bodies and still body cameras that shot nice video but lacked robust I/O and required a cage for accessories.
But making a stills-sized camera with professional I/O just wasn't interesting to the big guns. After the BMPCC became such a massive hit, bigger companies took notice that there is a real market now, leading us to the range of cameras available today.
It comes at a premium compared to the BMPCC 6K Pro, but you get a larger sensor, better autofocus, IBIS, and the ergonomics likely make that price worth it, especially for existing Sony users.
Sony FX6 Comparison
So, with all those amazing features in the FX3, what is left in the FX6 to push users to that upgrade? Primarily, LUTs, SDI, ND filters, and timecode output.
All of which are tools that are incredibly useful for some users and not at all interesting to others. Internal LUT preview is great when you are working with a larger group of collaborators who might not be able to imagine the final results of a shot, but most monitors now support LUTs, so you can always plug a LUT into the directors monitor if you need. The bigger deal is the continuous internal ND, which is a real perk in shooting in low light.
On top of that is an SDI connector where the FX3 only has HDMI. This isn't a huge technical issue. You can get an equal video signal over either connection. The bigger issue is robustness and surviving life on set. You can do a 50 foot run of SDI and get a signal. HDMI without a booster can cut out at 6 to 10 feet. If you are planning on using the FX3 in a bigger setup, you'll need a wireless video extender or an HDMI signal booster to get the image to a faraway monitor over HDMI.
In some ways this makes the FX3 seem like it's not really intended to be an A camera in larger setups, but working with HDMI is something a lot of us have gotten used to, and all the mounting points provide plenty of places to mount a wireless follow focus.
Sony a7s III Comparison
While the a7s III is a video-focused stills camera, it's still mostly a stills camera. The hybrid camera is one of the best Sony has to offer today, maybe outside of the Alpha 1, but that comes at twice the cost.
Where the a7S III lacks is its I/O. When it comes to audio I/O, all you're getting is a 3.5mm input on the body unless you attach the XLR-K3m adapter. Capture times are limited by the lack of a fan. Doing smooth zooms are nearly impossible, something fixed with the zoom rocker on the FX3. That, and the inclusion of a fan for long capture times, are some key differences with the FX3.
What's great about the FX3 is the top handle is included in the box, so if you wanted to support XLR connections there's nothing else to purchase.
While you can, and many do, shoot beautiful images with the a7s III, it's generally always a game of workarounds and accessories trying to work with still cameras on a large set. The FX3 seems to remedy that.
Canon C70 Comparison
If you're already invested in Canon, the C70 is appealing, but the price point Sony has launched for the FX3 is clearly intended as a very aggressive move against the C70. Coming in nearly 30% cheaper than the C70, it has a larger sensor, and otherwise very similar specifications, and a dramatically smaller form factor and lighter weight. The FX3 takes what folks were excited about by the C70, and goes a little further.
Canon and Sony are continually fighting for autofocus dominance and are somewhat at parity at the moment. Sony is promoting how strong their autofocus performance is in low light right now, which is one of the places autofocus is needed most. Canon has traditionally had an edge against Sony in color science, and that likely continues to this day while Sony is putting a lot of effort into catching up there.
These are the two closest competitors in terms of the types of jobs and shooters they are aimed at, with Sony's price difference absolutely dramatic.
Sigma fp Comparison
While we absolutely love the Sigma fp, it hasn't taken off in the market the way we thought. With a big beautiful full-frame sensor capable of shooting Blackmagic, ProRes RAW, and CinemaDNG, a truly compact body size, and a great price point, it's still a compelling option for certain types of production and a real competitor for the FX3.
What Sony has essentially done is take inspiration from the Sigma fp body and put all of Sony's excellent features inside. With the FX3, you will have better autofocus and IBIS performance compared to the fp. The FX3 also supports Sony's post stabilizing software Catalyst Browse, which can produce some excellent stabilization results.
In terms of build, the FX3 has those mounting points, dual card slots that accept CFexpress Type A and SD cards, and a top handle that provides 4-channel audio. The fp is a dynamite camera for action and gimbal shots, but now, so is the FX3.
We would be hard-pressed to suggest buying the Sigma fp over the Sony FX3. Sony took that idea and simply made it better in all areas. If you're a creator who prefers shooting CinemaDNG, then the Sigma fp has the edge, but as for features, it's beginning to look outdated.
While Sony still receives criticism for its color science, it's something that can be adjusted in post. The work they've done with VENICE really shows in the rest of the lineup. S-Cinetone is a real step forward to crafting pleasing images straight from the camera.
With the FX3, the areas in question for filmmakers depend on your specific needs. While it lacks SDI and internal RAW, those might not be a need. We'd gladly trade off internal RAW for Sony's low-light performance. But the form factor is the real winner here, as you'll be able to use it for guerilla-style filmmaking without sacrificing image quality.
With a price tag of $3,900, we'll most likely see folks who have previously been tempted take this moment to switch.
Check Out: Today’s Deal Zone Deals – these great deals are valid for just 24 hours – usually discounted by over 50%, so it’s always worth a look !!
With any & every B&H purchase You will automatically be entered into the Monthly Gift Card Raffle.
Really need to include the Z CAM E2-S6 and E2-F6. FAR better cameras and the S6 is far cheaper, you could fully kit a S6 for less then the price of this FX3, let a lone 6K RAW or 6K Prores.
February 23, 2021 at 12:42PM
Unfortunately, Zcam will always be lifted out of discussions. While users love them, no one knows about them. I believe that will come with time.
February 23, 2021 at 5:37PM
There’s an error in this article, the FX9 has a touchscreen.
February 23, 2021 at 9:47PM
The C70 has inbuilt ND filters. Makes a huge difference for me.
April 5, 2021 at 4:41PM