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FX9: Philip Bloom Evaluates Sony’s Evolutionary Camera

“There’s so much that I absolutely love about it.”

Announced this past September at IBC in Amsterdam and released in December, the Sony PXW-FX9 full-frame camera is the successor to, but not a replacement for the company’s very popular FS7 camera. The FX9 is a beefed-up version of the FS7, which Sony is still manufacturing and marketing.

The camera’s full-frame 6K sensor records in DCI 4K Ultra HD and HD resolutions. While it has a 6K sensor, you cannot record in 6K, but rather downsample to 4K for better resolution and a cleaner look. The sensor is Sony’s Exmor R, a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which is twice as sensitive as a front-illuminated version. It increases the camera’s dynamic range more than 15 stops.

U.K. Filmmaker Philip Bloom tested the FX9 for four months. His popular camera reviews on YouTube generally run under an hour.  His review of the FX9 clocks in at just under two. Bloom says that though it is “not the easiest camera to use…there’s so much that I absolutely love about it.”

The FX9’s hybrid autofocus combines phase and contrast detection with facial tracking to create a practical and functional filmmaking tool. “We’re finally at the point where you can trust autofocus, because that was a dirty word forever,” says Jens Bogehegn, designer at accessory maker Zacuto, in a “first look” discussion about the FX9.

“Sony autofocus in the video cameras… didn’t exist in any usable form until the last three or four years,” adds Bloom.“I’m really impressed by how far away it can pick up a face and start tracking it, like really far away.” 

Though the FX9’s autofocus is a big improvement over the FS7’s purely contrast based autofocus, the DP says that the one missing element is a touch screen for selecting a face or an object instead of a face. Sony says that eye autofocus will be available in firmware update 2.0, summer of this year.

Filmmaker Philip Bloom, capably assisted by Bertie (lower left)
Filmmaker Philip Bloom, capably assisted by Bertie (lower left)

The FX9 does very well in any lighting condition primarily due to the camera’s dual base ISO.  The lower base ISO 800 is ideal for shooting in bright daylight or well-lit indoor settings. The high base ISO 4000 is key for shooting in low-light circumstances or when using slower lenses. 

“This camera can see in the dark. It can see so well. It’s just beautiful,” Bloom gushed. “Combine it with fast lenses it works incredibly well… just getting some amazing colors.”

The dual base ISO combined with the FX9’s full-frame electronic variable ND filter enables filmmakers to adjust to varied and changing lighting situations.  The variable ND filter can also act as primary exposure control, giving a DP the opportunity to set the aperture for the desired depth of field.

The FX9’s new color profile, S-Cinetone, aligns the camera more with the VENICE, one of Sony’s digital cinema cameras. One knock on the Sony cameras has been that they do not capture a film look, but instead the images tend to look more like television. The Venice overcame these critiques and the FX9, at half the price of the Venice, will bring that digital cinema look to their “camcorder” range of cameras.

Bloom testing the FX9
Bloom testing the FX9

“It does record audio really well, of course, because it’s a proper video camera,” says Bloom. “The key thing is we have four inputs… but one thing I’ve never been able to do [before now is] replicate channels 1 and 2 on [channels] 3 and 4 at different levels. It’s a nice safety when recording audio. It’s not been in other cameras… and it is now in here and it makes me happy.”

Read more: “Full Frame” Sensors: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

The FX9 is several steps beyond FS7, the camera it is not replacing, but it is still far from being the VENICE. While Sony is aiming at broadcast and corporate customers with the FX9, the camera they have built aspires to be more.  “As it stands right now, with its beautiful full-frame image, incredible colors, amazing autofocus, and terrific low light,” says Bloom, “…this truly is the best camera I have every filmed with.”