Sensors and Sensibility: Sony’s PXW-FS7

Previewing the practical and high-performance Super 35mm camcorder.
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At IBC today, Sony introduced the latest in its XDCAM series of camcorders: the PXW-FS7 is a “cinema vérité” camera that features a Super 35-sized 4K Exmor sensor, multiple codecs and an innovative ergonomic design. The camera is capable of internal recording of Ultra HD at up to 60 fps (and 4K via free upgrade). External recording options include 12-bit linear raw. Electronics in the FS7 are sealed against dust and water.

The FS7 is targeted at a wide range of market applications: long-form documentary (cinema vérité style), indie film production, low-budget commercials, corporate, and reality and unscripted TV. Its rounded form factor with integrated shoulder pad and extensible SmartGrip controller is reminiscent of an Aaton film camera. This form factor allows for easy hand-holding of the camera, shoulder mounting or the use of a third-party rig. The camera head runs on Sony BPU batteries, the same as the current XDCAM series. Under a full operation load, the camera will run about two hours on a BP-U60 battery.

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Sony PXW-FS7 4K XDCAM Super 35mm camcorder with SmartGrip and viewfinder.

An Extension Unit (XDCA-FS7, planned to be available in November at a suggested list price less than $3,000) connects to the back of the camera via a 144-pin connector and provides a V-mount battery shoe, genlock, ref out, 4-pin DC input, 4-pin Hirose DC out, record tally lamp, timecode I/O and a 3G-SDI port to output 12-bit raw to an external recorder. This optional Extension Unit also performs the Apple ProRes encoding for recording onto the camera’s XQD cards. The unit will enable ProRes and ProRes HQ 4:2:2 at 1920 x 1080 resolution. XAVC and MPEG-2 files will be in MXF wrapper. ProRes files will be QT .mov format. Via the external breakout box, the camera will output either 12-bit linear raw to a Sony IFR3 + AXS-5 recorder or Cinema DNG raw to a compatible external 4K recorder.

The camera is built on a 12 megapixel 4K Super 35 Exmor CMOS sensor that features 14 stops of dynamic range. The camera’s impressive array of codecs includes XAVC Intra, 10-bit 4:2:2 in HD and UHD (and full 4K with future firmware update) recording formats. It also records XAVC-L (a Long GOP professional XAVC codec, not to be confused with the consumer XAVC-S Long GOP codec) at either 10-bit 4:2:2 or 8-bit 4:2:0 in HD and UHD. For compatibility with existing XDCAM workflows, it records MPEG-2 4:2:2 8-bit in both 720p and 1080 formats.

XAVC Format Family

In UHD or 4K resolution XAVC-I, the camera will crank up to 60 fps. It will shoot 180 fps XAVC-I at HD resolution, 120 fps with XAVC-L 50 Mb/s and 240 fps 2K raw to an external recorder.

The FS7 records to two XQD cards with either relay or simultaneous recording.

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PXW-FS7 with viewfinder, breakout box and wireless receiver

The camera includes a 3.5” LCD panel, viewfinder eyepiece with eye cup, internal microphone, and a removable handle with microphone mount and Multi-Interface (MI) shoe for compatible Sony microphones and audio interface units. Wireless options come via an included Wi-Fi dongle and include NFC or, with addition of WA100 remote unit, Wi-Fi remote, proxy, file copy and stream.

The adjustable SmartGrip rotates and features three assignable buttons, one assignable control dial, start/stop, joystick for menu control and servo zoom control for compatible servo zoom lenses.

The viewfinder rotates and is optimized for on-the-go shooting, with controls for contrast, peaking and zebra.

The camera ships with ITU Rec. 709 video gammas, HyperGammas and Sony’s S-Log3/S-Gamut3.Cine. S-Log2 will be available as a free firmware update. Menu settings enable 3D LUTs when shooting in S-Log modes. Additionally, when recording raw with external unit, XAVC or MPEG-2 simultaneous internal recording as proxy can be enabled.

The FS7 uses Sony’s Alpha lens mount system, which is the current E mount. This camera will accept the current line of Sony E mount lenses as well as a professional line of E mount lenses currently under development.

The kit lens for the FS7 is the Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS, which enables fully automatic functions with the camera and offers options for manual exposure, focus and zoom. It has full servo zoom functions and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization.

With third-party adapters (such as Metabones Speedbooster or E-to-PL mount adapters), the FS7’s E-mount fitting may accommodate virtually any lens.

Control layout is familiar to operators, with six assignable buttons, assignable iris dial, gain with increments set via menu, audio pots and four-position ND turret (clear plus three ND settings). It sports two XLR inputs, two 3G-SDI outputs, HDMI and LANC. Without battery and lens, weight is 5.2 pounds.

The PXW-FS7 camera body is expected to ship in October (for less than $10,000) and the Extension Unit in November (for less than $3,000).   

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