Sony NEX-FS700 First Impression Review
The Sony NEX-FS700 offers an attractive set of features.
The Sony NEX-FS700 has a lot of things going for it. It can produce slow-motion full HD video at 120 or 240fps, and it can record up to 960fps at lower resolutions. It has an E-Mount lens system, which means it works with Sony’s NEX lenses out of the box, or you can expand its compatibility with the purchase of a lens adapter. The camcorder won't be able to record 4K video right off the bat, but Sony claims it will announce a firmware upgrade at some point in the future that will enable 4K output via the FS700's 3G HD-SDI terminal.
The NEX-FS700 is the clear successor to the Sony NEX-FS100, but the new model truly ups the ante. Sony also upped the price, as the FS700 is expected to retail for around $10,000 dollars. Last year’s NEX-FS100, on the other hand, can be found for roughly half as much.
Design & Usability
A standard set of features, as well as high-speed frame rates
The Sony FS700 has more auto controls and features than some of the competition (like the Canon C500 and C300), but the FS700's boxy design and cramped button layout don't make for a simple user experience. The small aperture control dial is not impressive, nor is the shutter speed dial that doubles as an adjustment wheel for all sorts of other things (like menu navigation). The customizable buttons on the left side of the camcorder are well labeled, and some of the dedicated controls are lovely, but many buttons are simply difficult to reach during recording.
Without a lens, the FS700 looks like an extremely awkward camcorder. The back portion is shaped like a box and covered with buttons, and in front of this is a large, rounded barrel that houses the image sensor, ND filter, and lens mount. This boxy shape isn’t ergonomically designed, but Sony includes with the camcorder a sturdy (and removable) “active grip” that attaches to the right side. This grip, which comes with a plush hand strap, has four buttons that give you quick access to important controls: a focus rocker, auto aperture push, still image capture, and a start/stop record button. I didn't think the photo shutter button was necessary here, and I would have greatly preferred an extra menu button in its place.
The image sensor on the FS700 got a big upgrade over the CMOS chip featured on last year’s FS100. Sony calls the new sensor a “4K Exmor Super 35” CMOS imager, and it comes loaded with a whopping 11.6 megapixels. For HD video, the effective pixel count is 8.4 megapixels (enough to produce a 4K image), and the camcorder can even capture 7.1-megapixel still images.
4K output is expected in the future, but right now the camcorder is limited to 1080p HD recording.
For recording full HD video, the NEX-FS700 uses the AVCHD compression system. This is the same system used on Sony's consumer-oriented Handycam camcorders that also record HD video. When recording full HD, the FS700 can use 60p, 50p, 60i, 24p, 25p, or 30p frame rates—all with embedded time code and audio. You can also output uncompressed 1080p video directly from the camcorder using the 3G HD-SDI terminal with native 23.98, 25, and 29.97 progressive frame rates. In addition to the HD modes, the FS700 has the option of recording standard definition video using the MPEG-2 codec.
There’s also the presence of high-speed frame rates that produce what Sony calls “Super Slow Motion” video. You can record full HD video using 120fps or 240fps frame rates that will slow video down by five or ten times respectively. If you want to slow things down even further, there's a 480fps (20x slow motion) and a 960fps (40x slow motion) mode that are available at lower resolutions.
Remember, the NEX-FS700 isn't capable of outputting 4K video quite yet. Sony claims that a firmware upgrade in the near future will enable the camcorder to output a 4K bitstream over the 3G HD-SDI terminal with an optional Sony 4K recorder. When this firmware upgrade becomes available, the Sony NEX-FS700 will position itself as the direct competition to Canon’s new 4K model—the EOS C500 digital cinema camera. The difference? The Canon retails for a whopping $30,000, which is three times as much as this Sony.
With its E-mount lens system, the NEX-FS700 requires a lens adapter to expand its compatibility beyond the NEX lens line.
The FS700 has an E-mount lens system that allows it to use interchangeable lenses from Sony’s NEX line of digital cameras and interchangeable-lens Handycams. While Sony’s list of E-mount lenses is still in the process of growing, you can purchase lens adapters (usually at a low cost) to expand the FS700’s compatibility beyond the NEX line. You can even buy an A-mount lens adapter directly from Sony for $199. The NEX-FS700 will be available with an 18-200mm kit lens, or else you may purchase the body only.
Compared to most pro camcorders, the NEX-FS700 isn't loaded with controls, but it has all the basics a professional would need. There are two XLR ports for attaching professional mics to the camcorder, and there's that wonderful 3G HD-SDI terminal for outputting uncompressed video (and eventually 4K content, with the firmware upgrade). Instead of recording to some expensive and unusual media system, the FS700 utilizes a basic SD-type memory card slot that also works with Sony's own Memory Stick PRO Duo cards.
Although its $10,000 price tag may seem high, the NEX-FS700 is actually more modestly-priced than the competition.
If recording 4K video is what your heart desires, the Sony NEX-FS700 may be able to help you out. The camcorder can’t officially record 4K video yet, but Sony claims the model is “4K ready,” and all that stands in the way is a simple firmware upgrade to enable 4K output via the FS700’s 3G HD-SDI port. After that, however, you'll still need to purchase a (likely expensive) video recorder that can handle 4K.
With an expected retail price of around $10,000 dollars, the Sony NEX-FS700 is actually priced competitively in the 4K camcorder market. At $5,000, the JVC GY-HMQ10 is a cheaper option, but its 4K workflow solution is downright silly: it requires the use of four SDHC memory cards simultaneously. Then there are the RED Digital Cinema camcorders, which cost an upward of $15,000 before you count the cost of all the necessary add-ons. The Canon C500, which was announced at NAB right on the heels of the Sony FS700, has an expected retail price of $30,000, according to preliminary reports. And all of these products are significantly cheaper than Sony’s other 4K option—the F65 CineAlta camcorder—that is available for the princely sum of $65,000.
Concern about Sony’s hazy details involving the NEX-FS700’s 4K firmware upgrade are warranted, as Sony has yet to announce a solid date or plan for executing this upgrade. But when the upgrade does become available, the NEX-FS700 should position itself as one of the most affordable ways to shoot 4K. This capability, along with the FS700’s intriguing slow motion record modes and E-mount interchangeable lens system, make Sony's $10,000 asking price sound quite reasonable for a professional camcorder.
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