Ease of Use: 4 / 5
Pricing: 4 / 5
Video Quality: 4.5 / 5
Photo Quality: 3.5 / 5
Features: 4 / 100
For years, videographers have had to satisfied with cameras boasting tiny sensors, yearning for the day that their footage would look like something out of Hollywood. The advent of DSLR HD video, brought that dream one big step closer. The big sensor DSLRs could achieve the same shallow depth of field and rich bokeh that videographers had always dreamed of, but could not manage with 3CCD cameras. But…all DSLRs have inherent faults when it comes to video. Being hybrid-cameras, it’s a matter of compromise. The jello-cam phenomenon (due to rolling shutters), the nasty moiré patterns created, the lack of decent sound inputs, the 4GB file-size limits and most of all, the lack of a decent file format/codec.
This created a need for professional video cameras that has the large sensors like the high-end film cameras, but without most of the faults of DSLRs, at a decent price-point. Both Sony and Panasonic decided to heed the call, but today I’ll just focus on the Sony NEX FS-100. This is Sony’s answer. So, at around $5 000(R38 000), did Sony succeed?
When taking the FS-100 out of the box, you are immediately underwhelmed. It’s very plastic and one wonders whether this camera could take a beating. It’s not flimsy, but doesn’t feel as rugged as any of the new generation DSLRs with magnesium-alloy bodies. Being a modular design, Sony has given most of the standard accessories separately, so that you can “build-up” the camera the way you want. Again, all the accessories feel very plastic and not very tough. But the reason for most of the plastics are two-fold – cost saving, and weight saving. This is a small, light camera that’s just as maneuverable as any DSLR, and much more so than most of the cumbersome high-end cameras.
Being modular in design, Sony has addressed one of the major issues with DSLRs. You can connect various screens, microphones, lenses and whatever else you want onto this camera. Very clever design. As far as the body goes, the camera has everything you would need. There are 2 industry standard XLR slots, the usual exposure controls and the LCD screen. The 3.5” LCD screen is superb. It also doubles as the viewfinder, with the clip-on viewfinder adaptor. My only gripe would be that there are too many buttons. It becomes too busy and finicky on the outside, with many of those buttons that could have been moved to the menu system. Another great feature is that the camera uses standard SDHC cards for recording. This means cheap, reliable and readily available storage for the camera.
The FS-100 has a proper HDMI port, unlike all DSLRs, that does actually allow an uncompressed signal through. This means you can hook up a device like the Nanoflash or Atomos Ninja, and enjoy proper 4:2:2 signal footage from your FS-100. This feature puts it in the big leagues. The FS-100 takes standard E-mount lenses. Sounds fine? Not really. Sony’s E-mount lenses aren’t great, and thus far, there are only about 5/6 of them. The standard 18-200mm lens is average, at best. Also, going to Sony’s Alpha DSLR lenses is also not recommended, as Sony has its image stabilization within its DSLR cameras, and not the lenses. This means that if you want a stabilized lens, you are forced to look elsewhere. There are lens mount adapters for most of the major companies. If you want to let your inner Steven Spielberg loose, you can opt for the PL mount adapter, which would let you mount your favorite Arri or Zeiss film lenses on your FS-100. The EF Canon mount though, shows the most promise, as Canon has many lenses, and their newly announced Cinema lenses also take the same EF mount.