We’ve been using the Canon Cinema EOS cameras for a few years now and have had both the C300 and C100 since the time they were released. Although we do shoot with RED and other cameras when the job calls for it (camera bodies are just tools for the right job) we like to use our in-house cameras that we know inside and out for most of our work. And that means choosing a very versatile camera system that can work in lots of situations. We love the Canons, their image is great, their small/light and post production is a smooth process. Being as we are a small production house these things are all very important. But over the past year I’ve wanted to get a camera system that would give us a few other options –
1. More dynamic range
The C300/100 have great dynamic rage (12 stops) but I always want more DR to give us more options in post. DR is one of my biggest priorities when I’m looking at cameras, being able to retain the highlights and shadows in high contrast situations is very important.
Although we don’t deliver in 4k, and don’t plan too any time soon, the advantage of 4k for us is being able to reframe and zoom allowing it to look like we have an additional angle. We’ve all been in the situation where you want to adjust the frame or just need one additional angle of a shot to make the edit right… and just don’t have it. With 4k you can achieve that.
3. Slow Motion
We are always wanting to add slow motion to our films but since the C300/100 don’t have that option we generally had to go without it or rent a FS700 to achieve the desired look.
4. 10 bit (or more) recording
The Canons are 8 bit cameras, and although the codec does an amazing job with 8 bit I’ve always wanted more. Banding on blue skies and smooth walls behind talent drives me crazy, with a higher bit rate you don’t have that issue.
When I first saw the announcement for the Sony FS7 I was excited because it seemed to fit what we were looking for in for a camera. We placed the preorder with Texas Media Systems here in Austin and were able to get one of the first units that arrived.
I’m going to be comparing the FS7 to my C300 because that’s what I’m used to shooting on and it’s what Sony is aiming to compete with. The FS7 is larger in size then the C300 and about 0.9 lbs heavier, to me a bit concerning as we like to run our setups small and slim so we can move quickly. We do a lot of moving camera shots on the MOVI 10 so I was hoping this camera would fit.The build of the FS7 felt pretty solid and the grip extension was a great addition. I had read a lot of bad things about the loupe included with the FS7 but it’s ok, granted I haven’t used another option, but for now the shoulder setup out of the box was nice.
Coming from the Canons I have a ton of EF lenses so first thing I ordered was a Metabones Speedbooster Ultra IV as well as a Metabones VII adapter for EF lenses. Now there are issues with the speedbooster and you can read all about them on the News Shooter Blog here. I have not tested all the lenses with this camera but some work and some don’t, all my primes work and that is what I use most. The Metabones II adaptor seems to work better then he speedbooster and Sony is even doing a rebate for a free one with the FS7 camera. So it seems they know the camera is having issues with the other version. For most of our non run and gun work we will rent Canon Cinema Primes or Zeiss CP2 lenses, so the issue with electronic aperture and auto focus are not a problem.
For run and gun shoots we will use auto lenses so we can make adjustments very quickly and this is when the biggest gripe comes in. The iris wheel on the camera is VERY SLOW, it literally takes two turns to get one partial f stop change. This is not acceptable and I really hope Sony corrects this via firmware soon. I can’t imagine they would’t fix this. Paul at Anticipate Media did another great blog post that talks more about this.
I also ordered the Sony T FE 16-70 f/4 lens, it has a good range as well as has stabilization built in. I though this would be a good lens to use on the MOVI, but when I opened it the build seems quite cheap especially since it’s over $1k. The lens does work on the MOVI though.
The first thing I did when I unboxed the camera was mount it to the MOVI to see if it would fit, and it did! BARELY! I was only able to get the FS7 to balance with three lenses (lenses I have), the sony lens I bought (16-70) worked perfect. Then the Canon 35L and 50L mounted with the metabones II adaptor worked…. but I had to add a few Glidecam weights screwed into the back of the camera where the handle was screwed in. The issue is the camera body is very long, similar to the FS700. I’m planning to get the MOVI 15 in December and it should be perfect for all the lenses I like use. For monitoring the image on the MOVI I was unable to get the HDMI out on the FS7 to work while shooting in 4k. I have tried every option in the menu and even spoke to Sony technical support to no avail. The SDI out worked just fine. I did however have this hand 90 degree rod mount from Zacuto that worked perfectly to mount the FS7 monitor to the MOVI handle bar. It just works so nicely! I’m hoping the new firmware fixed the HDMI issue. I have not had time to test but will update when I do.
I was able to get this camera on a Friday, we had a 3 day shoot coming up the following Tuesday so I had a lot of work ahead of me to test and prepare this camera in time. So I started by familiarizing myself with the menu system and settings. Everything is straight forward, if you have used a Sony camera in the past you will be right at home. I then started shooting some test footage.
Here was what I was looking for –
1. Image quality, no aliasing, moiré or banding
2. Noise levels, especially in the shadow areas
3. Slog3 performance (dynamic range) and grading testing
4. Slow motion in 1080 at 180 fps
5. Ease of control and use
I was shooting everything at 4k except for the slow-motion footage which I shot at 1080 180fps. I also shot everything in Slog3 since we primarily shoot in Log for 90% of our projects. The image looked great, no aliasing, moire or banding. Punching into 100% in a 1080 timeline also still looked sharp. I could even add a bit of sharpening at 100% (in post) and the image held up and looked great.
NOISE & SLOG3 –
There is some noise in the shadow areas of the image, you get this shooting log with any camera and I have yet to find a camera that is noise free. Sony recommends to expose the whites at 61% in slog3, with rec709 you would expose at 100%. I did some different tests and depending on the situation I would expose the whites anywhere from 70% – 95%. Now you may say I’m crazy but in doing so I was able completely eliminate the noise. In a very high contrast scene where my talent was in the shadows I would expose higher to eliminate the shadow noise so in post I could keep the image noise free. But in lower contrast scenes I would would keep the whites around 65-70%. If you expose the whites high your are compressing the highlight information into a smaller space which makes the image harder to grade. I don’t recommend doing this unless you are really experienced in color grading or have someone really good doing it for you because it takes the right finessing to get the image where you want it. When you expose at 60-70% all you need to do is drop a LUT on the image.
In both the FS7 at 70% and C300 at 100% I get noise in the shadow areas (look close at the pavement in the video), the pavement will not be crushed all the way to black as that would be too much contrast for my taste. But exposing the FS7 to 95% eliminated all shadow area noise.
I tested both the EI mode and custom mode. I ended up shooting with custom mode as it allows you to use noise reduction while EI mode does not. I had the noise reduction set at medium and I didn’t see any softening of the image with this setting.
SLOW MOTION –
I love slow-motion it’s fun and allows you to capture the ordinary in a fresh way. The FS7 did a great job in 1080 at 180fps, but I did get some aliasing on a few things, buildings with thin lines in the distance, fine detailed striped shirts etc. I hate aliasing so when shooting slow motion with this camera you need to be careful, it looks very similar to the FS700 which has this same problem. I’m hoping that with a raw recorder it will eliminate this problem. Shooting 60fps in 4k I didn’t have any aliasing, I also didn’t test any other frame rates in 1080 besides 180fps so not sure if it happens all throughout the range or not.
EASE OF USE –
I love and hate how big this camera is. I love it because the shape makes it awesome for handheld and shoulder mounted work, so it can be a very nice run and gun camera. The rounded edge at the back of the camera allows you to brace it against your body to get lots of different angles, it really does come in handy. I hate it because well, it’s big. It weighs about 4 lbs dry so shooing with this camera on a MOVI or Glidecam is going to take it’s toll on you. I also hate how long it is making it difficult to mount on the MOVI. But again each camera fits a place and style of shooting and this may become our tripod handheld camera and we will use something else for MOVI style shots.
The camera is very easy to use, the only gripe I had operational style was the iris knob you have to turn a million times. The Grip handle is nice, the buttons are arranged different than what I’m used to on the C300 but it’s easy to get used to it. The button layout on the side of the camera is great, easy enough to adjust everything. You can also assign buttons however you would like which is very helpful. Overall I love the way the camera handles.
After shooting some test shots I loaded the footage onto my iMac to see the image on the big screen. I was very pleased with what I saw. I did a short edit and opened the XML into Davinci Resolve to do some color grade testing. I used the LUTS from Vision Color called Impulz, they have a ton for SLOG 3 so it makes starting your grade pretty easy. From there I added a few more nodes to get the image to my liking. Note that if you overexpose SLOG3 over (70% whites) the LUT will look like everything is blown out. Make sure to add all adjustment nodes before adding the LUT node, this way you’re adjusting the the image before it reaches the LUT. It works well but as I said above it takes finesse and practice to figure it out (i.e. overexposing Slog3).
I hear a lot of people complaining about skin tones with the Sony cameras and I can see why, it’s not as easy as Canon when it comes to color grading. The image is a lot flatter and even by just applying a LUT you don’t get that same “out of the box” color that Canon gives you. It took some playing around to get the image I liked as well as skin tones to look the way I like them. This is a draw back, but after you figure it out it works well.
So after all the prep and test over 3 days we were ready to use this camera for our 3 day shoot. The project went really well, we had a cold front and freezing weather in Austin but the the camera performed great. We used the FS7 as our A camera but did end up using the C300 as our B camera on MOVI, being lighter and smaller gave us more options with the MOVI 10 setup. We used both he Metabones Speedbooster IV and Metabones Adaptor II with Canon Cinema primes. We are now in post on this project so I can’t share any of the footage, but once it’s live I will add it to this post.
Now before I get in to comparing the FS7 to the C300 let me talk about the issues I had with the FS7.
Chromatic Aboration /Aliasing – Not sure which is was, Sony says Aliasing but looks more like chromatic aboration since it has the purple fringe to it. I didn’t have this in test footage but on a few back lit shots during our shoot we had this issue. On one shot in particular it was really bad (see below). But most of the time it was just the edge of a door or reflection off a mirror etc. that was a small round purple flare. They were backlit and they were over exposed areas so this could be one reason why Sony says not to expose whites over 70% in slog3. We were also shooting pretty wide open which can also cause CA, doing so to create shallower depth of field on the super 35 sensor. I have yet to do more testing with this but will do when I have more time. Nonetheless it’s not something I want to see in my footage and hope this is resolved.
HDMI – As stated above I could not get the HDMI out to work while shooting in 4k, it worked just fine shooting in 1080 though.
WAVEFORM MONITOR – For the waveform monitor to work you had to have the menu set for SDI output and HDMI off…. Really strange and annoying. Again hoping a firmware update fixes this. I also found it weird that there is no button on the camera or monitor dedicated for the waveform monitor.
IRIS WHEEL – As stated above, this drives me crazy! No idea how they released a camera into the wild with this issue. Really hoping they fix this soon.
MONITOR OUTPUT LUT – In order for the FS7 to send a LUT out to different monitors you have to have the camera set in EI CINE mode. As I said above I want to use noise reduction which does not work in EI CINE mode. But in custom mode you can’t send LUTs out to any monitors which sucks for focusing and for the client to see what the image will look like when graded.
So the FS7 vs. C300. Who wins this battle? It’s a bit harder than that, as I feel each camera holds it’s own. If you directly compare the 4k image of the FS7 to the C300 in a 1080 timeline they look pretty similar once you grade them. The FS7 has a bit more DR so you can retain a little more info but image clarity is pretty on par. If you zoom to 100% on the FS7 and C300 to 200% in a 1080 timeline you see a drastic difference as the zoom in shot on the FS7 is great and the C300 is unusable. I think the color structure of each camera is different but can be matched too look the same, so that’s not a big thing for me. I do see more noise in the shadow of the C300 then on the FS7 when I expose Slog over 70%, under 70% the noise is just about the same. I haven’t been able to do a low light test with both cameras but this will be something I will add over the next few weeks.
Here is a brief video comparison of the FS7 and C300 in a very high contrast environment. I wish I had shot a few other locations but was tight on time. I like to test new cameras in very difficult lighting situations, in this sample Katie is in the shade and we have a very bright background of sky and pavement. The C300 has the sigma 18-35 Art lens and the FS7 has the Canon 35mm L (I think the Sigma is a sharper lens). I miss matched the focal length a bit but you get the idea. THIS IS NOT SCIENTIFIC! I did this test for myself and am sharing it with you, so don’t come at me with hate.
To make things easy, below is list of what I like best about each camera –
- Size/Weight – It’s lighter and smaller
- Solid Build quality -FS7 is not as solid feeling
- Easy color grade
- Cheap media (CF card)
- Fits on MOVI 10 even with Cinema lenses
- Nicer waveform monitor
- 14 stops Dynamic Range
- Slow-motion 4k 60fps//1080 180fps
- Log is really log (Clog isn’t really a log)
- 10 bit
- Raw record option 12 bit
- Handheld/shoulder-mount setup
- As you can see it’s not that easy. They are different cameras and each would work better for different jobs. I’m most likely going to sell the C300 since I have the C100 and can use that as the B cam. We will see how Canon reacts, I’m hoping they release a replacement for the C300 that matches the FS7 or betters it. Only time will tell.
I will continue to update this blog as I do more testing and as Sony releases firmware. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions below.