Articles, MyWork, Singapore — January 25, 2012 at 7:11 am

Kampong Glam – Sony NEX-FS100 Test

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Yesterday in the late afternoon, I got an overnight loan of the yet to release Sony NEX-FS100 video camera. With about 1-2 hours of daylight left, I quickly drove to a nearby place and put the camera to test.

It was at the end of a long day of work fixing some Avid issues and I initially thought I was just going for a demonstration, so I didn’t bring along any support equipment. But I remember watching Den & James’s video blog of the camera and how they had shot one of the scenes of “Vertigo” music video without permission.

So I tried to go “stealth” and walked around a local old tourist street with the barebones FS100 (removing mic, handle and eyepiece) to see how unobtrusive I can get. I am using the E18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS Zoom kit lens.

Settings

There is no user manual and the camera went through several hands, so I am not 100% sure what are the defaults. But I believe I am testing the camera under default settings. There are 6 picture profiles and I chose the 5th – Cinematone 1 which is visibly darker on the camera’s LCD screen but brighter than Cinematone 2. But this being a cinema camera, I felt most people would want to use the cinematone profile and so I tested with it.

The gain settings are set to 0db (low), 15db (mid) and 30db (high). It is configurable at an interval of 3db from 0 to 30. I don’t know if this is the default but I didn’t change it since it is also good to test the entire range.

It is a PAL unit and should be the final production unit (but I am not able to confirm at this point).

– 1080p25 24Mbps Cinematone 1
– Edited in Premiere Pro CS4 with no grading
– Encoded in WMV Average 8Mbps, Max 10Mbps.

I did a Mainconcepts H.264 encoding at similar bitrates as well but I thought the WMV version is better in some ways. Note: Some artifacts are due to the WMV encoding.

Build quality

The build feels similar to EX1 and like all cameras of this range, better handle it with more care. All plastics but like most Sony products, they don’t feel cheaply constructed. Buttons are of course not as big and well-spaced as shoulder mounts, but I don’t feel they are that different from other cameras of this price range.

There are mounting holes in many places and you can actually mount the camera at its side on a tripod to do a vertical shoot (for vertical mount displays).

Unobtrusive?

I can wrap my two palms and fingers around the main unit, leaving the lens exposed. The size feels like placing two DSLR bodies back to back, if you get what I mean. In fact, the internal battery compartment takes up a lot of space (maybe 1/3 to 1/4 of the main unit). You can insert a NP-F970 inside without protruding out. Due to the position of the LCD screen at the top, I do find myself often shooting at below the eye level.

So am I really unobtrusive? Not exactly, but I feel I am not much different from a DSLR shooter.

Apologies for the shaky footage, I am quite tired at the end of a workday and the camera is not that light. I am also holding the camera in a unfamiliar manner (try visualize holding a barebones FS100 with your hands).

Lens

Equipped with the same F3 super 35mm CMOS sensor (I was told), I feel the kit lens is really not making use of the sensor’s superb capability.

– Looks unprofessional with the silver plastics (personal opinion)
– Focus ring is at the back and zoom ring on the front, which is contrary to all professional video lens. I kept making the mistake of zooming when I want to adjust focusing.
– Focus ring is smaller than the zoom ring and I have to turn a very big round to go from full blur to sharp.
– Not quite easy to get shallow depth of field with slow F3.5 – F6.3 (and no ND filter)
– Forget about smooth zoom. Difficult, if not impossible? Too much friction.
– Infinite focus ring. I always prefer a finite ring..
– Silent focusing/autofocus. Good.
– No noticeable barrel distortion at wide/telephoto ends.
– No noticeable chromatic aberration.
– Okay performance. I heard it’s the same lens as the consumer interchangeable lens camera.

Note: There is a small iris ring on the main camera unit.

LCD Display

I can view the LCD reasonably well in daylight and it’s rotatable. Sharp LCD screen like the EX1.

The nice thing is that you can press and navigate on the LCD screen directly. But it leaves too much fingerprint for me and I prefer not to touch that screen.

The small histogram can be permanently left on which is very useful. There is only one level of zebra. The peaking can be set to white, yellow or red with different strengths.

I have an issue with the expanded focus just like Canon XF305’s. I prefer Panny’s solution which only shows an expanded focus in the middle. With a full screen expanded focus, I often forget to turn it off as it looks not much different from the regular screen.

Image quality

Low light and low noise is definitely its selling point. Definitely better than AF100 in this regard. I also tested AF100 briefly before with some noticeable noise.

15db gain is surprisingly very usable although I feel 30db is reserved for documentary use with its noticeable noise. A better lens will definitely do wonders for this camera. The absence of a ND filter wheel is also an issue but it can be overcome with a mattebox.

Although not shown in the footage, I did some quick panning of the camera and and I can hardly see any rolling shutter effect. If you look at 02:10, the fan in the shop does not suffer from any rolling shutter effect.

Miscellaneous

Battery life is excellent. I shot with the LCD display on at normal brightness. I don’t know if there is a power saving feature but it’s almost always on throughout my 1-2 hours of shoot and the NP-F770 battery only dropped about 30%.

By the way, the loan package box comes with a NP-F770 battery and a Sony Shotgun Microphone. I am not sure if the actual package contents would be similar.

Conclusion

Pros:
– Excellent sensor with good low light capability and low noise
– Excellent battery life
– 1080p50 at 28Mbps
– Both HD and SD
– Modular (very configurable)
– Barebones is reasonably unobtrusive
– 15db gain clean and very usable

Cons:
– Consumerish kit lens
– No ND filter wheel (others have suggested it’s impossible to build it in due to form factor)
– Not NTSC/PAL switchable

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