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Tuesday, 21 February 2012 14:44

The Sony NEX-FS100UK Camera

Written by  David Hurd
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dec2_sonynex_sfwThe Sony NEX-FS100UK camera is really an amazing piece of gear. After watching some clips that were shot with this camera, I went out and purchased one. This is actually quite amazing, considering that my last five cameras were all from Panasonic.

There are three reasons for my switch back to Sony. First, I like the fact that you can go full auto in a run-and-gun situation. It may not be something that you would normally do, but it’s good to have auto if you need it. Secondly, I really like the low-light capabilities of this camera. You can shoot indoors using only available light by simply adding some gain. Usually, you wouldn’t want to do this to your image, but the Sony NEX-FS100UK makes it looks good — even with 18 DB of gain. The third thing that I like about this camera is that you can load Panasonic VariCam and Canon 5D presets that mimic DSLRs, without all of the overheating, aliasing and the limited recording times associated with DSLRs.

Do you like slow-mo? You can get the extra versatility of slow- and quick-motion shooting by recording images at a different frame rate than you’d use for playback. The NEX-FS100 enables full-HD 1920×1080p slow and quick motion. Then, by hitting a button, Last Scene Review lets you check the S&Q effects on set — immediately after shooting the scene — without having to look through menus.

The NEX-FS100 can be configured for a wide range of shooting situations. To facilitate handheld shooting, the angle of the handgrip can be positioned 360 degrees as desired, and the LCD panel can rotate for left- or right-side operation. And there are 1/4- and 3/8-inch screw holes on both the handle and camera body for mounting the camera and attaching various peripheral devices. The sharp, large and bright 3.5-inch XtraFine LCD/viewfinder can be rotated for stress-free operation from either side of the camera. For easier, more precise focusing, a large viewfinder tube with a 1.2x magnifier converts the LCD into a nice viewfinder.

If you want to upgrade your viewfinder, try the Small HD DP4-EVF. It has a larger 4.3-inch monitor and the EVF magnification comes in really handy when doing HD work. In addition, the Small HD DP4-EVF has some great tools included. For instance, I set up two presets. With the touch of one button, I have peaking so that what is in focus gets bright edges around it. The second HML button lets me see my scene in terms of brightness. The highs, middles and lows are all displayed in different colors, making it easy to adjust my lighting for maximum latitude. The HDMI in-and-out connections allow me to connect one of my external recorders or monitors in line with the DP4-EVF. The viewfinder that comes with the NEX-FS100 is nice, but the Small HD DP4-EVF is simply better.

The Sony NEX-FS100UK camera comes packaged with the Sony 18–200mm E-mount lens. The SEL18200 (E 18–200mm, F3.5–6.3) lens has precision-crafted optics with aspherical glass elements for compact high performance and circular iris mechanisms for smooth background defocusing. The lens also has 11x zoom power; a quiet AF motor for cleaner sound recording; and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization for steady handheld shots while you’re walking around. And even though its lowest f-stop is only 3.5, you can still throw the background out of focus on telephoto shots.

In comparison to Panasonic’s AF100 camera, the FS100 lacks built-in ND filters, and I’ve heard that a lot of people see this is a problem. It’s not — there’s an easy workaround for this by means of a circular ND filter. The Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo, a variable ND and polarizing filter, works amazingly well on this camera. It consists of two pieces of glass that spin independently of each other: the front filter controls the ND filtering and the rear filter handles polarization. I find the Vari-N-Duo preferable to built-in ND filters because by simply twisting the filter by about an inch and a half, you can get from 2 2/3 up to 8 stops of ND. It’s actually faster than finding and turning an ND knob and then fine-tuning with an iris control.

The other ND filter that I tested is the Heliopan from Turbolight-Hedler USA. Since 1949, Heliopan has been manufacturing the finest-quality German filters, and they are the only filter manufacturer that exclusively uses glass from Schott (Zeiss). Heliopan machines its filter rings from quality brass tubes and black anodizes and silkscreens them in factories in Bavaria. The ND filter is variable from 1 to 6.6 stops (ND 0.3–2.0). These filters represent German engineering at its finest.

If you’re like me, you are probably thinking, “I’ll bet it’s a lot of fun screwing those filters on and off every time you go indoors or want to change lenses.” And you’d be exactly right. The good news is that you don’t have to go to all that trouble. XUME makes a filter holder that allows you to magically pop your filters on and off. One ring screws into the front of your lens and the other ring screws onto your filter — and as you bring the two together, you can feel a strong magnetic link. With a holder mounted onto the end of each lens, you can easily move your ND filter from lens to lens.

Speaking of lenses, the lens adapters from Dot Line are an inexpensive way to properly mount non-E-mount lenses. By using old Nikon lenses with a low f-stop, I was able to really control my depth of field. While inside a camera store, I shot a close up of my wife and had people standing three feet behind her completely out of focus. By switching over to my Dot Line adapter for Canon lenses, I was able to use my Lensbaby with the wide-angle attachment. My Lensbaby is left over from my Canon 5D review. You wouldn’t normally think to try it on the Sony FS100 camera, but it’s actually pretty cool. By moving the lens, you can put various parts of the frame out of focus, which I found useful for imitating the POV of a stoned or sick person. It would also work well with music videos or any time that you want some crazy-cool-looking footage.

The FS100 features a Sony E-mount interchangeable lens system, and a great variety of current and future E-mount lenses from various lens manufacturers (like Sony Zeiss, Tamron, Sigma and Cosina) are compatible. Thanks to its unusually shallow flange focal distance, virtually any 35mm lens can be mounted via third-party adaptors, like the ones I get from Dot Line. You can also use the optional Sony LA-EA1 mount adaptor and take advantage of the abundant “α” A-mount lenses that are available on the market.

 I’m not fond of using cards, I bought the Sony HXR-FMU128 flash memory unit, which is really slick. It’s about the size of a pack of cigarettes and pops into the side of the camera, giving me continuous recording for over 10 hours. Simultaneous recording using memory cards or an external recorder is also possible for when you’re shooting footage that can’t be reshot. The FS100 provides an HDMI output with embedded time code and pull-down markers for 4:2:2 uncompressed digital output. I like to record to both the internal recorder and an external recorder. That way I have 25Mb/sec recording as well as 220Mb/sec with the Atomos Ninja, or 1280Mb/sec with the Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle.

The Atomos Ninja recorder for Apple ProRes recording is a10-bit production weapon for HDMI-equipped cameras like the FS100. Ninja preserves the pristine uncompressed-video quality from the FS100 camera’s sensor by encoding it directly into the ProRes format in 422, LT or HQ. Then it goes straight to the timeline of your NLE. It’s a fast, high-quality workflow with just a few simple steps. With your Ninja loaded with an SSD, you have instant, random “non-linear” access to your material, eliminating the need for log and capture using a standard capture card. Keep in mind that HDMI can’t support 24 FPS, so the Ninja will record at 60 FPS, and you can convert the footage on the way into your editing system.

You can edit right from the SSD drive in the docking station, and export a finished movie. However, be aware that the media is still only on your SSD, so you’ll want to copy your files to another drive before erasing your SSD. My goal is to have my footage archived in at least three places. My Thermaltake BlacX Duet 5G Docking Station will accept two 2.5 or 3.5 hard drives, so it’s easy to pop in a couple of raw drives (no case needed) and make two copies of my data. Another way is to pop in the SSD and a second drive and then make a copy of the SSD. In addition, there’s my Seagate SAS RAID and G-Technology G-SPEED Q RAID for additional backups. With the FS100, the bad news is that you have to keep track of your data. The good news is that you don’t have to purchase or deal with videotape.

The Ninja arrives as a complete system, so you don’t have to add anything except a 2.5-inch SSD and some cables to suit your setup like HDMI. All other parts necessary to use the Ninja are included in a very nice carrying case. Luckily, SSD drives are Flash memory devices that come in the same form-factor as 2 ½-inch disk drives, and they’re fully supported by the Ninja. The Crucial SSD drive that I use records 512MB, which is much more space than the 112MB available inside the camera using two 64GB cards. When you’ve filled up an SSD simply pop it out and plug in another one, much like a giant P2 card.

The reason that you usually use SSD drives instead of regular 2 ½-inch HHD disk drives is that regular drives are particularly sensitive to motion. If you move too quickly while the drive is spinning, you may get a small gap in your recording. While 90 percent of your production work will most likely be OK on a standard drive, SSDs are the way to go while working in a challenging environment.

The Ninja mounts in the hot shoe on top of the camera, and provides a monitor for viewing and playing back your recordings. The touch-screen controls are very handy and easy to navigate, and changing codecs is as simple as touching the icon on the screen. This product absolutely rocks on the FS100 camera. It’s lightweight and portable and has built-in SSD formatting plus the ability to plug in the Ninja directly into your computer for editing — and its recording is rock solid. Add the fact that this device is less expensive than other similar ProRes HQ recorders, and you end up with great value for your dollar. The Ninja’s standard one-year warranty on all parts and accessories is upgraded to three years on the Main Ninja Unit alone (excluding TFT/LCD) by registering your Ninja online.

You can also improve the quality of the FS100 with BlackMagic’s HyperDeck Shuttle. If you like working in uncompressed, and have a RAID big and fast enough to handle the format, the HyperDeck Shuttle is for you. This time, the uncompressed signal from the FS100 is not compressed into AVCHD (24–28Mbps) in the camera or ProRes HQ (220Mbps) in the Ninja, but rather is recorded in uncompressed 10-bit HD (1280Mbps) in the HyperDeck Shuttle. It’s an 8-bit camera, so there’s a bit of waste recording at 10 bits — but, hey, it’s uncompressed.

Compression always destroys some image quality, so this is a great option if you need to get the most dynamic color range for color correction and perfect, clean keying without jagged edges. The downside is finding the storage space. My Crucial 512GB SSD will only hold about an hour’s worth of data. The HyperDeck Shuttle bypasses your camera’s compression and records from SDI or HDMI in the universally compatible uncompressed QuickTime files. These files can be used with all popular software packages like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects, Da Vinci Resolve and Apple Color.

Like the Ninja, you can edit directly from the SSD media itself, but the difference is that you’ll need to pop the SSD out of the HyperDeck Shuttle and use your own docking station to connect to your editing computer. I use a Thermaltake BlacX 5G Docking Station. It works with all standard 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch SATA/SSD to USB 3.0 for transfer rates up to 5Gbps. It’s compatible with SATA I/II/III and SSD HDDs. I use the latest Mac OS X, but it’s also compatible with Microsoft Windows 7, Vista and XP 2003/2000. This model holds one drive at a time, so I can edit on this docking station while its brother, the Duet 5G, makes backup copies.
The HyperDeck Shuttle has standard deck-style function buttons (clearly marked and easily accessible along one side) as well as LEDs that indicate recording and battery status and input-signal lock. I find it very easy to use — it’s like operating a VTR. Since this device has no built-in monitor, you’ll need to buy a pair of SDI or HDMI cables. One cable will go from the FS100 into the HyperDeck Shuttle and the other will feed the signal out of the HyperDeck Shuttle to your monitor.

The HyperDeck Shuttle works well for a quick on-set QC or client preview. I either use my Plura Broadcast PBM-070X 7-inch on-camera monitor, with its built-in Waveform and Vectorscope, or my 2s2 17-inch monitor. Connected to the HyperDeck Shuttle via HDMI or SDI cables, the uncompressed signal looks awesome. The Plura PBM-070X is great for indoors or camera-mounted work, and my 2s2 monitor can be seen from 6 feet away with no hood, even when outdoors in full sunlight. The HyperDeck Shuttle is compact and battery powered so it’s perfect as a field recorder. If you’re looking for an affordable, uncompressed 10-bit recorder, look no further.


The downside of switching from my last video camera to this cine-style camera is that I lost the ability to have a servo zoom on my lens — but I found a nice workaround to fix this problem. K-Tek’s Norbert and Norbert Sport both work with the FS100, offering a rail system and a square metal cage to mount all of the accessories that you need for professional work. My Norbert Sport usually holds either the Ninja or my HyperDeck Shuttle recorder (mounted to one of K-Tek’s mounting plates) and my Plura or SWIT Electronics monitor.

Other useful things to have are SWIT’s S-8972 DV lithium-ion battery and S-2010 on-camera light. The battery is about twice the size of the one that comes with the camera, and it has a receptacle for plugging in the light. Since the light only pulls 12 watts from the battery while delivering 40 watts of light, you can power both your light and camera with just one battery. An added bonus is that the light can mount on the Norbert as well.
I mount a Petroff Mini Follow Focus on the rails of my Norbert to control my zoom lens, and use a JBK Cinequipt Follow Focus for actual focusing. It’s really nice to not have to twist the lens for zoom and focus control, and I find that having two controls make it faster and easier to control the zoom and focus without bumping the lens. Both the Petroff Mini and the JBK are very well made and reversible for use with Nikon and other lenses with focus barrels that turn in the opposite direction. The JBK has a tiny bit of play whereas the Petroff has almost none. Neither is sloppy and both have white-marking rings that you can use to keep track of your shots. For serious work, you’ll need a solid follow focus — and these are both great units.

Another tool that I find handy is the K-Tek Monopod, a very strong carbon-fiber boom pole that goes a long way to supporting the weight of my rig. It offers the stability I need when I’m not carrying my tripod. And if I ever need to shoot over the heads of a crowd, I can set the camera to auto, use the Monopod at full extension, and monitor what I’m shooting via the SWIT or Small HD attached at eye level to the Monopod. The Monopod is just a handy little device.

I use a carry-on case for my cameras when flying, and SKB makes the 3i-1914-8B-D, a perfect little case for the FS100. The case is military-standard injection molded with a foam liner and adjustable panels. The movable panels make it easy to reconfigure as you add new gear. The cool part is that it comes with wheels and a pull-out handle, so it looks like an ordinary carry-on, yet it has military-grade strength and it’s waterproof. This SKB case will ensure that your camera arrives intact.

The Sony NEX-FS100UK is truly an amazing camera, offering a huge amount of latitude into your workflow. You can record for more than 10 hours or use some Prime lenses and an external recorder to record pristine, uncompressed HD for high-end productions. And the Super 35mm sensor is awesome. This camera just rocks.
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