Hands-on with the Sony FX3 cinema camera
Sony’s FX3 is the company’s smallest entry for its cinema lineup of cameras, slotting in between the existing a7S III and larger FX6. We’ve already covered a lot of the deeper technical aspects of the camera, but that was before we’d had a chance to handle one ourselves.
Now that we’ve got one, let’s take a little tour of the camera and see how it handles: as expected, it’s quite a bit different than your standard a7-series camera. After all, that’s an AF joystick on the top of the camera.
Top plate controls
In addition to the AF joystick, the top plate comes with a few custom buttons whose default behavior is printed for you: iris (aperture), WB for white balance, and ISO for, well, ISO. Unlike Sony’s Alpha-series mirrorless cameras, there’s no on/off switch surrounding the shutter button; instead you get a zoom toggle for use with one of Sony’s power-zoom lenses.
The layout is actually pretty comfortable for handheld shooting, provided you’re using both hands (and given you’ll likely be shooting video, two hands will help keep things as stable as possible). You’ll break your index finger reaching for the record button and AF joystick, but they’re easy to reach with your thumb extended over the top of the camera, and all of your fingers around the front of the grip.
In this picture you can also see three of the total of five 1/4-20 UNC threaded mounting points on the body. As we covered in our previous article, these are part of a stainless steel sub-structure that wraps around the camera’s core, and are designed to allow the camera to be rigged up with accessories without forcing users to resort to using a cage.
Around the rear of the camera, we get a peek at the on/off switch at very far top left, which is designed to be hard to accidentally bump. The Mode button brings up an on-screen display through which you can select whether you want to shoot stills in PASM or auto modes, movies, ‘S&Q’ for slow and quick, and memory recall modes. Between the Mode and Menu buttons is a wide tally lamp for indicating recording.
There’s also a four-way controller that doubles as a jog wheel. By default, the customizable four-way presses get you quick access to the focus magnifier, display options, zebra exposure warnings, focus peaking and shutter. You can’t customize the Mode, Menu, Fn or playback buttons.
It may seem a little odd to control most of these inputs with your right thumb, given I’ve said on the previous slide you’ll use that to control the top buttons on the camera. But again, given you’re likely supporting the camera with two hands, it’s not a big ask to wrap your thumb back around the rear of the camera (and there’s another custom button on the front that defaults as a second record button to be used by your left hand if needed).
The fully articulating touchscreen on the FX3 can be used for controlling focus, navigating menus and settings, and manipulating images and videos in playback. As with recent Sony cameras like the a1 and a7S III, it’s useful and responsive, particularly in that it offers ‘touch-to-track’ autofocus in the FX3.
And, if you haven’t noticed by now, the FX3 has no built-in viewfinder. Potentially, one could be added via the multi-interface hot shoe (such as on the RX1 full-frame compact camera), but we haven’t yet heard any official word on compatibility.
The sensor and shutter
Around the front of the camera, we see that customizable Record button previously mentioned, as well as the 12MP full-frame BSI-CMOS sensor we first encountered in the a7S III. It sits on a stabilizer, so that it’s easier to get smooth footage with lenses that don’t have their own stabilization built in. The FX3 also has Sony’s ‘Active Steadyshot’ system which crops the image in a bit and applies digital stabilization on top of the mechanical system. We’re looking at it in detail in our ongoing a1 review, and we’re pretty impressed with it. Like the a1, the FX3 will also capture the measurements from its onboard gyro sensors, to allow stabilization to be applied in post.
Notably absent, though, is any sort of built-in ND filter like that offered by the larger FX6, so be sure to pack your filters and step-up rings for your favorite lenses when you’re out shooting. One thing you can’t see but that’s definitely there is a mechanical focal-plane shutter, a nod that even though this is a video-focused camera, it can still capture solid 12MP stills if needed.
You can also see the dedicated white-balance sensor at the top left, and the front tally lamp to indicate recording at top right above the alpha symbol.
Ports and vents
Along the left side of the FX3, we get a peek at the full-sized HDMI port which can output 16-bit Raw video to an external recorder; there’s also headphone and microphone jacks, a USB-C port that charge or power the camera, and a Micro USB port for other accessories. You can see the fourth 1/4-20 UNC threaded mount at top left.
Just to the right of the ports is a vent; the FX3 uses a fan to keep itself cool for maximum reliability on long or expensive shoots.
The right side of the camera is home to the dual UHS-II SD / CFexpress Type A slots. These let you save exactly the same types of video that you’d find on the a7S III; namely, UHD 4K/60p using the full sensor width, or 4K/120p with a slight crop. All options can be captured as 10-bit 4:2:2 video, and if you have a good set of V90-rated SD cards, you won’t need the CFexpress Type A slots unless you need to shoot All-I 4K/120p. At top right, there’s also the last 1/4-20 UNC threaded mount.
The FX3 employs the same NP-FZ100 battery that all the latest Sony stills-focused ILCs (and the a7S III) use. It’s purportedly got enough juice to power the FX3 for 135 minutes of continuous recording or 580 shots (per CIPA standards).
Included with every FX3 is the XLR handle that communicates with the camera through the multi-interface hot shoe and screws securely into two of the threaded mounts on the top of the camera. It immediately adds a lot of versatility to the FX3, and is extremely comfortable to hold. The similar XLR-K3M, without the handle attachment costs around $600 on its own (though that also includes a shotgun mic), so if you’re thinking of choosing between the a7S III and the FX3, factor that into your budget.
The XLR grip gives you more than just a comfy handle to grab onto; as the name implies, you get two XLR inputs (and one 3.5mm stereo minijack input) on the right-hand side. The XLR inputs are designed so that they can also accept 1/4″ plugs. This view shows the extensive control you get over those inputs.
Hands-on with the Sony FX3 cinema camera
And that’s a wrap for our tour of Sony’s FX3 cinema camera. For everything it shares with the Sony a7S III, we find that the ergonomic differences (not to mention the cooling fan) really add up to make the FX3 a more focused and useful video tool for advanced and professional shooters looking to travel light.
What do you think? Do you still prefer the a7S III? Is FX3’s lack of a viewfinder or ND a deal-breaker? Let us know in the comments.
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