The Sony NEX-FS100UK Camera

by David Hurd

 The 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 Panasonics.

Sony FS100
Sony FS100

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 lowlight 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 Camera looks good… even with 18 DB of gain.

The third thing that I like about this camera is that you can load Varicam and 5D presets that mimic DSLRs, without all of the overheating, aliasing, and the limited recording times associated with DSLRs.

Like Slomo? You can get the extra versatility of slow and quick motion shooting by recording images at a different frame rate than you 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 hand-held 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. There are also 1/4- and 3/8-inch screw holes on both the handle and the camera body for mounting the camera, or attaching various peripheral devices.

The sharp, large and bright 3.5” 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 1.2x magnifier converts the LCD into a nice viewfinder.

If you want to upgrade your viewfinder, try the Small HD DP4-EVF. Its 4.3” monitor gives you a larger 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, mids, 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 camera is nice, but the Small HD DP4-EVF is simply better.

The Sony NEX-FS100UK camera comes packaged with the Sony 18- 200 mm E-mount lens. It has precision-crafted optics with aspherical glass elements for compact high performance, and circular iris mechanisms for smooth background defocusing. This SEL18200 (E 18–200mm F3.5–6.3) lens has 11x zoom power, a quiet AF motor for cleaner sound recording, and Optical SteadyShot™ image stabilization for steady handheld shots while walking around. Even though the lowest f-stop is only f3.5 on this lens, 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 have heard a lot of people think that this is a problem. It is not. There is 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. Consisting 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 Singh-Ray’s Vari-Duo preferable to built in ND filters because by simply twisting the filter 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 only uses glass from Schott (Zeiss).

Heliopan machines their filter rings from quality brass tubes and black anodizes and silk-screens them in their factories in Bavaria. The ND is variable from 1 to 6.6 stops. (ND 0.3 – ND 2.0) These filters are German engineering at it’s finest.

If you are like me, you are probably thinking, “I’ll bet it’s a lot of fun screwing those filters on and off every time you come indoors, or want to change lenses”… And you would be 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. As you bring the two together, you can feel the strong magnetic link. With a holder mounted onto the end of each of your lenses, 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. Inside a camera store I shot a close-up of my wife, and had the people standing 3 feet behind her completely out of focus.

By switching over to my Dot Line adapter for Canon lenses, I was able to use my Lens Baby with the wide-angle attachment. My lens baby is left over from my 5d review, and you wouldn’t normally think to try it on the FS100 camera, but it is 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 (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.

Since I’m not fond of using cards, I bought the 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 are 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 a 25Mb/sec recording as well as a 220Mb/sec with the Ninja, or a 1280Mb/sec with the Hyperdeck Shuttle.

The Atomos Ninja recorder for ProRes recording is a10bit Production Weapon for HDMI-equipped cameras like the FS100.

Ninja preserves the pristine uncompressed video quality from the FS100s camera’s sensor, by encoding it directly into the Apple ProRes format in 422, LT or HQ. Then it goes straight to the timeline of your NLE.

It’s a fast, and 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 24Fps, so the Ninja will record at 60Fps, 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 will want to copy your files to another drive before erasing your SSD.

My goal is to have my footage archived in at least 3 places.

My Thermaltake BlacX 5G Duet 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 make a copy of the SSD.

In addition, there is my Seagate SAS RAID, and GSpeedQ 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” SSD and some cables to suit your set-up 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 ” disk drives, and they are fully supported by the Ninja. The Crucial SSD drive that I use records 512 MB, which is much more space than the 112 MB that are available inside the camera using two 64 GB cards. When you have filled up an SSD, you 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” 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% 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’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.

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. Changing codecs is as easy at touching the icon on the screen.

This product rocks on the FS100 camera. It is lightweight, portable, has built in SSD formatting, and the ability to plug in the Ninja directly into your editing computer for editing.

The touch screen monitor is easy to use, and recording is rock solid. Add in the fact that this device is less expensive than other similar ProRes HQ recorders, and you end up with a great value for your money.

If you like working in uncompressed, and have a RAID big and fast enough to handle the format, the HyperDeck Shuttle is for you.

You can also improve the quality of the FS100 with BlackMagic’s HyperDeck Shuttle. This time, the uncompressed signal from the FS100 is not compressed into AVCHD (24-28 Mbps) in the camera, or ProRes HQ (220 Mbs) in the Ninja, but rather is recorded in uncompressed 10bit HD (1280 Mbs) in the HyperDeck Shuttle. The camera is an 8bit camera, so there is a bit of waste recording at 10 bits, but hey…its 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 storage space. My Crucial 512 GB SSD will only hold about an hours 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, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Resolve and Apple Color.

Like the Ninja, you can edit directly from the SSD media itself, the difference is that you will 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” or 3.5” SATA /SSD to USB 3.0 for Transfer Rates up to 5Gbps. It is Compatible with SATA I / II / III & SSD HDDs. I use the latest Mac OSX, but it’s also compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP 2003/2000. This model holds one drive at a time, so I can be editing on this docking station while its brother the 5G Duet, is making 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 status, 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 will need to buy a pair of SDI or HDMI cables. One cable will go from the FS100 into the HyperDeck Shuttle, and one 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 PBM-070X 7” on-camera monitor with its built-in Waveform and Vectorscope, or my 2s2 17” 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 outdoors in full sunlight.

The HyperDeck Shuttle is compact, and battery powered so it’s perfect as a field recorder. If you are looking for an affordable uncompressed 10bit 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.

The 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–Tec’s mounting plates) and my Plura, or Switt monitor.

Another couple of useful things to have is the SWIT Electronics S-8972 DV Lithium-ion battery and their S-2010 on-camera light. The battery is about twice the size of the one that comes with the camera, and has a receptacle that the light plugs into. 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 Norbert as well.

I mount a Petroff Mini Follow focus on the rails of my Norbert to control my zoom lens, and a JBK Cinequip Follow focus to actually focus with. It’s really nice to not have to twist the lens for zoom and focus control. 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 are reversible for use with Nikon, and other lenses that focus in the opposite direction.

The JBK has a tiny bit of play whereas the Petroff has almost none. Neither are sloppy, and both have white marking rings that you can use to keep track of your shot. For serious work, you will need a solid Follow focus, and these are both great units.

Another tool that I find handy is the K–Tec Monopod. It’s actually a very strong carbon fiber boom pole that goes a long way to supporting the weight of my rig, and offering the stability I need when I am not carrying my Tripod.

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 Switt 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 a perfect little case for the FS100, and it’s called the 3i-1914-8B-D. It is Military-standard Injection molded, with a foam liner and adjustable panels. The movable panels make it easy to re-configure 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 help your camera arrive alive.

The FS100 is truly an amazing camera, offering you a huge amount of latitude in 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. The Super 35 sensor is awesome, and this camera just rocks.

MSRP: Sony FS100 $6550.

Contact: www.pro.sony.com/sonynex-fs100

MSRP: Atomos Ninja $999.95

Contact: www.atomos.com/wheretobuy/#usa

MSRP: HyperDeck Shuttle $349

Contact: www.blackmagic-design.com

MSRP: Crucial 512 GB SSD $700

Contact: www.crucial.com

MSRP: Small HD DP4-EVF $749

Contact: www.smallhd.com

MSRP: Thermaltake BlacX Docking Station $49.99, BlacX Duet 5G Docking Station $69.99

Contact: www.thermaltake.com

MSRP: SWIT Electronics S-8972 DV Lithium-ion battery $99

S-2010 on-camera light about $280

Contact: www.swit.us

MSRP: SKB Cases 3i-1914-8B-D $384.99 street price about $220.

Contact: Steve Sanderson 800.783.0087 or www.skbcases.com

MSRP: 2s2 17” Monitor MMR-B170w.V098.LAR1817.16 $4253 Special for P3 readers $3828

Contact: www.2s2.com

MSRP: Plura Monitors PBM-070X $2500

Contact: www.plurabroadcast.com

MSRP: Dotline Corp (Lens adaptors) Nikon to E-mount $63

Contact: www.dotlinecorp.com

MSRP: Heliopan Circular 67mm ND filter $352

Contact: Turbolight-Hedler USA www.hedlerusa.com

MSRP: Singh-Ray Circular 77mm Vari-Duo ND filter $440

Contact: www.singh-ray.com

MSRP: Petroff Mini Follow Focus $1230

Contact: www.petroff.ws

MSRP: JBK FF209HD Follow Focus $425

Contact: www.jbkcinequipt.com

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