For the past couple of years, Sony has been cranking out excellent digital motion-picture systems one after another. In the April 2012 issue of HDVideoPro, we profiled the NEX-FS100U, which I felt was a big step up for DSLR owners who wanted a true digital motion-picture camera without the workarounds of a DSLR. The camera contained a Super 35mm-sized CMOS sensor and an E-mount, and captured 1920×1080 AVCHD to SD cards. Although the FS100U lacked a few features to classify it as a professional digital camera system, it has been a great success for Sony, as well as for indie filmmakers.
Now, Sony releases what many are calling the FS100U’s big brother: the NEX-FS700U. Like the FS100U, the FS700U has been designed for digital motion-picture production and takes many of the FS100U’s strengths while fixing many of the camera’s shortcomings. Most importantly, it offers new (and upcoming) features that will blow the doors off sub-$10,000 camera systems.
With a list price of $9,200 and a street price of $7,999, the FS700U is a powerful, yet affordable professional camera system. The camera’s newly designed 4K Exmor Super 35 CMOS sensor (11.6 million pixels vs. the FS100U’s 3.43 million) delivers high sensitivity with reduced noise and aliasing. Although the form factor of the FS700U is similar to the FS100U, it’s slightly larger and a touch heavier (3.2 pounds vs. the FS100U’s 2.3 pounds). At the moment, like the FS100U, the FS700U captures full HD 1920×1080 in the AVCHD format and features the same 3.5-inch LCD screen (921,000 dots, 1920×480) with the detachable viewfinder. Like a lot of Sony systems, the FS700U performs well in low light with sensitivity ranging from ISO 320-20,000 (depending on the gamma curve used). You also can measure the sensitivity by dB, if you choose.
For capture, the FS700U has a memory card slot that allows you to capture your AVCHD files to SD, SDHC, SDXC and Sony’s Memory Stick Pro. If you don’t want to keep track of multiple cards, you also can attach Sony’s HXR-FMU128 flash memory drive (sold separately) to capture up to 128 GB of footage. Like the FS100U, the bit rate of the FS700U’s AVCHD codec is still 24 Mbps for most U.S. and European frame rates and 28 Mbps for 50p or 60p recording (WorldCam).
At the moment, one of the main features that separates the two cameras is the FS700U’s built-in optical ND filter system. Giving you up to six stops, the function has three different settings—1/4 (ND 0.6), 1/16 (ND 1.2), 1/64 (ND 1.8)—so you should be covered for all types of daylight environments. In terms of cost and convenience, this is a big deal and a feature shooters were desperately asking for. Because of this, you no longer have to purchase multiple ND filters or expensive variable ND filters for each lens if not working with an expensive matte box and 4×4 filters.
Although the sensor does contain a higher pixel count than the FS100U, I couldn’t detect any noticeable difference in image quality. Also, with more pixels packed into the sensor, usually you would get diminished quality in terms of sensitivity but like the FS100U, the FS700U performs extremely well in low light.