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Sony FX3 Review

Introduction

Released in the spring of 2021, Sony’s FX3 comes to market to bridge the gap between their Alpha series and FX cinema lineup. And it’s a camera for filmmakers wanting utmost portability but higher-end cinema functionality. Technically, it sits in the FX lineup, just beneath the FX6, as the new entry point into their cinema line.

On paper, the FX3 borrows many features from the A7S Mark III and the higher-end FX6. Namely, it grabs the full-frame sensor and processor from the A7S and the S-Cinetone profile and AF system from the FX6. However, it does so, sporting a brand new body design optimized for a cage-free operation. And it seems to take a new approach to usability, ergonomics, and general I/O. Even so, with this camera using the same sensor and processor as the A7S III, is this just a slight rebrand to confuse users? Or are looks deceiving here? And how does this camera compete with the Panasonic S1H, Sigma FP-L, and Blackmagic Pocket 6K Pro? Let’s find out.

 

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony FX3? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It obtains the same sensor and processor from the A7S Mark III. With that, it houses a 12.1MP Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor without an Anti-Aliasing filter and the BIONZ XR processor. This configuration gives the camera identical imaging capabilities and a similar 15+ stops of dynamic range.

From a video standpoint, it shoots 4K UHD up to 120p and 1080p FHD up to 240p, without pixel binning. But there’s a mild 10% crop at 120p. Even so, it does record audio and maintains AF, which is excellent. Otherwise, the camera oversamples to create 1080p, resulting in supremely sharp FHD videos with fewer artifacts and noise. The camera also receives identical codecs as the A7S Mark III. In this case, it has both XAVC HS (H.265) and XAVC S-I. Recording in XAVC HS provides 4K 120p 10-bit 4:2:2 videos up to 280 Mbps, with greater details and fewer artifacts than comparable XAVC S videos alone. In contrast, XAVC S-I provides 4K 60p 10-bit 4:2:2 videos up to 600 Mbps or 280 Mbps for FHD 120p.

Overall, the video quality this camera produces matches the A7S Mark III. And this is good news, as that was Sony’s best consumer video camera to date. The images are sharp, with plenty of latitude for processing and pleasing color rendering, even more so with S-Cinetone. And the addition of ALL-I, along with 10-bit 4:2:2, gives filmmakers ample freedom in color grading without fussing about banding or loss in quality. As such, you’ll be pleased by the image quality provided here.

It obtains Slow & Quick Motion recording, letting the camera shoot either XAVC HS or S-I videos in 4K from 1-120p and 1-240p for FHD. And it renders the video in-camera, saving time doing so in post-processing. But! you will lose sound in this mode.

It has zebras for exposure warning indication.

It obtains Sony’s full suite of Picture Profiles and Gamma’s, including S-Log, S-Gamut, S-Gamut.Cine, and HLG. So you’ll have little difficulty matching its colors to their higher-end cameras. And S-Log3 now delivers 15+ stops of dynamic range and a reduced ISO of 640 or an expanded range of 160-500. And these changes make it more realistic to shoot outdoors without stacking ND filters. The HLG profile also supports the wide-gamut BT.2020 color space for realistic HDR videos. Plus, the camera grabs the S-Cinetone profile debuted on the VENICE, FX9, and FX6 cameras. This profile provides a good balance between dynamic range and color rendering, making it well suited to prompt deliveries without the hassle of grading.

It obtains Proxy Recording to simultaneously record lower bit rate HD files alongside higher XAVC videos. And you can select either a 10-bit XACS HS or an 8-bit XAVC S file.

It obtains the Gamma Display Assist Function, letting you see a more accurate color rendering when recording in S-Log or HLG.

It has Time-code to sync with multiple cameras.

It has a new front-facing Visible Light and IR Sensor to improve its white balance accuracy under artificial lighting. And it improves accuracy over conventional AWB systems, which would sometimes get confused.

It obtains the custom white balance tool from the A7S III with a flexible spot that moves around the frame to white balance anywhere. And you can also change white balance while recording, and the change occurs slowly and smoothly using Shockless WB.

Like the A7S III, it can output a clean 16-bit RAW 4K 60p signal via HDMI. And you can also output this format while recording internally.

From a photography standpoint, this camera matches the A7S III as well. With that, it shoots 12.1MP still images as either JPEGs, RAWs, and even HEIFs. And the camera surprisingly maintains a full-time mechanical shutter, even though it’s aimed at cinematography. Plus, it can also shoot continuously at 10 FPS with full autofocus and auto-exposure. And overall, the image quality it produces is excellent and well suited for capturing references on set, thumbnails, or location scouting.

It has several bracketing options, including standard bracketing, but also White Balance and Dynamic Range bracketing.

It obtains the Interval Shoot Function to capture time-lapses.

It obtains the HEIF JPEG format, which shoots 10-bit 4:2:2 images with better color subsampling and compression than standard JPEGs. And it helps bridge the gap between JPEG and higher quality RAW images by maintaining quality and reducing file sizes.

It has a new anti-dust system installed on the sensor that oscillates at 70,000 cycles per second. And this automatically activates at various intervals to clean the sensor to prevent tedious retouching or manual cleaning.

Low Light Performance

Low light performances mostly matches the A7S III. And, as such, this camera is outstanding in this regard. It features the same native ISO range from 80 to 102,400, further expandable to 40 and 409,600. And the backside-illuminated design here helps improve light collection efficiency and the signal-to-noise ratio. But, the camera also secretly has dual native ISOs, where the second range engages at ISO 12,800. Thus, users can expect usable footage up to ISO 12,800 and even 25,600 with minor processing.

Focusing Performance

It obtains the same 627-point Fast Hybrid AF system with 89% coverage and -6 EV support from the higher-end FX6. And like the FX6, it also brings both Real-Time Eye AF and Face Detection for humans and animals too when shooting stills. Together, these ensure smooth, accurate, and reliable focusing on the subject’s face, even if they turn in profile or wear accessories. And the camera’s subject recognition algorithm uses color, pattern, and distance information with face and eye recognition to ensure accuracy.

You’ll receive AF support in all shooting modes, including 4K 120 FPS. But, unlike the FX6, Sony’s brought complete touch focus and tracking implementation. Now, users can have the camera focus anywhere or initiate real-time tracking on the screen merely by touch alone. And the touch tracking is excellent and rarely misses the target, even in low light or tricky scenes with motion.

Overall, the autofocusing implementation here is currently the best of the FX series cameras. It’s intelligent, precise, and smooth, even at shallow depths of field. And it’s reliable enough to be the go-to choice for most applications.

Like the FX6 and A7S III, it carries over the AF Transition Speed and AF Subject Shift Sensitivity settings. Together these give you more precise control over the autofocusing speed and stickiness.

The camera also offers focus magnification and peaking to focus manually.

Battery Performance

It obtains the same FZ100 battery as the A7S III. And battery life is identical. Sony rates the camera at 600 shots per charge and 135 minutes of continuous video recording. And these are excellent figures for this class of camera.

Display & Viewfinder

It obtains the same 3-inch TFT fully articulating touchscreen from the A7S III. And it, too, has a resolution of 1.44M dots. And while unchanged, the side-hinged screen here is ideal for the flexibility it offers when composing both at high or low angles. But it’s also perfect for front face pieces to the camera. Like the A7S III, it also obtains Sony’s overhauled touchscreen functionality. And it offers various touch gestures like touch tracking, pinch to zoom, swiping, and full menu navigation.

Note: you can view three devices simultaneously for maximum versatility. These include the camera monitor, an external monitor, and a smartphone or tablet connected to Imaging Edge Mobile.

User Interface

It obtains the new radical user interface and menus debuted on the A7S III, which uses a split-screen vertical interface. In the main menu, you’ll see three-levels simultaneously, saving time digging through sub-menus. Everything is also nicely color-coded and touch-enabled, including the Function Menu. So overall, both new users and existing users will find this camera easy to navigate and quickly mastered.

It offers six customizable buttons and 15 custom keys that you can assign to 140 menu items. And you can also register independent functions for stills, videos, and playback. As such, it offers outstanding customization.

It obtains the customizable FN (Function) Menu, which gives users quick access to the 12 programmable settings it offers.

It obtains the My Menu, letting you make a custom menu of your most-used settings.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physically, it offers a similar general body design as the A7S III. But, Sony’s made several fundamental changes, and this is the main area the two cameras truly differ. Let’s cover these changes now.

Firstly, it offers a similar fit and finishes as the FX6 and FX9, with a matte silver-grey color scheme. And, internally, it sports a refined magnesium-alloy chassis for the top, front, rear, and internal frame. Additionally, Sony’s added sealing around the battery compartment and refined the media slot cover.  And this design affords the camera full dust and weather sealing that slightly outdoes the A7S.

Secondly, Sony’s done away with the traditional button configuration of the Alpha series. Instead, they’ve reorganized the buttons to make them entirely video-centric. So gone is the conventional MODE dial, instead replaced with a MODE button. And also gone is the wrapped ON/OFF toggle surrounding the shutter. Instead, that’s now a zoom rocker to control compatible PZ lenses or the Clear Image Zoom. Additionally, they’ve also upped the number of customizable FN keys from 4 to 6. And now they’ve placed FN 6 on the front face, defaulted to video start/stop. This change, in particular, becomes a standout feature that yields more customization and makes it easy to start recordings at waist level. And all of these controls are on the right side for convenient operation consistent with the FX6 and FX9 cameras.

Next, this camera sports six standard ¼”-20 threads to easily attach compatible accessories such as external monitors, arms, and more. Thus, it mostly eliminates the need for a dedicated camera cage. Yet, weighing only 1.57 lbs (715 g), including battery and SD card, it’s only 100g heavier than the A7S III. But, compared to the 890g FX6 or FX9’s 2000g, it’s quite a bit lighter than its peers. It’s also supremely compact, measuring 130x85x78mm (HxWxD) and about the size of the A7R IV. Thus, it becomes the ideal option in the FX line for use as a crash cam or gimbal and drone applications.

Next, it sports an integrated cooling fan and heat-dissipating design for uninterrupted 4K 60p capture without shutdown. It’s a largely similar implementation on the surface to the FX6 but a key advantage over the A7S, which lacks this design. And you can also customize the fans’ behavior via the menus. So it’s good to see Sony add active cooling to this model to give the user peace of mind and more flexibility outdoors.

Lastly, it has three built-in tally lamps. These lights indicate the camera’s rolling. And they’re generally easy to see and helpful when the display is out of view. Additionally, the camera displays a red frame on the monitor to easily confirm recording is active.

Overall, the design here is a notable change over the A7S. And the additions do make it the ideal video-centric tool.

It has dual adjustment dials to control shutter speed and aperture.

It has an AF joystick for AF point selection or to navigate the menus.

It has a large top-mounted REC button, which also illuminates when the camera starts recording.

Niche Features/Extras

It obtains the same 5-axis in-body stabilization system from the A7S III, rated for 5.5 EV stops. Sony’s added Active SteadyShot too, which uses digital stabilization to improve the results further. Though, it will result in a mild crop when enabled. Even so, the combination does result in noticeably smoother video and is effective at removing micro jitters without artifacts. Also of note, this camera records image stabilization into the metadata, like the FX6. And this lets you apply stabilization in post using Catalyst Browse, which is highly effective and outperforms traditional NLE’s. So overall, the stabilization system here is excellent, and this addition makes it the second camera in the class with IBIS outside of the Panasonic S1H.

It has a microphone input.

It has a headphone output.

It has a full-sized HDMI port, outputting a 10-bit 4:2:2 signal to an external recorder.

It has a USB-C port (USB 3.2), which supports tethering, charging, and continuous power with PD-rated sources. You can also convert this port to a high-speed wired LAN using the optional USB-Ethernet wired LAN adapter. There, you get direct connectivity via 1000BASE-T Ethernet networks for fast wired FTP data transfers.

Like the A7S III, it has dual card slots that support both UHS-II and CFexpress Type A cards. But CFexpress cards are only required for the ALL-I codec or high-speed continuous shooting. Otherwise, a fast UHS-II card is sufficient.

It obtains Sony’s Multi-Interface (MI) Shoe to attach their accessories without cables. And Sony includes a top handle with a 3.5mm mic jack and two XLR/TRS audio inputs for high-quality recording.

It has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC connectivity. These let you connect the camera to a smartphone or tablet via Imaging Edge Mobile. There you can remotely control the camera, transfer data, geotag images, or even carry out FTP transfer with compatible devices.

It has a fully silent electronic shutter.

It has Anti-Flicker Shooting, which reduces the flickering caused by artificial lighting.

It obtains Sony’s Clear Image zoom, letting you zoom 1.5x in 4K or 2x in HD penalty-free.

It offers several lens compensations, including Peripheral Shading, Chromatic Aberration, and Distortion Compensation.

Cons:

Video Capabilities

It lacks DCI 4K, the wider 17:9 aspect ratio used in cinematography. This is a strange omission on Sony’s part, considering they market this camera as a “cinema camera.”

It lacks many advanced video-centric features, including: waveforms, vectorscopes, RGB parades, false color, and anamorphic recording. For these features, you’ll have to look at the FX6 and an external monitor.

It lacks Shutter Angle notation. And, more frustratingly, it also doesn’t offer the most common incremental shutter speeds, such as 1/48 or 1/96. Instead, you’re stuck with the standard shutter speed used on consumer photography-oriented cameras—another overlook.

It lacks custom 3D-LUT support. Instead, the Gamma Display Assist function only supports Sony’s log profiles, namely S-Log and HLG—another overlook. For this, you’ll have to look at the FX6.

Display

It lacks an electronic viewfinder.  And sadly, Sony doesn’t currently offer an optional attachment as Canon does, say, with the EOS M6 Mark II. Thus, this becomes a key separator between this model and the A7S III. And it ultimately becomes a contention point that’ll force users into making a tough decision. The electronic viewfinder is extremely helpful, especially when shooting outdoors in bright scenes. And it also generally increases the stability when shooting handheld. So, without it, you’ve left with the back LCD along, which has its issues.

Speaking of the LCD, this camera offers the same 3-inch 1.4M dot panel that’s plagued most of Sony’s recent releases. We would have expected at least a bump here in resolution, as this is the defacto standard for nearly two years now. It’s also a slap in the face to this lineup, considering the A7R IV recently received a secret 2.36M dot panel following a refresh. But, even more problematic is that it’s rather dim and easily washed out during bright sunlight. So, serious filmmakers will undoubtedly have to use an external monitor with this camera.

Ergonomics

It only has a single 1/4-20″ mount on the bottom plate, which is slightly disappointing, as dual threads here would help secure the camera while rigging.

The updated on-off toggle switch has a small thumb rest, but it requires some fiddling around to engage. And it is not easy to use when using gloves.

The top-mounted AF joystick is quite uncomfortable if you’re using the traditional hand position when working behind the camera. And it’s in quite a strange position compared to most AF joysticks. However, if you’re working above the camera for low-angles or shooting at waist-level, it’s a good option. So it’s an interesting toss-up here depending on how you shoot.

Lacking Features

It lacks the customizable Noise Reduction options of the FX6. And, sadly, the in-camera noise reduction is quite heavy and smooths much of the fine details at higher ISOs.

It lacks the built-in ND filters of the FX6.

It lacks the SDI inputs and genlock of the FX6.

Is this a good beginner camera?

A beginner’s camera, no.

This camera is for working filmmakers wanting something comprehensive. For a beginner, far better options exist for less money. Consider Sony’s A7C instead.

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes.

For new users to Sony, though, this camera will be quite a toss-up against the A7S Mark III, as both are mostly identical. The main differences ultimately come down to body design, form factor, and general external connectivity. For many, the A7S III will prove to be the more capable all-around hybrid camera. But, for dedicated videographers, this represents the better option. The FX3 provides similar features and power, but the bundled XLR handle and 1/4-20″ threads make an enormous difference. And getting this kind of functionality on the A7S III requires purchasing the K3M adapter and a cage, putting it above this camera’s starting price. As such, it’s the better video-oriented camera for this reason.

Otherwise, though, this camera is an excellent video-centric release for filmmakers. And it’s a powerful complement to FX9, or VENICE owners wanting greater functionality of the A7S III. And, interestingly, it’s a solid alternative to the FX6 if you don’t need its ND filters, DCI 4K, and controllable noise reduction.

In the end, Sony’s FX3 is quite an interesting release on their end, and a strange one at that. It lacks several video-centric features required of cinema cameras. So in some ways, it’s not a true cinema camera. Namely, it lacks 4K DCI, shutter angle, 3D LUT support, and waveforms. As such, it’s a shadow figure in the FX line. And it’s a camera that Sony hasn’t quite fully capitalized on. Even so, with a starting only slightly greater than the A7S III, it does represent an attractive alternative to get a more video-centered A7S. And strict video shooters not fussy with the missing viewfinder will find this camera natural the best. So, as it stands, this is currently Sony’s best documentary and long-format camera. And it’s a strange but solid one indeed.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
4.4

Summary

Sony’s FX3 is quite a strange and divided release. And in many ways, it lacks the core functionality that makes it a proper “cinema camera.” But, it stands as their best long-form documentary camera so far. And it’s an exciting alternative to the A7S III and FX6.

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