Sony FX6 Review

Introduction

Released in the fall of 2020, Sony’s FX6 is a full-frame cinema camera developed to offer high-end image quality in a truly compact form. It’s a camera poised between the A7S Mark III and the higher-end FX9 and VENICE. But, one that comes to market to flush out Sony’s current cinema lineup.

It shares many of the high-end capabilities from the FX9, namely the full-frame sensor, S-Cinetone Profile, and professional interface. But, in a form factor that matches its predecessor, the FS5 Mark II. Even so, it appears to be largely similar to the A7S Mark III, given their similarities in underlying imaging features. But, that doesn’t appear to be a bad thing.

On paper, it strikes an interesting balance between mobility, functionality, and control. And its leaps and bounds improved over its predecessor. So much so, Sony aims this camera to supplement existing FX9 or VENICE owners wanting a capable b-cam for run-and-gun applications. And it’s a camera they aim to compete with Canon’s C70. But how does it stand up in this ever-competitive segment? Let’s find out.

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“The FX9 finally meets the A7S.”

 

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony FX6? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It obtains a similar full-frame 10.2-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and the BIONZ XR processor from the A7S Mark III. And this combination produces 4K resolution at a 1:1 ratio, rather than oversampling from a 6K readout like the FX9. Even so, the camera still has an outstanding dynamic range boasting 15+ stops in the Cine EI Mode with S-Log3. This outdoes the human eye’s perception and provides unprecedented freedom in shooting high contrasting scenes. Additionally, the updated processor also offers 4x better processing than the FS5 Mark II. The enormous processing power also improves the sensor scan rates. But the camera uses the same outstanding rolling shutter as the A7S Mark III. And combined, they virtually eliminate the presence of rolling shutter distortion when tracking fast-moving subjects.

The video capabilities are notably improved and match the higher-end FX9 in several aspects. It records DCI 4K 60p and 1080p FHD 60p to the XAVC-I codec in 10-bit 4:2:2. And it now becomes Sony’s first compact full-frame cinema camera to debut 4K UHD 4:2:2 in this XAVC-I codec. But it does so with a maximum data rate of 600 Mb/s for 4K and 222 Mb/s for 1080p. Both resolutions also record to the MXF wrapper rather than the consumer-oriented MP4 format of the A7S line. But, the camera also offers the XAVC-L codec, reducing the data rates by recording in 8-bit 4:2:0. There, the maximum data rate for 4K UHD drops to 150 Mb/s and 50 Mb/s for 1080p. Getting the All-I codec is a substantial update in itself and one filmmakers will appreciate. It captures complex motion more accurately and provides far greater flexibility in grading and post-processing. But, having Long-GOP will surely be a hit for those not always needing the better compression.

Sony-FX6-Full-Frame-Cinema-Camera-specs

 

Overall, the image quality is excellent. It produces rich film-like images with great detail and dynamic range. And you can capture beautiful imagery with an immensely shallow depth of field and great bokeh. It genuinely delivers a cinematic look. And it’s sure to be a hit as a b-camera for Sony VENICE shooters, consider its outstanding image quality.

It obtains the same built-in electronically variable ND filter from the FX9. This electronic ND filter uses a step-less design to expose for changing lighting conditions automatically. And it smoothly adjusts the density from increments of 1/4-1/128 ND (1-7 stops) without affecting the depth of field or camera settings. It also doesn’t impact the color accuracy or focus whatsoever. As such, it’s a standout and unique feature that significantly improves the camera’s usability outdoors. And it’s one of its key selling features over rivals since you don’t need to worry about adding ND manually or camera settings outdoors.

It obtains the Slow And Quick (S&Q) recording mode. Here, the camera captures slow and quick motion effects at 1-60p in DCI 4K, 1-120p in 4K UHD, and 1-240p in full HD. And it tops the FX9 in this regard, which only offers S&Q for full HD. There are some minor crops to be aware of, however. In this case, DCI 4K has a 5% crop, and  4K UHD 120p has a 10%. But, both of these are quite mild during use. And the camera maintains autofocus through all recording modes, plus the XAVC-I codec is available for use.

Note: you can’t record 4K 120p without using the S&Q mode. Thus, you can’t record true 120p footage with audio.

It obtains several scene files, including S-Cinetone, S-Log3, S-Gamut3, and S-Gamut3.Cine, ITU709, and two HDR (HLG) modes. The S-Cinetone is the main highlight. This profile was first introduced on the FX9 and is based on the VENICE cinema camera. It delivers pleasing film-like color, softer tones, and skin tones with a gradual highlight roll-off. And it removes much of the need for post-processing altogether. And it offers a nice compromise between dynamic range  (11.5 stops), accuracy, and color rendering. It is similar to the standard profile but offers a similar dynamic range as S-log3, making it ideal for quick turnarounds. Overall, you have several options to make it easy to match this camera’s footage with the VENICE and FX9.

Taken together, though, this new model sports a larger sensor, 4K 120p recording, 16-bit RAW, and better dynamic range. It’s quite an overhaul. And it matches the FX9 in video capabilities, picture profiles, outputs, and the ND filter.

It outputs a clean 4K DCI 60p 16-bit RAW signal to the SDI connector to compatible recorders. And this is a notable update over the FS5 Mark II, which offers only 12-bit by contrast.

It has zebras for highlight clipping indication.

It has Gamma Display Assist to gauge the footage better when recording in a log profile.

It has Video Signal Monitors, which include waveforms, vectorscopes, and a histogram. With these, you can monitor the recorded footage to ensure accurate exposure and color judgments.

It has Proxy Recording to record a low-resolution proxy file and the high-resolution file simultaneously.

Note: you can change the notation of shutter speed to shutter angle, if you prefer this notation. 

Low Light Performance

Low light performance is excellent and mostly matches the A7S Mark III. It features an ISO range from ISO 320 to 409,600 (-3 to 30 dB Gain). And the camera informally has dual native ISO capabilities, with a base ISO of 800 and a high-sensitivity setting of 12,800 for lower-lit scenes. This Enhanced Sensitivity setting, as Sony calls it, achieves a better signal-to-noise ratio and improves the light collection efficiency. As such, users can expect usable footage up to ISO 25,600 with minimal issues. But, if necessary, you can record at ISO 51,200 with minor processing if needed.

Note: you can turn off the in-camera noise reduction to refine the amount of noise based on the shooting demands. 

Focusing Performance

For focus, it features a 627-point hybrid phase-detection AF system with 89% coverage of the image area. It also obtains both Real-time Eye AF and Face Detection to ensure accurate and reliable focus on the subjects faces. It’s a broadly similar autofocusing system available on the A7S Mark III. Even so, compared to its predecessor, the autofocusing system is enormously improved. And it’s now thoroughly reliable enough to be the go-to choice amongst most users.

The autofocus tracking is precise, intelligent, and quick but not jarring, making it a good option when shooting at shallow depths of field. Plus, the camera can recognize multiple faces within the scene and pinpoint the eye of the primary subject, even when they’re turned slightly in profile. And when it does so, it’s pretty tenacious at maintaining a positive lock. As such, it’s likely to be a hit for the target demographic, who mostly rely on manual focusing. And it will significantly simplify capturing sharp footage for single operators.

Sony even carried over the AF Transition Speed and AF Subject Shift Sensitivity settings from other Alpha models. Here, you can adjust the AF transition speed between 1-7 levels and the Subject Shift Sensitivity from 1-5 levels to tailor the AF to the shooting demands. It’s a great option to configure the camera’s AF performance to suit the situation better.

It also debuts some interesting Face-detection options. Namely, Face/Eye Only AF. This mode focuses only on the subjects face and stops the AF when faces aren’t detected, leaving the camera to MF. It’s effective if you only want to focus on the subject’s face and prevent hunting. It also brings Face/Eye Priority AF. This mode is similar, but focusing remains in AF when a face/eye isn’t detected. And both options are quite helpful in-field.

It has manual focus aids too, namely focus peaking and magnification, if you prefer doing this manually.

Battery Performance

It uses the Sony BP-U series batteries. And battery life is excellent. Expect upwards of 2-3 hours on a single charge, depending on the size of the battery installed.

Note: the battery charger connector doubles as an AC adapter for continuous power. Connect it to the camera’s DC input, and you can record indefinitely, so long as you have enough storage. 

Display & Viewfinder

It obtains the same 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD monitor with a resolution of 2.76M dots (720p SD) from the FX9. And this LCD connects using a 1/4-20-inch thread to 9 different mounting points on the camera body. The LCD itself is relatively large, bright, and versatile. And as a touchscreen, it supports some touch functionality such as tap, drag, and flick/swipe gestures.

Sony also includes a viewfinder sunshade for the LCD, which helps block incoming sunlight when filming outdoors.

User Interface

It features a new multi-page touch interface, a Quick Menu of sorts. Recalling this menu opens ten pages of the most used functions. And you can quickly change various camera settings by touch. It’s helpful and saves trips to the main menu.

It features ten assignable buttons around the body for unrivaled customization. And you can map these buttons to 55 total options.

There’s more regarding the user interface. But, we will touch on these in the con’s section below.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physically, it follows a similar design principle as the FS5 Mark II and the FX9. But weighing just under 2 lbs at 890 g, it’s a full 2 lb lighter than the FX9 and only slightly heavier than the FS5. Yet, it features a durable magnesium alloy chassis around the main body, covers, and top handle for high durability, and dust and weather resistance. Plus, the exterior seams, buttons, and physical interface are treated and sealed. And it does so with a custom ventilation system with several heat sinks and an active cooling low-noise fan for heat dissipation to prevent thermal shut down. As such, it’s unlikely the device will overheat during extended recording sessions.

Even so, the device is quite modular and compact. And you can easily pare it down to attach it to a gimbal or fly on a drone. But, built up, it provides a largely similar button layout as the FS5 Mark II and FX9 with access to all key parameters. Overall, though, the physical design is excellent and well-executed. And the camera is lightweight and durable without compromising on functionality in the process.

The body also offers several tripod screws (¼-20-inch as well as ⅜-16-inch) to connect various accessories and rigs.

Sony includes the detachable Smart Grip handle, which rotates 90º towards the lens and 83º backward for comfortable low or high-angle shooting. This grip also puts several key functions at your fingertips, such as zoom, record, a joystick, assignable buttons, and a function dial. It’s an excellent accessory that’s comfortable, well-designed, and thoughtful. And it also uses a new bayonet mount design that clips in, rather than the older ratchet style design. So it’s even easier to attach and streamlines the process.

Niche Features/Extras

It features one-touch NFC and Wi-Fi connectivity, with both the standard 2.4 GHz and newer 5 GHz bands. With Wi-Fi, you can remotely monitor the camera to create a stream, control its operations, and even transfer files to smartphones, tablets, or computers.

It features an included top handle that provides two 2-channel XLR audio inputs to interface with professional microphones or mixers. The top handle also has an integrated multi-interface hot shoe to connect Sony’s proprietary accessories without cables. Plus, it has a built-in stereo microphone for scratch, ambiance, or reference audio.

It has a 3.5mm headphone output.

It features a single BNC combo input/output port that’s selectable from 12G/6G/3G-SDI. And here, you can interface with professional monitoring tools.

It has a Timecode input/output connector to sync multiple cameras using a timecode generator.

It has a full-sized HDMI port.

It has a remote interface.

It has a USB 3.2 port supporting speeds of 5 Gb/s.

It has built-in tally lights.

It has dual card slots, which both support CFexpress Type A and UH-II SD cards. This is an excellent move on Sony’s part, as SD cards are widely available, and they’re a better option for many users than the FX9’s XQD cards.

Note: CFexpress cards are required for 4K UHD 120p and 1080p 150-240p. 

It has an Interval Rec mode, which lets you capture time-lapse videos.

You can load 16 custom LUTS to monitor while recording, push the SDI/HDMI outputs, or embed them into the file.

Just like the FX9, it too takes rotating gyroscope metadata from the sensor that you can stabilize and rotate in post-production. You’ll do this using Sony’s Catalyst Prepare/Browse software. And it saves time doing it in this fashion rather than using a traditional NLE (non-linear editor) and applying Warp stabilization. And the result can look gimbal-like if done correctly.

Cons:

Image Performance

The camera doesn’t support capturing still images in any form.

It lacks the Super35 crop for 4K, so you can’t use many legacy lenses with this camera.

The ND filter isn’t perfect and depending on the scene it may overcompensate to protect the highlights of the image. In such cases, you’ll want to turn it to manual and reduce the amount of ND applied manually.

Shooting at 240 FPS in 1080p exhibits both a noticeable loss in detail along with moiré and aliasing artifacts. In many respects, it looks like mirrorless quality footage. So, consider using 4K 120p instead to maintain detail.

Video Capabilities

If you want 10-bit color for 4K, you’ll have to record using ALL-I compression and battle the higher data rates that accompany it. It’s a slight shame as some users would want 10-bit with Long-GOP compression, as the file sizes are smaller.

It lacks the newer HEVC codec, which offers even more efficient compression and smaller file sizes. Granted, it’s unlikely the target demographic would find this problematic.

Display

It lacks the EVF from the FS5 Mark II. Instead, you’re stuck with the viewfinder sun hood Sony includes, which is better than nothing. But it doesn’t have the most sturdy connection. And the buckles are easy to remove accidentally. Plus, the construction of this product will likely break over time. Instead, consider getting the viewfinder loupe from the FX9, as this camera obtains its LCD. So it will work on this camera and significantly improve your viewing experience outdoors.

Menus

Let’s go back to the user interface and menus. Simply put, the user interface is complicated and difficult to navigate. It’s the same general interface as the FS5 Mark II and FS7 Mark II. So if you’re an existing user of these products, you’ll find it familiar. But, for anyone else, it’s likely to be quite tedious. The main menu is deep, unintuitive, and slightly disorganized. You’ll find many settings out of place from their like counterparts. And there will indeed be a learning curve and some thought involved with navigating to the proper subsection. It’s quite a departure too from Sony’s menus on their Alpha series mirrorless cameras. And it’s strange to say even their consumer cameras offer a better and more intuitive interface. But it’s true. These are just confusing, overly complicated, and daunting to new users. And overall, they leave a lot to be desired, and they’re not nearly on par with rivals.

Another area of note here and the frustration of many is the lack of real-time video AF tracking. Without this feature, you can’t simply touch a subject to enable subject tracking. No. Instead, you have to enable the focus area using the physical buttons on the body or handle. Then, you can touch the screen once the area is illuminated.  But, the problem is, once you remove your hand and want to change the focus later, you have to battle this entire process again. Defeating the point altogether. It’s just clunky and slows down the workflow. Just use the joystick.

Ergonomics

The power switch is in a somewhat awkward location by the 3.5mm headphone jack. Most headphones have a bit of extra length, and connecting a headphone cable makes it noticeably challenging to turn on the camera quickly—strange placement.

Lacking Features

Removing the top handle simultaneously removes the MI shoe, the integrated stereo microphone, and the dual XLR inputs. And you’re left without a way to add a microphone to the camera since it lacks a 3.5mm microphone input. The body of the camera does have a built-in microphone. But it’s not particularly large, well placed, and it’s only slightly useful for scratch audio. The lacking 3.5mm microphone input genuinely undermines this camera’s entire ethos. As without it, you have to record double system sound, which defeats much of the point of the camera’s small footprint. And sadly, the top handle adds a considerable amount of bulk to the camera. So this seems like an overlook considering the cameras small and lightweight enough for use on traditional gimbals. But, there’s no way of recording audio in-camera. You’re forced to use an external recorder—a strange move.

This is more of a note, but the camera lacks the customizable (and movable) white balance target box of other Sony cameras. This moving target lets you white balance at any point throughout the frame. But without it, proper white balancing requires being reasonably well exposed, and the target cast must fill the entire frame, as there’s no way to select a specific range. Otherwise, expect slightly unpredictable results.

It lacks in-body stabilization and digital stabilization. To stabilize the footage, you’ll have to use Catalyst Browse, which supports up to 4K 60p.

It lacks the FX9’s Genlock connector.

Is this a good beginner camera?

No.

There are far better cameras that are 10% the starting price of this camera. And there’s no need to spend this much to get higher quality videos.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Sony FX6?

SD Cards:

Lexar Professional 2000X 128GB

Tripods & Gimbals:

E-Image 2 Stage Aluminum Video Tripod
Zhiyun Weebill S Compact Gimbal Stabilizer

Microphones & External Recorders:

Rode Wireless Go
Rode VideoMicPro

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes.

Those considering the A7S Mark III wanting a more professional camera body with better controls, input/outputs, and handling should consider this camera instead. It offers a broadly similar feature set as the pricier FX9 with a far more approachable price tag. And it’s a noticeable step up in functionality over the A7S lineup.

But, if you’re a run-and-gun documentary-style videographer, you may want to consider the A7S Mark III instead. The lacking viewfinder, missing 3.5mm jack, and tedious menus will slow your workflow in-field. And you’ll be forced to use the handle at all times, which isn’t ideal since it adds a noticeable amount of bulk to the camera.

Current FS5 and FS7 owners should consider the upgrade. The updates to the autofocus, better sensor, and the S-Cinetone profile are worthwhile upgrades.

Current FX9 and Venice owners should consider this camera as a potential b-camera. With the excellent dynamic range, decisive autofocus, compact body, and S-Cinetone profile, it’s a strong b-cam for a second angle.

In the end, Sony’s FX6 packs A7S Mark III functionality into a professional cinema body. It combines its proven sensor technology and autofocus with the best elements from the FX9. And it’s a strange but exciting release on Sony’s end that will likely make most FX9 owners quite unhappy. But, even so, it’s a powerful tool indeed. And at half the price, it’s quite a compelling option for cinematographers looking for something more affordable. Its compact size and weight make it an excellent fit for documentary and run-and-gun work. While, it’s superior image quality, recording capabilities, and dynamic range make it well suited for larger productions. It ticks many boxes in performance, size, quality, inputs, and functions. But, now filmmakers also have the powerful dual gain sensitivity coveted by the A7S lineup at their disposal. And no longer will you have to make do with a mirrorless form factor in the process.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
4.1

Summary

Sony’s FX6 packs the essence of the coveted A7S technology into a professional cinema body. And it’s a strange release on Sony’s end, but an exciting one that’s sure to be a hit with filmmakers.