I’m only going to look at these 3 cameras in this article. Of course there are also many others to choose from these days, so do remember to look at other options from other manufacturers too.
I like Sony cameras and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But I have to say that I really think Sony are on a roll right now. The PMW-F55, F5, FS7 and the FS5 are all great cameras. Sure there are cameras with more pixels and maybe more resolution that may or may not need full frame lenses. There are cheaper cameras and all kinds of other options, but these cameras are all good workhorse cameras that should prove reliable in the field and give years of good service (although with technology moving so fast you might not keep it for that many years).
So which to choose?
First of all YOU need to decided exactly what you need or want from your camera. It’s also good to separate out “What You Need” from “What You Would Like”. For example if you are on an extrmely tight budget you will need affordable media while you might also like the idea of being able to shoot continuously at 180fps. Sometimes the two are not compatible with each other, so you should go with the need rather than the like.
If you’re running a business then you should also ask yourself that all important question: Will the more expensive camera make me more money?
Yeah, yeah, I know…. for some of us they are our babies, our toys and it is nice to have the best toys. But don’t bankrupt yourself buying something you can’t afford or don’t really need.
I’ve included a table of differences between these cameras below which I suggest you take a look at.
The FS5 is clearly exceptional value for the money. It does 80-90% of what the other cameras can do. If you’re only ever going to shoot in HD and don’t want to use Cine EI or LUT’s then really the FS5 is probably all you’ll ever need. It’s small, compact, lightweight and has some great features for shooting on the move like the variable ND filter and face tracking autofocus (with a Sony lens). What it lacks however is 10 bit 422 recording in UHD (even the output is only 8 bit in 4K). So if you want to shoot in UHD (3840 x 2160 TV type 4K) then the amount of grading you can do will be a little restricted. It’s also unlikely to meet broadcast standards as a main camera for UHD production. Further more it also lacks a proper CineEI mode for S-log2/S-Log3 with LUT’s on the outputs. This isn’t the end of the world for occasional log shoots but if you plan on shooting a lot of log then all of the other cameras will be easier to use and it will be easier to get the best results without having to mess about with external monitors with LUT’s, grey cards or light meters. It’s not so much the lack of LUT’s (there are viewfinder only gamma LUT’s) but the inability to monitor at anything other than the native ISO which makes it tougher to offset your exposure in the way you can with CineEI. One final and very important note about the PXW-FS5 is that the XAVC-L codec is very processor intensive. You will need a really good computer to do anything more than cuts only editing. The XAVC-I codec in the FS7, F5 and F55 is much easier to work with, but the files are bigger. SO while the FS5 may save you a lot in terms of media costs, you will need to spend money on a high spec, up to date PC or Mac if you don’t already have one.
The FS5 can be upgraded with a raw option that outputs 12 bit linear raw. This raw output can be recorded on an external recorder and in doing so bypasses many of the FS5’s internal limitations such as only being able to have a single video out OR monitoring signal when recording internally. The raw files are very, very big but you can convert the raw to 10 bit ProRes before recording on the external recorder and this does provide image quality close to the 10 bit internal recordings of the other cameras. But, by the time you add on the cost of the raw option, a raw recorder plus mounting, batteries and media, the price difference between the FS5 and FS7 is very small.
The FS7 really does sit in the middle of this bunch, both in terms of cost and features. It’s a bigger camera that’s tough to hand hold for long, really it’s a shoulder camera. It can do 95% of what the F5 and F55 can do and some things the F5 and F55 can’t. The use of the Sony E-Mount means you can add low cost Sony power zoom lenses or control Canon lens apertures via low cost and compact adapters, this is much harder (and more expensive) on the F5 and F55. Adapters for Canon lenses for the FS5 and FS7 start at $50 while for an F5/F55 adapter prices start at $800. In addition on the E-Mount cameras you can add speedbooster adapters for use with full frame lenses giving a wider field of view and 1 stop faster aperture.
The FS7 has a true CineEI mode for log shooting and can take custom LUT’s. It’s even possible to add the XDCA-FS7 adapter to get internal ProRes recording and a 12 bit raw output, but it is only 12 bit raw which although very nice, is a lot different to the far superior 16 bit raw from the F5 and F55. When using the XDCA-FS7 extension unit it’s also worth remembering that you need to use bulkier and generally more expensive V-Mount batteries.
The FS7 II adds an improved locking E-Mount for greater lens security and stability. The locking mount is also stronger than the standard mount so it will cope better with heavier lenses. In addition the FS7 II also has a variable ND filter. The variable ND allows you to do your fine exposure adjustments with the ND filter allowing the aperture to be used as a depth of field control.
The FS7 is great for short film production, it offers image quality that is good enough for a feature film (I don’t think a movie viewer would detect any deficiency in the pictures from a well setup and well used FS7, even on a big screen). The XQD media while not as cheap as the SDXC cards used by the FS5 is reasonably affordable. There are a few things that might frustrate some users, in particular it is a very sophisticated camera with lots of options and there is no easy way to see exactly how the camera is configured without interrupting the live image in the viewfinder either by going into the menus or using the status pages. If you do use a lot of the cameras features and modes, you will spend a lot of time in the menu system.
One of the great things about the F5 or the more expensive PMW-F55 is the side display panel as this allows you to see how the camera is setup, which LUT you’re using, frame rates, audio levels and so much more without having to resort to the menus. You can also control most of the day to day functions that you will use from this side panel using the option menu and that makes the camera far easier and faster to use than the FS7. The F5/F55 lens mount is much stronger than the E-mount on the other cameras, so it’s better suited to heavy cinema lenses and large super 35mm zoom lenses. You can also adjust the back focus so that it works well with large cinema zooms. For exceptionally good HD images you have the extremely high quality SStP (HDCAM SR) codec. On top of that there is also a higher quality version of XAVC called XAVC Class 480. This brings some respectable improvements in image quality with only a small increase in file size, whether shooting in HD, UHD or 4K. For the very best 4K you have a full 16 bit linear raw option when you dock the R5 raw recorder or with the R7 raw recorder you can choose between raw or 16 bit linear X-OCN. The R7 can shoot record in 4K at upto 120fps with the F55 for amazing slow motion. X-OCN offers images with quality comparable to 16 bit raw but with file sizes smaller than ProRes and not much bigger than XAVC.
Because the recorder docks directly to the camera it is much easier to use than the external cabled option for the FS7 or FS5. In addition the R5 and R7 recorders use special visually loss less processes to considerably reduce the file sizes and make the files very easy to handle. So if you want to shoot a lot of raw for the ultimate in post production flexibility the the F5/F55 are the obvious choice, although this comes at a price.
So, in summary I would suggest:
Buy the PXW-FS5, unless:
You need to shoot 4K DCI (4096×2160). You are going to shoot primarily using S-Log2/3 or do a lot of grading to your UHD footage or are planning to make broadcast ready UHD programs. Unless you need to shoot continuously in UHD faster than 30fps or faster than 60fps in HD. Need timecode in/out or genlock (needs XDCA-FS7 adapter on FS7). In this case I suggest you buy the FS7 unless:
You are going to shoot primarily in raw or need the convenience of the side status display (don’t underestimate how useful this can be). Unless you need to shoot anamorphic, with SStP (HDCAM SR) or need a 4K HDSDI output. Want integrated Genlock and Timecode In/Out. In this case buy the PMW-F5 (with 4K option?) unless:
You need an extra wide colour gamut and a global shutter, in which case the PMW-F55 is king of the hill.
|Size||Small handycam||Medium Semi Shoulder Cam||Medium Shoulder Cam||Medium Shoulder Cam|
|Weight||830g Body only|
2.2kg ready to shoot*
|2kg Body only|
4kg Ready to shoot*
|2.2kg Body only|
4.8kg Ready to shoot*
|2.2kg Body only
4.8kg Ready to shoot*
|Power||BP-U type battery, 12 Watts||BP-U battery, 20 Watts.||V-mount battery, 25 watts.||V-mount battery, 25 watts.|
|Codec||XAVC-L 10 bit 422 HD, 8 bit 420 UHD|
XAVC-I Class 480
XAVC-L (30fps only)
SStP (HDCAM SR)
XAVC-I Class 480
XAVC-L (30fps HD only)
SStP (HDCAM SR
|Recording Media||SDXC||XQD||SxS or XQD via adapter||SxS or XQD via adapter|
|Frame Rate/Size||HD up to 60fps|
UHD up to 30fps.
|HD up to 60fps|
4K DCI and UHD to 60fps
|HD up to 60fps.|
4K DCI and UHD to 60fps (optional)
|HD up to 60fps
4K DCI and UHD to 60fps
|Slow Motion||Memory Buffer system up to 240fps HD, 960 fps at reduced resolution.||Continuous 180fps|
(240fps with ext raw)
(2K 240fps with R5 raw recorder)
(2K 240fps with R5 raw recorder, 4K 120fps with R7 recorder)
|S-Log2/3 and wide gamut recording.||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Ultra Wide color gamut sensor.||No||No||No||Yes (global shutter)|
|LUT's||Viewfinder gamma assist only.||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Auto Focus||Yes plus face tracking||Yes||No||No|
|Variable ND filter||Yes||FS7 Mk1 - No|
FS7 MkII - Yes
|Multiple SDI outputs||No||Yes||Yes (inc 4K HDSDI option)||Yes (inc 4K HDSDI)|
|Advanced gamma curves||Cinegamma x 4||Hypergamma x 6||Hypergamma x 6||Hypergamma x 6|
|Native lens mount||E-mount||E-mount||FZ Mount with PL adapter||FZ mount with PL adapter|
|Side Panel Status Display||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Quick access to menu functions||Direct Menu||No||Quick Access Menu and Project Option Menu||Quick Access Menu and Project Option Menu|
|Rec BT2020 support||No||No||No||Yes|
|LANC remote control||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|RMB remote control||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Viewfinder/LCD||3.5" LCD + OLED EVF||3.5" LCD with viewfinder loupe.||3.5" LCD viewfinder or OLED viewfinder.||3.5" LCD viewfinder or OLED viewfinder.|
|Built in Streaming/Ftp||Yes||No||No||No|