I’ve been quite surprised by the number of people out there that seem to think the PXW-FX9 is made out of plastic. It isn’t. It’s made from an incredibly strong material call magnesium alloy. This metal is stiffer and stronger than aluminium. It’s highly impact and corrosion resistant but still extremely light. There are only a couple of places where plastic is used, one being the cover over the WiFi antenna where a metal cover would block the wireless signals. Here are some pictures of the FX9’s chassis. Note the box shaped areas used to isolate the electronics from the air that flows through the camera to ensure the electronics are weather sealed. Also note all the ribbing and reinforcing on the inside at the front of the camera where the lens mount an sensor block are attached keep it all very solid.
Sometimes changing modes or frame rates on the FX9 can involve the need to change several settings. For example if you want to go from shooting Full Frame 6K at 23.98fps to shooting 120fps then you need to change the sensor scan mode before you can change the frame rate. One way to speed up this process is to use User Files or All Files to save your normal operating settings. Then instead of going through pages of menu settings you just load the appropriate file.
All Files save just about every single adjustable setting in the camera, everything from you white balance settings to LUT’s to Network settings to any menu customisations. User Files save a bit less. In particular User Files can be set so that they don’t change the white balance. For this reason for things like changing the scan mode and frame rate I prefer to use User Files.
You can add the User File and/or All File menu items to the user menu. If you place them at the top of the user menu, when you enter the cameras menu system for the first time after powering it on they will be the very first items listed.
Both User Files and All Files are found under the “project” section in the FX9 menu system. The files are saved to an SD card in the SD Card Utility slot. This means you can easily move them from one camera to another.
Before you save a file, first you have to give it a name. I recommend that your name includes the scan mode, for example “FF6K” or “2KS35”, the frame rate and whether it’s CineEI or not.
Then save your file to the SD card. When loading a User File the “load customize data” option determines whether the camera will load any changes you have made to the user menu. “Load white data” determines whether the camera will load and overwrite the current white balance setting with ones saved in the file. When loading an All File the white balance and any menu customizations are always loaded regardless, so your current white balance setting will be overwritten by whatever is in the All File. You can however choose whether to load any network user names and passwords.
Here’s a compilation of footage from this years winter trip to Norway. This was all shot with the PXW-FX9. Mostly with sony lenses and autofocus. The AF was great for following the dog sledding. The camera performed really well and did a great job of capturing what was a very faint Aurora display in between cloud banks.
The daytime footage was shot using S-Log3 in CineEI. I didn’t expose any brighter than base, so used 800EI or 4000EI. I used the viewfinder display gamma assist rather than any LUT’s as I know I can use gamma assist no matter what frame rate I shoot.
The Aurora was very faint, barely visible to the naked eye, so I had to shoot using a 32 frame slow shutter (the equivalent of about 1.3 seconds at 24fps). I then used interval record with a 2 second interval to create the timelapse Aurora sequences. As there were no dynamic range concerns I chose to shoot using the default S-Cinetone settings in custom mode so I could see exactly what I was getting. I was amazed at how many stars the camera picked up with such a short exposure, a sure sign of how sensitive the camera is. For the Aurora I used a Sigma 20mm f1.4 lens with Metabones speed booster and 4K s35 scan. I felt that the extra stop of light gained from the use of the speedbooster was better than the slightly lower noise that would have been present if I had used the 6K FF scan. I did also try S&Q at 1 frame per second with the shutter off to see how this compared to the slow shutter. The S&Q was much noisier, the cameras built in NR seems to work particularly well with the slow shutter function, so if you need a long exposure on the FX9 I recommend slow shutter and interval record over S&Q at 1 frame per second.
For the sunset shots I made use of the variable ND filter, set to auto to control the exposure. I used the cameras “backlight” auto exposure setting to obtain a bright exposure despite the strong sunlight. These shots were shot using S-Log3 in CineEI and it’s nice that the auto exposure functions work very well in this mode. The main lens used was a Sony 24-240mm f3.5-f6.3 zoom. Not the very greatest of lenses, but for such a zoom range the image quality is pretty decent. I used this lens because the temperature was often below -15c dipping to -34c at times. In addition there was a lot of blowing snow. I don’t like doing a lot of lens swapping in these conditions and the 24-240mm allowed me to take just one lens on most of the trips out and about on the snow scooters or dog sleds.
Another big help was the Core SWX V-Mount adapter. I used both the Core Neo 98Wh V-Mount batteries and some of my Pag Paglink 150Wh V-Mounts. They all worked very well in the harsh conditions and a great feature of the Core Neo’s is the run time indicator that gives an accurate time remaining readout based on the batteries capacity and the cameras power draw. This is very handy when using a V-Mount adapter as all the adapters currently on the market convert the battery voltage up to 19.5 volts to feed the FX9. As a result you don’t get any form of capacity or run time indication in the viewfinder. The Core V-Mount adapter also incorporates an LED indicator that turns red as the battery voltage gets low and then flashes red when it’s about to run out – a very nice touch. I did use a loose fitting insulated cover that I made myself. It’s not heated but does have a fleece lining so helps keep the heat generated by the camera when it’s operating in the camera. Where this really helps is to keep the lens warmer than the ambient air and this helps stop the lens from frosting over when shooting the aurora at night (see the picture at the top of the article where you can see just how frosty things can get at night).
As usual on these trips we had one guest break a tripod. A lot of materials that are normally solid and robust become very brittle at temperatures below -15c. I was using a Miller CX18 tripod head with Miller Solo legs and once again this proved to be a great combination. The fluid damping of the head remain almost completely constant all the way down to -34c. A lot of other heads become unusable at these sorts of temperatures.
For file backup and file management I use the Nexto DI NPS-10. This is a relatively new device from Nexto DI. Designed to offer a robust backup solution at a much lower price than similar previous Nexto DI products it too worked very well even in these harsh conditions. I have a 1TB SSD in mine and I can backup a 128GB XQD card in around 5 minutes. I can’t recommend the Nexto DI products enough for those that need to have a simple, reliable backup on location.
The workshop shots are part of a sequence of shots for another video I am working on. For these I used Sony 85mm f1.8 FE and 24mm f2 FE lenses. The sequence is mostly available light but I did have a Light & Motion Stella 5K on hand to add a little extra light here and there.
Post production was done using DaVinci Resolve and ACES.
First of all. Unless you are actually using a lightmeter to determine your exposure, in custom mode it is far, far easier to use dB of gain. 0dB is always optimum and each time you go up 6dB the picture gets twice as bright (one stop brighter) and the noise doubles. ISO is in most cases nothing more than a rating to use in conjunction with a lightmeter to get the right picture brightness, it will not tell you how much noise you have or whether the camera is at it’s optimum setting. So don’t use ISO just because “ISO is cool and make me sound like I know what I’m doing, it makes me a cinematographer”. This isn’t a film camera, no matter how much you dress it up it is a video camera and dB tells you exactly what it is doing.
Because different gamma curves produce different brightness images the ISO rating will change depending on the gamma curve being used, this isn’t a sensitivity change, it’s an optimum brightness change. Because of this, even when you are at 0dB gain (the native setting) when you switch between different gammas the ISO rating changes. In addition because you have two different base sensitivity modes on the FX9 there are a lot of different base ISO’s (all of which are 0dB gain). I’ve prepared a table of the different base ISO’s.
In addition if you are not careful it’s possible to end up using too much gain to achieve a certain ISO as many ISO ratings can be realised at both Hi and Low Base sensitivity. You don’t want to be at 2500 ISO in Low Base for example, you would be better off using High base. The table below should help you understand when to switch up to High base from Low base. If you use dB gain, then it’s easy. More than +11dB – switch up. Don’t forget in dB mode you can also go down to -3dB.
The ACS have produced a video report about some of the testing that they did with a pre-production FX9. It’s quite a long video but has some interesting side by side comparisons with the FS7 which we all already know very well. You’ve heard much of what’s in the video from me already, but I’m a Sony guy, so it’s good to hear the same things from the much more impartial ACS.
With my super geek hat on it was really interesting to see the colour response tests performed by Pawel Achtel ACS at 37.08. These tests use a very pure white light source that is split into the full spectrum and then the monochromatic light is projected onto the sensor. It’s a very telling test. I was quite surprised to see how large the FS7’s response is, it’s not something I have ever had the tools to measure. The test also highlights a lack of far red response from the FS7. It’s not terrible, but does help explain why warm skin tones perhaps don’t always look as nice as they could. I do wonder if this is down to the characteristics of the cameras IR cut filter as we also know the sensor to be quite sensitive to IR. The good news is that the PXW-FX9 has what Pawel claims to be the best colour accuracy of any camera he’s tested, and he’s tested pretty much all of the current cinema cameras. Take a look for yourself.
The PXW-FX9 features a 6K Full Frame sensor. With this sensor it is possible to select various scan modes and frame sizes. It is important to understand what these mean and which scan modes can be used with which frame rates and recording formats.
There are two selectable frame sizes, Full Frame (FF) and Super 35 (s35). Full Frame is the larger of the two sensor scan sizes. When Full Frame is selected the sensor area is similar to that of a Full Frame photo camera. In the Full Frame mode you will need to use lenses designed for Full Frame. The frame size in Full Frame scan mode is also similar to the VistaVision film format.
In the Super 35mm mode a reduced area of the sensor is used that is of a similar size to a frame of super 35mm movie film. In this mode you can use lenses designed for APS-C, Super 35mm movie film as well as lenses designed for Full Frame cameras. If you use a Full Frame lens in the Super35 scan mode the field of view will be narrower than it would be in the Full Frame mode by a factor of 1.5.
FF 6K Scan is the highest quality scan mode available in the FX9. The sensor operates in the Full Frame format and a full 6K scan is used, reading 19 million pixels from the sensor. The 6K image is then downsampled to UHD (or HD) for recording. By starting at 6K and downsampling the quality of the UHD recordings will be higher than possible from a 4K scan. Noise in the image is reduced and the resolution and colour sampling is maximised. However there are some frame rate limitations in FF 6K scan. The highest frame rate that can be selected when using FF 6K scan is 30 frames per second. You can record either UHD or HD from FF 6K scan.
FF 2K scan, optimised for speed, quality is reduced. Uses the same Full Frame sized sensor area as FF 6K. However, the sensor is read at 2K instead of 6K. The reduced resolution allows the sensor to be read out much faster, currently up to 120fps. However in this mode the cameras optical filtering is less optimum and this means that the image quality is somewhat reduced compared to the FF 6K scan. This scan mode is best suited to high frame rate shooting where the ability to shoot at a high frame rate is the main priority. You can only record HD from FF 2K scan. I recommend FF 2K is only used for 120fps recording.
S35 4K Medium Balance of Quality and Speed. In this mode 4K of pixels are read out. This is similar to the scan area and number of pixels of a PXW-FS7 or FS5. As a result the resolution of the recordings will be similar to that of other 4K s35 cameras. Because there is no downsampling in this mode the image quality is not quite as high as can be achieved from the FF 6K scan mode. But the reduced number of pixels that need to be read means that the S35 4K scan can be used at frame rates up to 60fps. You can record either UHD or HD from s35 4K scan.
S35 2K scan optimised for speed with s35 or APS-C lenses, quality is reduced. As above uses the smaller Super 35mm frame area. However, the sensor is read at 2K instead of 4K. The reduced resolution allows the sensor to be read out much faster. The FF 2K scan mode can operate at up to 120fps. In this mode the cameras optical filtering is less than optimum and this means that the image quality is somewhat reduced compared to the FF 6K or S35 4K scan. This scan mode is best suited to high frame rate shooting where the ability to shoot at a high frame rate is the main priority and only Super 35mm or APS-C lenses are available. You can only record HD from S35 2K scan and I recommend you only use the mode when you need to shoot 120fps with a s35 or APS-C lens.
One of the great features of the PXW-FX9 is the ability to connect a phone or tablet to the camera via WiFi so that you can view a near live feed from the camera (there’s about a 5 to 6 frame delay).
To do this you need to install the latest version of the free Sony Content Browser Mobile application on your phone. Then you would normally connect the phone to the cameras WiFi by placing the FX9 into Access Point Mode and use either NFC to establish the connection if your phone has it, or by manually connecting your phone’s WiFi to the camera.
However for many people this does not always provide a stable connection with frequent drop outs and disconnects. Fortunately there is a another way to connect the camera and phone and this seems much more stable.
First put the cameras WiFi into “Station Mode” instead of “Access Point” mode. Then setup your phone to act as a WiFi Hotspot. Now you can connect the camera to the phone by performing a network search on the camera. Once the camera finds the phones WiFi hotspot you connect the camera to the phone.
Once the connection from the camera to the phone has been established you should open Content Browser Mobile and it should find the FX9. If it doesn’t find it straight away swipe down with your finger to refresh the connection list. Then select the camera to connect to it.
Once connected this way you will have all the same options that you would have if connected the other way around (using Access Point mode). But the connection tends to be much, much more stable. In addition you can also now use the cameras ftp functions to upload files from the camera via your phones cellular data connection to remote servers.
If you want to create a bigger network then consider buying one of the many small battery powered WifI routers or a dedicated 4G MiFi hotspot and connect everything to that. Content Browser Mobile should be able to find any camera connected to the same network. Plus if you use a WiFi router you can connect several phones to the same camera.
Last week I was at O-Video in Bucharest preparing for a workshop the following day. They are a full service dealer. We had an FX9 for the workshop and they had some very nice lenses. So with their help I decided to do a very quick comparison of the lenses we had. I was actually very surprised by the results. At the end of the day I definitely had a favourite lens. But I’m not going to tell you which one yet.
The 5 lenses we tested were: Rokinon Xeen, Cooke Panchro 50mm, Leitz (lecia) Thalia, Zeiss Supreme Radiance and the Sony 28-135mm zoom that can be purchased as part of a kit with the FX9.
I included a strong backlight in the shot to see how the different lenses dealt with flare from off-axis lights. 2 of the lenses produced very pronounced flare, so for those lenses you will see two frame grabs. One with the flare and one with the back light flagged off.
I used S-Cinetone on the FX9 and set the aperture to f2.8 for all of the lenses except the Sony 28-135mm. For that lens I added 6dB of gain to normalise the exposure, you should be able to figure out which of the examples is the Sony zoom.
One of the lenses was an odd focal length compared to all the others. Some of you might be able to work out which one that is, but again I’m not going to tell you just yet.
Anyway, enjoy playing guess the lens. This isn’t intended to be an in depth test. But it’s interesting to compare lenses when you have access to them. I’ll reveal which lens is which in a couple of weeks in the comments. You can click on each image to enlarge it.
Big thanks to everyone at O-Video Bucharest for making this happen.
I’ve had a few people comment that they feel that the PXW-FX9 is a touch green when you shoot S-Log3 and SGamut3.cine and then add the standard Sony s709 V200 LUT in post. So I have created a slightly modified version of the s709 LUT that I have tweaked specifically for the FX9. You can download it using the like below. Do let me know what you think.