Review: Sony PXW-FS5

The Sony PXW-FS5 is an exciting camera. Belonging to an ever-growing family of digital cameras, the FS5 comes in as a compact, lightweight and feature-rich attention grabber.

The FS5 is a smaller version of the FS7, sporting the same CMOS Super35mm sensor and 4K recording and high frame rates even though they do behave differently. The FS7 is a great camera. It may be one of the best documentary-style cameras in its price range. But the FS5 definitely has its place in the family. The size and weight of the camera add to its unique appeal.

During the past two weeks, I’ve used this camera with my hands – no tripods and no accessories. I’ve used the 18–105mm f/4 GOSS kit zoom lens, an excellent pick-up-and-go ENG-style lens with the LCD screen and handgrip (that Sony calls the SmartGrip) that ship with the camera.

Utility

The SmartGrip gives a surprisingly stable and comfortable hold on the camera. I do wish that some of the buttons were better located on the grip. The record button is especially awkward. There are also a few additional buttons that can be customised to your liking.

2016-04-30 18.35.54-1The LCD screen feels way too out of date on a camera that boasts the image quality of the FS5, though being modular and removable can further bring down the weight of the unit. The EVF isn’t particularly great either. But the camera does have the standard peaking and zebra options. And I appreciate the number of mount points available.

The FS5 comes with an option that lets you assign the jog dial on the SmartGrip to control the focal points on your lens. Though not perfect, this option proves exceptionally useful, minimising movement and adding a lot of convenience.

The FS5 has a unique ND preset feature. It comes with a switch to variable. This does exactly what it suggests it would. This feature works incredibly well and I found no colour distortion during the transitions. Once set up and all the switches turned on, the camera can go from 1/4 to 1/128 smoothly using the appropriate dial. This may be my single favourite feature on the camera.  It’s a feature that allows me to make decisions about shots I would have found almost impossible to make without.

4K and Image Quality

2016-04-30 18.35.50The FS5 outputs a 4K image at 8 bit, 4:2:0 internally and an HD image at 10 bit, 4:2:2 using an XAVC-L codec on to SDXC cards. The camera comes with two slots for memory, enabling continuous shooting. The FS7 on the other hand outputs 4:2:2 for both 4K and HD using an XAVC-I codec on the more expensive XDC Cards. I am in no way saying that the difference in bit rate means a bad image. Images are clean and even though aren’t as flexible in post production as a 10-bit image, they hold up well.

The camera puts out 240fps for 8 seconds in HD and 10 seconds for 120fps. Using S-log3, a properly exposed image at these settings yields negligible noise. The camera also has a start and end trigger mode that helps in capturing timed movements and helps conserve data.

Overall

2016-04-30 18.46.03The Sony PXW-FS5 is a well-balanced and lightweight camera that’s a breeze to use. As much as I prefer having a camera on my shoulder to my hands, the FS5 doesn’t pretend to be that kind of camera at all. It feels like an extension of my arm. This may be my favourite part of the camera. The fact that the image quality and great features like the VariND come together in a compact machine such as this sets itself apart. The weight of the camera will definitely gain some attention from drone and gimbal operators.

Its price point makes the FS5 unequivocally appealing. As much as I’d love for a better LCD screen, EVF or better codecs and bit rates, or a global shutter full frame sensor, the Sony PXW-FS5 is still a fantastic camera.

Below is a small clip that was shot on the Sony PXW-FS5. Do let us know what you think.