Today, I wanna talk about the newly announced Sony FX9, a camera I couldn’t be more excited for… But before I do that, we need to talk about some history.
The Year: 2014. Latvia has just adopted the Euro, Birdman and Whiplash have made Jazz drumming the official soundtrack of the year, and Dr. Dre became a billionaire after selling some headphones to Apple.
It was a time of transition in our industry, and Sony decided to make a big move in the cinema camera market. At this point, Sony’s lineup was based mostly around the F55 and F5, twin cameras that spanned the $15-25K market. We tend to see large manufacturers borrowing technology from their higher-end cameras and spinning it off into lower tier models, and in 2014 Sony swung for the fences. They borrowed the sensor from their popular F5 cinema camera, stuck it in a cheaper, shoulder-friendly model — and released the PXW-FS7.
People. Freaked. Out.
The FS7 went head-on against Canon’s massively popular C300, and the mid-tier cinema market changed. The FS7 was popular for a host of reasons, but the one that stuck out most and really set it apart was the form factor. Sony decided that, sometimes, it’s nice to put a camera on your shoulder. Borrowing designs from Super-16 Aatons, not to mention a carbon copy of their hand grip, the FS7 was unlike any other camera – because it looked most like a camera. The best part was the price point – coming in around $8K, compared to Canon’s C300 that sold closer to $15K.
The FS7 was updated a few years later with the FS7 II. The model was exactly the same, specs-wise, but had the addition of the FS5’s Variable ND filter system. Sony also created a new locking E-Mount to deal with the hefty lenses shooters were pairing with the camera. The mirrorless, small flange distance E mount lent itself well to adapting — and the smart cropping modes for the 4K sensor meant that you could use pretty much any lens you could get your hands on.
The FS7 was, at the time, a powerhouse of specs. Full DCI 4K up to 60fps, HD up to 180fps – a RAW back for 12bit RAW up to 240fps at HD. The camera was scalable, somewhat modular, and fit on pretty much anyone’s shoulder out of the box – no need for third party shoulder pads and accessories.
The interesting piece of this story is that even in today’s camera landscape, the FS7 II is still an extremely capable camera at its price point. It’s still more powerful than the C300II, having no issues with crop and high frame rates, and is in line with great color options in Slog3. So, what could they improve on?
That brings us to today, the Fall of 2019 — 5 years since the FS7’s release. The industry has been waiting patiently for a true update to the FS7, and an FS7 III had been rumored for years. In September, Sony announced the PXW-FX9 – something much more than a small update to the line, and, in fact, a whole new model with something very different to bring to the table, all while keeping what worked with the FS7 in mind.
Just as the original FS7 borrowed some DNA from it’s older brothers, the FX9 is no different. Sony’s new flagship VENICE camera has made some serious waves in the industry, offering not only an amazing full frame 6K image — but a new color science that has DP’s second guessing their ARRI and RED cameras. This is a huge step for Sony. As a colorist, I hear the “it’s an ok camera but it has that Sony video look” quite a bit — a claim I find entirely foolish. The offering of a true wide gamut and log gamma mean that the camera looks however you want it to — and if it looks too “video-y,” then you’re doing it wrong. That point aside, the VENICE is beautiful. The new color, paired with the full-frame look, is something to behold.
And that’s where the FX9 comes from, borrowing the new color science and sporting a brand new 6K imager. Now, that doesn’t mean it can record full 6K like it’s older sibling (currently), but what it does mean is that it creates a wonderfully deep image from the 6K to 4K debayer. If you know anything about sensors, you know that you don’t necessarily want to shoot the native resolution of a CMOS sensor – ideally you want a larger resolution to debayer a better image from. This is how the original C300 made its HD image look so nice, even though it had a 4K sensor. The C300II uses a similar 4K sensor to shoot 4K, and it really doesn’t shine as brightly as it should for that reason.
The FX9 has an entirely new body, and while it’s price point is somewhat higher than the original FS7 – I think the extra costs have been put in the right places. It’s more rugged, built tougher, and looks amazing. Using the same media as the FS7, XQD (now called CFexpress and being widely adopted by plenty of other manufacturers) means one doesn’t have to worry about corrupt cards and all the problems that come with CFast2.0 — a media format I’d describe as straight garbage.
The FX9 still has the option for an external RAW back, just like the original XDCA unit, but this time it’s pushing out 16Bit RAW.
Preorders are available now, with it due to ship in December 2019. We’re pretty confident that this camera is going to be THE camera for mid-tier cinema uses. Commercial, doc, streaming, even TV – all in that glorious full frame field of view. Look for an update once ours arrive!
-Alex Enman, Engineer