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Old June 21st, 2013, 10:37 PM   #1
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Sony FS700 for wildlife filmmaking : a subjective review

So... This is going to be my personal review of the not quite so new Sony FS700.
Numerous reviews have been made since its original release in 2012. I am not going to repeat what others said about this lovely camera. This review will put the Sony in perspective for potential wildlife filmmaking. This has been my choice when I started production for a 4X52' nature serie almost a year back.
Now, being on the verge to release the first volume, I felt it might be helpful to others to share my thoughts.

But really, I don't pretend this cam to be THE professional choice... at all... Many established pros found the raw workflow with RED ONE / EPIC / SCARLET to be the best choice in Super35 sized sensor. Others found this format was not workable for wildlife because of data management, shallow DOF and long lenses reach, so they choosed 2/3 sensor with still lenses and/ or B4 lenses. After all, it is all very subjective.

So far for me, why super35*? Shallow DOF, creamy bokeh, the ability to make your subject instantly pop-up was my main priority. I knew it was going to be painful though with focus tracking, and long lenses options. And really, focus is challenging (especially when you work both on Nikon and Canon lenses, it drives you nuts)

But, I questioned myself*: AVCHD*? Why the hell Sony decided to put such an apparently *weak* codec in such a gorgeous package*? That was my initial thoughts. If I can share with you something that I find now important... When you shoot everyday for a year on a single 52min doc, you end up with 100h of rush, or at least that is what happened to me. I've heard stories of wildlife film makers ending up with 120TB of raw data for a 52min.
For my project, I got a little 1TB AVCHD files. This is cost effective really, and easy to backup and edit... But well, I am not talking about grading...
Now, for the quality... I think images are gorgeous. It is 8bit, yes. But my naked eyes see lovely dynamic range (cinegammas 4!), superb color rendition, 50p motion clarity, smooth highlight roll off, extreme low light sensivity with low noise up to ISO 3200.
Here is an example of a sequence mainly shot between ISO 1600, ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 (except for the landscapes introduction which was ISO 640) This is about the Kagu, an endangered flightless bird in New Caledonia.

Many broadcast channels are OK with the FS700 picture quality. Stock footage websites gladly take it too. I have not had any problems to sell my stuff because of the codec. The thing is, a good sensor, with AVCHD on board coupled with Cinegammas is something well thought for quality / size ratio. I think this is the most cost effective codec on the market. Just grab a cheap 32gb SD and you good to go.
Now the real cons for me with this codec are*the following*: don't push up too badly the post processing, you have some nice little cosy room to grade, but depending on the look you want to achieve, noise starts to appear and footage can fall apart in some situations...
Also, there is that 8 bit banding. I film alot of birds in extreme contrast situations (+90 tilt angle in the canopy) and despite the nice roll off between shadows and highlights, banding shows up quite often with fine detailed subjects (feathers, branches etc...) This is an ugly thing. I simply avoid this situations now. It is not making my life easier, depending on which birds I am filming (some of them just like to be high in the trees, I have to find sweet spots to lower my tilt angle and avoid high contrast)
Apart from that, yes the codec is limited with color grading, but it is not that bad.
You are just a little more cautious when shooting. Every shoot needs to be extremly well lit (and consistently). I wished Sony would have done something more realistic concerning that upgrade. Just an SLOG2 10bit out on ext. recorder and this camera would have been fabulous... But this is another topic...

Super slow motion now. That was one of the reason I choosed this cam. Like most people I guess. Of course, I use slow motion alot... But not from what I thought it would be worth in the first place... I filmed lizards, birds, and small mamals in 240fps. At the end of the day, when I look at all my SSM stuff, I realize it is hard to shoot in that mode properly. I shot this doco in rainforests with low ambiant light*; at f/2,8 I can barely get a 1/215th shutter speed, and at this shutter, motion clarity is not good... I found I needed at least a shutter of 1/600th with an aperture of f/8 to get decent DOF and detailed motion. I can't afford to put 2K HMI's in the forest like... well, like Peter Jackson did for Lord of the rings ;)
In fact, SSM helped me shooting landscapes and plants especially. The thing is this frame rate (when played back in 24p) cancels all vibrations, so I can shoot handeld beautiful travelings over plants and other little flowers... If you are cautious, your camera moves can really be nice.
I won't debate too much on picture qual at high frame rates. 240Fps shows less details, more aliasing, more noise. But at the end of the day, it is still beautiful, here is an example of SSM handeld traveling over a ferntree.

The real deal with the high frame rates is the fonction*: END TRIGGER. Animals are not talents. You don't know when they are going to move, when they are going to do something interesting etc. The function END TRIGGER is a godsend because the camera continuously buffs, and this allow you to wait the behavior you are looking for in super slow motion. When the animal does something interesting, you just have to push REC, and what you were exactly looking for has been now recorded. With RED, I think you don't have this option...
Super slow motion leads you to another important thing in wildlife film making, as to know battery life... With the FS700, you need 2 batteries for a whole day of shooting with plenty of slow motion. Another cost effective strategy. REDs are known to be nasty power suckers with expensive proprietary redvolts.

Now, ergonomics...
This is something that has been debated over and over. This black box looks awkward at first glance. In fact, I am a huge fan of it;) Once you get used to it, you understand how powerful and modular this cam can be. Every left pannel buttons can be assigned to whatever you like (zebras, peaking, markers, ISO, WB, last scene etc), controls begin to feel more natural. I use a Kinoteknic EVF for focusing with FS700 internal peaking and that cannot be better. There is no latency and resolution is plenty enough to focus accurately. Also the side hand grip which allows you to control REC button and expended focus is sooo handy when properly relocated (close to your tripod pan bar is a must). No ergonomic fiasco at all. It is just very well designed. It allows you to be fast and instinctive in the field.

Now, what are the options with telephotos*? I personnaly work with beautiful Nikon 50 300 f4.5 and Canon 400mm 2.8 (with TC X1.4 or X2) Max reach will be 800mm at 5.6. This is plenty... at least for me. Next problem is weight... At longest lens settings, my set up weights 15kg. Not very mobile, this is the real trade off perhaps. Or... as Sabsayachi Patra says, just hire Arnold Schwarzenegger for a day or two in order to relax / and or just go to some serious gym sessions before breaking your back... At least the full set up fits in my backpack for some sympathic if not painful daywalks...

Of course I have not been commisionned by Sony to write this. This is the sum of some 10 months field experience in rough conditions (did I mention the camera is pretty resistant to water drops and dirt etc..?) and the final thoughts of an (almost) happy custommer (Sony if you're listining, give us 10bits over HDSDI*please...)

Hope you enjoyed reading,

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Alan Nogues is offline   Reply With Quote
Old June 23rd, 2013, 11:41 AM   #2
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Re: Sony FS700 for wildlife filmmaking : a subjective review

I shoot with a FS-100, although its the little sibling to the FS-700, I find much of what you said to be true for it as well. I got the FS-100 as a camera I could use for commercial work and my personal time outdoors, getting the best versatility for both worlds.

At first I was at a bit of odd's with the form factor but after turning the handle more and shortening the eye loupe a bit, I am better freehand with it than any other camera I have had before. I have dug out some older Minolta lenses I bought almost 20 years ago to play with for macro and using a 2x teleconverter with and I am loving the results even though they are not the better glass around.

Even though the camera is 8bit 4:2:0, I found I could push it far more than others I have had. I enjoy color grading and have messed with it quite a bit and found taking picture profiles I like and creating variations to suite differing lighting conditions in the field. I guess my picture styles "philosophy" is to go "Half Baked". I don't try to push it so far with a totally "flat" picture style just take one I like and tweak a version that's flatter for lowlight and one better for highlights. I found that to work better for me in the "Run and Gun" type shooting environment of wildlife film and easier to grade for an over all look in the end.

I'm still learning what I can do with it but every direction I go with it has been very positive for me. It may not be a RED but then again I didn't pay that much for it either and at the price I did pay I'm extremely happy with what I can get out of it. It covers my commercial needs to a "T" but is also proving to be a great outdoor camera for me.
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Old June 27th, 2013, 07:31 AM   #3
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Re: Sony FS700 for wildlife filmmaking : a subjective review


Thanks for the evaluation on the FS700. I gather from your numbers that the crop factor is only about 2. Is that correct? That would imply that you were able to get relatively close to the Kagu, and that smaller, or more distant birds would be more challenging, as far as filling the frame. You mentioned a 2/3" chip. Is that an option on the FS700, or were you referring to a totally different camera? Also, what is the video head you are using, and do you like it?
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Old July 6th, 2013, 08:40 PM   #4
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Re: Sony FS700 for wildlife filmmaking : a subjective review

The Fs700 sensor is super35' roughly it is an APSC, meaning th crop factor from 24x36 is 1.4 and not x2...
Kagu was close enough yes, and for smaller birds, this quite challenging. Fillng the frame is often not an option, and you happen to rely on depth of field which makes the species pop up a little bit from the background.
There is no 2/3 chip option on Fs700, but since 4K is coming soon at affordable rates with OD7Q recorder, i guess we can easily crop the image X2 with no sharpness loss to rescale at 1080p.
Video head is fabulous Vinten 100, and I love it. You can find usedones in good condition at 2k. Another very important thing yo takenin consideration when doing super telephotos is a good tripod system...
Happy shooting!
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Old August 15th, 2013, 06:08 AM   #5
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Re: Sony FS700 for wildlife filmmaking : a subjective review

Nice to see you have now settled with your gear and enjoying the camera. I didn't like the ergonomics of the FS700 and went with the C300. However, any of these cameras, if used upto their full potential, the results can be really good. And who in wildlife will not like the chance of having slow motion? Nice write up.

Wild Tiger Productions
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Old August 26th, 2013, 06:28 PM   #6
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Re: Sony FS700 for wildlife filmmaking : a subjective review

How do you adjust the aperture with the Canon EF lenses?

Do you use a powered adapter?

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