New Sony PXW-FS5: A Filmmakers Thoughts

Before reading I highly suggest watching the video below to see the FS5's capability with the film I shot called ZION.

Check out The B&H link for pricing and more detailed specs: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1185424-REG/sony_pxw_fs5_xdcam_super_35.html

Zion Warne Glass blower in Boise, Idaho shot on the new PXW-FS5 and PXW-FS7 by Rob Scribner

To pretty much get the same info. in this article, here area few interviews and presentation of my thoughts as a filmmaker of the Sony PXW-FS5 at Photo Plus 2015. For more detailed information read the article below.

A first look at what the PXW-FS5K can do

Outraged Productions recently traveled to the PhotoPlus Expo 2015 in New York City! Our production crew had an awesome time meeting some big name people at some big name companies! Unfortunately, we were only able to stay for a limited time, but we hope you enjoy this exclusive news coverage.

DMNDR.com Rob Scribner was one of the first DP's to shoot with Sony's new FS5. John Belitsky of DMNDR caught up with him to discuss how it differs from the FS7, why it may be one of the best indie filmmaker cameras on the market, and examine some of the camera's finer points.


THE BACK STORY

So I would like to share a very quick story of how I got involved with this project. I had been in contact with Sony about a recent film I made (Warbird Pilot: Behind the Visor) and been sending them pictures of some of my recent projects filmed on my FS7. I received a phone call one day and was asked if I would be interested in shooting a project with a new camera that was soon to come to market…my obvious answer was yes! To be honest, they really didn’t explain much of other than we want you to make a short film, a passion project, tell a story of something that you want to do. Just give us the idea and we will approve it. I asked them, “what can you tell me about this camera?” I was told, “it’s similar to what you shoot on now and it shoots more than one frame per second.” The reason for such secrecy with me was for one major point…we don’t want you to plan a shoot around the camera but use it as a tool to tell your story. This was perfect because as a filmmaker I always believe in the story first, then build your images to support your story.

So I got a list together of things I have wanted to shoot and glassblowing was at the top. They of coarse loved this idea and here is the irony…that day across the street from my studio a new glass blowing studio just opened their doors. If that wasn’t a sign then I don’t know what is. Zion, the talent in my film was of coarse very grateful for the opportunity to tell his story and the rest was history.


The Brown Box at the Door

So, now that we have to backstory…lets move onto the part most people really care about…what was it like to use, what are your thoughts as a filmmaker? Well, lets start from when the brown box showed up at my door. First off I thought it was rather funny that even the box didn’t have the name printed on the side of it like most do…so I still at this point had no idea what the name of the camera was. Upon opening the box the first thing I wanted to see was the body. I pulled it out and my first thought was holy crap, it looks just like a miniature version of the FS7…suddenly that comment from Sony mentioning, “it’s very similar to what you have been shooting on,” all made sense. I was astonished about how tiny and lightweight the camera was.

After putting all the little pieces on the camera like the lens, EVF, handle…etc., the major question was…what could it do. So most complaints I have read and experienced with the FS7 was the functionality of the menu, the FS5’s menu is very similar if not just like the FS100 and FS700’s; so much easier to navigate…my favorite part…infinity scroll, which comes very handy out in the field.


Variable ND Filters

Now Sony has made one of my new favorite features in the camera, the variable ND Filters. I used this feature quite a bit in the shooting of Zion because of the intensity of the glass furnace and some of the other ovens would either over expose or under expose the shot. It was so great being able to make my own presets of the exact ND filter combination without having to sacrifice my exposure, shutter or gain. I could just flick a switch, and turn the ND Filter knob and my shot was just the way I wanted it. I have shot many things in my time that are very much documentary filmmaking style, you have to be a master of you camera, be able know exactly what things you can adjust to get the image useable in post…and there is no asking for a retake. I have had the opportunity to shoot with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Venice Beach driving around talking about his early bodybuilding days…do you think I would every say to him, hold your thought I am not ready…yeah, never going to happen. Back then I chose the FS700 for this shoot because one, I knew the camera well and two, it had ND filters built in. However there was one problem, quickly adding one of the three ND filters never left me with perfect combination for exposure...I always had to adjust my shutter or aperture on the fly, which took more time away from me getting my composition right.


SD Cards

So when I looked at the memory card slots, I fully expected to see XQD cards but to my surprise, SD cards. How awesome to see SD cards; not to say I don’t like the XQD cards in my FS7 but XQD cards are very expensive and SD cards, well most people have them these days. It’s much easier to call a up buddy and ask to borrow their SD cards than it is to get XQD cards from someone. One thing I noticed in the camera settings, I can do most of the typical things that many cameras do with simultaneous recording, etc. but they have built in a way for you to be able to assign one of the record buttons to record to a specific card…could come in hand for organized data management in post.


Codec

The reason the camera supports SD cards vs. XQD cards is because of the codec. The main 4k codec is in XAVC-L GOP. Its not as good as XAVC-I because its not using just I frames but instead using Group Of Pictures for its compression by analyzing what has changed from frame to frame based off of the I frame. I have had many people ask what did you think of it…well, its not bad. I found it pretty easy to use and with enough work in post editors will be able to get it to match up quite nice with the FS7 XAVC-I in Cine EI Slog3.


Picture Profiles

When I got to film with the FS5 I didn’t get a manual…no, nothing with it. I had to figure it all out on my own. After digging around in the menu I was able to figure out the PP9 was my best profile to shoot in because it gave me that nice Slog3 flat profile that would give me the 14 stops of dynamic range the FS7 has (well close to it). You can create your own profiles if you need to bake in your look or want to have lots of flexibility in post.


Proxy Files

I am sure you guys have heard about the proxy recording, very cool. Now that we are getting into the days of 4K filming…depending on your editing system you might have some problems editing these massive 4k files. Having a camera that auto creates H.264 proxy files, saves a bunch of time transcoding files for offline editing. Not to mention you can login into an FTP system and once the camera is linked to the Internet either through Wi-Fi or using your Smartphones Internet, you can send those proxy files to your FTP, ready for your editor to start an assembly edit. I have spent lots of time on the road shooting projects, the one of the problems we had was not being able to get any of the footage to my editors until we got back. Imagine if we were constantly sending proxies across the U.S. or world to you editor and by the time you got back, they had already put together a rough cut of what you just shot or have your client watching your dailies and your three production is going on, without ever having to be on set. It’s a huge time saver in so many ways. Simply amazing!


Slo-motion

Alright back to the menu, we all love Slo-motion but it’s not the main selling point for me but there is the issue of how do you switch modes in order to use slow-motion; because Sony has chosen to change there menu system on the FS5 to any earlier format, it really allows you to be able to switch from different codec and different resolutions and frame rate very fast…much faster than the FS7. So here’s how it goes, for people that don’t quite understand the codecs and limitations, XAVC QF is there to support 4k, up to 30 FPS, AVCHD supports 1080 but allows High Frame Rates (HFR) up to 960 FPS with lose of quality, 240 FPS with no lose of quality; AVC, well…I never found a use for it personally but if you want it, its there. One set, I would go into the menu, change the codec, then if I wanted HFR, I would hit the S&Q button (hold it down to change the FPS). Seriously, it’s that fast and easy; again, a super time saver in the middle of shoot.

At the end of the day, here is what really got me…the form factor. This camera is so small and light…it almost seems not right. The fact that its setup just like the FS7 and so small, it’s just perfect. The problem I have with the FS7 and a run and gun documentary is how heavy the camera gets when you add a big lens, extension unit, V-Mount battery, Odyssey 7Q+ with batteries, matte box, and rail system with a follow focus on it. Being able to have a stripped down version of the camera that is extremely lightweight, operates the same way, and if I added all those FS7 extras that I can…it’s still much lighter and balanced. I also have found that hand holding the FS5 was nice and stable; I can move so fast with it.


Using it on set

This is a perfect point for me to jump over to, how did it preform onset, which is of course the most important part. When filming Zion, I knew that I wanted to add movement to my shots. I love a moving camera but at the same time it’s important to know when to and not to have a moving camera. In the case of Zion I liked have a moving camera as a metaphor of what its like to work with glass…you have to keep moving, shaping it, in order to get the look you desire. On that note, how did I pull it off and how well did the FS5 operate? If you look at the footage I shot, there is very little shake in the camera; working with the FS7 on a slider and how heavy it can be can make it very difficult to move without getting a little bit of camera shake. The FS5 again is so well balanced and light, I was able to move the camera left and right, back and forward, even pan & tilt the camera while focusing on the slider as if I had three people working on a dolly system. Shots like this require lots of skill but you have to heavy rely on your tools to pull it off…I found the FS5 is perfectly setup up for the ultimate one man band.


Low Light

Lets switch gears and talk about low light. What is the one thing that seems to always haunt us cinematographers while working on a doc? Light.  It’s hard to ask a business to stop selling or a glass blower to stop heating up so I can reset my lights. What ends up happening is we sacrifice our image quality by shooting in less the ideal conditions. At one point I decided to turn all the lights off in Zion’s studio to really capture the intensity of the molten glass. I also decided to switch to 4K at this moment because I captured all the HFR shots I needed by then. After twisting two of my Dracast lights and quickly hitting record, I was immediately surprised at how beautiful the shots looked. At this point I suddenly wished I started shooting in 4k at the beginning (which is in the XAVC QF format). My point is the FS5’s 4k is awesome in low light. I later found out that the FS5’s native ISO is set to 3200…I guess that’s why it worked so well in low light.


Handheld

During the shoot of Zion, once I got all the shots I wanted on a slider I would quickly remove the camera and keep shooting. Shooting handheld on the FS5 is so freakin’ easy and nice looking. It really comes down to great designing and balancing of the body! Sony has also taken a really neat approach to how the side grip feels and operates. When connecting, it looks just like a lens mount but what it allows is for the user to press a button and very, very quickly adjust the clocking of the side grip. One other thing I found to be quite useful, but I will say is not necessary, is adding a small weight to the bottom of the camera. I accidentally found this out because of the way my slider was setup. I have a CineSlider with a fluid head attached to it via QRP and the camera attached to that via QRP. In the heat of the moment, I detached the bottom QRP on the base of the fluid head, keeping the fluid head attached to the camera. To my surprise it really help stabilize my shots. Again I will mention this was not necessary as the camera is already very well balanced.


The Battery

Another question I got a lot at Photo Plus was how good is the battery? It’s the same battery as the FS7, which is nice. Onset with Zion I used my one FS5 battery and my spare FS7 battery. So in a nutshell, over the 6-7 hours of filming Zion, I used two batteries. I personally think that’s pretty good…they are decent batteries and they have been very reliable for me for the last year with the FS7.


The Kit Lens

Like most people, I am rather skeptical about kit lenses. Here’s the funny thing, I have been shooting tons of projects on kit lenses for years. We all wish to have lots of money that we can spend on lenses but the fact is most of us just have to use what we got. My film Warbird Pilot: Behind the Visor was shot 90% on the FS100 stock lens. To be honest, I really liked the stock lens that came with FS5, it was rally sharp and the fact that it has a zoom servo button built into the side of the lens is great. One of my hands is always on the lens for focusing, having that button at the base of the lens made it very easy and fast to do a quick smooth zoom.


The Problems

This is the perfect segway for me to talk about what it didn’t really like or didn’t work right on set. I think most of my grippes are due to the fact I was using a production model of the FS5, but I will share them to at least cover it. When shooting the interview with Zion, the audio just sounded like crap…it was crazy noisy and no matter what mic I used, it always had it. My audio engineer was not too happy with me for sending him this project. I am sure this will be fixed when the camera releases.

So I never got the FTP proxy transfer to work but this was due to the fact that we were using a server system that had never been tested yet, but again I love the idea of what it can do.

No matter what zoom button I used, if I barely touched it, the focus would go to the furthest focus range forcing me to quickly try to get the talent back in focus, which with Sony’s electronic focus is a bit of a challenge. So basically this bug was a biggest pain on set. Again, I am sure this will be fixed with a better firmware. I have talked to Sony about this and from my time at Photo Plus it looks like it has been fixed.

Like I mentioned, having SDI ports is great. When filming Zion, I did have a 7Q at my disposal but I didn’t use it because it only output HD footage and I wanted shoot a lot of the project in 4K. I am told it will out 4k when it releases, I would love to use it with a 7Q.

My last problem was freezing. From time to time the camera would freeze if I wanted to changes codecs or resolutions. It randomly happened but it was still a pain because I would have to remove the battery and recycle power.


Final Thoughts

So Rob, do you own or plan on getting an FS5, are you going to sell your FS7 if you did? Cameras come and go, they are merely tools to help your story. Presently where I am at in my career I look for a camera that can compete with others on the big screen, Vimeo, film fest. as far as quality while keeping cost low enough for me to still be able to get paid while doing it. I have made the leap and invested in the FS7 which as been amazing at fulfilling most of those needs, while Sony has been hard at work fulfilling the missing pieces that I and others so desire. Yes, I am getting an FS5 and I am keeping my FS7. The two together help me tell my stories the way I see it in my head and my Directors’. Soon in my career, I will be stepping up into a new tier of cameras and the FS7 and FS5 are going to help me get there.


Conclusion

So here’s the summary of it all. This camera is designed more or less to be operated right out of the box. I urge you not to think of “right out of the box” as a bad thing but think of it as a tool that is easily molded for the run and gun professional filmmaker. Time is every thing; it’s normally our enemy but Sony has listened to our needs as filmmakers and designed two amazing cameras that pair perfectly together, the FS7 and FS5. In my professional opinion, its not on option of one or the other…it’s both, you need both. Of coarse there is the money factor, not everyone has lots of it and like most we have to work extremely hard to get little of it but lets consider what you get for the price…there is nothing that can beat it (FS5). I too have had to make scarifies to get the gear that I want to tell the stories I want to as a Cinematographer but at this point I can tell you it was all worth it and I am getting the exposure that I have so desired because of it. Again this is not a sale, this is me answering the questions that I get from most people after working with the FS5 “which one?”

Thank you all for the support and please leave me feedback on my review and any questions you have. I will try to respond to them right away if I am not out shooting something.


Rob W. Scribner

Boise, ID, USA