10 Reasons to hate the Sony FS100
I’ve been in possession of a Sony FS100 for a month now and shot with it in the UK, the Maldives and South Africa and the peculiar annoyances of this camera are becoming increasingly pointed. So much so that I thought I’d write a two part entitled ’10 reasons to…’ because you need to know what there is to love and hate about the FS. Why? Because, along with the AF101, it’s the only credible alternative to a DSLR right now. This camera has some mighty strengths but wow does it have some minuses. It’s clear that the design has been heavily compromised as it tries to fulfill two needs and seems to have simply run out of time to solve the issues.
1. Build quality.
Nigel Cooper’s review of the camera on DV User focussed heavily on the camera’s poor build and I have to say, I felt it sounded like sour apples. After a month with the cam, holy crap is this thing badly made. The plastic is cheap quality, marks easily, the modular parts feel as if they’re about to snap off when you use the camera, not good. I’ve had Sony camcorders right through from the PD150 (a tank of a camera) through to the EX1 and you always felt you stood a good chance of getting three years service out of them. With the FS100 I can’t see beyond a year with it.
2) The microphone mount.
This attaches via the hotshoe, and offers two adjustable bars to help you put the mic in the right position. Except that in fact there’s really only one position you can actually put the bars. Why? Because you’re never ever going to want to shoot with a crappy Sony top mic. You’ll most likely be shooting with a proper shotgun mic and there’s really only one position you can actually set the bars up when you have a softie attached. The lateral bar is clamped with a quick release flip-up catch and it does the worst job I’ve ever seen of keeping the mic in place. It’s awful. Rolling with a mic perched on top is a nightmare.
3. The handgrip.
It’s all very well being able to break the camera down into small parts to pack away but it’s not great when you can’t put it back together again. I spend a small portion of every day swearing as I try and get the handgrip to attach to the body of the camera without destroying the threads. You have to flip up a rubber cover and rotate a stupid metal crank, hoping you’ve got the holes lined up properly. Adjusting the position of the grip means untightening and retightening the damn thing. Slow, badly designed and annoying. The grip operates the camera via a cable that plugs into the ‘remote’ port on the back of the camera and no thought appears to have been given to where this cable is actually going to go.
4. The viewfinder.
Up periscope. This thing attaches to the on-board monitor via some metal clamps which are flimsier than a Bill Clinton alibi. The monitor simply isn’t designed to carry that much weight or leverage. You can lock the monitor in place with a scroll wheel but it doesn’t really work. It’s the biggest joke of an already unfunny comedy of build quality nonsense.
5. Cable management.
With a top mic, a radio mic, the handgrip remote cable you’re in big trouble. The position of the XLR ports means one mic cable is always snaking around over the monitor and top buttons and the position of the only cable management grips (always crap on most cameras anyway) means that you actually can’t put any cables in it because the handgrip is in the way. Rubbish.
6. ND filter.
Lens choices on this camera are a nightmare, almost exclusively because of the ND filter situation. The FS100 is a low-light champion, even more so than your DSLR and this is great. Except that, with no built-in ND filters you’re now even more stumped than ever when trying to work out what lens to use with your new box. You’re almost press-ganged into buying a matte box and filters to use the damn thing. Or you just have to plump for the kit lens and live with it. ND is proving to be an all mighty pain in the ass.
7. Lens conundrums.
No Birger mount yet, so no iris control on EOS lenses. I have been using a dumb adapter with my EOS lenses when shooting in lower light situations, but once you get into daylight shooting you can forget about them. Even with a Fader ND you just can’t manage the light. I have a set of manual Zeiss primes but that means breaking out the matte box and those tiny little lenses just aren’t designed for that kind of work and it takes about 15 minutes to change a lens and get it set up right. Nightmare. The kit lens is very very well stabilised and you can shoot at 200mm handheld with no problem at all. Handheld, not shoulder mounted. As soon as you throw on a non-stabilised lens you can forget it so you’re locked into the kit lens for any quick and dirty run n gun stuff.
8. Kit lens.
The kit lens is actually very good. 18-200 is a very useful range for video work. It’s slow as hell though and you have to change the iris via a rancid scroll wheel on the side of the camera that reminds me of the bad old days of the PD150. It’s unresponsive, lacks feel and makes you feel like you have no control when shooting. I hate it. The focus ring on the lens is a weird fish too. It seems to make no sense, you easily overshoot focus, then suddenly you’re having to crank hard just to get where you need to be. The lens happily extends all by itself if you point the camera down. Oh dear.
Buy an FS100, get used to spending a lot of time flipping the camera round to look at the side and check where the buttons are. I’ve gotten so used to having aperture and shutter control right at my fingertips on the 5D it’s really irritating having to go back to punching through buttons and menus, particularly when setting up gain.
10. The screen.
Everything looks dull and lifeless on the on-board monitor. When you get back to the edit it’s always a nice surprise to see that you haven’t been shooting total crap. Where shooting on a 5D gets you excited as you monitor the picture, this is totally the opposite. Having an additional monitor makes a big difference, but this camera was supposed to be the lightweight, video focussed version of my DSLR. The monitor is touch screen and I can’t for the life of me work out why. It adds nothing to the functionality of the camera and the loss of resolution and clarity certainly could have been done without. Interestingly I had the same experience with the monitor on the F3.
The FS100 has many redeeming qualities which I’ll touch on in my next post, but this is a camera that simply doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be. It wants to be a cine camera, but it also knows that there’s a camcorder market out there that demands camcorder functionality and it’s tried too hard to meet the needs of that market. The result is a mess. Strip the camera back to being simply a cine focussed unit and you’ll find it starting to make a sense. The only problem is, when set next to the 5D it simply isn’t good enough. I’d preferentially shoot on a 5D over the FS100 for about 60% to 70% of situations, and I got it to send the balance the other way. Are we getting too greedy with out camera needs, or did Sony simply fire and forget?