10 Reasons to love the FS100
NB: This is a post with no pictures, I’m sitting in an airport in Mauritius and the internet is so slow every I could get on a plane and hand deliver it to Jared and you’d get it quicker.
*Update* I added a stock photo for you brother.
It might seem strange to write 10 reasons to love the FS100 so quickly after writing the 10 reasons to hate the damn thing, but it’s that kind of camera. Polarising you into shouting at it then cooing in delight as it surprises you with what it can do. The trick to owning this camera is to forget about thinking of it as any kind of DSLR-killer.
It just isn’t.
It often feels like companies, blogs, magazines all want a DSLR-killer because they feel DSLRs actually need killing. Why? What’s so very wrong with them? At this price point there will never ever be a perfect camera so it’s pointless demanding one. As long as you approach the FS with that head on then you’ll be fine. DSLRs were so unexpected, so magnificent and so accessible they’ve warped our expectations of what a cheap video camera should be. As this article suggests, there are still more than enough reasons for this camera to rouse some interest. So here they are.
At its heart the FS really wants to be like its DSLR cousins. It’s very compact, and if you strip it down to the basic box then it’s really quite neat. It packs away small and the modularity means you are flexible with how you configure it. Even built up with all the flimsy accessories it’s very light and very portable but being able to pack it down into my DSLR kit bag has been a god send with all the international travel I’m doing at the moment.
2. Many configurations, 1 camera
Unlike a DSLR you can actually operate the FS like a camcorder which gives yo much more flexibility when you have to nail a lot very quickly. Using the kit lens you can pull off miraculously stable shots which means its very good when you’ve got limited time. As an editor I’d prefer to have the shot, even if its a bit wobbly, than be shorthanded on footage. As a run and gun cam the FS is capable, not brilliant, but capable. I’ve seen reviews where people slam it as useless handheld, but it’s not hugely different from any other Sony camcorder. You can strip it down to a rail based studio setup, or mount it on exactly the same rig you’d mount your DSLR and, though it’s then a bit of a pain setting exposure etc, and you will need an EVF or monitor, the fact is it translates very nicely into any existing DSLR setup you might have.
3. Flange depth
The FS100 uses the E-mount system, which means a very shallow flange, which in turn means you can use just about any lens you fancy with it. Adapters end up being big chunky affairs and with a 70-200 on the front it’s a little daft but you have the option at least.
4. Low light performance
Abel Cine have done a comparative performance chart to show how ISO (with which we’re all now very familiar) converts to Gain. The FS100 has a base ISO of 800. 800!!!???? That should give you an idea of just how sensitive this sensor is. WIth a fast lens and 30db of gain you have a perfectly useable shot. We all know how badly the DSLRs start to fall apart under high ISO pressure, even though they’re performing minor miracles. The FS becomes noisy, sure, but it’s actually quite characterful and it’s not hard to clean up with a bit of Neat Video help. It’s very very good.
5. Peaking and Zebras
Peaking and zebras are your friends. Peaking gives you a visible red mark when there are areas of high contrast in your image, effectively giving you a quick reference as to how in focus your shot is. On the flipside you ought to be able to see this without needing help, but it’s an extra touch of feedback that is useful in certain situations. Zebras are very important with this camera as you really need to know where your highlights are clipping. You can have an on-screen histogram too but for a quick reference, set the zebras to 100 and you’ll be in much better shape to avoid those horrible dead patches in the shot. Yes, you can get these features on outboard monitors, but it’s just one of the features on a prosumer camcorder that makes life that little bit more manageable.
6. Image stabilisation
Like I said, this camera can be used like a camcorder. You can shoot low angles really easily, get the camera on the floor, fling it around and be a bit lairy with it. In the Maldives I was shooting birds flying away, handheld on a 200mm and had a perfectly useable shot to work with. It’s only available on e-mount lenses like the kit lens, but that’s the kind of situation the kit lens is for. It really depends what kind of camera you need it to be.
No more dual-system sound. I don’t dislike recording sound separately, I absolutely hate it. I don’t have to sync audio, I don’t have to remember to press record on the Zoom, I don’t have to hope and pray that Pluraleyes will be able to do its job? I’ve had a hideous time with my Zoom H4N, it’s just not a piece of kit I’ll ever remember with any fondness. Even though the audio controls on the FS are in completely the wrong place and impossible to adjust quickly when shooting, it’s still better than shooting with a DSLR and that’s a reason, if not to love this camera, then at least take some pleasure in. It removes one of the biggest irritations with DSLR work, and saves time in post. The fact that this is a given on any other video camera is a reminder of how much crap we’ve put up with from DSLRs over the last few years.
8. AVCHD 24mb/s
The compression on this camera is truly remarkable. I looked at the stats, and completely dismissed the 24mb/s as a joke. What’s the point of a large chip camera if the on-board is such a low bitrate? I immediately looked into outboard recorders but the truth is, right now, none of them are really particularly helpful and probably add an unnecessary level of complexity. For shooting drama I’d take that, but for everything else it’s just not necessary. The AVCHD holds up beautifully. You just don’t need anything more than that for 95% of applications. Grade the image and it holds up really pretty nicely. There’s a lot more detail lurking in the highlights than you might imagine. Not perfect by any stretch but just remember for a second what we were dealing with little more than a couple of years ago.
9. Super 35
When you’re used to a 5D the Super 35 sized chip seems small and a bit lame. But we have to remember where we’ve come from. The chip in an EX1 is much much much smaller and yet, just a few years ago it seemed great. I love my 5D and I love the images it produces, it offers something very other cameras can and it’s very special. With Super 35 though you can very easily pimp up the FS to take PL lenses. Hotrod Cameras offer a very pricey tuner kit which will turn this prosumer cam into a PL ready precision tool. There are cheaper adapters though and you can be renting Cooke S4s for special jobs. It’s a format we can all get along with and with a little care the camera looks great. Yes, a full frame sensor is magnificent but it does restrict your lens options.
10. Full HD slow motion
If anything was the FS100′s party piece it would be this. Which is strange really, but for me it’s one of the biggest draws of the cameras. I give timelapse photography a real bashing sometimes. I prefer things being slowed down. Up till now we’ve had to make do with 720p, knowing full well that the slow mo comes at a price. Now, nudge the S&Q motion button and watch everything unfold in glorious interlaced hideousness. This is all tempered by the fact that you’ll be rewarded with full HD 50% slow motion. Granted it’s not 100fps, but it’s all you need most of the time. Back in the day, when shooting interlaced DV it was dead easy to get a really smooth slow mo from the footage by deinterlacing and letting software interpolate the in between frames. Since we all went progressive we’ve lost that. This function alone justifies the cost of the camera to me. For client wow factor it’s unbeatable.
You may be wondering why I haven’t talked about rolling shutter or aliasing here. Firstly, rolling shutter may be better but it’s certainly not fixed. But then again, a RED One exhibits it when you pan fast. As for aliasing and moiré, yes it’s much much better, so much so I haven’t even thought about it. This is of course a bonus but it’s never really plagued me too much shooting on the 5D but for many I know it’s been an absolute bane.
There are actually many other reasons to love and hate this camera. It’s just a little bit pricey for how badly put together it is, it complements the 5D beautifully, it’s actually capable of producing very pretty pictures, and so on and so on. Realistically though, I’ll never love it. The 5D is the only camera that could ever really ignite that kind of response. The FS is not going to blow you away with anything that it does, but it’s a solid, hard working performer. When you need it to just get on with things it does. The battery life is great, you’re not constantly watching the clock when shooting with it. But all that does is render it less quirky, less unique, less interesting, less loveable. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe you can spend less time lurking in masturbatory camera blogs and more time getting what’s in front of the camera right. Here’s hoping.
There’s no real point debating what might have been, but I, personally, might have been more drawn to this camera if they’d never bothered with the viewfinder, the handgrip or the mic mount. Had they just produced a box with a sensor and put a bit more effort into placing buttons, XLR inputs and controls in the right place, then they might have made something great. They haven’t made something great, but it’s got a place, and, right here, right now, it’s the camera I need to do my job. In that sense it’s indispensable, but I’m impatient for the laws of competitive economics to deliver some alternatives I can really get behind.
I don’t love this camera, but I don’t need to. It fits into all the gaps left by the 5D and fills them very neatly. I now go out shooting with the 5D mounted onto the hotshoe of the FS…. just kidding.