I’m In Love With The Sony FX9

Looking for a companion for my FS7M2, I’m giddy with excitement about Sony’s upcoming full-frame 6K camera.

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Sony PXW-FX9

Looking for a companion for my FS7M2, I’m giddy with excitement about Sony’s upcoming “full-frame” camera.

Cameras are my thing, but they don’t always impress me. The last quasi ten-thousand dollar camera that did impress me was Sony’s PXW-FS7 Mark 2. Even the first version of FS7 did not hold my interest, but the Mark 2’s additions of a locking-lever E mount and electronic variable ND made me reconsider the line. I reconsidered it so much that I eventually bought my own.

Ahead of IBC 2019 earlier this month, Sony announced a new line of XDCAM 4K camera nudged between the FS7 and their flagship large format 6K CineAlta VENICE, the PXW-FX9, and it is a beast.

Sony PXW-FX9

The Chewy Outside

As an owner/operator of the FS7M2, I am already very comfortable with the layout of the FX9. I’m a fan of buttons and this new camera has a ton of them; several of which are customizable. I appreciate how there are now buttons for switching through the filter presets, the headphone volume controls, and the Playstation-style controller for navigating the menus.

Many FS7-compatible accessories will work with FX9 as both cameras share similar spec on the top and bottom. The FX9’s top handle actually looks like the exact same one from the FS7M2! Speaking of compatibility: the FX9 uses the XAVC-I codec so the internal recording media are the exact same XQD cards that work with FS7. Speaking of recording footage: the SD card slot which is used by FS7 only for saving configuration data, is capable of recording proxies on FX9. Very sweet.

One of the things I am very happy about is Sony’s locking-lever E mount makes a return. It was such a clever addition to the FS7M2 that it made its way into the flagship VENICE camera and now here it is in the new FX9. I don’t think it’s going anywhere any time soon, and that’s a good thing. Anyone complaining about needing two hands to change a lens are stills photographers who pine for wobbly bayonet lens mounts and have probably never worked with proper cine lenses.

Some other nice bits that lift FX9 above FS7 are the new 1080p viewfinder, TC in/out and genlock without need of an extension unit, improved ergonomics, beefier build quality, and the world’s first “full frame” electronic variable ND which gives you filtration from 2 to 7 stops with nearly step-less transitions. One of the little things about the ND is there is now a glass element at the Clear setting so the back focus isn’t thrown out of whack. Neat!

Sony PXW-FX9

The Creamy Filling

But the juicy parts are what’s on the inside.

The 6K oversampled “full frame” back-illuminated Exmor R 35.7 x 18.8mm CMOS sensor packs more than 15 stops of latitude, features dual native ISO of 800/4000, and inherits the S-Cinetone color science from the VENICE digital motion picture camera. The sensor downsamples its 6K image for a very sharp, true 4K image. FX9 will do 120 fps in FHD from 2K FF at launch, and with a future firmware update will be able to record 4K up to 60 fps from a 5K mode, and FHD will eventually go up to 180 fps. With an XDCA-FX9 extension module, the FX9 will output 16 bit raw.

The dual native ISO is very exciting to me as it means FX9 allegedly has a much cleaner image than FS7’s very noisy one. The FX9’s native 4000 ISO is cleaner than the FS7’s native 2000. With my FS7M2 I always get a cleaner image when I record around ISO 1000. That cleaner image (from the oversampled, larger sensor) at 1.5 stops greater sensitivity than the FS7’s cleaner 1000 ISO means the FX9 will have a nearly noiseless image in very difficult lighting environments over FS7. That’s great for filming in a variety of documentary situations. When you don’t need the extra light sensitivity, you can switch over to base ISO 800 and limit the need for ND greater than 1/128 (ND 2.1).

There is also enhanced Fast Hybrid Auto Focus that will work (and apparently extremely well) with E mount lenses such as the SELP28135G. I’m not a fan of AF while recording, but the videos I’ve seen so far online have been making me reconsider for certain jobs. Also, is the built-in gyro which records meta information that can be read by Catalyst Browse or Catalyst Prepare software and used to digitally stabilize the footage, a feature which Sony hopes third parties will add to their NLE’s. I’m looking at you, Apple. Of some interest is the fact that the FX9 features 5GHz and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi to remotely transfer footage or control the camera.

Also of note is the upcoming FE C line of “full frame” E mount cine lenses. First one out of the gate in Spring 2020 is the FE C 16-35mm T3.1 G. Designed to be both for auto focus servo zoom documentary work, and fully manual cine work, these new lenses look like they’ll work extremely well with both FX9 and VENICE.

Conclusions

I believe the Sony PXW-FX9 will make a great companion to my PXW-FS7M2. I think the FX9’s large format juiciness could be the cinematic big brother to the FS7’s Super 35 reality and documentary style, while complementing each other well on multi-cam projects. I’m looking forward to Sony fulfilling the FX9’s firmware roadmap and seeing how the camera matures over the next several months upon its release at the end of 2019.

Here is a list of other websites where you can research the FX9 yourself.

In case you’re wondering, I dislike the term “full frame” when discussing 135 Format or VistaVision-sized sensors. It’s meaningless Canon 5D marketing speak and makes zero sense at all. Thus, I put the annoying term in quotations because I’d be making air ones if I were to speak the term in person. Unfortunately, the term has found its way into the popular lexicon and it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.

By Jason R. Johnston

Jason is an award-winning cinematographer, and director of commercials, branding films, native content, music videos, documentaries, and narrative films. As a full-time freelancer, he can be hired to DP or direct almost any project you have in mind. He is based in Sparta, Tennessee, and ready to travel for any gig.

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