The Sony FX3 has officially landed – and as expected, it’s the smallest, cheapest Sony cinema camera to date and an attractive alternative to the excellent Sony A7S III.
There are certainly many similarities between the Sony FX3 and A7S III. Both are 12.1MP full-frame cameras that are compatible with Sony’s E-Mount lenses and can record 4K / 60p video. But the FX3 is in Sony’s Cinema line, which means it is designed specifically for professional filmmakers, rather than the hybrid shooters (think weddings and live concerts) targeted by the Alpha-badged A7S III.
So how do the two cameras differ? The main physical differences are that the FX3 loses its sibling’s built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), but does get some active cooling with fan and a bundled handle, which improves handling and cleverly amplifies audio options.
The FX3 also gets specific extras for shooting movies, including a rather catchy metering light (below) that clearly shows when the camera is recording to avoid accidents.
The FX3’s detachable handle (below) fits into the Multi Interface Shoe and contains two XLR / TRS jacks. This is the standard for professional audio recording and offers the same sound options as the Sony FX6, a much larger camera costing a painful $ 6,000 / £ 6,000 / AU $ 9,500.
It’s possible to add these XLR connectors to a camera like the Sony A7S III using an adapter kit, but it’s a more clunky solution than the FX3’s handle. The fact that this XLR handle comes with the FX3 is also why it’s slightly more expensive than the A7S III.
Thanks to the inclusion of the same 12.1MP full-frame backlit sensor as the A7S III, which promises a dynamic range of 15 stops, the FX3 promises to produce comparably excellent video quality, especially in low-light situations. There is an option to shoot slow motion 4K / 120p recording, and the FX3 also has the popular S-Cinetone color profile, which recently appeared on the A7S III via a firmware update.
As it is designed for solo, run-and-gun movies, the FX3 also has in-body image stabilization (IBIS) along with an electronic active mode, which gives you even stronger stabilization at the cost of a 10% crop. We didn’t find Sony’s stabilization to be the best though, so FX3 shooters may still need to consider using a gimbal or Sony’s Catalyst software in the editing room.
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For a camera that weighs just 715 grams with card and battery (only 16 grams more than the A7S III), the Sony FX3 certainly has some powerful shooting features. It can record 4K video with internal 10-bit 4: 2: 2 color sampling and can also output 16-bit raw video to an external recorder through the full-size HDMI port.
The combination of this firing power and the size of the FX3 is a recipe for overheating, right? Well, thanks to another difference with the Sony A7S III – an active cooling system with built-in fans – Sony promises ‘uninterrupted’ 4K / 60p recording, with a maximum continuous recording time of 13 hours. The FX3 may not be able to record 8K video, but that’s pretty impressive for such a small camera and it trumps the A7S III in this regard.
Sony FX3 vs Sony A7S III: What Specifications Do They Share?
12.1 MP BSI full-frame sensor
Bionz XR processor
Create 4K / 120p or FHD / 240p video
Internal recording in 10-bit 4: 2: 2
Extended ISO range from 80-409600
Dynamic range of 15 stops
Have S-Cinetone, S-Log3 / 2 profiles
5-axis image stabilization
The same hybrid AF autofocus system
16-bit raw video through HDMI port
Dual CFexpress Type A / SD slots
The same NP-FZ100 battery
Dust and moisture resistant
The same touchscreen menu system
Slightly less impressive is the absence of built-in ND filters, which are very useful for filmmakers, especially when shooting in bright conditions.
Sony says this is because they wanted to make the FX3 as compact as possible, but it’s an omission that could make it less appealing to some filmmakers.
Despite that lack of built-in ND filters, there is no question that the Sony FX3 has a very impressive feature set for such a compact camera.
It’s not the first small cinema camera we’ve seen with a shoehorn in the power of a much larger body. The Canon EOS C70 has recently pulled a similar trick, packing most of the Canon C300 Mark II’s features into an impressively portable, easy-to-use form factor.
Where the EOS C70 combines a Super 35mm sensor (similar in size to APS-C) with a DSLR sized body, the Sony FX3 takes it one step further with its full-frame sensor and super-compact body. That said, the EOS C70 claims an extra stop of dynamic range (at 16 stops) so it will be interesting to see how the two compare in the field.
It’s not just Sony and Canon that are pushing it for the money of solo or budding filmmakers – we also recently saw the arrival of the much cheaper Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro. That camera combines a Super 35mm sensor with, yes, built-in ND filters for a reasonable price tag of $ 2,495 / £ 1,879 / AU $ 3,935.
Of course, the full-frame Sony FX3, which comes with Sony’s industry-leading autofocus and other bonuses like two CFexpress Type A / SD card slots, is a bit more expensive at $ 3,899 / £ 4,200 (around AU $ 7,460). But considering how many of the Sony FX6 features it manages to pack into a 715g body, it could rival the popularity of the Sony A7S III – and possibly even entice some of the owners of that camera.
A drone’s best friend?
Prior to the Sony FX3’s launch, there was some speculation that the camera was tailor-made for the upcoming Sony Airpeak drone. And Sony has confirmed to us that the two will indeed be a good, albeit expensive, combo.
When we asked if there are certain aspects of the FX3 designed to help it work with the Sony Airpeak, a Sony spokesperson told us, “The FX3 is the perfect format to pair with any drone including the Airpeak drone, but we cannot comment on details “.
This means we may soon see exactly how the two combine when Sony reveals more about its first drone soon. Sony has previously said it will “launch a new company focused on professional photography and video production” in Spring 2021, meaning there should be sometime between March and May.
The FX3’s suitability for Airpeak is no big surprise, as the first press photos of the drone showed it had a Sony A7S III on board – a camera that weighs just 16 grams less than the FX3. The lack of an EVF on the FX3, which is not really necessary on a drone camera, also means that it may fit more neatly on the Airpeak’s gimbal, which is optimized for cameras of that size.