For a while it seemed like Sony’s high-end digital filmmaking cameras were on a collision course with its Alpha mirrorless cameras as those shooters became more capable at capturing video. Today the inevitable was confirmed: Sony officially revealed its FX3 with features from both the company’s digital cinema and Alpha lines, giving creators a more affordable way to capture Hollywood-caliber content.
An image of the FX3 leaked a few weeks ago led to speculation that Sony’s compact cinematography tool would be able capture video at 8K resolutions, but the full-frame, back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor the camera is using is limited to resolutions of up to 4K, or 16:9 QFHD at up to 120 frames per second. Although even with a cooling fan and a vent design that encourages natural heat dissipation, the FX3 can only record uninterrupted at 4K, 60P. Higher frame rate shooting is limited so the camera doesn’t overheat. Skipping 8K is a choice Sony made to either keep the FX3's price tag down, or to ensure it doesn’t compete with the company’s pricier digital cinema cameras—or both.
When shooting video, the FX3's ISO settings can be pushed to an impressive 409,600 which might come in handy the next time you find yourself filming on the dark side of the moon and can’t see the sun. The camera’s 627-point autofocus system includes features like AF Transition Speed, which ensures that automatic focus changes happen smoothly so as not to be jarring to audiences, and Touch Tracking, which allows operators to simply tap an object on the FX3's flip-out touchscreen display to tell the camera what it should keep focused in frame, even as the subject is moving around.
With the battery and memory cards installed (both dual CFexpress Type A and SDXC cards are supported), the FX3 weighs just 1.58 pounds and includes a hot shoe mounted grip, making it easier to hold, operate, and maneuver the camera at low angles. Keeping a lightweight camera steady while shooting handheld is a real challenge, so the FX3 employs five-axis in-body image stabilization for smooth videos even while filming with a lens lacking any stabilization of its own. The applied stabilization is also captured as metadata while filming, allowing it to be tweaked during post-production.
Most filmmakers will want to keep the optional grip attached, because it not only offers quick access to several controls, including ISO, iris, white balance, and zoom, it also features 15 custom buttons that can be programmed as shortcuts to 140 different functions normally buried in a software menu. The grip also has a mount for a microphone, a pair of balanced XLR/TRS audio inputs, and a 3.5-millimeter stereo two-channel jack while the camera can capture four-channel 24-bit audio when multiple mics are attached.
The FX3 will officially be available starting sometime in March with a price tag of around $3,900. That isn’t pocket change, but it’s also $2,600 cheaper than the new $6,500 Sony Alpha 1, which many people will be considering as their next video shooter. It is, however, $1,400 more expensive than the recently announced $2,500 Blackmagic Design BMPCC 6K Pro, which offers 6K shooting and an HDR rear display, although 120 fps high-speed recording is limited to 2K. But for video content creators who already have a bag full of Sony E-mount lenses, or already have a workflow involving Sony’s higher-end digital cinema cameras, the FX3 sounds like an easy choice.