At IBC today, Sony announced the PXW-FX9, a full-frame camcorder designated as the successor to the FS7 line.
The FX9 has a newly developed 6K (6008 x 3168) sensor with more than 15 stops of latitude, Sony said. It oversamples images for recording to 10-bit UHD 4K 4:2:2 (3840 x 2160) at up to 30p and HD at up to 60p; it also offers a Super 35 mode that records both UHD 4K and HD from a cropped portion of the sensor at up to 60p. On-board recording takes place to XAVC Intra, XAVC Long, or MPEG-2 long-GOP.
A future firmware update will enable DCI 4K recording (4096 x 2160) and higher frame rates for 4K, the company said — including raw UHD 4K output in Super 35 mode.
PXW-FX9: Available Recording Modes
|Full-Frame||4096×2160||FUTURE||FUTURE (Crop Mode)||—||—|
|3840×2160||LAUNCH||FUTURE (Crop Mode)||—||—|
|3840×2160||LAUNCH||LAUNCH||FUTURE (Raw Output Only)||—|
Source: Sony; FUTURE recording modes will be enabled in a firmware update
So What’s New and What’s Not?
You can think of the FX9 as a hybridized version of the FS7, the upmarket Venice digital cinema camera, and Sony’s Alpha series of DSLM cameras. From the Venice, the FX9 has inherited dual-base ISO technology, meaning the FX9 can switch between shooting modes with an ISO of 800 or 4000. The new sensor supports S-Log3 gamma as well as S-Gamut3 and S-Gamut3.Cine color space, and a new S-Cinetone color setting (it “delivers alluring facial tones and a softer tonal look,” Sony promises) is said to be based on Venice color science. From Sony’s Alpha line-up, the FX9 has imported Sony’s Fast Hybrid autofocus (AF) technology, a combination of phase-detection and contrast detection with 561 AF points.
The body is still recognizable as an FS7 heir, but it has gotten a little larger and more traditionally video-camera-like in this iteration. Compared to the original FS7, with its curvy back and bottom modeled on vintage 16mm cameras, the FX9 is downright boxy. The body has been reorganized to include more direct control options, including a multifunction dial and physical control dials for all four channels of audio instead of just two.
The FS7’s distinctive handgrip has been redesigned for comfort, with a belt to help hold the hand in place, and its performance has been tuned up through the replacement of the FS7’s LANC interface with the faster Sony Multi interface. We’re told this reduces lag between the grip’s controls and the camera’s response. You’ll also find genlock and timecode in/out on this camera’s body, rather than on a separate extension unit, a welcome development.
But the FX9 will get an optional extension unit, the XDCA-FX9. Most notably, the extension hardware will enable 16-bit raw output from the camera after a future firmware update, though it will be limited to 10-bit recording at 120 fps using a Super 35 crop on the sensor. The extension unit supports a V-mount battery, network streaming, D-tap for an additional power supply and, with a future firmware release, DWX slot-in audio.
At a pre-IBC press briefing introducing the camera, Sony’s presentation stressed, “we kept the good parts,” highlighting the holdover of basic design and usability elements from the FS7 series. That means most third-party accessories built for the FS7 will also be compatible with the new camera — a key consideration, since Sony is hoping to lure owner-operators who purchased the original FS7 and then its follow-up, the FS7 II, to buy into this latest upgrade. And Sony’s popular electronic variable ND filter is still here, albeit upsized to cover the full-frame sensor.
Sony Imaging Products & Solutions officials declined to provide details on how the FX9’s Exmor R sensor, a back-side-illuminated CMOS design, differs from similar full-frame sensors found in the company’s Alpha still cameras, but acknowledged that, while the FX9’s sensor is developed for moving images rather than stills, many characteristics are similar.
For example, according to GM of Product Design Kenichiro Aridome, users who are familiar with the AF capabilities of Sony’s Alpha series of still cameras will find AF on the FX9 to be very similar. “The autofocus team is the same,” he assured us. “There is no difference between the still cameras and the cinema cameras, or between consumer cameras and pro cameras.”
Although the implementation of AF at the sensor level is the same, Aridome was careful to point out that the FX9 offers additional AF settings in software. They allow users to control the speed at which focus racks from one object to another, as well as to control how sensitive the camera is when switching between subjects that appear in the frame.
Asked about the slightly increased size of the FX9 compared to its predecessors, Aridome said it was a necessity given the improved capabilities of the camera. “We had to make a bigger camera to support full-frame [imaging] and to support higher power consumption compared to the FS7,” he explained. “But if you use it handheld, I think it is balanced better. The Alpha still cameras are consumer products, so we always have to make them smaller and smaller. In the case of a professional camera, I don’t believe size itself is a concern for users.”
With all the functionality slated to be incorporated in firmware upgrades, we couldn’t help asking if Sony had given any thought to making it possible to get a 6K image out of the camera. “Currently, we have no plans to develop 6K output,” Aridome said. “At this price point and for this customer range, 4K is enough to handle at the moment.”
Price and Availability
The PXW-FX9 is expected to ship in January at a price of $10,999 for the camera body or for $13,499 in a kit version with Sony’s FE PZ 28–135mm F4 G lens. The XDCA-FX9 extension unit will go for $2,499. And what about those firmware updates? V2.0 firmware is expected to arrive “around summer 2020,” Sony said, while cautioning that the features to be included in that version are yet to be finalized. Plan accordingly.
Cinema Lens Series
In the shadow of the FX9, Sony also used IBC to introduce a new series of full-frame E-mount cinema lenses. Essentially, Sony is taking already developed optics and moving them into cine-style housing that allows the option of manual focus control along with AF functionality.
The first of the new lenses, the FE C 16–35mm T3.1 G, is due next spring at a price of “around $5,500.”