Sony PXW-FS5 / FS5K Small 4K UHD Cinema Camcorder Review
Sony’s PXW-FS5 is the generally stellar camera manufacturing arm of Sony’s latest addition to the world of compact professional camcorders and boy does this particular model pack a lot of punch for its small size. With some superb features, excellent flexibility and truly professional production quality in its photos and video in particular, the 4K-capable PXW-FS5 is a versatile grab-and-shoot camcorder that’s perfect for professionals who need some serious yet still easy to carry hardware for when they’re on the go and in the field.
The PXW-FS5 can manage some excellent shooting quality even in some of the most difficult conditions and creates both stunning video and wonderfully sharp still images to boot. Furthermore, the creative in-camera editing features which accompany the PXW-FS5’s technology are very, very robust.
This is indeed a camcorder with some very minimal flaws and will make a superb choice for anyone who needs field-shooting quality of a high caliber. The FS5 is also an excellent choice for numerous professional corporate, documentary, movie and online video production applications.
For starters, we can go with the quality of the PXW-FS5’s very compact and highly ergonomic design. This camcorder is built with user comfort firmly in mind and its full body weight of just 0.8 KG (just over 1.7 lbs) means that even with a lens attachment, the PXW-FS5 still feels wonderfully light even with prolonged and awkwardly held use. Furthermore, this lightness makes the FS5 comfortable even during all day shooting while also allowing the camcorder to be versatile for almost any specialized shooting need, such as mounting to a more powerful aerial filming drone.
On top of this, we love the ease of use in the FS5. It’s delightfully efficient and straightforward thanks to a one-touch rotating grip and with this grip comes the full range of main user controls for different types of filming and adjusting of video or photo capture, all of them within immediate reach. In other words, the ease of use in the PXW-FS5 is excellent and allows for some truly maximal shooting speed and flexibility by making the process of switching between different angles and video styles pretty much instant with a bit of practice. Furthermore, the 3.5 inch LCD display panel of the FS5 can also be removed and reattached in different points along the camera body and handle for an even more flexible video or photo recording process.
Next up, there is the high caliber of the cameras video and photo technology. Most fundamentally, this is an excellent 4K UHD video shooter which can manage some slightly restricted but still excellent 4K UHD at 8 bit 4:2:0 at 100Mb/s and at a base frame rate of 30fps. And these 4K recordings do indeed look beautiful, with some very nicely balanced colors and rich detail of the kind you should fully expect from XAVC-L recording in 4K. As for other resolutions, the FS5 can manage more than one but it’s really exquisite recordings lie in Full HD, which are 10 bit 422 at up to 50Mb/s and thus offer some truly excellent broadcast-level recording quality.
Next up and finally, the sensor and sensitivity of the FS5 are great to work with. This camera comes with a 4K UHD-oriented high definition Super35 ExmorTM CMOS sensor with a total of 11.6 million pixels and 8.3 million effective pixels, and the quality produced as a result is superb with video in particular. Details that Full HD video recorders won’t even capture are fully incorporated and the large size and sensitivity of this sensor delivers some great background defocus and superb low light shooting capability with very low noise levels. Part of the reason for this is the inclusion of what seems to be one equally excellent image processing engine since native ISO in this camera isn’t actually that high but low light shots come out wonderfully anyhow.
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Quite honestly, we’re very light on complaints about the PXW-FS5. Sony has put quite a solid amount of R&D into this little powerhouse of a shooter and it shows in many different ways. However, since nothing (and least of all any electronic device) is perfect, a couple things bear mentioning.
First, the hand grip does suffer from the rather minor defect of having some rather small buttons which can be a bit tricky to deal with if you have larger hands or are working at an odd angle. The record button in particular is a bit too recessed for our liking and this can make it cumbersome to press it down some times. Similar problems exist for some of the other buttons on the hand grip and even on the camera body itself.
This physical design complaint aside, there is also the matter of the PXW-FS5’s codec options. They consist of a choice between AVCHD and XAVC-L with no option for XAVC-1 as a more advanced and robust compression codec. In other words, while this means that the camera can and does record to cheaper SD card media like SDXC (for the XAVC-L codec), some minor loss of professional recording quality in 4K in particular and in Full HD as well is the case.
Finally, while the quality of the 4K UHD video in the PXW-FS5 is really damn good, it’s not as excellent as we’ve seen it in some other equally compact pro camcorders. The 4K video records in 8 bit 4:2:0 at 100Mb/s and this could have been bumped up slightly.
In our overall opinion, the Sony PXW-FS5 / FS5K Super 35 4K ultra HD camcorder is a definite winner as a 4K UHD camcorder for pro-level field shooting. It’s specs are versatile and robust, the quality of its 4K UHD video and Full HD video is excellent and on the whole, this compact camcorder offers some of the best Super 35mm camera lightness we’ve seen on the market. What minor defects it has are barely worth calling out and thus we more than recommend the FS5 to anyone who wants to do some serious video recording in difficult, prolonged field settings.
Camera Type: 4K UHD small cinema camcorder
Video Resolution: 3840 x 2160 pixels
Sensor Type: Super 35mm Single-Chip 11.6MP Exmor CMOS
Recording Formats: AVCHD and XAVC-L
Recording media: SD card media like SDXC
Sensitivity: ISO Rating: 3200 (S-Log3 Gamma), Lux: 2000 lx, 89.9% reflectance
Display: LCD 3.5” Touchscreen
Viewfinder: 0.39" / 0.99 cm OLED
Microphone: built-in mono microphone
Recording formats/frame rates:
100Mb/s: 3840 x 2160p 29.97 / 25 / 23.98
60Mb/s: 3840 x 2160p 29.97 / 25 / 23.98
50Mb/s: 1920 x 1080p 59.94 / 50 / 29.97 / 25 / 23.98
50Mb/s: 1920 x 1080i 59.94 / 50
50Mb/s: 1280 x 720p 59.94 / 50
35Mb/s: 1920 x 1280p 59.94 / 50 / 29.97 / 25 / 23.98
25Mb/s: 1920 x 1080i 59.94 / 50
H.264 / AVC
1280 x 720: 3 to 6Mb/s
640 x 360: 1 to 3Mb/s
28Mb/s (PS): 1920 x 1080p 59.94 / 50
24Mb/s (FX): 1920 x 1080p 29.97 / 25 / 23.98
24Mb/s (FX): 1920 x 1080i 59.94 / 50
24Mb/s (FX): 1280 x 720p: 59.94 / 50
17Mb/s (FH): 1920 x 1080p 29.97 / 25 / 23.98
17Mb/s (FH): 1920 x 1080i 59.94 / 50
17Mb/s (FH): 1280 x 720p: 59.94 / 50
9Mb/s (HQ): 1280 x 720p: 59.94 / 50
Shutter speed: 60i: 1/8 to 1/10,000, 50i/24p:1/6 to 1/10,000
Media card slots: 1 x MS/SD (dual Memory Stick/SD), 1 x SD
2 x 3-pin XLR
1 x BNC HD/3G-SDI
1 x Type A
1 x Multi/Micro (composite video integrated into Multi/Micro USB jack)
1 x Stereo mini jack
Stereo mini jack (Φ2.5 mm)
1 x RJ-45 (100Base-TX/10Base-T
As far as in-the-box accessories for the Sony PXW-FS5 go, there are quite a few little goodies which come with the base model of this camera when purchased online or in stores. Most importantly, the FS5 is sod with a E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens included. Considering how many production cameras we’ve seen which don’t actually sell as body-only arrangements in their base kit, having a lens come with the FS5 so it’s ready to shoot straight out of the box is nice.
Beyond the lens, you also get a lens hood, large eye cup, LCD viewfinder, LCD viewfinder protector, top handle, grip remote, accessory shoe kit, 2 power cords, an AC adapter, a single BP-U30 lithium ion battery, a charger ad a wireless remote commander along with a CD-rom with use instructions. The PXW-FS5 comes with the standard one year warranty.
Let’s start with the PXW-FS5’s super slow motion shooting capacities, since these are interesting and worth mentioning in a bit of detail. This camcorder’s standard shooting rates are 24, 25 or 30fps in 4K at 100Mb/s and 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60fps in HD at 50 or 35 Mb/s XAVC-L and AVCHD plus 1920×1080 at 17/24/28 Mb/s along with 1280×720 @ 9/17/24Mb/s.
However, beyond this flexible range of shooting speeds and resolutions, the FS5 can also manage shooting at up to 960fps through the use of its internal S&Q motion mode. This special setting operates only under special conditions of resolution downsizing which go as follows as part of the FS5’s slow motion capacities:
At 60 fps the camera can shoot continuously in Full HD, above 60fps, it uses an internal memory buffer to cache super slow motion content and at 240 fps, the camera works at its fastest possible Full HD speed but can record only up to 8 seconds of video action that is then converted into an 80 second slow motion clip. This can then be further upped to 480fps with the sensor reading at half of Full HD resolution and 960fps with a resolution of one quarter of Full HD, which really gets grainy by this point.
Next up, the FS5 comes with some great and very easy to access preset picture profile setting that we liked. Each of these form-the-factory picture settings can further be accessed individually at a control level and their internal settings for things like gamma, color-space, matrix and other image quality metrics can be adjusted individually. Furthermore, the FS5 offers Cinegammas and S-Log2, S-Log3 and S-Gamut, in addition to S-Gamut3 and S-Gamut3.cine. The camcorder’s Cinegammas are ideal for projects which won’t be graded and the S-log2 and 3 are very useful for film shooting and other high-end professional-grade work which requires a full dynamic range (14 stops in the FS5) like what this camcorder can provide.
Finally, we need to mention the PXW-FS5’s electronic variable ND filter. The front of the camera body comes with a sort of filter wheel dial that has four different positions and along the side of the FS5 there is an exposure adjustment wheel which can be used to control the iris and the ND filter. IF you want to remove the ND filter system, the front dial simply needs to be set to clear and it’s gone. On the other hand, there are three positions for variable ND, which in this case relies on a special sort of crystal which allows you to control just how much ND you get by manipulating each of the other three (aside from clear) dial positions at the front of the camera body. This ND filter feature of the FS5 is particularly useful in that it lets you make changes to exposure in your video without changing depth of field.
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In terms of overall performance, we’d have to wholeheartedly declare the PXW-FS5 from Sony to be a real success of a 4K UHD pro camcorder. This is a camera with some minor limitations over some of Sony’s (and others) more serious pro shooting camcorders but it makes up for these with a superb level of flexibility and ease-of-use in field shooting. Given just how many super 35mm cameras have until recently been shoulder-mounted, bulkier rigs, the FS5 is a wonderful change into a more usable handheld machine that combines the 18-105mm lens, power zoom, powerful autofocus, variable ND controls and other features into a camera that’s also very workable in highly variable conditions.
The overall quality of the video it produces in both Full HD and 4K UHD is superb and varied shooting conditions while on the move don’t take away from the FS5’s high-end video output clips.
Finally, we also need to mention that the face tracking autofocus in the PXW-FS5 works wonderfully. It’s particularly good at locking onto people’s faces as they move and effectively ignoring other details for maximal facial clarity, which is useful in certain types of documentary and movie scenes for sure. You can of course also turn off face tracking and create a great level of smooth overall autofocus which is further enhanced by Sony’s equally excellent image stabilization technology.
The imagery created by the PXW-FS5 is indeed lovely to watch and comes loaded with plenty of fine rich details and excellent color balance. Even under lower lighting conditions, the video output in both 4K and Full HD comes out wonderfully clean and noise only starts to slightly kick in at around the 3200 ISO level, and even then it almost adds to a pleasant level of graininess instead of something ugly. The HD video (1080p) produced by the FS5 is particularly noteworthy in that it comes out with some superb broadcast quality to it. Given that the camcorder is shooting this Full HD video in 10 bit 422 at roughly 50Mb/s, we can expect it to be great.
4K video also doesn’t suffer at all in this powerful little shooter and even though it’s of a lower level at 8 bit, it still looks excellent with truly superb levels of detail and great overall color balance thanks in part to the FS5’s 14 stops of dynamic range.
Price-wise, the PXW-FS5 is certainly not cheap with a retail price tag of $6,099.00 for the core package we’re covering here. However, we really don’t have too many complaints about even this stiff pricing since what you’re getting is truly a piece of quality versatile video recording technology which comes ready to shoot right out of the box.
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As we’d mentioned earlier, in terms of negative aspects, the PXW-FS5 is really light on defects. Our biggest complaints with this shooter would have to be some minor design issues with the button controls and a slight lack of versatility and more robust specs in the zoom lens and camcorder itself (such as with the slightly weaker XAVC-L codec).
• Excellent 4K and Full HD video quality
• Superb slow motion shooting capacity
• Very light and easy to use
• Great variable ND filter capabilities
• Could use a bit of expansion to its shooting specs
• The included lens isn’t exceptionally powerful
• Some button controls on the handle are a bit small