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Review: Sony NEX-FS700 Large-Sensor Camcorder

The Sony NEX-FS700 has much to recommend it as a top-flight large-sensor, interchangeable-lens camcorder and as a worth-the-upgrade successor to the Sony FS100. And it's 4k support and 10x slo-mo are nothing to sneeze at. But what makes it the best camera in the market for webcast producers?

In my previous article in this series on HD webcast video production, I explained why I thought the Sony NEX-FS100 was the second best video camera for webcasting. The clean, noise-free image from its Sony Super35mm sensor and its sub-$5,000 price enables it outperform all but one competitor: the Sony NEX-FS700, which is the subject of this review.

The challenge for camera manufacturers when releasing subsequent models based on the same sensor and form factor is that improvements to one will shine a light on the shortcomings of the other. The newer model has the advantage of learning lessons from mistakes made in the previous model and new technology generally extends the abilities of the new model. For better or worse, changes often mean that while two cameras might be similar, they also have differences that users will notice, especially when the two cameras are used in an A-camera and B-camera situation.

My previous camera pair were the interchangeable-lens HDV-based Sony Z7U and its fixed-lens sister the Z5U. While they shared a lot in common, including a trio of 1/3" CMOS sensors, they had different lenses, a few different features, and many of the controls were in different places on the cameras, which meant a shooter had to relearn the configuration when switching between the two. The Z7U’s big brother, the shoulder-mount S270, and its AVCHD successor the NX5U both teased features that webcasters in particular value the most, HD-SDI outputs and multiple outputs that work simultaneously. So as much as the FS100 was a giant leap for Sony with its image quality, it represented a step back in connectivity.

The FS700 solved the biggest complaints I have with the FS100--and despite costing an additional $3,000 over its year-old sibling--I won’t hesistate to recommend the FS700 as my top choice for an HD webcasting video camera. There isn’t too much I can add about the FS700 image quality that I haven’t already said in one or several of my previous FS100 articles, so I’m really going to focus on the differences between both models, including differences from an operational perspective that an owner of both models will notice when trying to pair the cameras, and the differences that make the FS700 unmatched as an HD webcasting video camera.

Let’s start with the physical differences.

ND Filters

Overall, physically, the FS700 is larger than the FS100 in both height and length. The additional length on the FS700 was required to fit its four ND filters: clear, 1/4, 1/16, and 1/64. I don’t film outdoors often, so I really didn’t miss the lack of ND filters on the FS100, and within reason I could always change the shutter speed from my default of 60 when in 30p recording mode to a faster shutter speed in order to film with a larger aperture. A larger aperture, especially on a large-sensor camera, gives you a shallower depth of field—although, the more I film, the less I try to film everything full wide open anyways. The other options I had, although I never moved forward with them, were to add-on a variable ND filter or standard ND filters.

Sony NEX-FS700

The FS700 adds ND filters but moved the expanded focus button to its improved side handle.

My brother, Greg Lam, tried both and likes his set of ND filters more than a variable ND filter for image quality reasons. Most webcasting is done indoors, so internal ND filters aren’t critically important. But if you’re filming weddings and outdoor events, one of the three flavors of ND filters mentioned above will be more important for your workflow than it is in mine.

My perceived value of internal ND filters: $500 for equivalent replacement and $300 for convenience.

Top and Side Handles and Zoom Rocker

The top handle on the FS700 has also been upgraded. Many FS100 users lacked confidence in the FS100 handle, and they’ll find the FS700 handle much more solid and balanced further back on the body. The side handle was also improved and offset enough so that you can remove the optional FMU-128 flash recording module without first removing the handle. While the FMU128 is a lot more expensive than equivalent SDXC cards, I like the safety of being able to record to two mediums at once.

Sony NEX-FS700

The Sony NEX-FS700 with new sturdier top handle.

The FS700 side handle has a zoom rocker that is lacking on the FS100 side handle, and the expanded focus button is now located by default on the right side handle, a change from its on-body position on the left of the FS100. The FS100 and FS700 are not great handheld cameras and weren’t designed as such; the top-mounted LCD makes shooting handheld without an external monitor impossible from a framing perspective unless you are taller than average, which I am not.

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