The Powerful and Dynamic Sony FX9 is Here
And We’ve Been Fortunate To Get Our Hands On It.

April 7, 2020

Copyright ©️ 2019 Z Systems, Inc.

  • Shweta Raman, Krish Makhija
  • Sony Fx9, Gadget review, Krish Makhija, DOP, Documentary

*The following stills have been processed with a simple LUT (Rec 709 printed down by 1 stop) to show you the results that you get straight out of camera without any additional colour grading. Since I was shooting by rating the camera sensor 1 stop below the Base ISO, I’ve compensated with a -1 LUT to show you an image that is equivalent to what I was monitoring while out in the field.

The Sony Fx-9 professional video camera hit the market in early 2020. Everyone seems to be going with full-frame sensors these days, so it’s no surprise that Sony has opted to use one in the FX9. With its dual base ISO set at 800 and 4000, this camera is the perfect investment for shooting in low light conditions. The team at Emaho recently purchased the FX9 to shoot our documentary films, and here’s why.

We thought who better to ask than our director of photography, Krish Makhija, to take us through his first hand experience of using the camera. But before we jump into the interview, let’s find out what’s new with it.

Sony has designed this camera combining technologies from their other famous models like the Sony FS7, Sony Venice and the Alpha7. The FX9 isn’t very different in form from the FS7.

However, it does have some notable improvements. This camera has the world’s first full-frame electronic variable HD filter that can be controlled by a hard dial on the side of the camera.

It is capable of a full-frame oversampling for stunning 4k recording, along with a 15+ stop wide dynamic range with high sensitivity and low noise.

The S-Cinetone in this camera is inherited from the Venice digital cinema camera. The camera’s E-mount is machined from stainless steel and allows you to use E-mount lenses.

And it doesn’t end here. Its 7-stop electronic variable HD filter can perform in auto or manual mode, smoothly adjusting from 1/4 to 1/128 density.

EF: We begin our interview by asking Krish how he first discovered the Fx9.

KM: “I’ve been using its predecessor, the FS7, for the last few years on multiple projects. I fell in love with the FS7 very early on due to its ergonomics, versatility and image quality. It did have a few kinks that I wasn’t a fan of, and when Sony announced the launch of the FX9, I was very excited to get my hands on it. I was able to test a production unit at the Jackson Wild Summit in 2019. As soon as I began exploring it there, I knew that this was a definite improvement and I couldn’t wait to use it in the field. In January, the good folks at Emaho Films and I did a lot of research, and decided to buy a piece for our future shoots. It was an extremely nerve-wracking experience trying to source it in India, since there were only 10 pieces in the country! But eventually, the kind people at Sony made sure we were able to get our hands on one just in time for our shoot in the Andaman Islands.”

EF: Since then, what kinds of projects have you shot with the FX9?

KM: “The Sony FX9 was officially launched in India in January 2020, so its a brand new camera to enter the market. So far, I’ve had an opportunity to use the camera for two projects. The first is a long-format documentary film that I’ve been shooting for almost two years now called The Turtle Walkers. Prior to this, the film was primarily shot using the Sony FS7 MkII. I was very excited to shift to the FX9 after it launched. Due to certain similarities to the FS7, I was able to make a smooth transition and I’m extremely happy with all the upgraded features which helped me to push my image making to the next level.

The second project I used it for was as a B-cam for a short documentary. I was pairing it with the Sony Venice. Due to the large size and bulky nature of the Venice, I wasn’t able to use it at all locations, especially those which required a more guerilla, run-and-gun approach. I was very pleased with how flexible and portable the FX9 was for such situations, and also how well it matched with the material that was shot on the Venice.

Thus, so far, I’ve had the chance to use the FX9 on documentary shoots and I’m extremely happy with its performance in often gruelling outdoor conditions. However, I would be very excited to bring it into other more controlled/setup environments as well.”

The FX9 continues to use Sony’s Slog3 gamma curves along with its proprietary S-Gamut to capture colours. It does have a newer, improved sensor that puts this colour science to better use and just looking at RAW footage has already impressed me. I’m eagerly awaiting a session in the colour suite to see how the footage reacts to a grading process. Sony’s colour science has definitely improved leaps and bounds from the early days of producing digital cinema cameras and I’m glad they’ve reached the stage they’re at currently.

The button layout has remained faithful to the FS7 MkII in most cases, however the most notable difference is the addition of a new multi-function jog dial. This vastly improves efficiency while shooting handheld. Additionally, many new functions can be programmed to custom buttons to help manoeuvre through the camera settings much faster without having to enter the menu at all!!”

EF: Can you share your thoughts on the design and durability of the camera?

KM: “Aesthetically, the camera is quite similar to the FS7 Mk II, with very similar ergonomics and overall design features. The notable difference would be that the FX9 is modelled similar to the Venice in its grey exterior.

I really enjoy shooting handheld with the FX9. It is perfect for a project that involves a single-man operation. It is beautifully designed with the handle, in-built shoulder pad and customisable buttons/wheels on the handle grip to be comfortable and intuitive while shooting on the go. The added benefit of the shape and weight is that it eliminates all the very unusable shake that you find when shooting with smaller DSLRs or mirrorless camera bodies. I enjoy how balanced it is when on the shoulder and also how one can easily carry it for long periods of time without strain. While filming for The Turtle Walkers, we often had to walk fourteen kilometers on the beach at night to capture nesting sea turtles. The FX9 was very comfortable, even in such challenging circumstances.”

KM: “I’d have to say that the FX9 is a fairly rugged and sturdy camera. We put it through some extreme conditions of heat, humidity, salty ocean spray, sand and rough use. We came home from the forty day shoot with zero issues concerning the body or any other Sony accessories for that matter. I was really pleased with how well it handled the circumstance. I have had similar experiences with the FS7 Mk II, which is precisely why I selected this to be the camera for such a shoot. Since we were going to be in extremely remote places with no possibility of finding replacement parts or service centres, I knew that I needed a camera that would deliver, and it definitely did the job.”

“Battery on the FX9 is very impressive, especially when using Sony’s new line of BPU batteries. The older range of BPU 30, 60 and 90 have now been replaced with the BPU 35, 70 and 100. With these, you’re able to get tremendous runtime even while constantly rolling at 4K. This is another major bonus of using the camera. With a reasonably fast charger to bring these batteries up to a 100%, I never ran out while in the field.”

EF: But what are the technical highlights of this system? We asked Krish to throw some light on the features that he finds most useful:

KM: “The on-board monitor of the FX9 is a definite improvement as compared to the FS7 MkII. With better resolution and colours, it really helps while operating and pulling focus out in the field. The viewfinder still fogs up in very humid conditions which is something I would like Sony to take a look at. That being said, we were shooting in very tough situations, so for most shooters, this shouldn’t be an issue.

I used to be an adamant supporter of Canon glass for many years. However with this latest shoot, I have started to switch over to the Sony G-Master lenses. Since the camera is a native E-mount, they react a lot better compared to the Canons using a third-party converter or adapter. I’ve heard many good things about the new auto-focus features of the camera which is also supposed to work much better with the Sony lenses. Will be happy to try that out for my next project.

The FX9 continues to use Sony’s Slog3 gamma curves along with its proprietary S-Gamut to capture colours. It does have a newer, improved sensor that puts this colour science to better use and just looking at RAW footage has already impressed me. I’m eagerly awaiting a session in the colour suite to see how the footage reacts to a grading process. Sony’s colour science has definitely improved leaps and bounds from the early days of producing digital cinema cameras and I’m glad they’ve reached the stage they’re at currently.

The button layout has remained faithful to the FS7 MkII in most cases, however the most notable difference is the addition of a new multi-function jog dial. This vastly improves efficiency while shooting handheld. Additionally, many new functions can be programmed to custom buttons to help manoeuvre through the camera settings much faster without having to enter the menu at all!!”

© 2020 ProVideo Coalition, a Moviola Company. All Rights Reserved.

EF: He also threw some light on the efficiency of the ND system:

KM: “The ND system is such a handy and incredibly efficient tool to have in documentary situations. It really allows you to not compromise on image quality and be very flexible without having to deal with external screw-on filters or having to deal with clunky matte-boxes. Being someone who ends up shooting alone a lot, I love how the ND system on all Sony cameras have been designed to be so accessible and user-friendly. They pioneered the variable electronic ND system back with the FS5 and FS7 Mk1 many years ago and have really perfected it with these newer bodies. It is really a treat shooting with this ND system.”

EF: What is your favourite feature about the camera?

KM: “One of my favourite features of the new FX9 is that it has a dual native/base ISO. What this means is that I’m able to get the best out of my censor at all different lighting scenarios. Especially during documentary film shoots, where one doesn’t have so much control over the light conditions, the ability to quickly switch between 800 and 4,000 ISO at lightning speed really gives me the flexibility to capture moments without compromising on image quality in changing lighting environments. The FS7 MKII had a fixed base/native ISO of 2,000 which started to get noisy very quickly as light started to fall. I used to always rate the sensor at 800 to allow more light to enter because it really didn’t fare well in the shadows at lower levels of illumination. The FX9 though, is surprisingly clean at its native of ISO 4,000, even while rating the sensor at the same. This really allowed me to push the camera to shoot deep into dawn/dusk, and this greatly helped while shooting wildlife. Since sea turtles come up to lay their eggs at night, we would often catch some individuals returning to the ocean at dawn. Such shots we would not have been able to capture with the FS7. I’m glad that I’m now able to get beautiful, crisp images at all times of day.”

Apart from this, I’m also really enjoying the ability to quickly switch between either shooting Full-Frame or at a Super-35 cropped version of the sensor. This flexibility allows me to use any kind of lenses that I want and is also really handy when I’m in a situation that doesn’t allow me to change lenses. Being able to seamlessly switch formats also allows me to play with the added DOF of full-frame imagery when I want to and get that much closer to my subjects, especially when working with wildlife. This amazing flexibility coupled with the downsampling of a 6K sensor to my final output has definitely raised the bar and I’m excited to explore this a lot more on upcoming shoots..”

EF: We asked Krish if he could share his preferred settings while shooting with the Fx9. This what he had to say:

KM:

  • Sensor Crop: 6K Full Frame
  • Resolution: QFHD (3840×2160)
  • Frame Rate: 25/50
  • Gamma: SLog3
  • Gamut: S-Gamut.Cine
  • Base ISO: 800 (Sensor Rated at 400)
EF: How does the FX9 compare with its predecessor, the FX7?

KM:

Advantages:

  • Dual Base ISO
  • Gamma Assist for watching playback
  • LUT enabled during S&Q Shooting
  • New Jog-Dial
  • Full Frame 6K sensor mode + Super 35 4K mode
  • Headphone Volume Controls

Drawbacks:

  • The handle grip becomes a bit clunky when trying to place the camera on a flat surface and tends to topple over a lot when not snapping it onto a tripod head
  • Still waiting for the DCI 4K firmware upgrade. For now, one can only shoot a maximum resolution of QFHD (3840×2160) which can be problematic with some broadcasters and online platforms
  • Waveform/Histogram doesn’t allow you to switch between measuring the LUT IRE values and the SLog 3 IRE Values.
  • No 4:3 sensor crop mode for Anamorphic lenses
EF:  And finally, is there anything you are curious to find out more about the camera?

KM: “I recently had a chance to use both the Sony Venice and the Sony FX9 on the same project. The Sony Venice is obviously a more impressive beast due to its astonishing RAW shooting capabilities, 6K full frame sensor and advanced colour science.

That being said, for its price (nearly 1/4th compared to the Venice), the FX9 comes incredibly close with regards to the picture quality. I would be very keen to watch side-by-side test footage to see how they compare. I think once you pair the FX9 with its proprietary RAW recorder, it would come pretty close to the Venice in many ways.”

Whether we are shooting documentaries, events, education, or corporate productions, the 6k Full-Frame, Camera System from Sony has us covered with its powerful and flexible 4k interchangeable lens camera system.

Our overall experience with the FX9 has been very satisfactory, and so we highly recommend it to our fellow filmmakers.

We thank Krish for taking us through this in-depth review of his experience with the camera out in field.

If you have recently used the FX9, and have some fun tips or suggestions about the camera, please feel free to share them in our comments section below.

You can contact Krish @ krish.makhija@gmail.com for any more technical questions about the camera.

Leave a Reply