Sony NEX-FS100 Is Neither Here Nor There

Ever since I plunked down my hard-earned cash for the Panasonic AF100, I’ve been a little nervous about Sony’s answer to the 35mm video question. I’ve been a fan of Sony for a long time, and I was worried that whatever they released to compete with the AF100 would give my buyer’s remorse.

Now that they’ve released the specs and sample footage from their new camera, the NEX-FS100, I’ve relaxed. Here’s the promo video from Sony Europe.

The first thing I noticed in the video was the disclaimer that the interviews were shot with the Sony F3. I’m not sure this was a good idea, as the interviews look great and the sample footage from the FS100 suffers by comparison. Mind you, there’s nothing WRONG with the FS100 footage, but it doesn’t look better than the AF100, or even better than a Canon DSLR.

This wouldn’t be an issue if the Sony were cheaper than the current alternatives, but it’s not: it’s at least $1,000 more expensive than the AF100, and at least double the price of the HD-capable Canon, Olympus and Nikon DSLRs. Worse yet, the AF100 has a built-in, three-level ND filter, which the FS100 does not, and much better ergonomics (the first full-length review of the FS100 complained mightily about the difficulty in using the center-mounted eyepiece when shooting handheld). The only thing the FS100 offers is a slightly larger sensor than the AF100. However, since the difference between Panasonic’s Micro 4/3 and Sony’s APS-C sensors doesn’t seem to translate into any significant difference in image quality, I’m not impressed.

To give you an idea where I’m coming from, here’s a little corporate project I finished recently. In it, I combined slightly older footage that I shot on the Canon 5D Mark II, new footage from the Panasonic AF100, and existing footage shot by a different production company on the Sony F3. If you have an experienced eye, you’ll be able to pick out which shots are which, but the average viewer will think it ALL looks pretty darn good. (Just out of curiosity, post your guesses in the comments section … I’ll be interested to see which shots folks think are from which cameras).

I suspect that the basic issue here is related to the first thing I noticed about the promo video: the F3 takes a much better picture than the FS100. Sony has a $16,000 camera on the market, and it doesn’t want to cannibalize its own customers. So, it’s released a mid-level camera that’s too expensive for DSLR shooters, and not capable enough to steal the AF100’s thunder.

I haven’t put my hands on the FS100 yet, and I’m obviously biased, having invested in the AF100, but based on what I’m seeing, Sony is going to have to work pretty hard to make me feel bad about my Panasonic purchase.

22 thoughts on “Sony NEX-FS100 Is Neither Here Nor There

  1. Hi Alex,

    I’m looking closely at both cameras with an intention to get one or the other.

    Try this. Follow this link to a really handy field-of-view converter.

    From the left side drop down list select the F3 (since the SONY FS-100 uses the same sensor) and from the right side list choose the 4/3 size option. In the middle select a fairly wide angle lens (I used 28 mm – the widest lens I own.) Have a look at the results and tell me – all other things being equal – if you still feel the same way.

    It’s a biggy for me.

    • I love this question! The FOV convertor is a great tool. I actually agonized over it quite a bit before I bought the AF100 (for real pain, compare the AF100 to the 5D Mark II).

      So, “all else being equal”? Of course, a bigger sensor is better.

      But all else is NOT equal, so the question becomes how MUCH better is it?

      The Sony has a larger sensor, but, it also has less user-friendly ergonomics and a much higher pricetag. To me, the .5x additional FOV is not enough to justify the increased cost of the FS100. For you, perhaps it is. In my opinion, if the FS-100 had a full-frame sensor, or it had a price closer to the AF100, then it would have a distinct advantage. But it doesn’t have either of those things. In a nutshell, that’s why I titled this review, “Neither Here Nor There.”

      In cameras, as with most things, you need to be either first or best. The AF100 was first, and I doubt that the FS100 will wind up being the best. If the FS100 had been first to market, perhaps the AF100 would suffer by comparison. After all, nobody could claim that the difference between a 1.5x crop and a 2x crop is not visually significant. More likely, however, is the possibility that the folks who purchased the FS100 would experience buyer’s remorse when they saw the pricetag and ergonomics of the AF100.

      In 2005, I bought a Sony Z1U – the first affordable HD camera. It shot in HDV, which was a great format, compared to DV. In 2008, I decided to trade up, and payed $10,000 for a full-sized Sony HDV camera (the S270). It was essentially rendered obsolete 6 months after I bought it, when the $2,500 Canon 5D Mark II was released. It took me until 2010 to pay off that S270! I am not eager to repeat my mistake by purchasing a Sony product that is significantly more expensive, and only incrementally better, than an existing alternative. I don’t think the FS100 is a bad choice, it’s just not my choice.

  2. Ouch! That S270 experience sounds painful.

    I’m a cautious buyer too. So cautious, I’m still shooting with my Z1U and a cine-adaptor, because I decided to wait and see how the big three camcorder makers would respond to the DSLRs, rather than buy one. And because all my glass is Carl Zeiss (Nikon f mount compatible.)

    I’m not sorry I waited, as either one of these video cameras will clearly fit more of my needs that anything that has come before them.

    But I won’t speculate on how they compare, not having had the opportunity to try either one. Instead, I would like to ask: A) What is the widest lens you have tried on your FS100, and how did you like what you saw? And B) Do you move the camera much? (Cause I do, all the time.) And?

  3. I meant to write AF100 and not FS100. Someone remarked SONY made a boo boo in giving their cam the same number as the Panasonic. I remember thinking; “Good thing I’m not that kind of careless.” Yeah, right.

    Anyway, thanks for the link to the review of lenses. I look forward to reading it.

    On an only partly related note, I would love to have the opportunity to shoot some video with my glass on the new Nikon D7000. Having said what I did about not buying a DSLR, at this camera’s price point it does tempt, as one option for getting the wide shots for which my adapter will probably never be suited.

    The reason I asked about moving shots with your AS100, is because of what I’ve read about moiring and skewed objects with the CMOS sensors in the DSLRs. Are you seeing any of that with the AS100 when you move?

    • I know what you mean … I hate speaking in serial numbers.

      The “jello” effect is not as severe with the AF100 as it is with a DSLR, but it is still there. Longer lenses and jerky camera movement makes it worse. As long as you’re moving smoothly, and not excessively fast, it’s not an issue. I’ll put it this way: I have yet to see an otherwise good shot ruined by jello. The only times I’ve seen it were when I was whipping around to grab something.

  4. I got to play with both the af100 and fs100 at NAB. The fs100 was nice. but just missing to much. The af 100 has everything. I really like that pre roll option as well! I don’t think I would use it much but there have been times in the past I just wasted tape trying to film something when nothing happened. Anyways The only thing I could not get the sony guy to answer was how good the low light is. He just pointed it in a dark area and bumped it up and said looks good to me. But that test was not accurate because they had it running through compression and who know what else. So how well does the af100 hold up in low light? compaird to the mark II. No remember the mark II is going to be a few stops off from the af100 like 0 gain on the af100 is equal to what 800iso on the mark II? or 400? does that make sense?

    • Glad to hear your hand-on impression confirmed my suspicions. The Sony F3, by all accounts, is an outstanding camera (at $16,000), and Sony may have been trying too hard not to cannibalize its own customers.

      The AF100 is good in low light, but I would say that the 5D is better. The larger sensor and higher gain ceiling just makes for a cleaner image. I’ve done a few shoots with both 5D and AF100 together, so I’ll try to find some side-by-side shots to post that illustrate this point.

  5. Cool let me know when you get some shots because I would love to see them. I am looking at buying a af 100 in the next week or so. Just trying to find the best price with what I need..

  6. For those who have a Canon 5D Mark II, how is the exposure compensation on the automatic exposure setting when shooting video?

    On my 60D it seems to be very slow. I have to pretty much turn OFF the automatic exposure during video shooting as when I go from a dark environment into a lighter one or vice versa the camera’s motor seems to compensate so slowly that it causes the frame rate to skip. And I have a Class 10 – 133x SD CARD too which for sure isn’t causing the frame skipping.

    • Good question. My answer would be to use manual exposure at all times. : )

      Seriously, I have never used anything but all-manual control on the 5D2 or the AF100. Set the shutter to 1/50 or 1/60, and then just use the aperture wheel keep your shot looking good as you move from one environment into the next.

  7. You can look at Philip Bloom’s test/review. It is very clear on his review that the Sony FS100 blows the AF100 and 5D away in low light. It stands up to the F3, which is incredible. Don’t be fooled, the Sony picture looks significantly better than either of these other two because colors are not over saturated and highlights are not blown.

    • I would say that “significantly better” is a bit of an overstatement. In Bloom’s tests, the FS100 showed more color artifacts than the AF100, and it appeared generally murkier. Obviously, it’s a matter of opinion!

  8. Well, I definitely think the image from the FS-100 looks better than the
    image from AF-100. However, it’s not a TON better, and it does have the issue of no ND filters which is a biggie to me. However, I do NOT understand why you say the AF 100 is ‘significantly cheaper’ than the
    FS-100. B&H has the AF-100 at $4800 and the FS-100 at $4999. $199 is not a price that is ‘close to the AF 100?) Really? That seems fairly close to me. Like you, I am biased and will admit it. After looking at
    both for a long time, I decided to buy the FS 100 with a Heliopan
    variable ND filter. But, the AF-100 is a great choice as well. I just
    don’t buy all the talk online that the AF-100 is such a ‘clear winner’.
    I think they both have significant advantages and disadvantages when compared to each other. My review of the FS-100 (with some comparisions
    to the AF-100) is here:

    • @Gabe, When I wrote this, the FS-100 was substantially more expensive. Now that the price has dropped, I agree that it’s much more competitive with the AF100.

      • @ Alex,

        I think you were confusing MSRP with ACTUAL price. The announced
        MSRP may have been ‘substantially more expensive’ than what
        the Panasonic was selling for. However, I got one of the first
        Sony FS-100’s and I got it for $4999. That WAS it’s actual release
        price, the price has NOT dropped! In other words, the Sony was
        NEVER more than what it is now.

      • @ Alex,

        I think you were confusing MSRP with ACTUAL price.
        The announced MSRP of the Sony may have been
        ‘substantially more expensive’ than what the
        Panasonic was selling for. However, I got one
        of the first Sony FS-100’s and I got it for $4999.
        That WAS it’s actual release price, the price has
        NOT dropped! In other words, the Sony was
        NEVER more than what it is now.

  9. I enjoyed your promo on Wild Dunes but this is far from a fair comparison. What lenses and lighting conditions were with what cameras? Did you have a PL primes on all?

    • Thanks, Scott. The FS-100 video (which I did not shoot) used Sony Alpha lenses, which (I believe) are the only lenses that camera will accept. My Wild Dunes video was shot with Canon FD primes (primarily the 20mm f/2.8), adaptered to fit on the AF100. 5D footage was shot with EOS lenses (primarily the 24-70mm f/2.8).

      • Alex, I think your footage looks great, but as you know, I good DP is everything. The NEX 100 uses Sony e mount lenses and there are adapters for just about every type of lens out there. A Zeiss or Cooke PL prime is going to look considerably different then an Alpha hands down. That said, I don’t think there is a considerable difference in the quality of the Panasonic AF 100 and the NEX 100 but the Super 35 sensor in the Sony NEX is considerably larger and therefore it has my vote. Thanks for your blog. Best, Scott

      • Again this is wrong. The FS100 WILL
        accept just about any lens, including
        the Canon FD mount lenses you used
        on th AF100. I have posted a video
        shot entirely on FD lenses on
        the FS100 on the FS100 Vimeo
        channel called ‘winter 2011’

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