Greenscreen's Sony FX9 camera test is an almost two-hour, in-depth video test that he has shot in the past four months. Finally released, it covers many aspects of the camera – some of them in great detail. One of the most important topics is the autofocus of the camera. This article briefly summarizes its review.
The Sony FX9 full-frame camera has been on the market for a few months. Many customers have already received their cameras and started projects with them. We also work with it and prepare tests on the camera on various aspects. It is an innovative professional camera with numerous innovations in different areas.
We have already published some useful articles about the FX9, such as:
Greenscreen is a UK-based filmmaker known for his longstanding contributions to the community. He has tested various cameras over the course of his career and has been playing with the Sony FX9 for four months. What was originally supposed to be just a short camera review, which was recorded with the pre-production firmware 0.5 in November 2019, has developed into an almost two-hour in-depth review.
Philip has invested a lot of time in the review and we believe that this could really benefit our readers who own the FX9 or want to buy the camera. For this reason, we have decided to publish this review article.
Sony FX9 Camera Review by Greenscreen
Philip compared this test to his old Sony FS7 test from 2015, which was almost 50 minutes long. The FX9 test doesn't cover as many aspects of the camera as the FS7 test, but it covers these topics in much more detail.
The Sony FS7 was Philip's primary documentation camera for many years. He praised its reliability. The only two things he missed about the Sony FS7 were the poor lighting and poor auto focus performance. These are exactly the two things that should be fixed with the Sony FX9.
The Sony FX9 was launched in September 2019 and selected industry professionals (including Greenscreen and Nino Leitner from inema5D) had a few hours to play with the camera. Since then, Philip has filmed the FX9 for two weeks in November (with pre-release firmware 0.5) and then switched it on and off for the next three months (release firmware 1.0). Around eight weeks of work in total.
The FX9 currently has firmware version 1.0, but some features are still missing, such as full-frame slow motion recording with 6K resolution (not sure if it will ever come), 4K and 2K DCI modes, a 5K cropping mode , and some other features, many of which will come later with future firmware updates, are expected in summer 2020.
One of the most striking improvements to the FS7 is color science straight from the camera. The FX9 offers a new S-Cinetone color profile that Philip has used a lot during his test. It is based on the improved color science of the Sony VENICE.
Many professionals in the film industry only use manual focus. However, since the AF has become so powerful, it is important to take a look at what it can and cannot do. A large part of Philipp's FX9 test was therefore dedicated to autofocus. As mentioned in the video, autofocus in video cameras has to be really accurate, fluid and reliable. Only then does it make sense to start with it.
When image sensors get bigger and resolutions get higher, it becomes more and more difficult to keep things in focus. Better and larger screens and more accurate focus support tools are required to pull the manual focus correctly. Manual focusing becomes even more complicated with photographic lenses with a short focus throw and sometimes even a non-linear focus wheel (fly-by-wire).
The autofocus of the FX9 works best with native Sony glass, but also with adapted EF mount glass with the SIGMA MC-11 adapter or the Metabones adapters. Face tracking was not as reliable with customized glass. SIGMA MC-11 with new SIGMA lenses seems to have worked very well – almost like a native glass. However, a native E-mount lens is required for the best auto focus results.
It is possible to optimize various aspects of the AF such as transition speed, sensitivity, etc. There is currently no auto focus on the FX9 for animal detection like the Sony Alpha series. An important note is that the autofocus only works if the frequency of the camera matches the frame rate.
The Sony FX9 screen does not have a touchscreen function. There is a rumor that the display is actually a touchscreen, it is simply not activated. However, Sony has not yet officially confirmed this. Philip says that an auto focus touchscreen would certainly be a very welcome feature.
Face tracking autofocus
The FX9 offers different modes for the face tracking of the auto focus. Face-only mode stays on the subject's face and when it disappears from the image, the camera does not focus on the background again. It will continue to look for a face and when it comes back up, it will be followed and kept in focus. AF with face priority focuses on the face of the subject. However, if there are no faces in the frame, the background is refocused.
When there are more faces, the camera selects the dominant one and keeps the focus on it. The white square is then marked with a yellow line. Users can always choose a different face using the FX9's joystick. Focus Hold is a useful function to prevent the camera from refocusing when the AF-locked face leaves the frame. Philip recommends assigning Focus Hold to a function key.
The face registration feature can focus on a specific person and not worry about the other faces in the frame. Philip even tried to draw different faces on a whiteboard and he tested when the camera recognized the drawing as a face. He also tried to wear different masks.
In conclusion, Philip tried to really push the FX9's AF capabilities to the limit, and sometimes it really frustrated him. However, in many real-world scenarios it went very well and the AF was reliable most of the time. For example, autofocus has problems with a dark face and light background or when there are many faces in the frame. Philip sent his results to Sony. Hopefully you can further optimize the AF with future firmware updates.
Philip does not believe that autofocus will replace the manual focus workflow and focus pullers in the near future. It will only be a powerful alternative for many shooting scenarios. He also said that "autofocus is not just a switch to turn on and everything is magically sharp. It takes skill and practice to get the most out of it."
Low light output
The FX9 has a double ISO sensor, the lower native ISO is 800 and the higher native ISO is 4000. For ISO values between 800 and 4000, Philip recommends using the higher base of 4000 and the ISO Decrease the value to get a cleaner picture (tested in S-Cineton).
The low light performance is much better than the Sony FS7 and the image looks good and clean even at ISO 12,800.
Electronic variable ND filter
According to Philip, the electronic variable ND filter (eND) is better implemented than in the previous Sony cameras.
With a lens with a smooth IRIS in combination with a variable eND, it is possible to create a “depth of field rack”. It changes the bokeh while maintaining the exposure by changing the ND value when opening or closing the IRIS. This offers a different tool than focusing – it keeps the main subject in focus, but slowly reveals or hides everything else in the frame.
The FX9 uses the lever lock version of the E-mount, so the lens cannot be mounted with just one hand. It is always a two-handed operation. The advantage of this is a much more stable and secure connection between the lens and the housing. However, you have to put your camera down to change the lens if you do this alone.
There are more harvest modes of the 3: 2 sensor. Although the sensor resolution is 6K, the camera does not (yet) record 6K video (in fact, the XAVC-I codec does not support a resolution of more than 4K). The video is sampled down to 4K. Full screen is now only available at up to 30 fps. For higher frame rates, you have to switch to a Super35 mode.
For slow motion in 1080p (up to 120 fps), you need to change the scan mode to 2K (full screen), which will scan the sensor at a lower resolution, which will affect the image quality somewhat. The 1080p 120fps footage still looks pretty good, according to Philip.
Sony FX9 does not have sensor stabilization, but records data from its gyroscope. This data can then be used with a Catalyst browser to stabilize the footage during post-production.
The FX9 uses the same BP-U batteries as the FS7, but uses power faster – according to Philip, about a third faster. The Sony XDCA-FX9 expansion unit not only offers the V-mount battery plate, but also some other additional functions such as the RAW output. However, it is quite expensive and bulky.
If you don't need that many additional features, the FX9 also has third-party power supply solutions (battery plates). In many cases, a small BP-U battery can be inserted into the camera at the same time to enable a hot swap process. Philip recommends the wooden camera battery plate (as it can easily be flipped up to replace the internal BP-U battery) and the core SWX plate.
Philip devoted part of his review to useful FX9 accessories. In terms of ergonomics, the FX9 is much better and immediately ready for use than the FS7.
As an essential accessory, he recommends using a different top plate, since the Sony rod system for the display is not so well designed. Philip uses the Zacuto Top Plate. It is a good way to mount and adjust the EVF or monitor without tolls. However, he does not recommend changing the Sony top handle.
Other useful but not essential accessories could be:
- VCT base plate. He uses Zacuto's, which the camera can easily slide back and forth.
- Zacuto extension arm for the handle. It has a useful quick adjustment lever and can also be turned. The SHAPE extension arm is also very nice.
- EVF like the Zacuto Kameleon or just a Zacuto Z-Finder on the Sony screen (the screen is much better than that of the FS7).
What do you think of Philipp's FX9 test? Do you own the camera or are you considering getting one? Let us know in the comments below the article.