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The DSL not R

A camera shoots for the virtues of a DSLR without the motion picture vices

By The Sony Tech Guy | June 06, 2011


The NEX-FS100U is designed from the ground up for motion pictures.

From the moment they came out, HD-capable DSLRs have intrigued shooters with their ability to deliver Hollywood-style selective focus on a micro-budget. But even as HDSLRs have gained adherents, shooters have pointed to a list of pictorial, practical and ergonomic shortcomings. To be fair, these issues are the result of taking an excellent platform carefully optimized for still photography and adapting it for moving pictures. Sony understands. We know DSLRs, we love DSLRs, and we make a growing family of Alpha HDSLRs along with a large-sensor Handycam camcorder with still camera roots: the NEX-VG10, which uses an APS-C size image sensor. But we also wanted to create a purpose-designed professional camcorder that would combine the key benefits of HDSLRs without the limitations. The result is the NEX-FS100U.

Doing what DSLRs do

To our way of thinking, shooting motion pictures on a DSLR provides five key benefits, all of which are present in the NEX-FS100U.

  • Shallow depth of field. The APS-C image sensor featured in many DSLRs has seven times the area of the 2/3-inch type sensors common in broadcast television. Large sensors have an innate advantage when it comes to controlling focus via shallow depth of field. It becomes far, far easier to direct audience attention by blurring the background. Rather than pull an image sensor from our Alpha DSLR parts bin, we endowed the NEX-FS100U (and PMW-F3) with a Super 35mm image sensor purpose-built for motion pictures.

  • High sensitivity; high dynamic range. Other things being equal, large sensors can have large pixels for superb low-light sensitivity and dynamic range.

  • Interchangeable lenses. The camera not only supports still lenses, but the 18-mm flange-back distance of Sony's E Mount system creates distinct opportunities. Many affordable still camera lenses and even some old classics from rangefinder cameras will cover the sensor via simple third-party adaptors.

  • Relative stealth. Stripped down, the camera is small enough to pass for a consumer product.

  • Relatively low cost. Among professional camcorders, the NEX-FS100U is one of Sony's most accessible, with an MSRP of $5,850 without lens.

Excelling where DSLRs don't

Video professionals often depend on features that DSLRs lack. And there are some DSLR attributes that video shooters would rather live without.

  • No line skipping, minimal aliasing. DSLR sensors may skip rows of pixels in order to capture HD video. This may have a pernicious side-effect: aliasing. Repeating, lined patterns in clothing, brickwork, roof tiles, car grilles or venetian blinds can generate crazy, artificial moving patterns that can distract audiences. The Sony NEX-FS100U minimizes these distortions.

  • Photosites four times the size. On a DSLR, the image sensor and optical low-pass filter (OLPF) are optimized for still pictures. So it's not unusual to see an APS-C sensor with 14 megapixels. As we've noted, the NEX-FS100U Super 35mm image sensor is built expressly for motion pictures. It has just 3.37 Megapixels (effective, 16:9) and the OLPF is specifically optimized for this pixel count. Having one-fourth the pixels means that each pixel can be four times the size. Other things being equal, this equates to a two-stop advantage in sensitivity and much better dynamic range.

What humongous pixels mean in practice: shooting in candlelight.

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Disclosure, to comply with the FTC’s rules 16 CFR Part 255 This article was either written by Sony employees or for Sony by an outside contractor. It is intended for the Sony Channel on ProVideo Coalition, which Sony sponsors.


Charles Angus: | June, 06, 2011

And the same idiotic viewfinder placement…

wsmith: | June, 09, 2011

Thanks so much for for this highly informative look at the FS100. I do wish it wasn’t so impossible to scrub back to re watch particular points of interest and hope that Sony can address that for future videos (I assume they are responsible for the player that is used here).

There is one thing I’m very interested in knowing. It’s something I’ve been trying to proclaim as a much needed function - to marketing people and even engineers at Sony and also Panasonic when I’ve spoken to them. None have deprecated the usefulness of it.

We are being told that certain cameras from a particular mfg. make compatible B-cams for a particular A-cam, F3 and FS100, for example, why can we not transfer certain profile and config settings from one to the other (whatever common settings and parameters that are common between them of course).

So far I’ve have not heard anyone saying that the FS100 can be used as a B-cam for the F3 but I do naturally assume that.  In my mind any such notion should be challenged unless that functionality is accomplished.

Can we transfer settings from the F3 to the FS100? Or vice versa? I assume that many of the menu settings in the FS100 are also available in the F3 (and then some, of course). I’d like to see a scenario where I think of the FS100 as the lowest common denominator if you will. Set that cam as desired and then say OK, give me these same settings on the F3, via the mem card.

I understand that since the F3, (astonishingly, to me) cannot shoot 60fps at 1920x1080 you couldn’t transfer that seetng from the FS100 to the F3 for internal recording so that wouldn’t be feasible. But since the F3 can do record that externally maybe something along those lines is possible.

On top of that ability, the really great way to create common settings and profiles for A and B cams would be using a software utility in our computers, in my opinion. But I’ll take it any way I can get it, i.e. in one of the camera’s menues.

Your thoughts on this?


IEBA: | June, 13, 2011

All that said, it’d be nice to see an Alpha still camera with some modicum of control over the video to compete with Canon & Nikon & Panasonic Lumix & ...

I looked at the A35 and liked it, but didn’t pull the trigger. There’s something to be said for making real tools for movie making, and then other tools for decent home movies where I can compensate for backlighting, etc, without having to dig out the video camera with manual controls.

wsmith: | June, 14, 2011

Obviously that piece of offensive spam has been removed, after we got the email copy of it.

My suggestion sent separately to Ed. was to delay the time before subscribing and being allowed to post anything. They will probably move on without bothering to wait.

Or: If this is a pro site used by pros, then most probably they have a web site (what pro in this space doesn’t have a web site?) Approval of one’s subscription could be based on verification of that.

IEBA: | June, 14, 2011

Thanks! It was really creepy, sort of on-topic (referring to the title of the article) but definitely not appropriate.

As for the web site, I believe they had a web site, and all the spam comments that come in to my TechThoughts blog are also connected to retail sites. So that’s not really a filter. They WANT you to click on their name and go to their site.

The delay also affects all the legitimate posters as well. But you might somehow have a Captcha-like system that asks an industry question: like What does VDSLR mean? How many ohms is video cable? How many pixels across is 1080p24 HD video? Etc?

i.e. make it a PITA for them, but easy for us.

wsmith: | June, 14, 2011

Not sure you’re reading me. My suggestion is to have a human at your end take a minute to personally verify that a subscription request is coming from an entity with a legit professional web site (that is oriented to the video/audio production biz)

This can be probably be automated so that a new, would be subscriber can still post a comment but not have it actually posted until their subscription is approved.

I wouldn’t say “your subscription will be approved within 24 hours.” Rather, I would state that “To prevent spam posts, your subscription will be approved after a 24 hour “cooling off period”. Spammers will most likely not wait for approval and move on.

Just my thinking on a possible remedy.

From my experience as an erstwhile e-commerce marketing pro, marketers considering spending ad dollars on your site mostly cherish verifiable email addresses. They don’t seem to care as much about web stats. In their minds, the value of email subscribers (or verifiable online of merch) trump stats.

So maybe that is part of the solution. If subscribers don’t have a working email they cannot post comments - but can still visit and read all they wish. They just cannot post comments. Periodic test sends (quarterly?) to the list can be done and undeliverables result in a suspension of posting privileges.

Problem is only going to get worse.

The Sony Tech Guy: | June, 14, 2011


Thanks for your comments.  Sony believes in interchangeable camera setups, where possible.  Of course, you can share setups from one NEX-FS100U to another.  And from one PMW-F3 to another.  But even though the PMW-F3 and the FS100U share the same sensor, they have quite different architecture, software,  DSPs, menus and settable parameters, so the setups cannot be shared.


Charles Angus: | June, 14, 2011

There’s a couple possibilities for why that is. One is bad design. Another is deliberate crippling of entry-level products.

There is no legitimate technical reason why two cameras with the same chip from the same manufacturer should not be able to share setup info.

IEBA: | June, 14, 2011

“There is no legitimate technical reason why two cameras with the same chip from the same manufacturer should not be able to share setup info.”

Would you say the Subaru WRX and the base Legacy wagon handle & operate the same? Same engine, from the same car manufacturer, but a whole lot of different technology in the WRX.

Charles Angus: | June, 14, 2011

First off, the WRX is based on the Impreza platform, and the engine is not the same in a WRX, but it’s a false analogy in any case.

Since both cameras use the same chip, both cameras simply need to implement 3d LUT in/out support.

You could use the camera settings to make a profile, then export as a LUT to share between cameras. This would have a host of useful applications beyond sharing profiles, too.

wsmith: | June, 14, 2011

Hello, Sony Tech Guy,

Who really believes it isn’t possible - if Sony saw it as important.

Perhaps Sony’s marketing people should desist from suggesting that a particular camera can suitably serve as a B-cam for a particular A-cam - as it has indeed done in the past.

I spoke to an in-house Panasonic “Tech Guy” who strongly agreed with my observation re common settings and saw no reason why it wasn’t possible.

Surely, certain things are common like frame rates, aspect ratios, shutter, etc. etc. Is the internal menue and control software separately written by two different companies?

Sorry. I don’t buy it.

wsmith: | June, 14, 2011


Not sure your analogy works. Car companies’ marketing departments don’t actively seek to position one of their cars as a B-car to one of its others cars.

And yet I’m sure that there is lots of common code controlling onboard sensors between them and that code - and their service tech’s diagnostic troubleshooting code to read those sensors, for that matter - is written separately, by different coders.

The next time prospective buyers of cameras attend a show and hear “perfect B-cam for that higher priced camera…” I’d politely reject that notion.

wsmith: | June, 14, 2011

Sorry: “ NOT is written separately, by different coders.”

Surely the code must be written by the same coders, for the same senors.”

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