The F-Stop academy's Den Lennie shares his thoughts on the Sony NEX FS100

Sony's new baby - The NEX FS-100

As a former TV news cameraman, I’ve always maintained that anyone who wants to learn to shoot well should shoot news for a few years. It helps you develop your sense of story and you learn to work quickly. I’ve been shooting on Sony camcorders ever since the early days of Betacam SP, moving to Betacam SX, Digital Betacam, HDCam and latterly the EX-1 (which I used to shoot Dan Chung on in DSLR Video On Assignment).

When we shot that project I wanted a camcorder because the environment was going to be hectic and I wanted to have audio controls. Sadly the DSLRs would have made my life very, very challenging and my news head was saying: Make everything as simple as possible. Although I’d have loved to use the large sensor I made the decision to favour usability over aesthetic. (I also felt that because Dan’s DSLR footage would look very different it would further highlight the differences sensor sizes make to the look). You can see a clip from DSLR Video On Assignment here (we’re running a special just now: you can buy it for $75 – saving $60).

But when Sony asked me last year to drop into their European HQ and offer my thoughts on a large- sensor portable video camera I jumped at the chance.

At Sony talking about DSLR
At Sony talking about DSLR

I highlighted (to an attentive team of designers and product managers) the challenges of with shooting DSLR but also the unique and beneficial features that the form factor offers over traditional video cameras. Then we discussed all the ‘ideal’ features that a hybrid camera might include – this is the design ‘White Board’ from that session.

The White Board from the Sony meeting

A year later I got a phone call – did I want to have a first look at the camera I’d helped design….? Err, yeah! and that was before I realised I was getting the ONLY unit in circulation outside of Japan!

I contacted my friend James Tonkin from Hangman Studios who has done some work with us at www.fstopacademy.com and is not only a great director but also pretty clever when to comes to editing and finishing. He’s worked with artists like Robbie Williams and Archive.

We really wanted to push this camera – rather than just go down the park and shoot the ducks – so we put together a music video. It would have six locations, low light, and actors: there would be a performance element and some narrative. Even though this was a music video it’s done in real world locations and shooting conditions that are similar to if I’d been shooting a documentary or a news feature.

We shot on some scaffolding outside a tower block on the 19th floor to get the cityscape opening shot

In the scaffolding with the FS-100 on a slider

Then it was off to a supermarket. Lighting is rarely great in these locations but the camera performed well. After that came shooting on a bus (without permits) and then at a bus stop, filming late into the night using only the ambient light of the shelter.

The NEX FS100 has a native 800 ISO at 0db, which is staggering. The images are so clean. We were shooting behind the scenes on a Canon 550D and the comparison images from the two cameras were night and day.

In the kitchen with the camera all rigged up

On day two we shot interiors in a kitchen scene. It was day for night lighting with the ambient room lights and a Dedoflex 150w Soft Box for soft key. We built the camera up using a Zacuto Universal base plate and follow focus. The only lenses we had available were a 16mm f2.8 pancake lens and a 50mm f1.4 Sony Alpha lens with a Sony’s E-Mount adaptor – we didn’t use the stock zoom lens that comes with the camera inside because at f3.5 it was just too slow. I also used the Cinevate Atlas 10 slider, which proved solid and reliable when fully laden with Zacuto gear and SmallHD monitor. The built-in LCD is certainly high enough resolution for focus, but the SmallHD is just so sharp that when possible we used both.

Using the SmallHD monitor with the FS-100

Next came a dinner scene lit only with an overhead Dedoflex 150 and splashes of light from the existing lights. We were fortunate that the existing lights were on a dimmer so I could control intensity.

Simple interior lighting with the Dedoflex 150

Finally, we shot a night-time scene with very low light, finishing up at Victoria bus station at midnight. We had no filming permits but shot for 90 minutes with nobody bothering us – the small form factor of this camera is great. We were carrying it around in my Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 and nobody was any the wiser.

Check out the video below and more info on my blog.

and the 1080P version of the finished music video is here

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