I’ve Been Sleeping on the FS700

Somehow, even though it came out in 2012, I somehow never wound up shooting first-hand on the FS700 until this year, and holy crap I’ve been missing out.

Sony FS700

I’ll start by saying that I’ve never been much of a Sony shooter. I’ve been a Canon-heavy shooter for most of my life, from the T3i up through the C-series, so I’m loaded up on EF lenses and in love with the Canon UI. That said, I’m not blind to their price gouging and bit rate crippling. So when I got the opportunity to shoot for U.S. Soccer on an FS700 that was provided to me, I got pretty excited. I knew it was a capable camera, but I had no idea how capable.

This thing was really fun to shoot with. I threw a Metabones EF adapter on and shot mostly with a Canon 100-400, plus a bit with the classic 24-105. I was mostly shooting in end-trigger mode, shooting sports at 120fps. I had never used end-trigger before and it took a bit of getting used to, but I adapted quickly.

The Good

Image Quality: The footage looks good. It looks really damn good. All of the standard shooting tools are there to help you expose and focus properly, so you’re sure to end up with a crisp image. Even at 1080p it produces a great look, even if the color science isn’t 100% there yet.
On-Board XLRs: This is probably my biggest problem with most of Canon’s C-line. I know it’s been remedied with the C200, but the FS700 had it 5 years earlier. There are two XLR inputs on this bad boy, one up front for a mounted shotgun, and one near the back for a line in. It’s super convenient and means that even without a handle assembly you have an option for high quality sound.
Slow Motion: The high frame rate work on this thing is incredible. It’s smooth, it looks good, and it’s easy to access, with just one push of the S&Q button. Switching between 120fps and 24fps was quick and easy.
End-Trigger Mode: I hadn’t shot end-trigger before, and it was such a lifesaver on some shots. With sports especially, you spend a whole lot of time waiting for something to happen, and that’ll eat up memory cards pretty quickly if you’re rolling the whole time. I had no memory issues thanks to end-trigger mode.
Customizability: It was so easy to set up this camera exactly as I wanted it. The handle assembly, side grip, and microphone setup mean that you can pretty easily maneuver this thing for rig work, low hand-held shots, or whatever else you need.
4K: I was only shooting 1080p, but the FS700 is fully capable of shooting 4K at multiple frame rates in SLog, or RAW if you’re willing to add an Odyssey 7Q+ or similar recording. For the price, along with the rest of the feature set, that makes this one of the best entry 4K setups around, even five years later.
SD Cards: No expensive SSDs or CFast 2.0 cards here. The FS700 records to tried and true SD cards, even at 4K or 120fps, so you’re not spending a fortune on media.

The Bad

No 60FPS: This was just puzzling to me. I spent so much time Googling, asking other cinematographer friends, and digging through menus, but came up with nothing. I could be wrong here, but as far as I can tell, the FS700 can’t do internal 60fps. It seems to be a weird middle ground between 24/30, which is a normal shooting mode, and 120/240+, which are recorded using a buffer. The result is that it’s dropped entirely from internal recording, and can only be done using a 7Q or similar. That was hugely disappointing, because some scenarios, like sports, are perfect for 60p. If you need to you can do a pulldown to 24/30, or digitally slow it to match with 120 footage, or keep it at 60 to reduce motion blur. Sad to see it’s not included internally.
Shutter Inconsistency: This drove me nuts all night. As I was switching back and forth between 24 and 120, I had to readjust the shutter every time. This would be pretty normal on most cameras, but with the FS700 you have the S&Q button to easily swap back and forth between high speed mode. Everything else changes, but not the shutter speed. If you’re in 24 with a 1/48 shutter and you switch to 120, it will bring the shutter up to the minimum possible 1/120. If you’re shooting 120fps with a 1/240 shutter and swap to 24fps mode, it will keep the shutter at 1/240. This was hugely annoying since it meant digging into menus again instead of truly having a one-button switch between standard and high frame rate modes. Not a big deal if you’re shooting fiction, but if you’re on the fly at an event or in the field shooting doc, you might wind up with some shots with the wrong shutter angle.
The Display: This was one element of the physical design that I hated. The flip-up LCD on the back of the camera was okay for what I was doing, but wouldn’t work well for most shoots I’ve been on. The camera pretty much has to be centered in front of you, at or below eye level, to get a clear view of the LCD. The result is that you’ll probably need an external monitor on most shoots.
End-Trigger Delay: Even with end-trigger mode, you’re still going to have to make some on-the-fly decisions about when to hit record. This is because the camera takes a very long time to dump slow motion clips from the buffer to the memory card. The buffer holds about 8 real-life seconds at 120fps, but writes it to the card at the playback speed. This means that it will take almost 40 seconds to capture the clip. When you’re shooting sports, you risk missing everything that happens for the next minute, so you’re constantly weighing what’s more important: the shot you just got, or the shot you might get in the next 45 seconds. It’s extremely frustrating when you make the wrong choice.
Gain settings: Maybe it’s because I started by shooting 16mm film, but my brain works SO much better in ISO than gain. The FS700 has settings for both, but when you’re actually shooting you’re stuck with a Low, Medium, High switch. You assign an ASA value to each in a deep menu, but then you’re limited to just the three gain settings unless you want to dig back into the menu and reassign them. Another feature that might not be a big deal on a fiction set where you have time, but in the field it’s a killer. I much prefer the Canon systems that allow you to change ISO on the fly, even mid-shot, to whatever you’d like.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the FS700 is a solid workhorse that can handle most things you throw at it. I can tell just from working with it for a few hours that it’s a great camera for sports, doc, and fiction. It has a couple of small design flaws that mean it’s occasionally frustrating for quick guerrilla shooting, but its still a great camera. It’s affordable, and if I had discovered it in 2015 I would probably own one by now, but I just can’t see myself putting $3,000 into a five year old camera at this point. That said, I’m looking at some of Sony’s other lines now. This might’ve made me a Sony believer. Sorry, Canon.