Sony gave me a phone last week and asked me if I would like an interview with their Product manager Bill Drummond to explain Sony’s thoughts in the radical design elements of the new NEX FS100…fantastic, so this afternoon (Monday) Bill and I had a chat about the new camera.
“The key criteria if we go from the front to the back of the camera is that we have to offer that really nice shallow depth of field with a super 35 mm size sensor. This has been quite a journey for Sony and we looked and have spoken to lots of different customers and lots of different applications around the world and certainly we have seen the move to using DSLR’s for shooting large format we have seen that there is a very big demand for using a large format sensor to achieve that shallow depth of field. But we didn’t just want to follow that, we wanted to give the customers a bit more and that’s why we really spent the time to develop this super 35 mm format sensor to really offer exactly the same format that maybe our high end digital cinematographers would be using but for a much, much more affordable and accessible customer base.
Really with the FS100 it was about giving 35 mm motion to this emerging group of customers who want to shoot cinematically but on a budget, so it was about having the large image format, the affordability, but also making it easy to operate as well. One of the big pieces of feedback we have had from a lot of customers is they like to accessorize and modularize their cameras so they wanted to have quite a small critical format, but wanted to have the ability to put a whole range of different accessories, depending on what style of shooting they were actually currently doing. Obviously, when you are talking about this type of audience, things like adding a matte box and rails and filters, all the sort of front-end accessories are very important, but equally things like monitors and radio mikes and various other things.
Those three points are really what we’re thinking of or where the product is coming from and it’s a bit of a journey because we’ve been in this market in terms of the visual cinematography market for a long long while and really the Fs100 is the next super 35 mm shooting to a whole new audience, coming on the back of the F3 which has been incredibly successful. The feedback we had from the F3 which was really good was “we really love the F3 but it’s a bit out of our budget”. Well, pretty much you can have the same format sensor at your budget now with the FS100. So that’s where it is really pitched and the last week we have been really overwhelmed by the feedback we’ve had from a variety of different customers, the fact that we have made something that is different in terms of not just providing something that’s a me-too product but really taking up that grass roots customer feedback.”
HDW…Q. Why did Sony feel the need to reinvent the wheel because my opinion you actually did it the wrong way round. If you had brought out the FS100 first and then the F3 it would have probably been the right way of doing it.
Bill…A. A very interesting point. In actual fact, if you look at the NEXVG10, that came out last year and although it was aimed at the prosumer market, what it did was it offered a lot of those requirements, albeit to a slightly different market in terms that it offered an E series mount, a large format sensor, so as I said the VG10 came out last year and then very much the FS100 is the professional version, albeit with the benefits of having the same sensor as the F3 and aimed at the professional market, so in actual fact there was a precursor to the FS100 and that was the VG10.
HDW…Q. The problem I have with the FS100 is the fact that you decided to go down the E mount. Personally, I would have preferred if you were thinking of making it professional, to stick with say a bog-standard PL mount so that people could just add any adaptor that they wished. I don’t think a domestic lens on a professional camera makes you look good.
Bill…A. I suppose it’s looking at the full range of demand in the market. I’m not sure if you are aware but we’ve been selling a Sony lens adaptor for our Z7 camcorder for A mount alpha lenses and for over 4 years we’ve been selling Z7 to A mount adaptors and that’s allowed various types of customers, like videographers, particularly natural history videographers to shoot wild life but want to use their alpha camera and their video camera. Having the flexibility of being able to use a bit of stills glass in front of a video camera is really what these guys have been asking us for, so really it’s just a continuation of something that we had within our professional product range for 4 years and these E series mounts offer not only the existing E series lenses but also there is a whole range of new lenses.
I’ve been speaking to a variety of different lens manufacturers who will make specific lenses on the E mount. Coming back to your point on the PL mount, that is exactly right and this is why we chose the PL mount for the F3 but, again, we have to think about our audience and our audience are more than happy using a DSLR style lens which is within their price range but when you start talking about a compact prime, it gets a little bit expensive for this particular target market. Although, as you quite rightly say, with MTF you can use a PL mount or a Nikon lens.
HDW…Q. I know why you did it, because you were trying to solve a lot of problems for a lot of people but, personally, if that had been me I would have used the “A” mount, so that basically, if you want the best glass that Sony do for that type of situation, the mount is already there, you don’t need to use an adaptor and it would just have made it a wee bit more professional.
Bill…A. There is obviously an “A” mount adaptor and very high-end lens companies like Carl Zeiss will be making compact primes for the “A” mount and, indeed, have made that announcement but it is trying to make a product as flexible as possible and the important thing is to note the flange back distance does give that flexibility and the “E” series mount does offer that very small flange back.
HDW…Q. Personally, as a camera man I would have preferred Sony to bring out an F1.5 rather than a complete new camera with a look that is not very Sony looking, to bring out an F3 with less goodies on it, so that you have got a camera that looks like a Sony video camera and not one that looks like something you would take up to a space station. You have almost redesigned it with the DSLR boys in mind and, to be honest, the DSLR is a completely different tool to what a cameraman uses and everybody who has been waiting for these large sensor cameras are respectable camera men who have not gone down the DSLR market simply because we know they are fit for purpose. It’s as simple as that and I don’t care who is using them. The DSLR for serious video is a no-no and more and more people are getting to realise that, now that we have the F3, AF101 and the new FS100 to be able to use decent cameras.
I just think that as a camera man I would have preferred just a normal design rather than go wild. I think the viewfinder will be very good, I haven’t obviously used it but it looks as if you have given it a very good viewfinder which is really, as I’ve said to you, what is missing off the F3. That’s my opinion but there are a lot more people out there telling me they like the look of the FS100, they like the fact that they can add the bits to it, matte boxes, etc. I’m not against the camera, I am just pointing out the negatives that I see. It’s like any camera, if you point out the negatives, by the next model the negatives are usually taken on board.
Bill…A. Yes, it’s an on-going process with camera development. We’re on a journey and we’ve been speaking to film makers for many many years in terms of what their requirements are and we take feedback from a wide range of different sources and I take your comment about the F1.5. If there is enough demand in the market we will make many different types of product for many different types of customers. We do value our customers’ feedback and, if you look at the wider market, in terms of the way people want to work – you mentioned about matte boxes among other things, it is key that the design is being designed to mimic that in terms of being able to accessorize the product, add a matte box, add a follow focus system.
HDW…Q. There is one thing you can’t add to this system and that is the new Gemini from convergence.
Bill…A. There are a number of other devices, the Atmos ninja, NanoFlash and the AJA Ki pro mini.
HDW…Q. A lot of guys out there have got nanoflashes and if they buy the new Gemini, the Gemini has only got HDMI out. My point is when you put HD SDI on a lesser spec camcorder like the NX5 and you leave it off the FS100, it can’t be that expensive to produce.
Bill…A. It’s offering different solutions for different budgets. The Gemini will work very very well with the F3 and that point is very very clear to me and the same with the nano flash but, in terms of the third parties that we are working with, it’s key to point out that we have a new embedded time code feature on HDMI that is unique to Sony and we are working with the third parties who are making these HDMI recorders to ensure that there is compatibility in the future.
Let’s not beat about the bush, HDMI is becoming more professional every day and more and more professionals are using it for monitoring and other things but, you know, ultimately it does allow use of products like the Ki Pro mini and the Atmos Ninja which meet the requirements of our target customers. The HDMI outputs 4:2:2 8bit.
HDW…Q. You have only got three levels of gain in the camera. Is that true ?
Bill…A. The NEX-FS100 has manual gain from 0dB-30dB in steps of 3dBs.
HDW…Q. The other thing that people will want to know is obviously because of the problems over in Japan, when do you think seriously Sony are going to start shipping this camera ?
Bill…A. The shipping is now summer 2011 (July-September).
HDW…Q. And what is the tentative price ?
Bill…A. Sony’s tentative pricing will be €5500 without lens and €6000 with the 18-200 “E” lens kit.
I must thank Sony for giving me this exclusive interview with Bill Drummond and hope it has answered a few questions and given you a better understanding of how Sony take a lot of time and effort over every product they produce.