Video Production Advice: Sony FS100 or Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera

Video Production Advice

I get a lot of questions from video producers around the world. I do my best to respond to them all but moving forward rather than simply replying directly I’m going to start publishing the questions and responses on my Vancouver Video Production blog and leave the post open for comments and further discussion. You will also notice I’ve placed a few links to video production articles and product reviews that I have written if you would like to get more information on the products I am discussing.

The first question comes from Jamaican native Khirlu Burton, who now works in New York.

Video Production Question:

Hello Shawn,
How are you?
With a leap of faith I am writing you this inquiring.
I’ve read a few of your articles on the Sony FS-100. You seem to be more personal about your reviews than all the other articles I came across.
Anyway, I am a young and upcoming videographer and editor. Most of my experience comes from working at a Public Access Channel in the Bronx.
I mostly do interviews and news packages, and have slowly been getting into the wedding business.
I first started out with the Sony PD 150, then 170, then moved on to the V1U, Z5U, Z7U, and most recently I have been using the NX5U.
I am looking to jump to the DSLR world (or at least, get the look of shooting with a DSLR). I was reluctant because of the limitation of recording time.
Now, I have managed to save up a little bit of money to invest in my own camera.
I have narrowed my choices down to either the new Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera or the Sony FS-100.
I don’t know if you have the time to even read this email but if it happen to do so, I am asking for some advice.

1. Which do you recommend the most, Blackmagic or FS-100? (most of my work are 2 cam interviews, short news packages, etc)
2. If FS-100, what are the first set of lenses should I invest in to start off?

Thank you in advance. If you don’t get a chance to reply, keep writing commentaries, they have taught me a lot.

Video Production Response:

Hi Kirlu,
Thanks for your email and kind words.

Your camera progressions sounds very similar to my own. VX2000, PD150, PD170, Canon XHA1, Sony Z7U, Sony Z5U, Sony FS100 (article links to my product reviews on those camera models). I’ve always had two at a time but sometimes they weren’t matching cameras.

It is difficult for me to make a recommendation on which camera is the best suited for you at this point without having a more intimate understanding of they type of work you are shooting and your editing workflow. I also have not shot on the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera, other than on the trade show floor at NAB, which doesn’t really count as I didn’t record footage or edit it.

But I think you would be happy with either.

My big concern with the BMD CC is the >2x crop factor, similar to the Panasonic AF100 and GH1. I don’t know exactly what the factor will be, some claim 2.4x, but I’ll just use 2.0x in this example, adjust accordingly when final specs are released… This crop factor is less desirable than a 1.5x or 1.0x crop factor as it basically means that a 50mm lens works like a 75mm lens at 1.5x or 100mm at 2x. I find a lot of interview work is done around 50mm, or 35mm on a 1.5x crop sensor camera (like the FS100). So you would need a 25mm lens equivalent on a 2x factor. 16mm and 16-50mm zoom lenses are easy to get and there is a Tokina 11-16mm lens that is popular if you need even wider. So it is possible to get 22mm equivalent wide but nothing more without fisheye distortion. I find I’m usually ok with a 16mm wide on my FS100, which is 24mm on a 35mm film or 1.0x equivalent but if you think you need wider, the BMD is not for you.

I do like the SSD recording. It is rock solid and inexpensive compared to the FS100’s FMU 128 (128 GB flash memory recorder) and has longer record times compared to SDHC cards. You can also pick them up at any computer store in a pinch and are harder to misplace than an SD card.

I’m not convinced the image on the BMD will be as nice as the FS100 image. Mostly because the sensor is much smaller on the BMD CC than the FS100. The FS100 is proven. The image is very noise free, even at high gain/iso. And I love the AVCHD implementation they are using (it is better than the codec on the Canon DSLRs) and paired with the low noise signal from the Super35 sensor it gives small file sizes and a high quality image.

The FS100 sensor has a low resolution, relative to its size

Compare the file size of the lowest bitrate codec on the BMD CC, ProRes HQ, to the highest bitrate AVCHD codec on the FS100 and you quickly realize you need to upgrade your computer hard drive RAID storage. ProRes HQ is 250 Mbps and AVCHD is 24 Mbps. I’ll take the smaller file size from a cleaner sensor compared to a bigger file size from a smaller sensor any day because at the end of the day the sensor is the most important variable, especially when you consider that if I really want a higher bitrate intraframe recording for green-screen work or to deliver to a client and impress them with how big my files are, I can always use an external recorder like the BMD Hyperdeck or the Atomos Ninja (Article link to my EventDV Magazine Atomos Ninja review).

But the other factor is do you really need a quieter image? I do because ironically DVDs want a clean image and one small part of my business is dance recitals and although we are phasing out DVDs, I find stage productions wants noise free images because there is so much black and colour gradients that if you have a noisy image, it is much more noticeable than in other scenes. It also is really difficult for the MPEG2 codec that DVDs use to preserve both the noise and the important detail and the whole image is softened in the downconversion and DVD encoding process.

Cost is another factor. BMD is less expensive and might be good enough. It might be better than Canon DSLRs and those are good enough for most.

Lenses for the FS100. Start with the adapter. Skip using e-mount lenses because they are slow and not as nice as the A-mount lenses (A mount lenses are branded Alpha by Sony but include legacy Minolta AF and Konica-Minolta AF lenses).

Here are my picks for best performance value.

Wide Zoom:

Sony SAL1650 16-50mm f/2.8 DT lens. This is a DT lens, meaning it only works on crop sensor cameras, like the FS100 and most of the Alpha line of cameras, other than the full frame ones, obviously. It is a beautiful lens and what I use most of the time to shoot with. $700 is very inexpensive for the quality you are getting out of this lens and it is parfocal (keeps focus when you change focal length) and very well built.

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM. This is a crop sensor lens and isn’t parfocal but it does have in-lens image stabilization (OS), which I find the most useful on a wide lens as it is the type of lens I’m most likely to hand-hold.

Medium (normal) Zoom:

Konica-Minolta 28-75mm f/2.8. This is a full frame lens and no longer manufactured so you have to buy it used. Check the lens to make sure the zoom and iris are smooth and that the lens is parfocal. Some copies (even of new lenses) are not. I own two of these lenses and they are the only two I found on the market after months of searching – so be patient. My second one works flawlessly but the 1st one doesn’t hold focus when I zoom out so it lives on a Sony A55 DSLR which we use with AF all the time, so this isn’t a concern. $250-500 used.

Sony SAL2875. This “new” Sony lens is based on the above lens but the one used copy I tested wasn’t as smooth on the zoom ring action (suffered from stiction) so I didn’t buy one and recommend the KM instead. However if you are in a market were you can test the Sony lens at a local store (none of my camera stores stock any nice Sony lenses) then try one out. Expect to pay $900 new. I’m happy with the older one as the image quality is the same and it is much less expensive.

Long Zoom:

Minolta 70-210mm f/4.0. Known as the “Beercan”, this lens is one of the oldest in the Minolta AF line but it is the best for video work because the zoom action is smoother than any of the new lenses and the lens is parfocal. There are lots of these on the used market in great shape so hold-out for a good copy. $150-250 used.

If you want to spend more then the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is nice and parfocal but I found the one copy I tested was sticky on the zoom ring. I also didn’t find I wanted or needed an f/2.8 fast lens for long telephoto work because the depth of field was too shallow to film a speech with (subject would go out of focus with the slightest to and fro motion) and the FS100 is so clean you can use a lot of gain and still have a better image than you could on any other camcorder.

Much of the above information is unchanged from my original Sony NEX-FS100 zoom lens shootout, which I encourage you to read.

You need an adapter to use A-mount lenses on the Sony NEX-FS100. The Sony LA-EA2 is the only one you want because it talks to the body and allows continual AF, which is useful in some situations.

Hope this helps.


6 replies
  1. Khirlu Burton says:

    Thank you so very much. I am ecstatic that I received a reply. Especially that you took the time to explain in such detail. I live in NY so it’s a little strange when a stranger actually helps you.
    This really gives me a great insight on what direction to go in. I must admit that I was a little puzzled about details regarding the crop factor. But i am enlightened now and will begin further research.

    I can’t express my utmost gratefulness to you. I will keep you posted when I finally make the transition.

    • Shawn Lam says:

      You are most welcome, Khirlu.

      A few more things to consider with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera… It will probably use the same HFS+ file structure that the Hyperdeck and Hyperdeck Studio use. This is a Mac format and getting it to play nicely on a PC requires additional software, patience, and advance planning. PCs use NTSC and Fat32 file formats. exFat is more universal but wasn’t implemented.

  2. Khirlu Burton says:

    Hi Shawn,
    I wanted to say thanks again. I’ve been reading almost all your blogs recently. It’s like going back to school without the cost of the knowledge.

    I have decided on getting the FS-100. Is it cheaper to purchase it from Canada or does it work out to be the same Price in USD?
    Kindly let me know.


    Khirlu V. Burton

    • Shawn Lam says:

      Hi Khirlu,
      Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you find my writings helpful. You can send your tuition payment to the address below ;-).

      I know you will be very happy with the Sony FS100. If you live in New York then you will want to deal with one of your local dealers for the best prices and service. Everyone knows B&H but you might want to try my friend Paul, owner of Armatos Pro Video. Here is a link to their Sony FS100 page.

      I deal locally for big things like camera bodies because of the after sales service and warranty that is country specific but when it comes to Sony video cameras, the prices are usually the same on both sides of the border. Accessories – now that is a different story. The same Sony NPF-970 battery costs $200 in Canada but only $100 in the US.


  3. Matt says:

    Hey Shawn, Cool Blog. I’m just wondering have you had a chance to work with the black magic camera since this post? I’ve been thinking about getting one it seems like a great buy and the SSD is awesome. RED charges a fortune for their SSD. Do you know if the SSD is upgradable?

    • Shawn Lam says:

      Thanks Matt. I haven’t had the chance to work with the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera since April at NAB 2012. I expect the SSD requirements on the BMD CC will be very similar to the BMD HyperDeck Shuttle. I haven’t looked at it recently but the SSDs are not proprietary and are rather the same ones you would put in your computer or laptop. So ultimately a lot less expensive than the RED SSD and way easier to get at any computer store.

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