The new Sony FX30 is a specialist ‘cinema camera’ that uses a 26.2MP APS-C sensor to output 4K video at up to 120fps. It’s essentially an APS-C version of the full-frame FX3, with almost exactly the same body design and specifications. But the smaller sensor brings a significant price saving, as it costs £2100 body only, or £2500 with Sony’s audio interface handle, compared to £4000 for the FX3.
In February 2021, Sony released the FX3 Cinema camera with a 12.1-million-pixel full-frame BSI CMOS sensor. Arriving six months after the Sony Alpha A7S III, it uses the same sensor and processor and is virtually identical in terms of its shooting features. Externally, though, there are very significant differences, with the FX3 losing the electronic viewfinder, gaining a chunkier body and becoming adorned with 3/4 inch sockets for adding filmmaking accessories. This difference in form factor made it relatively easy for filmmakers and photographers to choose their preferred body style.
Sony has now added another camera to its Cinema line-up, the FX30, this time borrowing the body of the FX3 but fitting it with a new 26.1-million-pixel BSI APS-C CMOS sensor. This new sensor and its BIONZ XR processor can shoot at the exact same 4K 120fps resolution as the FX3 and A7S III and match its 4K 60fps 10-bit 4:2:2 capture too. It’s an intriguing addition to the Cinema range, which has been moving away from the APS-C or Super35 size sensors for the last few years to full frame versions.
It is also intriguing, as the 26.1MP sensor makes it an exciting option for filmmakers who may also want to use the camera for photography. After all, in terms of resolution, this surpasses the 24MP sensors used in Sony’s Alpha APS-C cameras. It’s likely a to be similar sensor to that used by Fujifilm in many of its X-series cameras, just with a conventional Bayer colour filter array, rather than Fujifilm’s X-Trans.
Costing £2100 body-only, or £2500 with the audio interface handle, the Sony FX30 is a reasonably affordable entry-point in the world of filmmaking. Its bigger brother, the FX3, is £3999 and includes the audio interface handle. Based on price alone, the FX30 should also be a very appealing prospect to existing Sony Cinema users.
But what attraction does it hold at the more entry point of the market? We’re going to look at the camera from the perspective of a photographer who now finds themselves shooting more video and is looking for their first cine camera.
Sony FX30: Features
The key feature is, of course, the sensor. At 26.1MP, it’s the highest resolution APS-C sensor in Sony’s line-up. It’s interesting that it should first see use in the FX30 ahead of a A6000 series camera. The sensor is backside illuminated (BSI), meaning the circuitry is on the back of the sensor. However, it is not stacked, where the processing circuit is attached directly to the sensor to improve data read speed.
Sony introduced its E mount with the NEX-3 and NEX-5 in 2010. Both these cameras had APS-C sensors, and it has now been 12 years that Sony has been producing lenses for this mount for both full-frame and APS-C sensors. Sony has recently updated its APS-C lens line-up with the addition of the E 11mm F1.8, E 15mm F1.8 G and E PZ 10-20mm F4 G lenses, and I used the latter two during my time with the FX30. There is an abundance of lenses that can be used with the FX30, and the camera may in fact give a new lease of life to Sony’s APS-C E mount lenses.
In photographic terms, in some ways the camera is everything you would expect, and yet in others it’s lacking. The sensor has a sensitivity range of ISO 125 to 32,000, extending to ISO 102,400 when shooting still images. You can shoot in raw and JPEG using the full 26.1MP resolution. There are all the autofocus features you could want, including Animal and Bird AF.
However, when it comes to continuous shooting rate, there is none. The FX30 only offers single shot. It also has no mechanical shutter, which may not be ideal for shooting fast subjects, and as a result, it has no flash options. There is no doubt that the camera is part of Sony’s Cinema rather than its Alpha line-up.
There is nowhere near enough room here to go into the entirety of the cinema specifications of the FX30, so we’ll tackle the headline features and the ones that I feel make it an exciting camera for first-time filmmakers.
The highest resolution that FX30 can shoot is 4K footage at up to 120fps or Full HD footage at 240fps. This is ideal for those who want to shoot slow motion, as is currently the trend with many ‘Cinematic’ style YouTube videos. Perhaps more important is the quality that can be achieved for more standard frame rates, with 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 internal recording. Those who want to push what the camera can do can take advantage of the camera’s full-size HDMI output to record 16-bit raw footage to an external recorder such as the Atomos Ninja V.
As you would expect, a wealth of Sony Picture Profiles can be applied, including S-Log, which will help achieve the maximum 14-stop dynamic range from the camera. As with the recent firmware 2.00 upgrade for the FX3 and the Sony Alpha 7S III, you can also upload LUT (Look Up Table) profiles to the camera. These can be applied directly to Slog3 footage so you can achieve any number of cinematic looks and hard-bake them directly into your footage. This is great for those who want a quick workflow – you can use LUTS from your favourite creators to mimic their style or create your own. Here’s a demo of how to upload and use LUTs:
Alternatively, you can preview what the LUT will look like to help get an accurate exposure and apply it to the S-log footage when you edit the footage on your computer. For those who don’t want to delve too deep into colour grading, Sony’s S-Cinetone profile is always available, which I used almost exclusively whilst testing the camera.
One key feature is the Steadyshot stabilisation. The FX30 has a 5-axis stabilised sensor and can also take advantage of optically stabilised lenses. This can then be made even more efficient with Active Steadyshot, which dynamically changes the area of the sensor being sampled to compensate for movement at the expense of a slight decrease in the field of view.
I found the stabilisation very impressive, but it is worth noting that Active stabilisation can’t be used when shooting at 100/120fps. There is also the ability to load the footage into Sony’s Catalyst Browse software and apply stabilisation in-post using gyroscope data captured by the camera. Again, this comes at the expense of the field of view, but with some say over how extreme you want the stabilisation/crop to be.
One handy feature that the FX30 has that the FX3 doesn’t is breathing compensation, where the image frame is dynamically changed to retain the same field of view when a lens is focused. You can see this setting in action in the short demonstration clip below. Breathing can also be suppressed in post-production using Sony Catalyst Browser software.
In terms of audio, there are 3.5mm mic and headphone sockets built in. There’s also an optional audio interface handle which slides onto the Multi Interface hotshoe on the top of the camera and then bolts into place using two 3/4 inch screws, via the 3/4in sockets on the camera’s top plate. As well as being able to mount a microphone, it adds two XLR sockets and the corresponding gain controls for 4-channel audio. It is an excellent addition for professional filmmakers, in line with the top-end film cameras and their audio inputs. Still, those starting may be better suited to using a Rode VideoMic Pro or Sony’s own ECM-B10 mic.
Sony FX30: Key features
- Memory Cards: The FX30 has two card sockets that can be use with the latest CFExpress Type A cards, or standard SD cards, though you need to check the speed of the SD card to realise the cameras full video potential
- Battery: The battery is a standard Sony NP-FZ100 card as used in the current line-up of Alpha 7 cameras. I found the battery to last a reasonable amount of time, but like any video camera, you’re going to want to buy a few batteries if you are out shooting for a hours at a time.
- USB-C: The camera has a USB socket that can be used to both charge the battery and power the camera
- 3/4 inch Sockets: There are a total of 5 3/4inch sockets with 3 on the cameras top plate, and one either side.
- Joystick: A joystick sits on the top plate of the camera that allows menus to be navigated and the AF point to be moved. This is in additional to the regular control wheel and touchscreen options.
- Fan: Like the FX3 the FX30 features an internal cooling fan which allows the camera to shoot continuous for up to a potential 13 hours.
Sony FX30: Build and Handling
As previously stated, the FX30 is almost identical to the FX3 body. Obviously, the name badge is different, and the FX3 also has a ‘Full Frame’ destination under the lens mount. All 3/4 inch sockets and the strap lugs are now anodised black, whereas, on the FX3, they are bare metal. The other less noticeable external change is the FX30’s omission of the IR remote receiver on the handgrip and the removal of the self-timer LED, with this task now achieved by using the camera’s tally light.
It would be somewhat unfair to describe the FX30 as a brick, but it is a chunky cuboid with a handgrip. It’s unwieldy compared to a still camera, but as a filmmaking camera, it is the ideal barebones setup, particularly with the 5 points where filmmakers can add accessories. Although the option is there with many FX3 cages available, you can happily use the camera without needing a cage to add accessories.
The layout isn’t dissimilar from what you would find on a Sony Alpha body, but there are a few quirks. The power switch is no longer near the shutter button, but is on the top left of the camera’s rear. Instead, around the shutter is a zoom control. This is great if you’re using power zoom lenses such as the APS-C ones that Sony has released recently. It allows you to zoom the lenses in and out without touching them.
Thankfully the menu of the FX30 is the latest Sony Alpha version, so the same as the FX3, A7S III, A7 IV etc. Navigating the menu is very straightforward, and it is handy that you can also use the articulated touchscreen to select menu items – you don’t have to rely on the control dial and buttons.
Overall, the camera feels well built and solid in hand. It has an unspecified level of weather-sealing, and I did find myself using it briefly in light rain with no issues. The camera is a workhorse.
Sony FX30: Performance
In the short time I had the camera before its launch, it hasn’t been possible to delve into every facet and feature. So I’ve concentrated on how the camera is used in practice and the features I have enjoyed using.
There is a massive amount of internal recording options, but the quality of the 25fps 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 footage is excellent. It is at the more standard 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60fps rates that the image is created from 6k downsampling, so for lowest noise and best detail, this is where you want to be shooting.
There are many other creative options for those who want to get footage off the camera straight on to an editing timeline. For example, the S&Q (Slow and Quick) options of shooting up to 240fps in FullHD or creating timelapse footage, which you can see in action in the video below. But there are other not so obvious ways that you can employ the technology in the camera to shooting creatively.
I found it was great being able to control the camera over Wi-Fi via Sony Imaging Edge software. I set the camera up to film garden birds, and then could happily start and stop recording from my laptop in the comfort of my house. Being able to record remotely like this is something we think about as photographers, but being able to do it when shooting video opens up many other creative options.
Image stabilisation was impressive. I used the Active stabilisation with a Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS lens and a monopod. This actually isn’t recommended by Sony, who say it should be used up to 200mm. With the 1.5x crop, the 400mm became equivalent to 600mm, and I then used the 1.5x Clear Image Zoom to give it the same field of view as a 900mm lens, which is ridiculous. You can see this in action in the video below: first showing the camera’s screen, then the footage captured in this mode.
Even more ridiculous is that the Animal AF worked at this focal length with a third party lens. The FX30 may become a firm favourite amongst wildlife filmmakers who can take advantage of the camera’s size and the benefit of the 1.5x crop factor on those full-frame lenses. Here’s a clip showing Animal Eye AF in action:
There isn’t much to say about the AF that hasn’t been said before. With 90% phase detection coverage, the FX30 comfortably tracks subjects around the frame, and Human, Animal and Bird AF are all welcome additions. It always seems like witchcraft to see them working. Touchscreen AF also works flawlessly, especially after I reduced the AF speed to produce smooth focus pulls using the touchscreen. Again, this technology has been tried and tested in the last couple of generations of Sony cameras and is constantly refined.
For the best quality footage, the standard frame rates of 24, 25 or 30fps are advised without using Clear Image Zoom. These use the oversampled 6K footage and reduce it to 4K to keep noise to a minimum. And the Dual Base sensitivities of ISO 800 and 2500 keep footage clean even in low light.
You do have to be careful if you are shooting in the higher frame rates, as there is an impact on noise levels in the shadow areas. But in reality, if you are sharing the video, online sites such as YouTube and especially Facebook will compress the image so much that it will serve to reduce noise further. Again, stick to below 60fps, keep the sensitivity as low as possible and you’ll be rewarded with crisp 4K footage.
Sony FX30: Our Verdict
In case it wasn’t already apparent, this is a Cinema camera. If you were thinking of using it for still images, I wouldn’t. Of course, you could take some behind the scenes or reference images, but the handling, lack of viewfinder and continuous shooting mode kill it for any serious application.
At £2100 the Sony FX30 represents good value for money. It is more expensive than the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K and 6K. Still, the Cinema 4K only uses a Four Thirds size sensor, and although the Pocket 6K shoots in 6K, neither camera match the 120fps shooting rate or come close to the autofocus capabilities of the Sony FX30.
Canon’s Cinema line-up starts with the EOS R5 C, which has a full-frame sensor, can shoot in 8K raw footage and matches the 120fps 4K shooting. But it also costs £2500 more, and the EOS C70 is even more expensive still.
The Fujifilm X-H2S is perhaps the closest competition for the FX30, although they are aimed at different audiences, with the X-H2S more at home amongst hybrid still and video creators. The X-H2S is around the same £2100 price and matches the resolution and frames rates of the FX30, but lacks a few of the more advanced filmmaking features such as LUT inputs and a body specifically designed for building a film rig.
Sony’s own APS-C Alpha and ZV range have great video features, but they are designed for vlogging and consumers and are a world apart from the professional features found in the FX30.
If you planning to film your travels or use the camera for daily vlogging, the FX30 probably isn’t for you and there are many others camera more suitable, including the Sony ZV-E10 with its APS-C sensor. But for those who aspire to be filmmakers, the FX30 is now an enticing entry point into the professional world of Sony’s Cinema camera line-up.