The Jekyll & Hyde Sony FS5 – Avoiding a Horror Show

Steve Blears Blog, Film Making

How to avoid a Horror Show with the Sony FS5

The story I’m about to share with you will chill you to the bone. It’s about a production recently that invested in excellent Sony FS5 cameras. But a few months later the production manager returned them. They’d had some expensive and disastrous money wasting shoots (I might add not filmed by me). Unusable rushes and grainy horror show pictures. It’s a real shame but I’m going explain why it didn’t work out.

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Steve Blears

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Steve is a shooting producer director with TV credits for Channel 4, BBC & Sky. He's based in NW UK.


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The problem is the Sony FS5 has a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde character It’s not one camera, it has a split personality!A Production Manager

Sony FS5 – The Beast

So why is this cameras’ split personality causing problems? My story begins with the way we’ve been shooting TV for years. Old habits are hard to break. Most TV directors and PD’s have been shooting on what I will call WYSIWYG cameras. WYSIWYG or “Wizzywig” means What You See It What You Get. Or should I say, what you shoot is what you get. You film it, you edit it, you tweak the colour, bish, bash, bosh.

For years we’ve been using cameras that allowed you to stick the rushes straight on TV without too much grading bother. These cameras include the Sony PMW200/500, Canon XF305 and the Canon C300 MkI. But this traditional workflow can trip you up if you don’t keep a keen eye on the cameras’ profile settings.

Enter the Mr Hyde FS5 (The scary one!)

This camera is a powerful beast and it’s hidden personality lurks in: Picture Profile 9 S-Log3 Cine mode. Waaaahhh-Haaaa-haaa! Take a deep breath you are now entering the new scary world of shooting hyper gamma! Basically this camera can shoot in a cinema mode called S-Log3. It records a greater range of colours and tones than the naked eye can see. The advantage being you can get spectacular results in post. Beautiful cinematic detail, rich blacks and greys. You can push and pull the colour of the rushes around in ways only seen in the movies.

However, there are new rules that often catch filmmakers out who aren’t used to its workflow.

The New Rules

When shooting in Picture Profile 9 S-Log3 Cine mode. Waaaahhh-Haaaa-haaa!

  • You will NOT get Wizzywig rushes – they MUST be graded!
  • Your rushes will look washed out and pale but beautiful after the grade!
  • When shooting it’s best to over expose by 1 to 2 stops!
  • It’s best to stick to the camera’s Native ISO of 3200  – don’t fiddle with the gain! (digital brightning)
  • Don’t white balance! Use the nearest preset 3200k/4300K/5500K!

As you can see these turn a lot of traditional TV making rules on their head. Ignore the new rules at your peril because you’ll end up with dodgy rushes. Particularly if you add too much gain, digital light to brighten the picture. Contrary to some reviews this camera isn’t as good in low light as many people think.

But the story does have a happy ending for people without the know-how to shoot in S-Log3. The Sony FS5 can also be the traditional camera we know and love.

The Dr Jekyll FS5  (The nice one)

This camera’s traditional personality lives in Standard Picture Profile 1. This will return it to the traditional way of shooting. For productions without the time and money to spend on a detailed grade this profile will give you Wizzywig rushes. In this mode pushing the gain is less likely to give you grainy shots. You can white balance and expose as you would with a normal traditional TV camera.

The SonyFS5 can be so friendly!

I love this camera. It’s the lighter and cheaper sibling to the FS7. It has a Super 35mm sensor and produces great pictures – in the right hands.

  • You can buy one for around £4k
  • It’s really lightweight
  • Uses Canon lenses with an easily fitted adapter
  • Uses cheap high speed SD media cards

I hope this cautionary tale hasn’t put you off shooting in this cameras’ cine mode. The results have to be seen to be believed. If you are a director I suggest you watch the detailed tutorial below by Alistair Chapman.