Today, Sony released an upgrade to the popular FS7 Super35mm sensor size line of cameras with the FS7 Mark II.
Bucking the trend of many "mark" upgrades that tend to evolve but not innovate, the camera has several hardware refinements that will be much appreciated, including a new internal variable ND (that will be very useful in the field), a revised lens mount, and a host of software and internal upgrades sure to be attractive even to existing owners.
From an internal technical standpoint, the biggest upgrade is the ability to capture in the expanded BT. 2020 color space, and not just the Rec. 709 color space of the original FS7. This is a huge upgrade, especially at this price point, where Rec. 709 tends to remain the dominant color gamut.
Raw cameras can, of course, be processed to either Rec. 709 or Rec. 2020 in post. But for workflows where raw doesn't make as much sense—anything with a tight turnaround, for instance—having internal Rec. 2020 is a worthwhile upgrade compared to the original. It's likely to keep the camera in service well into the future.
The lens mount improvement introduces a rotating locking mechanism. This is a beneficial upgrade, especially for filmmakers working with longer glass and cine lenses. The new locking E-mount is capable of withstanding 100kg of torque force, which should be enough to support even the heaviest of cinema lenses—though, of course, you'll still want to attach a lens support to your rails for the most secure attachment.
In addition to the improvement in strength, you'll no longer need to twist the lens into the mount; instead, you can push the lens straight in and twist a ring at the base of the lens for security. This design is more similar to the cinema style PL and PV lens mounts. As cinema lenses are often longer and heavier, the twist action of the E-mount hasn't felt as natural, and with more accessories like matte boxes and follow focus systems, it's often easier to just slide the lens straight in (no twist necessary).
One quirk of the design is that, unlike the clockwise lock of PL mount, it locks counter-clockwise—but that's an unavoidable result of the way the flange ramps are designed. Since you twist the lens clockwise to lock it into the body, the mount ring has to twistcounter-clockwise to lock. This might be frustrating to get used to on projects mixing PL and E-mount glass. But for most situations, the upgraded strength and security of the mount will be worth learning the new muscle memory of it turning the other way.
A fascinating new feature from a technical perspective is the internal variable ND filter. While variable ND filters have been available for a while now by using multiple polarized filters and rotating them against each other, this is the first time we've seen the technology integrated into the internal ND function on a camera.
Sony has achieved this feat by using liquid crystal polarizers—a technology that is very popular in stereoscopic cinema applications, where they are mounted to the projector lens to change rapidly between the left eye and right eye projection. Since Sony is obviously very dominant in the theatrical projection space, it's likely the company was able to transition expertise from one department to another in the development of this tech. Sony has been developing the feature in-house for many years; the company had first hoped to launch it with the FS700 back in 2012, but waited until they were confident it could be implemented with no color shift whatsoever as you ramped through the various ND levels. (So far, judging from viewing tests shot both by Sony and independent cinematographers, little or no color cast is discernible in the ramp.)
The variable ND is available in three modes. The first is relatively normal: a smooth dial manual mode where you turn the ND up or down to achieve your desired darkening level. The automatic mode is more interesting, as it offers the option of using the variable ND to automatically maintain a constant exposure throughout a dynamically changing shot—all the while keeping a constant aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This is unlikely to work well in highly dynamic situations (such as running from a dark tunnel to outside). However, for outdoor light situations involving moving clouds that change exposure, an automated system to keep the exposure even without bumps that also doesn't change noise, color, or depth of field could be a very welcome tool.
For the traditionalist, there is also a preset mode that clicks through 1/3 stop increments for precise exposure control. This will also be useful in multi-camera situations where exposure needs to be set identically to cameras that might not have the same variable ND feature. However, testing will need to be done to see how the color compares to a traditional ND.
A small but useful improvement: the scroll wheel that controls the ND filter (and also the iris in manual iris mode) has been redesigned to take acceleration into account.
When you need to set exposure quickly, a faster turn of the scroll wheel will lead to a faster exposure change. This should be useful for news, documentary, and run-and-gun shooting situations. In addition, the rod for attaching the onboard monitor has been changed from round to square to prevent slippage. While round rods offer more flexibility for mounting at odd angles, sometimes it's more important to have fewer mounting options when the ones you have are more likely to stay in place without slippage. A square mount here makes more sense.
Along with the Mark II, Sony has also released the SELP18110G servo zoom lens with an 18 to 110mm focal range. It's a constant F4 Parfocal lens designed to have no breathing or shift while remaining sharp edge to edge, with internal zoom control to allow for a smooth zoom that lasts up to 90 seconds.
The current generation FS7 will remain in the lineup, while the Mark II will have a premium upgrade that will be available soon.
4K and UHD resolutions
Internal Variable ND
Upgraded locking E-mount
Rec. 2020 color space
XQD cards eject further from body for easier card swapping in the field
Square mount rod for viewfinder
FS7 MARK II
SELP18110G SERVO ZOOM