Sylvain, a good friend from Canada flies every year to Bonaire and other than the internet, he is my technology contact to the world. He knows about the latest cameras and housings on the market–how they operate and what they’re made of. We spend hours talking tech . . . and the reality of what to watch out for. This year he brought with him the Sony NEX-FS100 and the soon to be released Genesis Amphibico housing. The NEX-FS100 was introduced in November 2011 as Sony’s answer to the demand for more consumer affordable cameras with full frame 35 mm sensors.
I only got to take the camera out for a couple hours due to my schedule, but I’d been following different blog posts and reading reviews about the camera. All the reviews I read were performed on land, most under a controlled lighting environment and most of them were very positive so I was eager to give the camera a try this time underwater. I wanted to see how the housing handled and the camera performed under low light and poor visibility.
Some reviews raved about the low light capabilities. With the large 35 mm CMOS sensor all the information I gathered was positive. 1920×1080/60p to prevent aliasing/moire’. The camera was set to record at HD PS (28Mbps). 0 db. What I found impressive was that Sony has chosen to record to an SD card instead of a Compact Flash. This camera had a 32gb $64.00 card installed which would hold about 2 ½ hours of footage I was told. Histogram and zebra stripping were turned to off. There was no red filter attached. I was shooting down to the bare essentials to see what I could pull from the camera “out of the box” and over all I was impressed.
What I was most concerned with was the weight of the system—how the camera handled underwater. Was it balanced with a dome attached? How accessible were the controls and how did the camera respond? I wanted to know if this camera could shoot low light without the footage being covered with noise at depth of 80 feet.
What did the color look like? And were the controls intuitive and easily placed so that taking the camera out for the first time, I would get some results?
We left the picture profile unchanged and the color temperature was set to 5200 k. All white balancing was done manually without a slate.
An Amphibico external monitor was attached to the top of the housing to help with composition and two 10 watt Amphibico lights were attached for close-up shots. A Sony 16 mm fixed wide angle lens was mounted on front with a 6 inch bayonet mount Amphibico dome. This made for an amazing wide angle view of 180 degrees.
I was always a bit skeptical of the modular design of the Sony NEX-FS100. The ergonomics didn’t appear that intuitive and comfortable to shoot with on land. The open buttons are a concern of mine when shooting outdoors. But placed in an Amphibico housing the camera takes on a whole new shape and design similar to many DSLR’s only with higher quality images and more options. This prototype was missing ballast weights so the camera wanted to tilt down a little and the 3.5 inch window was missing a shade to view the LCD screen but as I understand Amphibico will incorportate these into their soon to be released Genesis housings.
Shooting at 60p with the 16 mm fixed wide angle lens and a Sony fisheye adapter, the images were sharp with no vinetteing as often associated with dome ports and wide angle lenses. I did find that the acrylic dome caused some color banding which may have been from an unclean dome.
I would like to see what a zoom lens looks like on the FS-100. Zoom lenses for underwater filming allow more variety in your footage and sometimes focusing on the smaller aquatic life is just as interesting as the bigger. Sony makes a SAL 16-50mm f/2.8 that you can read more about here.
On the housing, the Amphibico controls were right where one would expect them. White balancing and focus is critical underwater and Amphico has placed the controls easily within thumbs reach using the same control handles as the Amphibico Phenom. Unlike some systems where the white balance has to cycle through the menus, when I pushed the white balance on the Genesis housing the camera responded instantly with the adjustment.
Overall I found that this is a camera and housing made for underwater shooting.
The system was light weight enough to get in and out of the water when shore diving. With the different lenses and dome port attachments it gives users more control over their underwater video imaging. As with any camera, getting familiar with the settings is essential and takes time. By creating a customized picture profile setting and gain setting this will undoubtedly increase latitude and resolution. The housing controls are intuitive and respond immediately. With a the large 35mm sensor the camera can create a rich “Bokeh” when needed. I look forward to seeing more from users of the Sony NEX-FS100 in the future. This camera in combination with the Amphibico Genesis housing will raise the level of quality and originality in underwater filming for both consumers and professionals alike.
Update: 04-07-12 Sony has just posted a new video with footage and information on their soon to be released FS 700. It looks very impressive with the slow motion option frame rates usually only found in high end digital high speed cameras.