I recently spent some time testing the FX30 and I have to say I was genuinely impressed. So impressed I went out and purchased one. I'll primarily be using it with the Sony 18-105 G f4 power zoom. For me this is a great little combination, a high quality camera with a compact and lightweight almost 6x power zoom. Throw in the clear image zoom (and because the FX30 over samples from 6K the clear image zoom is pretty much invisible) and you have 18mm to the equivalent of 157mm or almost 9x. This is going to be very difficult to ever achieve in such a small and lightweight package with full frame. This makes it really handy for a lot of travel, journalistic or documentary type productions.
I did dig into the FX30's image quality in great depth, I was keen to measure the dynamic range, noise and sensitivity in some meaningful way, so I compared it to both an FS7 and an FX6. I chose the FS7 as the FS7 is also a super 35mm camera and I think a lot of people looking for a cheap camera may be looking at both the FX30 as well as used FS7's or FS5's.
In terms of dynamic range I measured a good 14 stops. The FX30 has finer and less coloured noise than the FS7 and the lower noise means the useable shadow range of the FX30 exceeds that of the FS7. In fact I was unable to measure any difference in DR between the FX30 and the FX6 at 800 ISO. At the FX30's second base ISO of 2500 ISO the FX30 remains less noisy than the FS7 (at its base of 2000 ISO) and is a fair bit less noisy than the FX6 is at it's high base of 12,800. So for low light the FX30 performs a lot better than the FS7. As a side note - often I find the very wide base ISO separation of the FX6/FX30 too large. For most normal productions 3200 ISO would me my preference over 12,800. But what about shooting in very low light?
I also did some under exposure recovery tests to compare all 3 and the FX30 did very well. I think oversampling from 6K of pixels to 4K really helps keep the image quite clean. Based on my tests I feel the FX30 at high base comes out about 1.5 stops behind the FX6. So the FX30 at the equivalent of around 5000 ISO (2500 base + post production gain) performs similarly to the FX6 (12,800 base shooting at 5000 EI). Overall the FX6 (and FX3/A7S3) remain the kings of low light but the FX30 is not all that far behind. At the equivalent of 5000 ISO the FS7 was really struggling and noisier than both the FX6 and FX30.
The one image defect I did observe with the FX30 was a noticeable amount of highlight smear. When I did the DR test with my home made DR test device the brightest stop which is set right at the cameras clip point caused a noticeable smear band. But the FX6 also showed a small amount of smear. Smear from CMOS sensors isn't completely unusual and while of course I would prefer it if the FX30 didn't smear, I feel the amount of smear is manageable and given the cost of the camera I'm not too concerned by it. It only occurs when a significant highlight is very close to or actually clipping and you'll only see it the parts of the image either side of the highlight are relatively dark.
It does have more rolling shutter than the FX6/FX30, but its not at all bad, not that much different to the FS7.
The 6K oversampling produces really sharp and detailed images, colours are great and well matched to the FX6/FX9. I do need to re-test in this area because although very well matched I did notice some very slight differences when I was pixel peeping, but I'm not sure whether this was a slight white balance error or a genuine difference. Again though, if the difference is real, it's very slight and not something I'm worried about as for most applications 2 cameras shooting 2 different angles will always look very slightly different anyway.
I do like full frame, but there is definitely a place for super 35mm, the FX30 isn't replacing anything. But it is nice to have an oversampled super 35mm camera. I have a lot of lenses I can use with the FX30 including some Sirui s35 1.35x Anamorphics. I can use it on a gimbal or crane with the 18-105 power zoom and remotely control the zoom. I'll be taking it up to the Arctic for my Northern Lights shoots as it will fit in a large pocket when we are off exploring by snow scooter. And who knows, if I can get decent internet perhaps I'll be able to use the FX30's webcam function to stream the Northern Lights live (or maybe I'll take an FR7 for that).
It's absolutely amazing how technology moves. To think a tiny camera like the FX30 would be a strong FS7 upgrade image quality-wise is just awesome. Something I am sure most we're thinking too much about 5+ years ago. It's cool to see that between the FX9 and now FX30 there are true S35 options out there for the folks that fully embrace the format and still have all of their lenses etc. Great write up and thanks.
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