At this point in camera development, most people aren’t looking for a mirrorless camera that can shoot video. Instead, they want a compact cinema camera that shares features with the mirrorless cameras that skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to their surprisingly impressive video specs. Sony strove for this paradigm with the FX30 and has done an excellent job.
At a Glance
|26.1MP APS-C BSI CMOS Sensor||LUT & Timecode Support||Blackmagic Pocket 6K Series|
|10-bit UHD 4K up to 120p||Advanced Hybrid AF||FUJIFILM X-T5 & X-H2|
|S-Cinetone/S-Log3||In-Body Stabilization||Panasonic GH6|
|4.7K 16-bit raw output||Sony a7 IV|
Perks & Drawbacks
|Newly developed APS-C sensor||No DCI or true 24.00 fps modes|
|Cage-free design||No EVF option|
|10-bit UHD 4K up to 120p||Missing waveforms, 180-degree shutter and other common video features|
|Very effective AF system||Requires extra tools for max quality and functionality|
|Can use APS-C lenses|
|S-Cinetone/S-Log3 & User LUTs|
|Relatively affordable price|
It is clear by the aesthetics that the FX30 is a Cinema Line camera. Sporting an identical look to the FX3—the previous entry-level cinema camera from Sony—doesn’t hurt either. The design is among the most surprising things about the FX30. With its cage-free design and light weight, the FX3 was considered a great camera system and now, the FX30 shares all that. By swapping out the FX3’s full-frame sensor for a newly developed 26.1MP APS-C option, Sony was able to change one key aspect of the system: the price.
At launch, the FX30 cost $1,800 for the body only and $2,200 for a kit with the XLR Handle Unit. Less than half the cost of the FX3, the FX30 dramatically lowers the barrier for entry into Sony’s Cinema Line.
This also puts it in the realm of other entry-level cinema options, such as the Blackmagic Pocket 6K series. Things are getting very interesting.
All those things considered, the FX30 is easily one of the most compelling cinema camera options for aspiring filmmakers, especially because it gets you in the door of Sony’s Cinema Line, which is incredibly popular and might be the desired path when it comes time to upgrade.
The FX30 has a lot to live up to. It is now the entry-level option of the Cinema Line series and bearing that name comes with some expectations. Fortunately, it seems to check all the necessary boxes.
This is the first 26MP APS-C sensor Sony has used and it is a step up from the previous round of 24MP options. It does full 6K oversampling and creates sharp 10-bit 4K video. Compared to the FX3 or even the FX6, the FX30 can retain a touch more detail since it is starting from a higher resolution.
Where it does fall a little short of its full-frame siblings is in dynamic range and low-light performance. The FX30 still claims a dual native ISO, though at more modest ISO 800 and 2500, but only hits a rated 14+ stops of dynamic range. This is a stop lower than the FX3/FX6. But this is still excellent and puts it in the top grouping of APS-C/Super35 camera systems. Noise is more prevalent as you bump up the ISO though, so you’ll have to be mindful.
For real-world use, I would recommend sticking to the two base ISO options of 800 and 2500. Going far above 2500 will result in noticeable noise. It is safely usable up to about ISO 6400 or 8000, in my opinion, and with some good noise reduction in post, many users will probably be able to push it even farther than that.
Picture Profiles are an exact match to the other Cinema Line offerings. You’ll find S-Log3, S-Cinetone, and more. Plus, it has the Cine EI mode that just made it to the FX3.
Crop is another major point of comparison for the FX30. The FX3/FX6 use the full-frame area to great effect. Moving down to APS-C can seem like a negative. On the contrary, there are plenty of advantages for the crop system. However, I have to point out that there is a big negative in that 120p recording is limited to an additional 1.6x crop of the sensor for a total of around 2.4x crop, compared to full-frame. This could be limiting if slow motion was a key selling point for you.
There are plenty of advantages of having a crop sensor. Cost is the obvious one. As already stated, the FX30 costs less than half the FX3, even with the same body design. As for imaging, one of the biggest benefits is the lens selection. The FX30’s E mount can work with a huge array of past and current glass with ease.
Lens selection alone makes the FX30 a great choice for beginners and you can build a whole kit for a fraction of the cost of full-frame systems. You can adapt older glass, make use of speed boosters, and even pick up modern options that are cheaper and smaller.
Sony’s own 10-20mm PZ lens is a compelling option and one I highly recommend for anyone looking to acquire the FX30. There are even the 11mm and 15mm APS-C lenses that are also excellent options. Additionally, this sensor format opens the door for other types of lenses that were harder to find in full-frame variants, such as newer compact anamorphics.
Rolling shutter is still something to keep an eye on with modern cameras. Compared to the FX3 or other stacked APS-C competitors, the FX30 has a touch more rolling shutter, but it does manage to beat out other full-frame picks with similar or greater resolutions. Nothing to worry about in day-to-day use.
Raw output is available via the full-size HDMI port at just under 4.7K resolution. This is the usual Sony raw in 16-bit that requires a compatible Atomos recorder. For full 60p recording you’ll need the Ninja V+, though for 30p you’ll be fine with the base Ninja V. It’s a good option to have.
Overall, it’s hard to find fault with the image quality. The crop in 120p is annoying, but the FX30 remains competitive with other APS-C/Super35 cameras
One negative that comes with the major cost reduction is that the FX30 has lost the physical shutter. This means still images must rely on the electronic shutter, which is not as effective for still photos. Rolling shutter, of which there isn’t a negligible amount, and the inability to use flash can be very limiting for the FX30’s use cases. A stacked sensor, like that in the Sony a1 and Nikon Z9 are able to alleviate many of these issues, but the FX30's more conventional BSI design isn't cutting it. If you need or want a hybrid camera, the FX30 isn’t that.
I’m not going to spend too much time on the body of the FX30 since it is a near-match of the FX3. I will call out some of the highlights of that design and some additional features that were added here.
The main existing features are below:
1/4"-20 mounting points around body
Full-size HDMI port
Integrated fan for active cooling
In-body image stabilization
Full vari-angle touchscreen LCD
Multi-Terminal that supports timecode with optional timecode adapter cable
Dual CFexpress Type A/SD card slots
One major change is that the FX30 is available with or without the XLR Handle Unit. If you don’t intend to use the FX30 with XLR or a camera-mounted shotgun mic then you can save a fair bit of cash by forgoing it at purchase time. Sony is planning to make the handle separately available in the future if you ever want to purchase one later.
If you are vlogging, for example, you might never need the XLR adapter since you might prefer to use something like the RØDE Wireless GO II for your audio. This option saves space in the bag, as well.
Autofocus is as good as all of Sony’s latest cameras. It’ll keep track of people with ease and is up there with the best of them.
I do miss having an EVF and would love if Sony could work some magic with the Multi-Interface Shoe and give us a removable option—much like the Blackmagic Pocket 6K Pro.
Active cooling ensures long recording times without issue and I can verify that it works just as well as on the FX3.
There are some new functions that Sony added to the FX30:
Breathing Compensation with select lenses
USB webcam function with up to 4K resolution (15p)
More advanced support for Catalyst Browse post-production software
These are definitely nice features to have but nothing that is going to revolutionize things for Sony’s lineup.
There are some things I am still waiting for:
True 24.00 fps support
DCI 4K resolution
There are several other things I could add, like anamorphic and open gate shooting, but I prefer to focus on the ones above since they seem solvable with software updates. The thing that bothers me the most is that the FX30 and FX3 are part of the Cinema Line, but you can’t 100% match your settings with an FX6, for example, if you wanted.
Shooting a short in DCI 4K at 24.00 fps with an FX6 and then picking up an FX3 for more compact locations or gimbal work means you’ll have to mess with the footage in post to sync it up and there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for that.
None of that prevents the FX30 from being an outstanding choice for any aspiring filmmaker or videographer. Even vloggers looking for a better kit will find advantages to going with the FX30, not the least of which is that it is a true 10-bit camera.
Sony has a winner with the FX30. The brand has made some compromises to make the camera more accessible to beginners, but nothing that makes the camera feel incomplete. It offers many professional features in a package that is compact and affordable, which is commendable.
If you are looking to upgrade to your first serious cinema camera, the FX30 is going to be hard to beat. The obvious upgrade path also makes it perfect if you have greater aspirations, since you can learn all the essentials of Sony’s system from the start.
As far as APS-C/Super35 compact cinema cameras go, the FX30 is solid and is a long-overdue entry from Sony. It very well may be the best entry-level cinema camera available at the moment. Sony just needs to make sure it stays competitive.
What are your thoughts on the FX30? Let us know in the Comments section, below.