Sony FX6: The Sweet Spot in the Cinema Line

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Sony FX6: The Sweet Spot in the Cinema Line

Following its electrifying debut in 2020, the Sony FX6 quickly established itself as a true powerhouse in the world of compact cinema cameras—thanks, in part, to its exceptional image quality, low-light dominance, and feature-packed design. Today, Sony's Cinema Line is more robust and well-rounded than ever, with the FX6 sitting firmly between the tried-and-true FX9 and the more recent FX3.

FX6
FX6

In this article, we're going to take a detailed look at how the FX6 distinguishes itself among its cine siblings, from its intuitive cinema controls and features (that give it a distinctive performance edge over the FX3) to its compact form factor and pragmatic design that give filmmakers a more travel-friendly camera than the very capable (but significantly larger) FX9.

FX6 vs. FX3

Lots more features, a little more bulk

The Sony FX3 is currently one of the most compact cameras on the market that offers 4K full-frame recording capabilities and cinema-level control. Built for solo shooting and weighing a mere 1.4 lb (body only), it's no wonder the FX3 is one of the most sought-after cine cameras among traveling videographers. However, the FX3's compactness does come at the cost of certain video-specific features that could be a dealbreaker for filmmakers. Thankfully, where the FX3 falls short, the FX6 shines.

FX3
FX3

Inputs & Outputs

One of the most vital aspects of a camera's functionality is the type of interface it provides. The FX3 offers rudimentary inputs and outputs, including a 3.5mm TRS stereo microphone in and stereo headphone out, an HDMI out, as well as two XLR inputs and a ¼" mic/line input on the included XLR-H1 Handle Unit. While these ports are suitable for many applications for filmmakers on the go, they don't cover all of the necessary bases appropriate to a more professional environment. This is where the FX6 picks up the slack. Some of the important ins/outs featured on the FX6 but missing from the FX3 include:

  • BNC 12G SDI Output

  • BNC Timecode

  • Barrel 19.5VDC Input

For professional videographers, these included interface options make a world of a difference. The 12G SDI output, for example, allows users to output 16-bit RAW files up to UHD 4K 60p and DCI 4K 60p easily. The FX3 can also output 16-bit RAW files at 4K 60p, but it does so via the HDMI port, which lacks the added security, reliability, and functionality of SDI (which is why SDI—not HDMI—is considered to be the professional standard for wired video transmission).  

It's worth noting that despite SDI being the better video output option, the FX6 doesn't forego HDMI altogether. Case in point: above the BNC SDI connector, the FX6 features an HDMI output, which is handy for users who need to use both interfaces, and for those who only have HDMI cables on hand.

The FX6's Timecode port is another important interface the FX3 lacks. Filmmakers working with multiple cameras or external audio recorders on set will find the added Timecode port on the FX6 to be of great value because it will allow for efficient syncing of camera footage and audio sources.

The FX6 also features a barrel 19.5VDC input, ensuring that the camera is powered for indefinite periods of time.

FX6
FX6
FX3
FX3
FX3
FX3

Body & Ergonomics

Although the FX3 does have a smaller and lighter body compared to the FX6, the FX6 is arguably more ergonomic, making it just as—if not more—efficient for handheld and run-and-gun shooting.

Mounting Points

Anyone who has worked in video production long enough can attest to the fact that, more often than not, the camera is just a fraction of what makes up an entire rig. To make shooting as efficient and comfortable as possible, camera operators will upgrade their rigs with any number of useful accessories, including articulating arms, on-camera monitors, lights, cheese plates, cold shoes—the list goes on.

To accommodate all of those accessories, cameras require multiple mounting points—the most common being ¼"-20 and ⅜"-16 threaded holes. Unfortunately, a large number of camera manufacturers fail to include an adequate number of mounting points on their video cameras, forcing operators to purchase add-ons like camera cages to complete their desired rig. Thankfully, this is not the case with Sony's FX cameras, all of which feature several mounting points to accommodate a wide range of accessories and add-ons.

FX6
FX6
FX3
FX3

The FX3, for example, has one intelligent hot shoe and five different ¼"-20 mounts spread across its body. The total number of ¼"-20 mounts increases to eight if you include the three additional ¼"-20 mounts on the top handle. Eight ¼"-20 mounts is certainly an upgrade over many of the cameras currently on the market, some of which only have one ¼"-20 mounting point, which might not be enough.

For operators who need to accessorize beyond the FX3's capabilities, the FX6 features ten ¼"-20 mounts in body, alongside an additional seven ¼"-20 mounts on its removable handle. In other words, the FX6 offers nine more mounting points than its smaller counterpart, making it the perfect choice for creating the ultimate handheld rig.

Like the FX3, the FX6 also features one intelligent hot shoe.

Handles

While the FX3 and FX6 are excellent options for handheld shooting, the FX6 offers significantly more functional handling options.

For starters, let's look at the top handles that are included with both cameras. The FX6's handle is larger, with more room for grip, which makes it more comfortable to hold when shooting long takes.

In terms of accessibility: The FX3's handle is mounted via the multi-interface shoe, rendering it unusable for any other MI-shoe related accessories. The FX6 avoids this restriction, thanks to its shoe's placement on the top of its handle.

The FX6 also features an exclusive smart handle, which gives users immediate access to important controls and function dials and makes holding the camera very comfortable. Fans of the Sony FS5 will find comfort in the strikingly similar feel of the FX6's top and smart handles, the design of which seem to have been directly inspired by the FS5.

Sony XLR-H1 XLR Handle Unit
Sony XLR-H1 XLR Handle Unit

Battery

The FX3 and FX6 operate on two different types of batteries.

Like most Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras, the FX3 utilizes Sony's NP-FZ100 battery. This is a 2280mAh (16.42Wh at 7.2 VDC) battery that, depending on usage, delivers an estimated 95 to 135 minutes of shooting per charge. Without question, the NP-FZ100 is a fantastic battery with a great run time for its size, but it doesn't compare to the more powerful and diverse BP-U battery options available for the FX6.

Sony NP-FZ100 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
Sony NP-FZ100 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery

Similar to Sony's famed FS line, the FX6 utilizes Sony's BP-U series battery, which is currently available in three distinct capacities. The BP-U35 features a battery capacity of 35Wh (2430.56mAh at 14.4 VDC). The BP-U70 offers 72Wh (5000mAh at 14.4 VDC). And the BP-U100 delivers 97Wh (6736.11mAh at 14.4 VDC).

Sony BP-U35 Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
Sony BP-U35 Lithium-Ion Battery Pack

One thing to keep in mind is that while all three of the BP-U batteries offer a higher capacity than the NP-FZ100, the power consumption of the cameras that utilize them differ. The FX3, for example, requires around 7.3W of power. Meanwhile, the FX6's power consumption is about 18W. The FX6's higher consumption rate means users can expect 105 minutes of operation from a BP-U35 battery, 215 minutes from the BP-U70, and an estimated 290 minutes from the BP-U100.

Internal ND Filters vs. IBIS

Arguably, one of the FX6's most exciting and useful features is its internal electronic variable ND filter—a feature that many believe should be the industry standard for cinema cameras. Using this unique ND filter system, FX6 operators can darken or brighten their image seamlessly without having to compromise on depth of field/aperture, gain levels, or shutter speed. This system provides a control range from ¼ to 1/128, equivalent to two to seven stops of light. For filmmakers looking for the most creative control and/or often find themselves in environments with varying levels of exposure, the Electronic VND system is a priceless tool that will allow you to focus on capturing the best shot possible without the hassle of exposing and re-exposing manually.

The implementation of this outstanding VND system makes the FX6 one of the most practical and useful handheld cinema cameras on the market; however, this did not come without sacrifice. Unlike the FX3, the FX6 does not have any sort of IBIS (In-body Image Stabilization), otherwise known as 5-axis image stabilization. This stabilizing system compensates for camera shake through internal accelerometers, significantly reducing jittery footage as well as unwanted handheld movements. For those wondering why the FX6 does not have this feature, it quite simply boils down to the fact that Sony would not have been able to fit both the Electronic VND and IBIS into one device because they both take up similar real-estate alongside the camera's sensor.

As nice as it would have been to have IBIS within the FX6, it's certainly not a deal-breaker. The Electronic VND provides much more function and creative control for filmmakers and as noted previously, the FX6's ergonomics allow for better handheld control than the FX3, effectively reducing the amount of shake that one would originally experience with the FX3. On top of that, with the predominance of stabilizing systems on the market, one can easily acquire stabile footage with the FX6.

Image Quality

Comparing the image quality of these two cine cameras, it's evident that the FX3 is essentially on par with FX6. This is especially true following the recent firmware update for the FX3, which unlocked a ton of new recording features, including DCI 4K and true 24 fps recording.

However, with respect to image capture and processing, one noteworthy difference between the two cine cameras is the type of file format each uses. The FX6 captures 10-Bit 4:2:2 in the MXF wrapper XAVC-I, while the FX3 utilizes the XACV S-I MP4 wrapper. While this difference in format shouldn't result in differentiating image quality between the two cameras, professional editors might prefer the FX6's MXF format since MXF files typically carry more metadata than MP4s and are better supported by most non-linear editing systems (NLE).

While the FX3 and the FX6 are both capable of producing similarly beautiful imagery, it's evident that the body design and form factor of the FX6 provides independent filmmakers with far greater control over how they capture that imagery.

Shot with FX6
Shot with FX6
Shot with FX3
Shot with FX3

FX6 vs. FX9

The pragmatic choice for independent filmmakers

When comparing the FX6 to the FX9, it's clear that these two cine cameras belong in separate categories of professional videography. While the FX9 would be the ideal choice for broadcast and TV productions, independent filmmakers will find the features of the FX6 to be more pragmatic for their needs.

FX9
FX9

Inputs & Outputs

Although the FX6 and FX9 share many similar ins and outs, the FX9 extends upon these professional ports with the inclusion of:

  • BNC Genlock

  • Two XLR's in-body 

  • Two BNC SDI Outputs: 12G & 3G

One feature that is exclusive to the FX9 is the inclusion of a Genlock (generator locking) port. Genlock is a method of synchronization that utilizes a reference signal that ensures the synchronous capture of video among two or more cameras in a production. This is especially useful on large-scale film sets, television studios, or live events where multiple cameras are employed to capture the content synchronously.

The FX9 also features the addition of two XLR inputs directly on its body, unlike the FX6, which requires its top handle to be attached to have any sort of audio inputs. Another audio-related distinction between these two is how many channels of audio they can record. While the FX6 is limited to 2 channels, the FX9 bolsters 4-channel recording, allowing for precise audio control for the external recorders and the internal camera audio.

With the FX9, users get an additional 3G SDI output on top of the 12G SDI, ideal for adding an additional monitor into the workflow. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the two 12G SDI's are not identical; with the FX6's 12G output, it can produce a 16-bit Raw video, while the 12G output on the FX9 does not support a 16-bit raw output. Instead, users will have to purchase the additional XDCA-FX9 Extension Unit to "unlock" the FX9's RAW output capability.

FX6
FX6
FX9
FX9

The addition of this extension unit will also tack on more outputs/inputs for the camera.

  • Additional Timecode out

  • Raw SDI output

  • Reference signal outputs

  • Wired LAN port

  • Two USB-A outputs

  • 4-Pin XLR VDC output

Body and Ergonomics

With the FX9 fostering more ports directly on its body it's no surprise that it is also the larger of the two.

  • The FX9 body weighs 4.41 pounds; 10.58 pounds with the included battery, grip, handle, monitor, and viewfinder attached.

  • The FX6 body weighs 2 pounds; 5.71 pounds with the included battery, grip, handle, and viewfinder attached.

A quick glance at the specs tells us that the FX6 would be significantly more enticing for run-and-gun videographers, because it's roughly half the weight of the FX9. Additionally, for any kind of gimbal work, the FX6 takes the crown on that because its compact and lightweight form factor make it an easy fit for most gimbal systems. With the FX9, on the other hand, gimbal operation will be significantly trickier since there will not only be fewer gimbals in the market that can support the size of the camera, but the weight increase will make gimbal operation a nightmare without including an additional stabilizing system.

The FX9 is more suited for work that requires shoulder-mounted shots. While the camera itself doesn't come with a built-in shoulder pad, the XDCA-FX9 Extension Unit acts as an ENG (electronic news gathering) style shoulder mount, allowing users to disperse the FX9's weight over their shoulder easily. The FX9 also comes with a side handle similar to the FX6, but with the benefit of an extension arm that seamlessly attaches from the handle to the body. This makes shooting from the shoulder significantly less taxing on the arms.

For an added level of security, the FX9 has a locking E-mount. This ensures that your lens stays put and provides the much-needed stability for larger lenses that would otherwise strain the camera mount.

Mounting Points

Despite the FX9 having a physically larger body than the FX6, it actually has fewer mounting points.

FX6

  • Ten ¼"-20 mounts in-body

  • Seven additional ¼"-20 mounts on the included top handle

  • One intelligent hot shoe

FX9

  • Six ¼"-20 mounts in body

  • Two 3/8"-16 mounts

  • One Intelligent hot shoe

Considering the FX9's larger size, it's surprising and a bit odd that it has fewer mounting points than the FX6. However, despite having fewer mounting points, the FX9 does have two 3/8"-16 mounts, which would have been a welcomed addition on the FX6.

Memory

The FX9 is the only camera in Sony's current cinema lineup that still utilizes XQD cards (both the FX6 and FX3 have adopted a dual SD / CFexpress Type A slot). Although the FX9 does feature an SD port, it's strictly a utility port that allows users to customize parameters and recall them via an SD card. This is particularly useful in cases where there are multiple FX9s in use and the director of photography wants to ensure that all of the camera presets and settings are identical.

Sensor and Image

While the FX6 and the FX3 possess strikingly similar image processing and sensor capabilities, the FX9 distinguishes itself with a larger sensor.

  • FX3/FX6: 12.9 Megapixel sensor (10.2 Effective)

  • FX9: 20.5 Megapixel sensor (19 Effective)

Utilizing its 6K resolution sensor to down-sample to a gorgeous 4K picture in body, the FX9 provides an exceptionally beautiful image. This allows the 4K image to portray the visual information of a 6K file while reducing file size and decreasing apparent noise.

With the FX9's higher-resolution sensor allowing it to utilize glorious down-sampling to create stunning 4K files, it might seem that the FX6 has met its match in the imaging department. However, even though the FX9 can produce a down-sampled 4K file, there is much more at play when it comes to creating professional videos. It would be inaccurate to say that one camera does better video than the other. Rather, both cameras provide unique visual features that can be better served for varying applications.

Although the FX6 does not bolster down-sampling like the FX9, its 12.9 MP sensor offers a plethora of other features that may draw users to it, as opposed to its fancier peer.

One of the many benefits of having fewer megapixels in a camera is the increase of performance in low light. Since there are fewer pixels within the same size full-frame sensor, the pixels are made significantly larger to cover the full surface area. In turn, these larger pixels are able to capture and saturate the entire sensor with a greater amount of light when compared to the denser and smaller pixels of the FX9.

Furthering the FX6's low-light capabilities is its highly impressive Dual base ISO of 800 and 12,800, allowing it to retain peak dynamic range with minimal noise at both bases. The FX9 also features a Dual Base ISO, however it ranges at 800 and 4,000, a far cry from the FX6's 12,800.

Now, for those pitch-black shots that render even a base of 12,800 unusable, the FX6 has an extended ISO range of a whopping 409,600 to capture even the most light devoid subjects. The FX9's extended range tops out at 102,400.

Rolling Shutter

With the vast majority of cameras on the market operating with rolling shutter CMOS sensors, it should be no surprise that fast camera movements or the filming of fast-moving objects can produce unwanted distortion in the final image. The FX6 and FX9 are both susceptible to this effect. Unfortunately for the FX9, its rolling-shutter management is unquestionably the lesser of the two. This is in correlation to the higher resolution of the camera's sensor; more pixels per row on a sensor subsequently requires a longer readout, while on the opposite spectrum, fewer pixels per row provide a faster readout. Filmmakers looking to capture fast-paced action will assuredly benefit from the FX6's superior rolling shutter.

RAW Output

While it's true that the entire FX lineup can output up to 16-Bit Raw via compatible external recorders, the process varies from camera to camera. The FX3 and FX6, for example, can output the Raw signal directly to a recorder. The FX9, on the other hand, requires the addition of the XDCA-FX9 Extension Unit to enable Raw output capabilities.

For users looking to get Raw recording straight out of the box without being compelled to purchase additional units other than a compatible external recorder, the FX6 would be the best choice of the three. Yes, it's true the FX3 also outputs Raw straight from the camera body, but recall what we discussed earlier: the FX3 outputs Raw over HDMI, while the FX6 utilizes the more professional and secure BNC SDI connection.

The Sweet Spot

The FX6 is an extremely versatile and well-rounded camera that is well-suited for a wide variety of applications. Offering many of the professional features seen in the FX9, but in a modest form factor that surpasses the handheld ergonomics of the FX3, the FX6 represents the sweet spot of the Sony Cinema Line.

For more information and detailed specs, click on the above hyperlinks to visit the product pages. Questions, comments, arguments? Post them in the Comments section, below.

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