Sony FX9 vs A7 III – Is it Worth Upgrading?

The Sony FX9 and A7 III both shoot 4K video with a Full-Frame sensor, use the E-Mount lens system and produce a very similar looking final image in the hands of the right camera-person. Although one might be big and the other one pretty tiny, their differences inside, features, and usability is where you, the would-be buyer, will draw contrast.

Is this $10,998 upgrade worth it, or are you just ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ or worse, are you just ‘chasing the dragon’? Will this camera open up new avenues for business, or leave you strung out with empty pockets looking for your next fix?

Austin Black has put together this rundown comparing the two and how they integrate into his business.

Stop. That’s right, I’m talking to you. Just stop. Go find a mirror and take a moment to glance at the person on the other side. This is your moment of clarity.

Who are you? What do you do? Where are you going? Think about your job, your life, your family, your home. Is it really worth continuing to go down this endless road – comparing ISOs, bit-depth, pixels, frame rates, codecs?

Of course, it is, or else you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Regardless if you’re just starting out, a budding professional, or a seasoned craftsman, understanding the positives and negatives of the tools we use for work can only add to your potential and heighten your enjoyment of the art.

But it’s also easy to become a gear junkie, so please allow these 12 steps points about the FX9 and the A7 III assist you to determine if a $10,998 equipment investment is right for you and your future.

ONE – Brand Eco-System

When you stick with Sony, upgrading is easy. Overtime you’ll spend a lot more money on lenses than you ever will on one specific camera. If you were to upgrade to a Canon C500 mk II you’d have to sell everything and start again, for example.

TWO – Internal Codecs

Does your work require broadcast-ready codecs? The Sony FX9 shoots XAVC-I 4:2:2, 10-Bit in UHD 4K (24p) at 240Mb/s. Whereas, the A7 III shoots XAVC S/H.264 4:2:0, 8-Bit in UHD 4k (24p) at 100Mb/s.

More importantly, the FX9 is (or will be) an approved camera by most networks. This could open up a whole new world of consistent, good paying work for you. However, if you don’t already have those clients lined up this could be a waste of money.

THREE – Audio Inputs

The A7 III only has a single, stereo 1/8″ input jack but the FX9 has two XLR inputs with +48v Phantom power and professional pre-amps. If you’re lugging around a second system with your A7 III, and constantly having to sync in post this upgrade could save you a ton of time.

FOUR – Video & Data Inputs

On the FX9, you have 1x 3G SDI-OUT, 1x 12G SDI-OUT, 1 Full-sized HDMI 2.0, 1x Timecode I/O, 1x BNC Timecode Data Input/Output, 1x BNC Genlock Data Input, and 1x USB Micro-B USB 3.1 Gen 1 Data. This camera was designed to be on a shoot with multiple cameras and a team, as well as with a one-man-band solo operator.

The A7 III has none of those inputs – it only has 1x mini HDMI output, 1x 1/8″ audio input, and a headphone jack. If you don’t need them because you don’t shoot for broadcast, however, what’s the point of paying the extra $8K?

FIVE – Better Colors and Latitude

The final image that most people see will be 8-Bit on their TV, computer, or phone. If you’ve got the time while filming, you could set everything perfectly in camera but most shots will need adjustments (especially if you’re run-and-gun). That’s where that added bit depth, and a higher quality capture really becomes noticeable.

With the FX9’s XAVC-I 4:2:2, 10-Bit in UHD 4K at 240Mb/s you’ll be able to correct for most common color balance mistakes, and still recover an image that was overexposed or underexposed. On the A7ii, what you shoot is what you get and corrections in post aren’t always easy.

SIX – Built-In Variable ND

Sony has placed a 4 to 128 Stop Electronic ND Filter in the FX9 giving you the ability to dial-in any exposure instantly. The A7 III is a stills camera first-and-foremost and doesn’t have any built-in NDs, but if you have the time you can attach an ND or a variable ND to the front of your lens.

SEVEN – Professionalism and Perception

Times are changing and even though these little cameras can shoot amazing images, people will always be set in their ways. Bigger cameras, like the FX9, look professional and sometimes that perception is important.

To any client, the A7 III can look like a toy. Beyond that, the low cost of entry into a mirrorless system might even just prompt clients to invest their money into a camera, assign an intern, and forget about hiring a professional.

EIGHT – Rental Value

You should charge every client or renter a fair market rate when using your equipment. If you aren’t billing for your gear, what’s the point in owning it?

Currently, the Sony A7 III is renting online for ~$24/day, and the FX9 is renting for ~$190/day for the cheapest price I could find (and that’s cheap rental houses are way more). You’ll recoup your investment far more quickly with the FX9 than you ever could with the A7 III simply by availability and demand.

NINE – Long Term Investment

By comparison, the Sony FS7 (which was released in 2014) is still a well-used camera for documentaries, narrative films, event shooting, and broadcast. It was a fantastic investment for shooters and was really a big win for Sony.

If the FX9 continues the legacy of the FS7, this could be a work-horse camera that you use for years and years. However, the A7s was quickly replaced by the A7sII and Sony seems to churn out these mirrorless cameras quickly. With the A7 III, you might end up with a paperweight in 5 years that nobody wants to use and you can’t sell.

TEN – Battery Life

This isn’t covered in Austin’s video but prep time before a shoot is crucial, and having to monitor the charging of 5-10 batteries is a lot to do the day before a shoot. The FX9’s native batteries are bigger and last longer. You can throw 2 or 4 on a charger and be ready to roll for a 1-2 day shoot with minimal effort.

Moreover, if you’re a solo shooter recording your own audio there is no second system to charge and check. An all-in-one like the FX9 is ready to go faster which will save you time.

ELEVEN – Form Factor and Weight

At 4.4lbs w/o a lens, the FX9 is a lot heavier than the A7 III. You can go more places, shoot handheld longer, and rig the A7 III to more support equipment (cheaply) than you can the FX9.

You also have the added benefit of blending into the crowd with the A7 III which can help you go unnoticed and get more footage.

TWELVE – Cost

Like all addictions it all comes down to money, doesn’t it?

The body-only cost of the FX9 is $10,998 compared to the A7 III which costs $1,998. That is a 5.5x difference in price just for the camera body. You’ll still need lenses, media, a case or bag, etc.

You could purchase multiple A7 IIIs, shoot additional angles, and run concurrent projects with multiple teams for the price of just one FX9.

CONCLUSION

No matter how you slice it, $11k is a big investment if you’re considering an upgrade for the potential of acquiring new work. If the A7 III is working for you and your business, you should just stick with it.

For those of you looking to break into broadcast work or narrative film, a camera isn’t going to get you there alone. You should line up the work, find the clients, and position yourself as an asset which will only cost you time. Do this before you start spending your money on new equipment to attract the business.

Develop a relationship with other camera owner/operators and rental houses. Speak to your clients and ask them what equipment they are filming with and invest in those cameras. And finally, just consider buying a used FS7 – it is still one of the main cameras in use today.

But if you want the latest and the greatest, the FX9 isn’t going to disappoint you and it will likely be as good of an investment as the FS7 was in 2014. All kidding aside, I hope my analogy gave you some insight and helped you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This camera isn’t an upgrade to the A7 III. The FX9 is an incremental upgrade to the FS7 and the camera-people who are already filming with it.

[source: Austin Black]

Order Links:

Sony Alpha a7 III Mirrorless Digital Camera (B&H, Amazon)

Sony PXW-FX9 XDCAM 6K Full-Frame Camera System (B&H, Amazon)

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