Is the Sony FX30 Solid Value for the Money?

Is the Sony FX30 Solid Value for the Money?

Today, I’m taking a look at the new Sony FX30, the latest entrant in Sony’s cinema line.

Now, I’ll start off the review addressing a simple question. Is the FX30 (or the FX3 for that matter) actually a cinema camera? What actually defines a cinema camera? As mirrorless camera video capabilities continue to grow, the line between video camera and hybrid cameras continues to blur. We live in an age in which the phone in your pocket is capable of making a feature film (see Tangerine or Unsane). While getting great production value will always be a challenge, getting adequate image quality has never been easier.

For me, “cinema cameras” include things like built-in NDs, internal raw recording capabilities, shutter angle, SDI ports, dedicated timecode ports, great internal audio preamps, advanced exposure monitoring tools like waveforms and false color, and a robust set of recording codecs to address a multitude of situations. But as production becomes possible with smaller and smaller crews, many more limited cameras are often more than capable of getting the job done in the right hands. In my time with the FX30, it proved to be a very versatile tool and a solid value for the money.

Now, if you’ve read my columns in the past, you’ll be well aware that I am a Nikonian. I use my Z9 for all my still work and much of my video work that doesn’t require a more full-fledged cinema system. It’s the perfect camera for me. So, I’m not writing as someone with an intention of switching brands. But, as a director/cinematographer and someone who writes about technology, I make it a point to be well versed in every tool that comes to market. You never know what you'll need for a job. I’m less concerned with highlight stats that make it onto the poster. I’m more concerned with whether or not a tool can get the job done and whether it can do so in a cost-effective way for the production.

My interest in the FX30 actually started with my being intrigued by the next step up in the Sony cinema line, the FX3. I had shot a short film with the Sony a7S III and enjoyed the experience. The FX3 is essentially just an a7S III in a more video-friendly body (with one or two improvements). I still have yet to shoot with an FX3. But when the FX30 was announced as what amounted to an FX3 with a crop sensor and under $2,000 ($1,798 to be exact), I was curious to get my hands on one.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about why using a crop sensor camera for video is not always a negative. While many reviews of the FX30 will note the smaller sensor as a shortcoming, the truth is that filmmakers have been shooting major films on “crop” sensors for years. Full frame in video is really only a relatively speaking recent thing that’s coming to market. So, it’d be a mistake to think that not having a full frame video camera is fatal to fantastic storytelling. In fact, it can be an advantage as it allows you access to an entire legacy of great cinema lenses that were built with crop sensors in mind as well as cut down cost and weight with lighter and less expensive glass.

The second thing that interested me about the FX30 was the built in cage. This is the main thing that separates it (and the FX30) from the Sony non-cinema cameras in appearance. The camera is built to be cageless with a number of screw mounts spread over the body for mounting accessories.  

On paper, this sounded like a great idea. Although, I will admit that this ended up being more frustrating to me than I expected. The mounting points were all great, but the system is clearly geared towards someone who is going to stay fully within the Sony ecosystem. Because I am not a Sony shooter and didn’t have all the Sony accessories, I found I was hampered when trying to use many of the generic accessories that I often use with other brands. For instance, the holes on top of the camera were great. But, the way they line up with the hotshoe makes it difficult to add a NATO rail without blocking the hotshoe. So, for example, if I wanted to attach a NATO handle to the top as opposed to the Sony branded handle, I would end up losing access to the hotshoe. This isn’t the end of the world. I just wished there was a little better spacing or depth on top of the camera so I could do both.

Similar thing on the bottom of the camera. For a cinema camera, why they chose not to include two screws on the bottom, or at least a locating pin, instead of just one I’m not sure. If you’ve ever had your video camera mounted on a tripod or gimbal with only one mounting point before and quickly found that it wouldn’t stop rotating at the worst moments, you’ll know what I mean. True, both the bottom mounting point and more room next to the hotshoe would have meant the camera needed to be thicker front to back. But the camera is so small as it is, I don’t think an extra half of an inch would have caused too many headaches. As it is, I think a cage for this cageless camera is still a necessity.

Speaking of the camera’s size, I consider this to be a strong point. I am usually not super enamored by smaller cameras. I find that I like the idea in principle, but then get a small camera in my hand and wish I had something with a little more girth. But the advantage of the FX30’s miniature size is that it makes it very useful for filming in a more inconspicuous manner. So if you are doing a documentary where you need to be a fly on the wall, vlogging where you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, or just trying to get a quick shot in a location you, ahem, aren’t supposed to be in, this camera is a great size to move in and out unnoticed.

I mentioned vlogging in the previous paragraph. Buying a cinema camera just to vlog might seem like a bit of overkill. But when using the camera I noticed a few things about it that lend itself to this type of environment. It is a very easy camera to use. It inspired you to just want to grab it, turn it on, and get going. This might not sound like a lot, but knowing you can get a great image with minimal effort is key to a “content creator.” Sure, you can do this with even less expensive cameras, but the FX30 I found quite enjoyable to use and the type of system that one would want to have in such situations. Especially when paired with a lens like the E 10-20mm f/4 PZ G, I found this an incredibly quick system to handle. With a number of cameras at my disposal, this was one area where I reached for the FX30 first.

One thing that makes the camera so easy to use is the Cine EI function. In short, by switching to this mode, the camera essentially only shoots in the camera’s two base ISOs, 800 and 2,500. This means that it is always shooting at the ISOs which deliver the maximum dynamic range. This may seem like a limitation. And, you don’t have to use Cine EI and are free to adjust your ISO normally like any other camera. But I find the limitation freeing. Having come up shooting film, I am very used to the idea that the ASA of the film in one’s camera is fixed and you need to adjust other things to get the right exposure. By presenting you with two essentially high and low ISOs, your choices are limited. There is less to distract you, less choices to make. And, for me at least, this frees me up to think about other creative aspects of the shot and know that I’m getting the best dynamic range out of the sensor.

I found the image quality to be fantastic. The camera’s 26.1-megapixel sensor downsizes 6K to a 4K image. Straight out of the camera, the video took next to no time to grade. I did a bit of pushing and pulling for the sake of testing the system. But, in the time I spent with it, I found very little need to do anything to the image beyond a basic Rec709 conversion.

I do wish the camera had internal raw recording. I realize this isn’t something that the Sony cameras have. But coming from the Z9 which I shoot raw video with all the time and larger systems which use formats like ARRIRAW, it’s a creature comfort that I’ve grown accustomed to. True, you don’t have to shoot raw. But it is something I wish was there.

I also wish the camera had shutter angle. I'm not sure why so few mirrorless style cameras offer shutter angle over shutter speed. Seems like something that could be easily fixed via firmware. But my engineering skills aren’t such that I can confirm that for a fact. Yet on a camera that is a part of the “cinema line,” it seems as though shutter angle should be something included.

I do like that the camera includes a focus breathing compensation option. This essentially crops in further on your video to account for any focus breathing in the lens. This is a really nice feature. Although I would prefer the lenses not breathe in the first place, thus eliminating the need to crop in even further on an already cropped sensor.

Personally, I’d prefer a viewfinder. I get it that most users will shoot this with the LCD. Although, I find LCDs sometimes hard to see on a super sunny day. So, I prefer the option of having a viewfinder, even if I’m not always going to use it. You can fix this with an external viewfinder or a solid monitor. But that adds bulk to the smaller system.

I would also prefer to have built-in NDs as opposed to IBIS. From what I understand, it’s difficult to include both in the same body. Especially at the size of a camera like the FX30. But having both shutter angle and built-in NDs would only build on the ease of use started with the camera’s small size and CineEI functionality.

Then again, this is the entry level camera in the cinema line as reflected by the price. So, it’s understandable that it’s not quite on the same level as the Sony Venice. What the FX30 is, however, is a tremendous value for the money. At $1,798, it is entirely possible to purchase multiple FX30s for a small production company. Having more cameras can often be a bigger deal than having higher end features on certain productions. Because the camera includes the majority of shooting modes and color spaces of the larger Sony cinema cameras, footage from the FX30 should easily incorporate into the workflow of a Sony shooter with other cameras in the system. The camera is more than capable of being a B cam or a gimbal cam to complement your production. Or, if you are a filmmaker on a tight budget, the camera has all the tools to complete your production on its own at a much lower cost.

The camera has a handful of shortcomings, but I think its strongest suit is that it is a terrific value for the money. Especially if you are already in the Sony ecosystem. Although, while on the topic of value, I will end with a gripe. This gripe is not only aimed at Sony, but a lot of recent tech releases. When on Earth did it become acceptable for companies to stop supplying separate battery chargers with their products? Sure, the camera charges by USB. And, yes, they include a cord. But that means I have to plug the camera itself into the wall every time I need to charge it. If I’m on a production and need to charge batteries on the side as I go, I’m just plum out of luck. Yes, I can pre-charge a bunch of batteries in the camera the night before. But what if I forget? What if I’m using the camera the day before and don’t have time to dedicate it to charging? I could purchase a separate Sony charger. But even for only $1,798, it’s not asking a lot to include a standalone battery charger in the box. 

Okay, rant over. Now onto the pros and cons.


  • Small size makes it both portable and inconspicuous.
  • Small sensor is not as big a shortcoming as one would expect given that the majority of feature films up to this point have been made on “crop” sensors. Also, less expensive lens rentals.
  • Excellent image quality for the price.
  • Power zoom lenses offer a lot of efficiency.
  • Focus breathing compensation.
  • Downsampled 6K.
  • Full HDMI.
  • That weird new color coded focusing system. I dig it.
  • Cine EI mode. 
  • Best video ergonomics of the Sony mirrorless style cameras.


  • No in-camera raw.
  • No built in NDs.
  • The “built-in” cage probably still requires an actual cage in many situations.  
  • No standalone battery charger in the box? C’mon! 
  • No internal waveform or false color.
  • No shutter angle.
  • No viewfinder.

Who Is the Camera Right For?

  • Serious content creators.
  • Independent filmmakers on a budget.
  • As a B or C cam for owners of the FX9, FX6, or FX3.

I really ended up enjoying my time with the FX30. It's a great value for the independent filmmaker or someone just getting started in the Sony system with lots of room to grow.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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1 Comment

I've always thought of built-in ND filters as an ENG thing, not a cinema thing.