Canon or Sony?
I get asked this so many times. Sony has achieved an impressive dominance in factual TV so, unsurprisingly, people already in the industry often ask do I teach on Sony.
I always say the same thing – I aim to teach you stuff you can apply to any camera. I think it’s risky to get tied to one particular camera system. You move companies; they have different kit and hey presto you’re all nervous again.
On my courses, I try to teach you which tools are useful for you to achieve what you want. Then it’s just a question of identifying where those particular functions are on the camera you’ve been given – false colour or waveform monitor or zebras or whatever. I’d hope the stuff I teach about exposure, depth of field, focal lengths etc could be applied to any camera.
New kit for Landmark
That said, I’ve added some new Sony kit to my groaning gear shelves. So I’ll be offering courses on Sony or Canon in the future – either two Canon C70s or Sony FX6 plus Sony FX30 as a B cam. For my own filming work I’ll carry on using Canon C70s. A lot of my stuff is two camera shoots where it makes life slightly easier using two identical cameras.
Here’s some broader personal thoughts about the Canon vs Sony strengths and weaknesses. You’ll read loads elsewhere about the different “looks” of Canon and Sony and I guess that boils down to personal preference and the indefatigability of nerds.
Both brands have legions of online fans, always eager to rubbish the opposition. So these thoughts are very much from the point of view of a non-tecchy workaday user and someone who teaches documentary camerawork to students. Highly subjective and all that but I hope it’s useful.
- Crystal clear and intuitive menu structure on their RF line. Very easily navigable by touchscreen or by physical dials. Makes my job teaching people very easy and means I can make changes very quickly when I’m filming stuff myself.
- Certainly with the C70, it just feels easier to get a great picture out of the camera without too much faffing about. It constantly surprises me just how good things look. Maybe that’s to do with the dual gain sensor. – CineD’s lab test rated it the second best S35 sensor they’d ever seen in terms of dynamic range (the best was the Arri Alexa).
- To my mind, the external buttons are placed in more obvious places and there’s less risk of accidentally hitting, for example, an auto shutter button – that was a real bugbear on the FS7.
- There’s a universe of Canon EF lenses out there which you can pick up pretty cheap second hand – important when you’re starting out. You’ll need an adapter (inexpensive, but buy Canon’s) to use them with Canon RF cameras
- I think the form factor is easier for a handycam generation brought up using external LCDs. Sony’s FS7 pushes you towards shoulder-holding it and using the loupe eyepiece over the LCD cos you can’t get it far enough back to see it clearly otherwise. This suits people with a traditional cameraperson background but I think it’s a handicap for beginners. I’d also argue it’s a problem for self-shooters in documentary, who should be be aware of what’s around them all the time.
- “Understandability” – particularly about exposure. Check out YouTube and see just how many shouty Americans in baseball caps are expounding the finer points of Sony SLOG3 Cine EI exposure. SLOG3 Flexible ISO, anyone? CineEI Quick? S-Gamut3.Cine/S-Log3? It’s hardly intuitive. I like simplicity and clarity. Granted, I’m not a Hollywood level DoP but there’s a limit to how may video tutorials I want to sit through (clue: not many).
- I don’t know why but every hired Sony TV kit I’ve ever seen comes bolted into whacking great base plates/shoulder pads/tripod V-locks. They make it a cumbersome beast and restrict your flexibility with the camera. Granted, if you’re a “proper” cameraperson carrying this thing all day and filming from shoulder height and tripod then they’re a godsend. But I’m not that.
- Most Canon cine cameras give you XLR inputs as standard on their handle unit or on the body (C70). Be very careful if you’re buying a second hand FX3, FX6 or FX9 – make sure they’re including a top handle with XLRs. Many don’t. Buying it separately will cost you a fortune – the handle for the FX6 is currently listed on eBay for around a grand.
- Sony’s variable ND wheel on the FX6/FX9 and FS7 mk II is a game changer – you can choose the aperture you want and dial in just enough ND to allow correct exposure. With Canon, you frequently find yourself “between stops” of ND. True, Canon’s ND filters offer a wider range – 10 stops against 7-ish?
- I love the white balance system on my Sony FX30, where you “sample” a small area of the screen to take a white balance reading. I am SO sick of telling people to “fill the frame with a white card”.
- Sony are much more tolerant of third-party lenses. You can get cheaper lenses from Sigma, Tamron, Samyang etc without them being rendered incompatible by the latest firmware update. I noticed the last Sony update has started making life difficult for third party batteries. I hope that doesn’t spread to lenses.
- By contrast, Canon guard their RF mount patents ferociously so you’re mostly confined to Canon’s excellent but very expensive RF lenses. It’s rumoured Sigma are bringing out RF lenses but that rumour always seem to be “next year”.
- Sony are also more tolerant of data cards. My Canon C70 is incredibly picky about which data cards it will accept (clue – they’re usually the REALLY expensive ones). Cards which were being rejected on the Canon are working fine on the Sonys. No scientific evidence for that – it’s just what I’ve noticed.
- There are some nice refinements in the Sony menu – being able to narrow the zebra aperture window down to 1-2% is handy when you’re dealing with log exposure where you want skin tones in a certain range. Canon only allow plus or minus 5%.
- Obviously, the C70 is a Super 35 sensor and the FX3 and FX6 are full frame so if that’s your thing, there’s a dealbreaker. I’d ask you to consider that a huge body of cinema has been filmed on S35 sensor cameras and no-one says: “Sorry mate: you need a bigger sensor there.”
As I say, a lot of this is personal preference but don’t fall into the “Sony is better” trap. Canon have been incompetent in failing to market cameras like the C70 for TV work – though I was chatting with a BBC cameraperson the other week who said it’s their go-to camera for filming foreign assignments. Interestingly, when you look at the feature doc sector, you’ll find things are rather more even between different camera brands. See below.
The reality is that you’ll be fine with either the C70 or the FX6. As I’m always droning on to the people on my courses: it’s not about the camera. Interestingly, here’s a recent review of Netflix approved cameras which has the C70 best for handheld and the FX6 as best all rounder.