Rigging the FS7 for ENG and Sports Productions
Since it's release in 2014, the Sony FS7 has been a workhorse for production companies around the world. It has been used to shoot commercials, documentaries, indie films, news and sports. One of the camera's greatest selling points is just how diverse of a camera it can be, but that is where things can get complicated as well. With thousands of accessories on the market, how exactly do you pick out the ones you need for your line of work? Well, after 3 years, thousands of dollars worth of different parts and about 10 different configurations I present to you, the ultimate guide to rigging an FS7 for ENG and Sports Production!
Specific Use Case
Let me start off by explaining my specific usage for the FS7 so that you can get a better idea of why I purchased what I did. I work for an NFL team producing video content for the web and television. It needed to be robust, versatile, reliable and as compact as I could get it. It needed to be able to shoot game action, interviews, press conferences and commercial work all in the same day. These factors played into the decision to buy very specific parts, now lets get into those.
The camera bodies are the original Sony PXW-FS7, but being that cosmetically the FS7 Mark II is the same, everything I am going to recommend would work if you had a Mark II.
To my knowledge Sony is the only provider of XQD cards. We have 4 of them, 64GB, they get about 180min per card at 1080p 35Mb/s... not much else to say about these.
Shoulder Mount and Cage
After going through multiple cages and shoulder mounts, each with their own inherent issues, we settled on the Movcam FS7 Base Kit. This kit is by far the most complete kit I have come across and ticked just about every box. The build quality is superb and after and entire season of use is showing very little signs of wear. For starters, it is a half cage design which runs up the dumb side of the camera offering protection for the EVF cable as well giving you an abundance of 1/4"-20 threaded holes for mounting accessories to it such as cold shoes and wireless receivers. The base plate is split into two parts, the bottom piece houses 15mm rod support both front and back and just below that is a standard VCT connection for mounting to V-Lock Tripod Plates. The top portion of the base plate screws into the camera creating a very secure connection and has a Arca-Swiss dovetail style base on it. This two piece design means that the camera and shoulder mount operate independently of each other and can be slid forward and backward for better weight balance. Two Arri rosettes can be found at the front of the baseplate for mounting the FS7's handle and one rosette at the rear on the dumb side so that you could mount a rear handle setup if need be.
On top, the Movcam kit adds support for two 15mm rods allowing the standard Sony FS7 EVF to be pushed back. This is a huge benefit because now you have the ability to balance the weight of the camera on your shoulder and then move the EVF to whatever position you need.
To round out the package, the base kit comes with a V-Mount Power Distribution Box that secures to the back of the camera utilizing the same rear slot used by Sony's own V-Mount battery pack. This pack adds the ability to power the camera with V-Mount batteries while also giving you several more power options like USB, DTap, 4 pin power in, and several LEMO power outs at different voltages.
With the Movcam base kit, the FS7 can now be powered by V-Mount batteries. There are two brands I would recommend here, the first is the Core SWX HyperCore Slim if you are trying to save some weight, the second option and the option that we use is the IDX DUO-150. With a capacity of 146Wh it gives you extended running times, while being under the 160Wh IATA limit for carry-on aircraft baggage. With average use, you should have no problem getting 8 hours of run time out of this battery. We can usually shoot pregame, an entire game and post game with one battery. The extra weight is well worth the upside.
B4 Lens Mount
Now this is where a lot of time was spent trying to find the perfect B4 to E Mount adapter and to be honest, there isn't one. After trying out some cheaper alternatives, we bit the bullet and got the B4 2/3" to Sony E-Mount Lens Adapter Package from MTF Services Ltd. Coming in at just under $2,000 this part is not cheap, but to my knowledge is the only adapter on the market that will allow you to shoot without vignetting as long as the camera is set to "2K Center Crop" mode. MTF states that you should use the adapter with the lens's 2X extender enabled, but as long as you have the FS7 in center scan mode, you can use it with and without the extender which is very helpful.
That being said, this adapter isn't without its faults. Something that both our adapted FS7's do, as well as everyone I have met using the same setup, you cannot open the lens aperture to more than F4 without the image getting very soft. This is a bit of a bummer and has bit us once or twice when we needed more light and just couldn't open up the lens, but for your typical shots, you can easily leave it at F5.6 and get a super crisp image.
For lenses, we chose two of the tried and true Canon HJ21ex7.8B ENG lenses. Brand new, one of these lenses would have set you back upwards of $34,000, but luckily companies like Allied Broadcasting sell them used for around $7,000. Both of the used lenses we ordered arrived in excellent condition and I can personally say that they play nice with the MFT B4 adapter. For sports the zoom range is more than adequate, but do not expect it to replace a prime for that shallow depth of field.
Lens power and control cable
Often overlooked, B4 lenses do not get power for their servo functionality through the lens mount, but through the 12 pin connector hanging off of the the hand grip. Now you could just buy a 12pin to DTap cable for $40 and power the servo zoom, but you will quickly find that the record start and stop will have to be done by pressing the record button on the camera body itself, not from the lens (It's almost like I have done this before). The solution for this comes from the Cameo Hirose 12-pin to LANC & P-Tap Cable. Not only does it have a DTap that can plug directly into the Movcam power distro box, but it also has a LANC connector that will plug directly into the camera's remote control LANC port. This is what will allow the camera and lens to communicate, meaning that when you hit record with your thumb on the lens, the camera will start recording, press again and it will stop recording. Super simple, and a must if you want to set up your FS7 as a proper ENG camera.
Although the lens will hang off of the front on it own, it is HIGHLY recommended that you get a lens support bracket to reduce the stress on the camera mount. To do the job we turned back to Movcam and their Universal Lens Support. This support has a good amount of adjustment and features textured rubber on the actual contact surface so that it won’t scratch the barrel of your lens like many other mounts do.
Not a well known feature, but the FS7 does have an internal mic that has to be enabled through the menu's. As you can probably guess, it isn't great and you will need to bring your own mic to fill up that empty shock mount hanging off the side of the camera. My mic of choice is the MKE 600 from Sennheiser. It is a great balance of quality and price. Both of our MKE600's have been soaking wet, frozen and sat in 100* sun without ever having an issue, they are built like tanks. One thing to note is the barrel diameter of the mic is smaller than the shotgun holder on the FS7, so you will need to fill the gap with either a rubber barrel extender or if you are like me, about 4ft of Gaff wrapped around the body of the mic to fill the gap. I suggest you pick up a short lightweight XLR cable to connect the mic to the camera. The MKE600 does have it's own battery to provide phantom power, but the best option is to just turn on the 48V from the camera XLR port to provide constant power to it.
Probably the cheapest item on this list, but will save you the most headaches. This little CAMVATE C0966 1/4"-20 Mount Adapter will allow you to screw it onto the dumb side of your Movcam half cage and then you can attach anything from a mic receiver to a Teradek Bolt to it. A must have item in my book.
Full list of products and prices:
FS7 (body only) - $6,998.00
Movcam Base Kit - $1,320.00
Batteries (price of 2 and charger) - $1,118.70
B4 Adapter - $1,979.00
ENG Lens - $6,250.00
Lens Support - $158.00
Lens Control Cable - $265.00
Microphone - $329.95
Cold Shoe - $6.95
Full Rig Price - $18,425.60
So there you go, my ultimate guide to rigging out the FS7 for professional sports and ENG work. I hope you found this helpful and maybe I was able to clear up some misconceptions about what it takes to turn one of these cameras into a fully functioning ENG rig. As always, if you have any questions, drop a comment or shoot me an email. I have been through it all with these camera's and would love to help you out anyway I can. Until next time, keep shooting!