Both the Sony FX9 and Canon C500 Mark II are proven swiss army knives in the world of solo shooter filmmaking. The original Canon C300 was a spectacular success for Canon, and the FS7 was a spectacular success for Sony.
Who will win this round?
In this article we’ll look at all the important specifications relevant to video and see which camera is the better investment for the next 2-3 years for the owner operator.
|Camera||Price of Camera||Lens Mount|
|Canon C500 Mark II||$15,999||EF|
The Canon C500 Mark II is definitely more expensive on paper. The standard EF mount is non-locking. You need to pay $2,199 extra for a locking EF mount (called EF-C) from Canon.
Should you opt for a locking mount?
It depends on the lenses you are going to use it with. If you’re using cine lenses or heavier zoom lenses then definitely yes. If you’re just using Canon still lenses then probably not. Canon sells the following two adapters, both with shim kits:
Since we are comparing both cameras for the solo shooter or owner operator, I’ll assume you are okay with the standard EF mount for this comparison.
- For further reading: What is the Best Canon Lens for Video?
The Sony FX9 has a locking E mount. This is more rugged than the standard E mount on Sony alpha mirrorless cameras. Again, this is only relevant if you’re purchasing heavier lenses like the Sony 28-135mm f/4 G lens.
- For further reading: Best lenses for full frame Sony cameras
Of course, the big question is: Is the Canon C500 Mark II worth the extra $5,000?
Let’s find out!
Usability and Workflow
Cameras in this price bracket come with a certain level of image quality. And both Canon and Sony have decades of experience and trust in the broadcast space.
For a lot of professionals, in this price point, usability is as critical as image quality. If money were no object, for the best image quality, one can always opt for the Arri Amira or Red Monstro. These are the cameras used in high end television and documentaries.
In short, these are money-making tools.
If you can’t use the cameras quickly and efficiently to maximize image quality when you (and your clients) need it, they will cost you more money than any savings you might have made during purchase.
Buttons and dials
The general position of important buttons and dials is usually similar for all cameras. Most of the controls reside on the left, the operator’s side, for quick access.
Even though it seems Sony has more buttons the reality is Canon’s are completely customizable; and, they are easier to see and press in the field under tough run-and-gun situations.
What I’ve seen in practice is, this is more of a muscle-memory thing. You can make both cameras work, and it’s ultimately down to personal preference. You can always get used to either camera, and you will find good and bad things on both, so there are no deal breakers here.
Personally, in case you are interested, I prefer Canon’s layout. The buttons can also be illuminated in the dark.
It is important to draw attention to Canon’s non-operator side. There are dials there to be used by the non-operator. Also, there is the question of the placement of audio controls.
In the C500 Mark II the audio functions are on the right:
This is an important distinction, because it makes clear that if the camera is on your shoulder, or if you are forced to pick a side due to space constraints (about half the time), then you won’t be able to ride the audio gain or headphone levels during a shot without using the customizable buttons.
The Canon 300 Mark II or the original C500 both had audio modules separate. The C200 has them at the back but to the left, so you could still access it if you were standing on the operator’s side.
It is pretty clear that the design goals of the Canon C500 Mark II lean more towards a two-person operation while the Sony FX9 leans firmly towards a one-person operation. Both can be used by a single shooter, but the FX9 is more friendly for all kinds of video work when you are a one-person operation.
As far as audio specs are concerned, here are the features:
|Sony FX9||4-Channel 24-Bit 48 kHz LPCM||3-Pin XLR x 2||3.5mm|
|Canon C500 Mark II||2-Channel 24-Bit 48 kHz LPCM||3-Pin XLR x 2, 3.5mm x 1||3.5mm|
*XLR inputs are phantom powered, both mic and line level.
The FX9 can control all four channels quickly and independently. It also has a hot shoe mount on top for additional audio modules if necessary:
These give you an additional two channels of XLR audio and the kit comes with a shotgun microphone as well. The ability to record multiple channels and control them individually is important, especially for run-and-gun interview situations. You could wire up a couple of interviewees, the interviewer and a backup and you’ll already be down four ports.
Of course, the same functionality can be added to the C500 Mark II as well, but at an added expense with the Canon EU-V2 Expansion Unit:
This gives you two audio controls on the operator’s side as well as two additional channels to record audio.
Timecode and Genlock
|Sony FX9||BNC, Input and Output||BNC, Input||3.5mm|
|Canon C500 Mark II||BNC, Input and Output||Additional purchase||3.5mm|
- Additional XLR inputs (only V2)
- Remote control
- Ethernet control
- V-mount plate with P-tap output (only V2)
- DC output to other devices (only V2)
- Lens control for certain supported lenses (only V2)
It is clear if you need the Canon C500 Mark II for any sort of regular broadcast work you will have to purchase the EU-V2 expansion unit. Also, if you have multiple accessories it’s a good way to power them as well. For this comparison though, it’s not really an easy decision. If your work is broadcast oriented, with multiple accessories, and you find yourself part of a multi-camera shoot most often, and genlock is important, the choice is a no brainer.
To be fair to the Sony FX9, it already has genlock built in. To make it a fair fight I’ll need to add the price of the Canon EU-V1 to this comparison. But, then, the Sony won’t have ethernet. So either we add modules to both cameras, or to neither.
With the Sony, you get the XDCA-FX9 Extension Unit:
This puts both cameras on an even keel. To summarize:
|Canon C500 Mark II||EU-V2||$1,599|
This is where Sony has the upper hand. You need to add a separate wireless transmitter with the C500 Mark II.
With the Sony FX9, you have wireless built in, and then some with the XDCA expansion module. What you get:
- 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz (the latter only in supported countries)
- Cellular connection with the XDCA-FX9
- Live streaming with the XDCA-FX9
- Control the camera through the Sony app for tablets/smartphones
Built-in ND Filter
Both cameras have built-in ND filters, but they operate very differently.
|Sony FX9||2 to 7 stops and Auto^||Electronic Optical|
|Canon C500 Mark II||2, 4, 6, 8, 10 stops*||Manual filters|
^You can move in increments between 2 to 7 or dial in any ND range from 1/4 (2 stops) to 1/128 (7 stops). To know how ND numbers relate to stops, read the complete guide to in-camera filters. If you select Auto the camera automatically controls exposure through the right ND setting. Sony’s videos have been impressive, but I feel the technology is only if you’re desperate. It’s not as seamless or elegant as riding the iris, for example.
*8 and 10 through using two NDs at the same time (6+2) and (6+4).
To be honest, both settings get the job done. I prefer the Canon system, as each glass is separate. Even if you damage one, the others will still work. Sony has just one glass, and it is controlled by one mechanism. With modern cameras and their great ISO range you can really manage with discrete levels of ND.
Viewfinder and LCD
This difference also tells an important story. The FX9 has a smaller 3.5″ (2.76 million dot) LCD with a loupe positioned for shoulder mounted filming. Sony believes will mostly be using the camera handheld. Hence the single grip and viewfinder.
The C500 Mark II has a lower resolution 4.3″ (1.23 million dot) touchscreen LCD. The lower resolution doesn’t really matter if it’s used like an LCD. At the time of this writing Canon hasn’t published the nits rating.
The C500 Mark II is for multiple kinds of filmmaking and videography, and you have to pick and choose what kind of viewfinder you need. You have three choices:
- Canon EVF-V50 OLED (1.77 million dots) – tiltable.
- Canon EVF-V70 OLED (2 million dots) – four buttons, false color and zebra, right position for shoulder mount, joystick and self-illuminating.
- Third-party viewfinders like a Zacuto Gratical (1.3 million dots) with an EVF mount.
I really don’t see the point of the V50. It’s ergonomically very limited, but it’s also cheap. I think most people would prefer the third-party viewfinder.
The Canon C500 Mark II has Dual Pixel AF with support for Touch AF and Face Detection AF. Canon is the class leader here, and with Canon’s range of cinema lenses there’s nothing left to say.
What is dual pixel AF? According to Canon:
For DAF, each pixel in the camera’s CMOS sensor is configured with two photodiodes. Two independent image signals can then be detected at each photosite and compared using phase-difference to provide autofocus with compatible lenses. DAF can survey the scene and recognizes not only whether the subject is in focus or not, but in which direction (near or far), and by how much.Canon USA
Now, about Sony. The the only camera manufacturer that has AF competing anywhere near the level of Canon is Sony. But so far…only in the mirrorless camera space. The Sony FX9 is the first major video camera from Sony that brings that level of AF to video:
Developed by Sony’s ? camera engineers, enhanced Fast Hybrid AF combines phase detection AF for fast, accurate subject tracking with contrast AF for exceptional focus accuracy. In addition, Face Detection intelligently recognises and locks on to human faces.Sony Pro
It goes without saying AF for video works best and most reliably only with native lenses. That means Canon EF for the C500 Mark Ii and Sony E for the FX9.
According to Canon:
The EOS C500 Mark II is the first Canon Cinema EOS camera to feature built-in five-axis electronic IS that works with almost any lens including anamorphic.Canon USA
…meta data generated by FX9’s built-in gyro allows you to creatively choose the balance between the level of shake-compensation and the resolution of trimmed 4K imagery. This feature is also compatible with any E-mount lens and allows for far faster processing than conventional NLE stabilisation (sic) workflows…
* Catalyst Browse/Catalyst Prepare Ver.2019.2 is required.Sony Pro
The Sony workaround is not really practical. I’m not sure who would take the time out to work with Catalyst Prepare just to stabilize shots. With Canon EF lenses, though, you can combine electronic IS (note, it’s not mechanical IBIS like Sony alpha mirrorless cameras) with IS on the lenses, so I’d be more inclined to give this one to Canon.
Let’s stop here.
There are other ergonomic considerations as well, though I feel they are more of a personal preference. E.g., some people like the top handle of the C500 Mark II, others hate it. Some like the rosette and single shoulder mount system and others don’t care much for it. It all depends on your shooting style and needs.
What you need to understand is both form factors have been around for a long time, and both work. The only way you can know is if you use it yourself for a while.
Comparison of video features
Now let’s get into the camera video specifications:
|Camera||Size||ISO Range||Native ISO|
|Sony FX9||35.7 x 18.8mm||-3 to 18 dB*||800/4000* in S-Log3|
|Canon C500 Mark II||38.1 x 20.1mm||160-25600||800 in C-Log2^|
*Dual Native ISO. 18 dB is about 51,200 ISO.
^C-Log 2 has the highest dynamic range. With C-Log 3 you get 14 stops (still great!).
Both cameras claim 15 stops of dynamic range, and if past performance is any indicator I believe the images will get close! Here are the official videos from the respective companies.
|Camera||Max. Resolution||Bit Depth|
|Sony FX9||4096 x 2160*||16-bit^|
|Canon C500 Mark II||5952 x 3140||10/12-bit^|
*Currently it can only go to 3840 × 2160. DCI 4K is a future firmware update.
^Sony RAW is via a future firmware update an only possible through the XDCA-FX9 extension unit. Canon RAW is actually Canon RAW Lite, written internally, at about 1/3 to 1/5th data rates.
I definitely pick the Canon C500 Mark II here. For these solid reasons:
- You can record RAW internally.
- Data rates are manageable.
- Canon RAW is read by every important NLE directly.
- 6K at 60 fps!!
In 10-bit 4:2:2 internally
|Camera||Max. Resolution||Data Rate||Format|
|Sony FX9||4096 x 2160*||240-600 Mbps^||XAVC-I/L|
|Canon C500 Mark II||4096 x 2160||160-810 Mbps||XF-AVC|
*Currently it can only go to 3840 × 2160. DCI 4K is a future firmware update.
^Depending on the frame rate. In Intraframe mode. Interframe bit rates are too low. Note: Sony writes the data rates as MBps which is incorrect. It should be Mbps. MBps or MB/s is 8 times Mbps!
For the average shooter, the data rates on the Sony FX9 are more manageable. We’ll take a closer look at media card rates below. I also don’t understand why 4K DCI is a special firmware update. I mean, after all these years, why is it still even a thing?
For me the Canon C500 Mark II strikes a great balance here. The data rates are on par with Prores HQ, and the codec edits great, similar to XAVC-I.
Both cameras can record HD proxies simultaneously.
What about frame rates?
|Camera||Max fps at 4K||Max fps at 1080p|
|Sony FX9||60 fps*||180 fps*|
|Canon C500 Mark II||60 fps||120 fps^|
*60 fps is with a crop, in Super 35mm mode. 180 fps is currently not available, it’s a future firmware update.
The Canon C500 Mark II can record 120 fps in 2K, so is slightly better off in resolution. Overall, the FX9 is better, even though I feel strongly against Sony’s policy of putting off features as firmware updates when they should be ready on day one.
You can’t wait around hoping for the firmware to drop, or you might as well just wait for all of the firmware to be updated prior to buying the FX9. By then the price will have dropped a bit too!
Super 35mm and anamorphic modes
Both cameras are full frame, which means they also have Super35 mm modes.
The FX9 can do DCI 4K at up to 60 fps in Super 35mm mode, but in a future firmware update. The C500 Mark II can do that now.
The Canon C500 Mark II also does anamorphic internally. All this means is you can desqueeze the image internally instead of having to use an external monitor. What it tells us though, is the C500 Mark II is also definitely a cinema camera.
For true anamorphic, the sensor needs to span at least 21.95mm x 18.6mm. As we have seen before, both cameras meet these specifications, but with the C500 Mark II having the upper hand because it outputs 6K, so even ‘chopped off’ anamorphic will deliver true 4K.
Inputs and Outputs for Video
Both cameras have important SDI ports and the obligatory HDMI port:
|Sony FX9||1||1||Type A|
|Canon C500 Mark II||1||1||Type A|
Atomos have announced 16-bit Prores RAW from the FX9, but only with the extension unit. You need the newer and more expensive Neon range. To be honest I don’t know how practical this is.
Media card costs are an important percentage of ownership:
|Camera||Dual card slots#||Price per GB^|
|Sony FX9||Yes, XQD + SD||$1.8/GB|
|Canon C500 Mark II||Yes, CFexpress + SD||$1.56|
^Sony XQD G cards 240 GB. Sandisk CFexpress 256 GB. CFexpress is a newer version of XQD, and the form factors are interchangeable. But XQD does limit the maximum data rate in camera so you’ll never get internal RAW with XQD.
#The SD card is useful to record proxies for faster editing. The proxies are 8-bit 4:2:0.
If you compare apples to apples (4K to 4K), the data rates of the Sony FX9 and Canon C500 Mark II are about equal. The C500 Mark II can also record in Canon RAW lite. The data rate might max out at 25o MB/s in 12-bit Canon RAW Lite, but it’s better to wait for the real world tests first.
One important thing to note is you get a free 512 GB CFexpress card and reader with the C500 Mark II. That’s a $650 dollar value right there.
Battery life and Power
Here are the official numbers:
|Camera||Power Draw||Battery life*||Battery Voltage|
|Sony FX9||35.2 W||127 minutes||14.4V|
|Canon C500 Mark II||n/a||75 minutes||14.4V|
*See below for which battery. For the C500 Mark II I’m just making an educated guess.
|Camera||Battery||Cost*||Cost of 4 hours of operation|
|Sony FX9||BP-U90 85Wh||$399||$754|
|Canon C500 Mark II||BP-A60 90Wh||$429||$1,374|
*As of this writing. Original batteries only, from B&H. You can always buy cheaper batteries, but the same applies to both cameras.
It is to be noted that the C500 Mark II ships with the larger A60 battery while the FX9 ships with a smaller (and newer) U35 battery. That’s a difference of $200 or so. So you can actually knock $1,000 off the price difference!
On the other hand, the C500 Mark II is bound to be more power hungry than the FX9. If you use dual pixel AF, LUTs, etc., the consumption will be higher.
Which is the better camera for video?
Here’s a summary of each round, and the “winner”:
|Feature||Winner – Solo Shooter||Winner – Cinema|
|Ergonomics||Sony FX9||Canon C500 Mark II|
|Native lenses||Canon C500 Mark II||Tie|
|Third-party lenses||Sony FX9||Tie|
|Video features||Tie||Canon C500 Mark II|
|Image quality||Need to test||Need to test|
|AF for video||Canon C500 Mark II||Canon C500 Mark II|
|Image stabilization||Canon C500 Mark II||Tie|
|Battery life||Sony FX9||Tie|
Are you a solo shooter on a tight budget?
If yes, then the Sony FX9 is the right investment for you. Factor in everything and the C500 Mark II is still a few thousand dollars more expensive. And what you get are:
- RAW internally
Both of these features are good to have, but don’t really contribute to food on the table. Not many clients pay extra for 6K or RAW workflows. Not only does it add to the cost of the camera, but also the time to work with RAW and the cost of additional storage and processing power.
Are you working on high-end videos and low budget films?
Then pick the Canon C500 Mark II. Those extra benefits that didn’t contribute directly to income in the low budget space take on importance here.
Clients do pay extra for color grading or DI, and there are decent enough budgets for:
- Storage for RAW
- Proper monitoring, LUT creation, etc.
- Putting together a camera package in a modular system
You will be working with enough margins to recoup the additional cost in just a matter of months. It’s a no-brainer, really.
What’s the bottom line?
If I had to pick just one winner, I’d pick the Canon C500 Mark II. It’s the camera that excites me the most.
What do you think?