The Sony FX9 and Canon C500 Mark II full frame cinema cameras
The Sony FX9 and Canon C500 Mark II full frame cinema cameras

At the beginning of 2012, Canon released the original C300. It proved extremely popular for the broadcast and corporate markets and independent filmmakers alike, and propelled the Super 35 format into these segments. Prior to this, the industry at this level was predominantly small chip.

Then, in 2014, Sony announced the FS7. It quickly became the Super 35 camera of choice for many productions, taking the crown from the C300.

A year later, Canon announced the successor to the C300 to compete with the FS7. Whilst it gained traction with some productions, the C300 Mark II could not claw back the market segment and the FS7 still dominated.

At the end of 2016, Sony announced the FS7 Mark II, but being a rather incremental update, very few existing FS7 owners upgraded and rarely is a Mark II requested over the Mark I - they’re often used interchangeably on set.

Now, in September 2019, both Canon and Sony have announced their next generation cameras that hope to become the de-facto champion in this mid-level market. Sony with their FX9, and Canon with their C500 Mark II. Both are full frame cameras: the increase in sensor size alone is a significant step up from their previous Super 35 offerings.

Canon C500 Mark II with EU-V2 extension Unit
Canon C500 Mark II with EU-V2 extension Unit

Whilst the FX9 is essentially a full frame version of the FS7 (with other improvements and additions of course), the C500 Mark II is a completely different beast to the C500 Mark I and perhaps should have been named something completely new to set itself apart from the original that was a bit of a commercial flop.

Sony FX9 with XDCA extension unit
Sony FX9 with XDCA extension unit

As both were announced within a week or so of each other and both are due for release at around the same time (December this year), this is the first time both companies have competed head to head with a product like this. Whether the C300 Mark II was better than the FS7 or not is largely irrelevant - the first to market is often the first to win the crowd.

C500 Mark II and Sony FX9 sensor sizes
C500 Mark II and Sony FX9 sensor sizes

It’s no secret that I am an existing FS7 owner. I bought the camera upon release, and it has served me very well over the past four and a half years - an admirable lifespan for a camera in today’s fast-culture of annual updates to everything. Now, perhaps it’s time to find a new tool that will enable me to remain competitive and relevant (unfortunately job eligibility is often dictated by product ownership and not creative merits) for the next four to five years. Whilst I am not in dire need of the full frame look (many years ago I was shooting with the Canon 5DmkIII and ‘downgraded’ to Super 35 before I bought a Speedbooster anyway), this point in time marks a new generation of technology and is a good point as any to swap out. I am not brand loyal - I want the best tool for the job. So if I am to upgrade my kit, I need to compare their differences side by side - and alongside the FS7 as a benchmark, why not.

Sony FS7 Sony FX9 Canon C500 Mark II
Sensor 23.6 × 13.3mm 35.7 x 18.8mm 38.1 x 20.1mm
Native resolution 4096 x 2160 6008 x 3168 5952 x 3140
FF resolutions 4096 x 2160
3840 x 2160
1920 x 1080
5952 x 3140*
4096 x 2160
3840 x 2160
2048 x 1080
1920 x 1080
FF max FPS 60fps @ DCI 4K/UHD
180fps @ HD
60fps @ 6K*
60fps @ DCI 4K/UHD
60fps @ 2K/HD
S35 resolutions 4096 x 2160
3840 x 2160
1920 x 1080
4096 x 2160
3840 x 2160
1920 x 1080
4096 x 2160
3840 x 2160
2048 x 1080
1920 x 1080
S35 max FPS 60fps @ DCI 4K/UHD
180fps @ HD
60fps @ DCI 4K
120fps @ UHD*
120fps @ HD
60fps @ DCI 4K/UHD
60fps @ 2K/HD
S16 max FPS 120fps @ 2K/HD
Compressed recording 10 bit 4:2:2 10 bit 4:2:2 10 bit 4:2:2
Raw recording 12 bit 16 bit 12 bit
Maximum bitrate 600Mbps @ 4K compressed 600Mbps @ 4K compressed 2100Mbps @ 6K raw
810Mbps @ 4K compressed
Dynamic range 14 stops 15 stops 15 stops
ND filters 2, 4, 6 stops Variable ND: 2-7 stops 2, 4, 6 stops + 8 and 10 extended
Advanced auto focus No >94% coverage 80% coverage
Base ISO 2000 800/4000 (dual) 800
IBIS No Metadata Digital, in camera
Timecode In Yes Yes Yes
Genlock In Yes Yes Yes
Anamorphic Support No No Yes, x2.0 and x1.3
Price £5,600 + VAT £10,000 + VAT £14,167 + VAT
Extension Unit price £1,643 + VAT £2,300 + VAT £1,300 + VAT
Note: specs are representative of announced, planned future firmware upgrades.
* Raw only
With extension unit

Clearly, both cameras match each other with a number of really great features that set it apart from the FS7. A full frame sensor of course, advanced auto focus, (pseudo) image stabilisation and timecode in just to name a few.

The Canon has a user interchangeable lens mount, whereas the Sony has an E mount - meaning fitting an adapter rather than swapping the mount. Both are advantageous, neither of which are necessarily better than the other. Below I’ve listed some of the standout features that one has the edge of over the other:

Sony FX9 Canon C500 Mark II
Variable ND
Dual ISO
High frame rates
Lower price
Internal raw
6K
Anamorphic support
2K modes

Depending on the individual’s (and the production’s) requirements, one may be more suitable than the other. Which will become the new king? Will Sony retain their current pole position, or will Canon reclaim their former crown? Only 2020 will tell.

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