UPDATE: I had a play with one today. It’s actually really good, although it’s very strange holding a small video camera that doesn’t have a zoom control. Click the link: nex-clips to download raw NEX-VG10 (MTS) clips straight from the camera. See end of post for brief hands on info.
So, Sony have launched a new APS-C camcorder. The NEX-VG10 comes from the consumer side of Sony and is based on the APS-C sensor used in the new NEX-5 and NEX-3 Sony Alpha stills cameras launched a few months ago. Compared to a full frame 35mm sensor APS-C is about 1.5x smaller, but still significantly larger than the sensors found in the majority of video cameras. It is designed as a video camera with a familiar video camera look and shape to it. There is a fold out 3? LCD screen on the left side and video style viewfinder at the rear. It records full 1920×1080 HD video using AVCHD at 24Mb/s so it should look pretty good. It also takes still images at “near DSLR quality” thanks to the high resolution 14.2 megapixel sensor. In some respects this is a little disappointing as it means that the sensor will not have an optical low pass filter tailored for video. Without this, in the past, it has meant that the video produced by stills cameras tend to suffer from aliasing and other image degrading effects caused by trying to cram too much resolution into a 1920×1080 video frame or by the sub sampling of the sensor. Lets hope the Sony engineers have done a good processing job getting the footage off the sensor down to HD video. It records 25P (Pal version) or 30P (US version) recoded in an interlace stream to give maximum compatibility. You can use a variety of recording media including Memory Sticks and SD/SDHC cards. On the handle there is a rather strange looking array of 4 microphones in a shock and vibration isolating mount for recording surround sound audio. In addition there is a 3.5mm socket for an external microphone as well as a 3.5mm headphone socket. The camcorder is supplied with a 18 to 200mm optically stabilised f3.5-f5.6 zoom lens that attaches using Sony’s E mount system. This has a very short back focus distance and it will be easy to convert this to take a wide range of other mounts such as Canon via already available low cost adapter rings. Sony will be making an E mount to Alpha A mount for Alpha (and Minolta?) lenses. The supplied lens is a bit disappointing as really for those super shallow DoF shots you want a fast lens and f3.5 is not what I would call fast, but it does offer a useful 11x zoom range. Autofocus can operate while your shooting if you need it.
With a US street price of around $2000USD it represents good value for money, provided it performs. Video that I have seen from the NEX5 cameras looks very good but I have not seen what the aliasing performance is like, after all this is again a sensor optimised for high resolution stills and not video. It’s also important to note that this is not the camera that Sony showed at NAB, so who knows when we may or may not see that. The NEX-VG10 is an interesting looking camera and it surprisingly looks like it will beat the Panasonic AG-AF100 to market as the first low cost 35mm (ish) sensor camcorder. The big question is what will the pictures be like?
HANDS ON: I managed to get a brief play with one today. First off it’s very small and light, but with the supplied lens makes it quite front heavy. The LCD is clear and easy to see, however I did find focusing tricky with the LCD but I did not have time to see if there was any kind of focus assist system or peaking control. With the supplied lens you turn the forward ring to zoom and rear ring to focus. It was quite stiff turning the zoom ring and very difficult to do in shot zooms as you tend to twist the whole camera as you rotate the zoom ring. As well as the focus ring on the lens there is a dial behind the LCD screen that controls many functions including menu navigation, but this is also marked as a focus control. It was very strange holding a camcorder but not having any kind of zoom control. The menu system is quite logically laid out and easy to find your way around. I did shoot some clips with it and could see no signs of any aliasing which is very promising indeed. As expected it had pleasing shallow DoF but the low light performance was disappointing as it didn’t seem to perform as well as I had hoped. In some respects this may be an advantage as it helps get a shallow DoF. It also has to be remembered that the stock lens is only f3.5 compared to the f1.9 of a EX camcorder, so overall low light performance may not be as bad as it appeared. The pictures look very promising, it’s not a particularly expensive camcorder and for video, ergonomically it’s much better than a DSLR. I’m sure this will be popular with those that are seeking the filmic look.