NEX-EA50 Review. Great Value For The Money.

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Out and about in Hong Kong with the NEX-EA50

Well this didn’t really start as a review project, but as I spent a few days shooting with an EA50 in Hong Kong and everyone want’s to know what it is like, I thought I should write down my thoughts in a little more depth.

 First of all what is the EA50? Well it’s a shoulder mount camcorder that uses the APS-C sized sensor from a stills photo camera, that shoots video and takes photos. It records on to a single SD card or memory stick as well as an optional 128gb flash memory unit (FMU). The recordings are encoded using now ubiquitous AVCHD codec at up to 24Mb/s.

 

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Hand held with the Sony EA50.

Now while I and Sony call it a shoulder mount camera I think you do have to differentiate between the EA50 and an old school full size broadcast camera. A heavy old school camera normally sits completely on your shoulder, some of the camera sticking out behind you, some in front and this gives the camera excellent balance and stability. All the weight, or at least 80% is supported by your shoulder. The EA50 is different. For a start the camera is actually quite compact, it looks bigger in photos than it is in real life. On the rear of the camera there is an extending shoulder pad, that when in the extended position sits on the users shoulder. This supports the rear end of the camera, but most of the weight is forwards of your shoulder so your left hand and arm end up supporting a significant portion of the weight. Fortunately the camera itself is not heavy, but put a heavy lens on the camera and it will get tiring to use for long periods. There are a couple of 1/4” screw holes on the top of the shoulder pad, so it would be quite easy to construct a counterbalance bracket if you are going to do a lot of shoulder mount work. In many respects holding the EA-50 on my shoulder reminds me of the PMW-EX3. It is more stable than a handycam style camera and it is quite nice to use, but it isn’t really a true shoulder mount camera. The plus side of this is that because it is quite light you can still easily use it as a handycam for lower level shots with ease and you don’t need a particularly big or heavy tripod which helps keep the budget under control.

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Frame Grab from the NEX-EA50

The large viewfinder is again very similar to the one on the PMW-EX3. It has a very high resolution LCD with excellent, accurate colour reproduction so judging exposure and colour balance is easy. Resolution is good, but for accurate focussing I found that I needed to use the colour peaking function to accentuate when things were in or out of focus.

I think one of the biggest surprises with this camera for me is the build quality. Lets face it, this is a low cost camcorder, but you know what, it really doesn’t feel low cost. It is made primarily of plastic, but it’s a really nice plastic that feels like it will take the bumps on knocks that come from professional use. The handle is robust and feels solid in your hand and the switches, buttons and knobs all feel like that come from a more expensive camcorder. Talking of which, there are conventional pro camcorder style switches for white balance and gain as well as rotary controls for the audio record levels. This really is a pro camcorder and it feels and behaves like one.

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EA50 Frame Grab, click on any of the images to enlarge them.

The NEX-EA50 uses Sony’s now familiar E-Mount for it’s lens. The beauty of this mount is that the distance between the mount face and the sensor itself is very short. As a result it’s easy to add adapters to go from the E-Mount fitting to almost any other lens fitting you desire. This opens up a massive range of lens possibilities, via the La-EA2 you can use Sony’s Alpha lenses, via a metabones adapter you can use Canon EF lenses, via a MTF Nikon adapter you can use…. err… well… Nikon lenses and so on. So lots and lots of lens choices from ebay DSLR lenses to PL Mount Ultra Primes.

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Hong Kong Skyline captured by the NEX-EA50

The camera is supplied with the new Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 E-Mount power zoom lens ( SELP18200 ) In Asia there is also the option to buy the camera with the non servo 18-200mm lens. The power zoom allows you to zoom in and out using a zoom rocker built in to the camera. The power zoom is based on the 18-200mm stills lens found on the FS100 and FS700. It has optical image stabilization and can operate in auto focus or manual focus modes. The fastest zoom speed is a little slow and the lens does extend as you zoom, so adding a matte box would be difficult. The pre-production unit I played with had a tendency to shift the image left and right as you alternated between zooming in and zooming out and if you used manual focus there would be some small shifts in the focus through the zoom range. I’ve had quite a few discussions with Sony about this lens and I think you do need to be realistic. This lens has been built to meet the demand from end users for a cheap servo zoom for large sensor cameras. A PL mount servo zoom lens will cost you around $50K (and is much bigger and heavier), this lens is about 1/48th of that price, it’s a bargain and I want one for my FS700. Production units should have near zero image shift and the focus shifts should be minimal, but don’t expect then to be zero. The best way to use this lens while zooming is with the auto focus switched on. Use it like this and provided the camera stays focussed on the same target, you won’t see any focus shifts as you zoom. Just don’t expect to be able to zoom in and out with the lens wide open and not see any changes in the image.

Zoom without a zoom! The EA50 also has the ability to electronically zoom in and out even with a fixed focal length lens. This option is selected in the camera menu and gives a 2x zoom controlled by the zoom rocker. It’s a really useful feature that allows you some flexibility in framing when using a non servo zoom. I didn’t notice any appreciable loss in image quality when I used this function and the zooms were smooth and easy to control.

 

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The famous Star Ferry on a hazy day in Hong Kong (EA50 frame grab)

In use, shooting around Hong Kong thanks largely to the servo zoom the EA50 did feel more like a traditional news camcorder than a big sensor camera. The ability to zoom in and out to re-frame shots quickly and simply, as well as using the zoom during a shot was nice. Although looking back through the footage I think I did overuse the zoom, probably because I’ve been shooting with prime lenses so much lately that I got a bit carried away having a servo zoom again! This isn’t a fast lens at f3.5 – f6.3 so don’t expect super shallow depth of field, especially at the wide end. It’s reasonably sharp and contrast is pretty good considering the 10x zoom range. A good prime lens will easily out perform the zoom but, for versatility and quick re-framing etc it’s hard to better. My biggest gripe is the way the focus ring works, it appears to have two speeds, at first the focus changes rapidly and then as you fine tune the focus the change in focus requires a lot more twisting of the focus ring and I find this tricky as there is also some lag in the lenses response to your focus input. Despite its little annoyances the lens is overall pretty good and it does make the EA50 very useable for run and gun. As I said I want to get one of these lenses for my FS700 as soon as possible.

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The impressive view of Hong Kong island from Kowloon, shot with the NEX-EA50

The camera menus have the same layout and style as the FS100 and FS700, so clean and simple and easy enough to find your way around. There are no slow motion or timelapse options on the EA50, but you can shoot at 50p/60p and then slow things down in post to 25p/30p if you need slow mo. For time-lapse, just let the camera roll and speed it up in post. It’s not as though AVCHD files take up a lot of storage space and SD cards are cheap as chips. You can have full manual control over exposure, there is a large thumb wheel at the front of the camera body to control the aperture and buttons that select the auto/manual modes for each of the shutter, iris, and gain functions. In addition there is a “full auto” switch that puts everything to automatic for simple point and shoot filming. As well as video the EA50 can also take still photographs, but you do have to switch between stills photo mode and video mode depending on which you want, so no taking photos while your shooting video. The EA50 has the full suite of picture profile options including adjustable colour, detail and gamma settings. It uses the cinematone gammas found on the FS100 if you want a more filmic look.

There are XLR audio inputs with phantom power and lots of outputs including HDMI, component and composite, so something there for everyone. I really don’t think you can complain too much about not having HDSDI at this price point.

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The Ladies Market at Mong Kok.

But what about the image quality? Well as this camera is using an APS-C sensor designed for stills it isn’t as optimized for video as a dedicated video camera like the FS100 or FS700. However the pictures are pretty good. They are a little softer than I get from my FS700 but in a not unpleasant way. They don’t look blurred or anything like that, they just lack that final crispness that makes the FS700 look so nice. The images are well rounded, they don’t look over enhanced or electronic and colour reproduction is good and accurate. I did find the images to be more contrasty than I’ve become used to recently with blacks and deep shadows looking just a tiny bit crushed. It handled bright skies very well but did struggle a little with very high latitude scenes. Being a DSLR sensor I did expect to see evidence of aliasing and other jaggies, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well controlled this were. I didn’t find any shots that I could do and there are no nasty surprises in the rushes I shot. You can see a few jaggies here and there and a little bit of aliasing every now and again, but overall for a stills sensor I think the EA50 does a pretty good job as a video camera. I did do some shooting at night at the Monk Kok ladies market and on the waterfront at Kowloon and there is quite a difference in sensitivity between the EA50 and a dedicated video large sensor camera like the FS100, the EA50 is much less sensitive. But don’t panic, it’s no worse than most video cameras with normal sized sensors, I felt it actually had similar sensitivity to the Sony PMW-200, so that puts about 1.5 stops slower than an FS100.

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A busy street scene on a Friday night, Kowloon Side. Shot with the EA50 and the standard lens, not bad for f3.5!

So what do i think overall? Actually I’m quite impressed. Would I buy one? No, I would not, but then I already have a FS700 and PMW-F3. What I do think is that it offers a very good price/performance ratio in an interesting form factor. I can see this camera being very popular for wedding videographers, schools and other training organizations. In the right hands this camera will produce nice pictures, pictures that are certainly good enough for online HD videos and with careful use you could even shoot a film that would hold up to projection on a big screen. If you need to have a low cost, versatile camera that looks like a pro camera and you want shallow depth of field the EA50 has to be considered.

40 thoughts on “NEX-EA50 Review. Great Value For The Money.”

  1. Thank You for the detailed review!

    I’m curious about the lossless 2x zoom crop, is it enough to be used with 2/3″ B4 or 16mm format lenses? Is the 2x crop significantly noisier in higher sensitivities? It would open up the possibility to use reasonably compact, parfocal zoom lenses with constant aperture.

    I’m also wondering if the camera handling and balance could be improved with e.g. Tilta BST03 shoulder mount + possible counter weight and a third party evf?

    1. In theory, yes. If you have a lens with a 2x extender you need a further 0.4x crop, so this should work.

      You don’t need an additional shoulder mount or EVF with the EA50. All you need is a bracket to attach to the mounting points on the built in shoulder pad. I’m quite sure we will see adapters for this very soon.

  2. Hi Alister,
    Thank you so much for your review of the EA-50. Since you have seemingly the most hand’s on experience with these 2012 sony cams, how would you compare the EA50 to the PMW200, PMW160 (or is it 150?), and finally the EX1R in terms of low-light sensitivity, resolution, Depth of Field, sharpness, ease of use (esp. in terms of focus handling) etc? I know you touched on some of these things but I’d love to know how they stack up against each other in your opinion. You talked about the sensitivity briefly here comparing it to more of a PMW200 in low light than a FS100, but I’d love to know (and I’m sure many others) more.

    Also for those who need HDSDI, will the EA50 easily accommodate an adapter of sorts. And finally, since all of the cams listed above have one, I’m curious how much you really miss the much talked about lack of a built-in ND filter?

    That’s a lot to throw at you in one comment, but I’d love your thoughts. Please feel free to be as descriptive as possible.

    1. …oh, and one more thing…in addition to my previous post asking about the detailed comparisons to Sony’s newer smaller sensor cams, I’d love to know what your thoughts were on how the clean or unclean the use of gain was on the EA50 in low light. Thanks!

    2. The EA50 has similar sensitivity to the PMW-200 and EX1R. It is less sensitive than the FS100/FS700. It has slightly less noise than the PMW-200 but more noise than the FS100. The picture is a little softer than the PMW-200.

      But these are very different cameras, the EA50 has a different look to the PMW-200 which in turn is different to the FS100. The EA50 is using a stills sensor and while it may have slightly less noise and similar sensitivity to the EX1/PMW-200 it will exhibit more undesirable artefacts like aliasing. The flip side is that it’s much easier to get shallow DoF and a filmic look with the EA50.

      The EA50 has a standard full size HDMI out, so if you need HDSDI then any of the off the shelf HDMI to HDSDI converters will work.

      Built in ND filters make exposure control easier and are very convenient. For the EA50 (and FS100) you can use front of lens ND filters or use an ND fader, not quite as convenient as you meed either adapter rings or different sized filters for different sized lenses.

      1. Thanks Alister!

        Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Would love to see how this camera handles gain compared to say a PMW200, etc. Were you able to “test” that? (I know you weren’t doing the same kind of test you did on the PMW200 but I’m curious if you had a chance to test this out.

        I find it interesting that you’ve said in your posts that it’s not as big as it looks in pics, because yes, it does look like a strange, long beast…to me anyway 🙂

        Thanks again for all your input.

        1. I didn’t look at high gain settings in any great detail. The EA50 didn’t look too bad at high gain settings, nothing special, but not bad either.

          1. Thanks for that response. While you covered a lot in your experience with the camera I’m surprised you didn’t mention the lack of ND filter on this camera in your review. Maybe it wasn’t the type of shoot where you were running and gunning so you had time to stop and set up with an add-on ND like you mentioned above. It’s shocking to me really especially given who they are specifically marketing this camera to. Hearing that they chose to feature a mechanical shutter for taking stills with this video camera instead of incorporating an ND filter that is SOOOO important to any event shooter seems backwards to me. I wonder who Sony consulted before making that choice because I don’t know a single event shooter that would rather have a gimmicky picture shutter over a necessity like a built-in ND filter. Or is Sony doing this on purpose, just looking to see how this sells and then soon follow it up with a “EA60” that incorporates ND filters just so they can say “they listen to their users”. Makes me wonder.

            Either way, thanks again Alister for your thoughts and help as always. Your insight and feedback are always much appreciated by users all over the world.

          2. I did forget to mention it. It’s in my “first look” review but not this one.

            The EA50 is built down to a price point. I suspect the sensor assembly is exactly the same as the one in the NEX5n and by sharing this common assembly the camera is much cheaper to produce. Adding ND’s adds to the cost, especially on these E-Mount cameras where there is so little space. It also would have made the camera bigger. An ND fader or Vari ND is a simple and easy solution and in some respects offers easier and smoother iris control than using the iris wheel on the side of the camera body. I suspect the sensor assembly is exactly the same as the one in the NEX5n and by sharing this common assembly the camera is much cheaper to produce.

  3. Hello Alister,nice review! A lot of people my self included want to see some extended footage from the fs700 with picture profiles and cinegammas for movie/film. Can you please make one with these and demonstrate some footage like 10 minutes or something? i would be happy to see this! Thanks in advance.

    1. I’ll try, but blogging and online videos don’t make any money, so it’s not at the top of my priorities list right now.

  4. Note for the editor: I didn’t intend to endorse Tilta’s product with my previous comment, you can replace the specific brand with for example “shoulder pad with quick release for the camera and vct-plate support” since there are other companies making similar products as well.

  5. Thanks Alister for your first review of EA50.
    Everybody knows you’re a Sony camera expert so a few Q’s:

    1. “It uses the cinematone gammas found on the FS100” It’s easy to obtain same image look in pair with FS100?

    2. “The recordings are encoded using now ubiquitous AVCHD codec at up to 24Mb/s. ” Isn’t AVCHD 2.0 up to 28Mb/s ?

    3. Because has a much bigger sensor than FS100 how is rolling-shutter distortion and moire?

    4. Please recommend me a good ND filter for FS100.

    Many thanks for your time.

    1. The looks with matching cinematone gammas will be close, but because the sensors are so different they will never look exactly the same.

      AVCHD is used at up to 24Mb/s for unto 30fps and 28Mb/s for frame rates unto 50p/60p

      The FS100 has the bigger sensor. Sensor size does not affect rolling shutter or moire. Rolling shutter is dependant on sensor readout rate. The EA50 has a little more rolling shutter than the FS100. In addition because the EA50 sensor is based on a high resolution DSLR sensor it has more moire and aliasing than the FS100

      I recommend the Genus 67mm ND Fader for the standard 18-200mm FS100 kit lens. You would need either step-down rings for smaller diameter lenses and possibly a larger filter for larger lenses.

      1. FYI the Genus 67mm ND does not fit with the supplied lens hood. Genus does make a rubber hood for it. I just ordered the Polaroid version to see if it will fit.

      2. FYI The Genus ND will not fit in the supplied lens hood. You will need th Genus rubber hood add on. I just ordered the Polaroid ND fader as it looks like it will fit.

  6. The loupe looks the same (except for the monitor end) as the FS100/FS700 one. Like many users I shortened the latter on my FS100 to improve usability. If you shorten the EA50 one, it seems that you won’t need to extend the shoulder pad as much, and you can put the center of gravity closer to your shoulder. What do you think about that Alister? Thank you for all your good service to the community.

  7. Just wondering if you could comment a little further on the user experience of the servo zoom. Can you do broadcast-style ramping of the zoom speed from gradual to fast during a zoom?

    1. Well, you can go from very slow to less slow nice and gradually, but the fastest zoom speed is pretty slow, slower than a typical broadcast zoom.

      1. Do you know if Sony has any other power zoom lenses in the works and if so when they may come out? Even ones with less range but a bit faster than this 18-200 kit lens.

  8. Great review as usual Alister,

    I’m “assuming” that the EA50 uses the same 16mp sensor as the NEX VG20. I’m very familiar with the Moire and aliasing problem that the VG20 produces. (I have even used moire as a focus assist tool at times)

    Just how bad was moire on this EA50? Were you able to shoot some resolution charts?

    The VG20 has pretty bad and predictable aliasing and I don’t know how in the world it could be improved when so many pixels are thrown away?

    How do you fill in those gaps? If you increase the low pass filter to blur out some of the high frequency detail, you will kill the 16mp still photo performance.

    Alister, if you were designing a large sensor, high megapixel sensor camera, what tricks or techniques would you use to fight moire? (btw,…you have no other camera to protect)

    Cliff

  9. I’ve seen the camera in a show. Alistair is right in general. The built quality is quite nice. The LCD quality is good and when used with the loupe it’s great. I found no trouble in focusing. It has zebras and focus peaking. XLR input with 48v. Cheap SD use and a great codec. Yes AVCHD is great. Not for Hollywood of course but for every day shooting, it’s perfect. Also allows to select compression rate. Need to record a big speech or presentation, just reduce the quality and it’s done. The noise above 2500 ISO isn’t great so best to keep at 2000 ISO. The only BIG mistake – no ND. It will become more expensive? So what. I’ll pay gladly more 300 Euros for that. A good vari ND is around that anyway and not so convenient. The digital zoom is a nice addition. It uses the sensor size so no loss in quality (maybe only with high iso will get more noise). My only concern is that after I buy this they launch the EA55 with NDs. Sony didn’t put ND because of the FS100. It will kill the product and annoy all the FS100 owners, because it will be a more complete camera…

    1. There are no ND’s because this is using the sensor assembly from an APS-C stills camera and there isn’t room with this sensor assembly to put an ND filter between the sensor and the mount. Even if they could I’m quite sure it would cost a lot more than $300. There’s a lot more to placing ND’s behind a lens than in front. The extra added glass changes the back focus of any lenses used. So you must have matching clear glass and ND glass filters to maintain constant focus and the positional placement is absolutely critical. In the case of the E-Mount cameras this must be in a very thin rotating turret system and simply getting ND filters that are thin enough with good optical quality is hard. I know Sony rejected a huge amount of filters from highly reputable manufacturers when designing the filter system for the FS700. In the end they used filter technology from the $100k F65 cameras.

      1. Yes, I don’t argue your complete and full answer about the technical issues. But about the price and quality issues I doubt. I own a 3K Euros Panasonic (the HMC151) and it got ND filters, and they work well, Even other cheaper cameras have it.
        Before the trend of the DSLRs no brand would put a camera in the market without NDs. It was like selling a car without brakes…. Not acceptable. Video manufactures should know that shutter is not an option for light control.

        1. But the HMC151 only has a very small sensor and diffraction limiting makes ND filters essential as a result. A large sensor like the APS-C sensor can stop down to f16-f22 without issue, while the HMC151 is limited to f5.6 before the images become soft. In addition it’s really very simple to add ND filters when you have an integrated that will never be changed and a very tiny sensor and thus tiny filters. It’s much harder to add ND filters to a big sensor and unless the design is very clever you will shift the back focus of any lenses used due to the added glass behind the lens.

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  11. hi allister,
    thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    Regarding the picture profile setting of the EA-50…
    Based on your experience with it, which present Sony camera do you think it most closely match ? (Eg. EX3, FS100 or FS700). As in if you apply a similar picture profie to both cameras, it will look the closest ?

  12. Hi Alistair. I’ll be shooting a cooking show soon and am choosing between the F3, PMW350, EA50. I’d love to use the F3 but suspect it’ll be too cumbersome to use on a show such as this. What are the differences in image quality between the older xdcam ex based 350 and the newer ea50, and maybe the pmw200?

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