Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thoughts on the NEX-VG10

It’s only been a few hours, but already the Internets are buzzing about the Sony NEX-VG10, which was announced this morning: What does it mean to the HD SLR market? How will it perform? What about 24p?!

When it comes down to it, the NEX-VG10 has two outstanding features; interchangeable lenses and a larger chip, the latter making for shallower depth-of-field when working at large apertures.

But have they messed up a couple of important things?

The camera only supports 1080/60i. There's no 24p, and it’s a bit vague on 30p (it appears the video file is 1920 x 1080/60i, but created from a 30p output sensor, so may technically be 30p) The lack of 24p capture might be their biggest mistake; lots of people buying HD SLRs want 24p – along with shallow depth-of-field – to get the “film look.”

Sony's second mistake may be in pricing and bundling.

Including a good lens makes sense, but means the bundle costs more than twice what the Canon T2i body costs. And people look at the body cost first, even though they forget they’ll have to spend at least a few hundred dollars more on one or two good lenses. This bundling could be a big strike against the NEX-VG10 since and the T2i seems to be one of this cameras biggest competitors. Sure, the T2i shouldn’t be considered competition for the NEX-VG10. Except that it is.

There’s a lot of things we don’t know about the NEX-VG10, and we'll have to wait until people get their hands on the camera and review it to get many answers; how does it perform in low light? how do the manual controls work? how well does the lens work? How bad is rolling shutter? How good is the optical stabilization? What’s the audio mic like?

But despite this, let’s take a look at how this camera seems to compare with other cameras both in Sony’s lineup and the Canon T2i.

Compared to Sony HDR-CX350V
The HDR-CX350V is a traditional consumer camcorder that retails for about $800 and seems to capture in identical AVCHD video format (1080/60i 24Mbps) The HDR-CX350V has a 12x optical zoom, with a f /1.8-3.4 lens compared to the NEX-VG10's 11x f /3.5-6.3. But the CX350 has a smaller, built-in physical lens and the chip is smaller than the NEX-VG10's.

What the NEX-VG10 does better:
  • Interchangeable lenses give more optical choices
  • Bigger chip will provide greater depth of field at large apertures
  • The lens may optically perform better
  • Viewfinder in addition to LCD

What the HDR-CX350V does better:
  • It’s half the price
  • Much smaller and lighter
  • Lens on the CX350 is f 1.8-3-4 vs the VG10’s f 3.5-6.3 though chip differences may mean low-light performance is about the same
Other things we don’t know: How the manual controls compare. How good the VG10's mic is.

Compared to Sony HDR-AX2000
The HDR-AX2000 is a pro-sumer version of the HXR-NX5U, and retails for about $3,500.

What the NEX-VG10 does better:
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Larger APS HD chip
  • Slightly smaller body: VG10 is 3-7/8 × 5-1/4 × 11-1/2" 2lb 12 oz with lens, vs AX2000's 6.9 x 7.4 x 13.5" 5lbs
What the HDR-AX2000 does better:
  • Three chips instead of one
  • 30p & 24p
  • 20x, 29.5mm-590mm f/ 1.6-3.4 lens (though it is fixed)
  • XLR audio inputs
  • More manual controls*
*The NEX-VG10 has manual controls, though it looks like they mostly get managed through menus and on screen controls rather than physical buttons.

The new VG10 audio capsule is a bit of an unknown quantity, but it’s still on the camera, so a mixed blessing for most serious shooters. I'd rather have XLR inputs.

Compared to Canon T2i
Comparing the VG10 to a SLR seems ridiculous, but large numbers of people are buying these cameras to shoot video.

What the NEX-VG10 does better
  • Autofocus
  • The kit lens may be a good value
  • Viewfinder for bright light situations
  • Flip-out/angled LCD screen
  • Unlimited clip length
  • Better mic
What the T2i does better
  • 30p & 24p. 720 60p
  • Appears to be cheaper
  • Higher Mbps (though have to see if that translates into better images)
Unknown: Image performance, low light performance, rolling shutter and optical stabilization

Compared to the two camcorders, the NEX-VG10 has some notable differences. Picking between them really depends on what you are doing (and how much you have to spend!)

On the face of it, the NEX-VG10 is a much better camcorder than the Canon T2i. Autofocus alone would have me grab for a VG10 in most situations. And if you’re thinking of buying a Canon 7D, the NEX-VG10 (once you add a lens) will cost you less too! Sure, the lack of 24p is a concern, and the higher Mbps of the video file from the T2i may mean it produces a better image (unless the T2i is just lousy at compressing video data.) But will the NEX-VG10 attract the enthusiasm of the people that have created the excitement in the HD SLR world – the Vincent Laforet’s and the Phillip Bloom’s – or will they look at the lack of 24p and go “interesting camera, but I’m going to stick with Canon?"

If Sony had come out with this camera a couple of years ago, it would have been a sensation. But that was then, and I can’t help thinking that Sony may have made some serious miss-steps with this camera, as intriguing as it appears. We’ll only really know when it’s out and in the hands of users.

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