The NEX-VG20 is an upgrade to the NEX-VG10, and one way to describe this camera is as a DSLR in a personal-camcorder body. Like a DSLR, it has a large sensor (I've read that it's the same sensor as the one in the Sony NEX-5N), and supports interchangeable lenses using the Sony E-mount. Like a camcorder, it has a flip-out viewfinder, a very different form factor, and a much better microphone.
At $2,199 - with the $600 kit lens - this camera is not cheap, though you can buy it without the lens. Here's a list of things I like about this camera:
Body shape: At first the camera just felt wrong in my hands; it wasn’t a small traditional camcorder, but it wasn’t a big body camera either. It was sort of in-between. After a week or so of handling it, I got used to it, and it actually works out pretty well. And I really like the LCD screen. More importantly, I like hand holding it much better than holding a DSLR body.
The rotating LCD: This is a camcorder, so it has a rotating LCD on the side, as well as a viewfinder on the back. I like the way the flip-out LCD can easily be viewed from more angles. It's much easier to see than the LCD on the back of the NEX-5N. Interestingly, if you just pick up the two cameras, the LCD on the NEX-5N appears much larger than the NEX-VG20's; but it's an optical illusion caused by the relative sizes of the cameras; the screens are the same size. More importantly, due to the menu system used on the NEX-5N, the NEX-VG20 displays a larger image.
Viewfinder with focus-peaking on
Color peaking: While this is a consumer camera, it does have color peaking, something I’m finding more and more invaluable; and available on more and more consumer cameras.
The Expanded Focus button on the top of the side handle: the NEX-VG20 doesn’t have a whole lot of buttons; that and the lack of XLR inputs are perhaps its two biggest deficiencies. But the focus enhance button on the top of the side handle is really useful; it zooms the center of the image, and it stays zoomed until you hit the button again.
The Record button next to the Expanded Focus button: If I'm going to criticize the lack of buttons, then I have to mention some I find very useful!
The Kit lens: Like the camera itself, this lens takes a bit of getting used to. It’s not incredible; I wish it didn’t extend out the front as you zoom, and I wish it was faster, but if it did all that it would have half the zoom range and cost twice the price. So with that in mind, it’s a pretty good general purpose lens. Zooming isn't totally smooth and silky, but it seemed to improve a bit with use, and in the final analysis it's better than using the small zoom rockers that personal camcorders have.
The Mic: This mic is almost as big as the NEX-5N, and it does a much better job than any DSLR mic.
Operation: if you compare this camera to the NEX-5N, then the big differences - given that the camera has the same lens mount - is the shape of the body, the menu system and buttons, and the audio mic. And the shape of the body, placement of the screen and buttons, all make a noticeable difference in ease of operation.
The price: Okay, if you compare it to a Canon T3i, or even the Sony NEX-5N, it's expensive. But if you want a camcorder with a large sensor, the choices are rather thin in the sub $5,000 category; the Panasonic AG-AF100 and Sony NEX-FS100 are the only other large-sensor camcorders out there. Both of those add features I wish the VG20 had, and the NEX-FS100 has a better sensor, but that's an extra three thousand dollars.
Of course, you could just buy the NEX-5N, and get similar results. The NEX-5N body-only is $599.99, while the NEX-VG20 body-only is $1,599.99. So you're paying $1,000 for a different body shape, slightly bigger LCD, a viewfinder, much better microphone and a few more buttons and controls. But if you're primarily interested in shooting video, and don't mind the slightly bigger body, I'd recommend the NEX-VG20.
Note: the camera was loaned by B & H PhotoVideo. This site also receives a commission on any sales made via links to that website.