Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Sony NEX-VG20: What I like

I’ve had a chance the last couple of weeks to play with the Sony NEX-VG20 thanks to B & H PhotoVideo, who kindly loaned me a camera (full disclosure: I have to send it back.)

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.


Chris Barcellos said...

One of the features that should be on a camera of this price is a scene selection mode, and additional white balance presets. In fact, in its original advertizing for this camera, Sony, at least at its store, advertized the camera to have scene selection, which included ability to adjust contrast, saturation and sharpness. In actuality it is now where to be found on the camera. So sad that they decided to cripple the camera in that way.

Michael said...

One of the features missing in the NEX-5N is that ISO is limited to 3200 (+15db gain equivalent) in movie mode. The NEX-VG20 has +30db gain (iso 16000). Sony has purposely limited the features on the NEX-5N so you have a reason to step up to the price of the VG20 for movie mode. Also, I've noticed that the VG20 is clean at all gain levels whereas the VG10 was clean up to the default level of 21db gain but not beyond where you had to manually dial in +24 or +27db gain. With the VG20, Sony is not shy about letting the camera go up to +30db by default--it's really that clean.