Sony's NEX-VG10E is tear-inducingly expensive and laden with cinematic quality results and high quality stills. It's bulkier than most but when you have results as incredible as these it's hard to complain
What sets the Sony NEX-VG10E apart from conventional camcorders, is the ability to swap the lens on the front for added creative control when shooting video and to achieve more professional results.
We’re used to this hands-on facility on our DSLRs and compact system cameras, but not our camcorders. Typically they feature fixed focus lenses at the lower end of the market, and optical zooms of ever increasing focal lengths the more you spend, but not the ability to change what you’ve got.
Hence the Full HD shooting, 14.2 effective megapixel Sony NEX-VG10E with its replaceable optics is currently a very rare breed. Reassurance that the product is not just a one-off gimmick, but part of a bigger push, is because this is also the third Sony NEX model to be released, following the digital stills Sony NEX-3 and Sony NEX-5.
All three share the same lens mount (the E-mount), and so can share each other’s optics. Plus, invest in an additional adapter, compatibility is offered with 14 existing ‘A’ (Alpha) mount lenses. This suggests that Sony is building a new camera system, a sub-section of the four-year-old Alpha DSLR brand, with the NEX-VG10E an opening statement of intent; and an exciting one at that for both videographers and trad photographers. What will be more of a hurdle for anyone stepping up from a pocket HD camcorder is the price, at £1,750 for our body plus lens combo.
Sony NEX-VG10E: Size and build
The trade off in return for versatility and expandability is a larger form factor. With stereo microphone and electronic viewfinder (EVF) hovering above the main body it resembles something from a 1980’s sci-fi series. It’s inevitably not as small, sleek or slick as current palm camcorders utilising removable media cards (here too) or built-in hard drive.
Think Dad’s tape-based camcorder of yesteryear in terms of chunky dimensions. And especially so with the supplied 18-200mm optically stabilised kit lens attached, the kind of ‘catch all’ focal range that enabled us to bag both those wide angle shots and, at the other end of the zoom, candid close ups with blurred backgrounds.
Nevertheless, once you get used to the handling, the set up doesn’t feel prohibitively heavy or restrictive. We shot mainly handheld – through there is a screw thread for a tripod at the base – and were able to be up and recording quickly and easily without wading through the manual.
Sony NEX-VG10E: Controls
Flick the on/off switch and the NEX-VG10E powers up from cold in two seconds. It requires both hands to operate and balance properly; one hand sliding under the provided strap and gripping the body, its record button encircled by the on/off switch crucially just falling within reach of the thumb. Your other had cups the lens to avoid the set up otherwise feeling ‘front heavy’. It feels like a professional model that has been scaled down.
For still images the photo button is within reach of the forefinger, and acts as a dedicated shutter release button, firing with a reassuringly loud DSLR-like ‘clunk’.
The EVF is also angle adjustable for convenience, with rubber surround for comfort, whilst the LCD screen is of the flip-out at 90° variety you’d more commonly expect to find on a consumer level camcorder. You can’t turn it to face you for self-portraits however. Both displays sport particularly high resolutions that are a match for the typical semi pro DSLR in terms of clarity, it’s easy enough to determine whether your subject is remaining sharply in focus, or not, when panning and zooming.
Sony NEX-VG10E: Features
The Sony captures 1920x1080 pixels video in AVCHD format, writing footage to a Memory Stick Pro Duo removable media card or SD card, which share a slot that is fiddly to access unless unfolding the LCD screen first. Recording time is limited to just over an hour and a half via the supplied battery. The NEX-VG10E is also noteworthy for including a large APS-C sized HD CMOS sensor, as more usually found in a digital SLR than a camcorder. The bigger the sensor – and Sony claims this chip is 19.5x larger than that offered in conventional camcorders – the theoretically better the image.
The knock-on effect is that in combination with whichever lens the user chooses to bolt onto the front – our 18-200mm lens equating to an 11x optical zoom – not only High Def video but also high quality still photos can be shot.
As you zoom into a subject while recording, auto focus adjusts gradually – so you don’t get that sudden jump from soft to sharp that is typical of cheaper models, or a pause whilst the lens visibly (and occasionally noisily) attempts to ‘find’ your subject. Alternatively the manual focus ring can be used. Either way, the action of the zoom ring is smooth, steady and silent.
Sony NEX-VG10E: Image Quality
With its top mounted multi directional stereo microphone, the NEX-VG10E does deliver superior sound quality to a DSLR with integral mic.
In terms of still image quality, we felt the pictures were a match from what we’d seen from Sony’s NEX-5 compact system camera – in being noticeably a step on from fixed lens models – but were slightly softer overall than typical results from a DSLR proper, if not by much. Not a direct replacement for anyone otherwise considering buying a semi pro DSLR then, though in fairness it’s a close call.
It’s when shooting (and re-watching) video that the device of course comes into its own. The ultra-realistic clarity of the footage makes reviewing it a pleasure, the bolted-on microphone provides minimal accompanying hiss and colours as well as sharpness make for an immersive experience. Yes, you’re paying above the norm for the NEX-VG10E, but it shows.
Sony NEX-VG10E Verdict:
We wonder how long it will be before we see a stereoscopic 3D lens attachment for this Sony or its next gen successor, to enable it to more directly compete with its near price rival in Panasonic’s £1,500 semi pro HDC-SDT750 camcorder.
The fact that even after a relatively short two-week playing the NEX-VG10E it has you thinking ahead to possible future adaptability is, ultimately, what is most exciting about the unit.
Those trading up from sub-£1000 HD camcorders – or even down from professional models, are the two audiences the device straddles.
The NEX-VG10E is expandable and adaptable, so you’re not stuck with the same camcorder you originally bought. How innovative you want to make it – and be with it – appears at this stage to be determined only by your imagination and inevitably bank balance.
Sony NEX-VG10E availability: Out now
Sony NEX-VG10E price: £1750