Sony NEX-VG10: High Definition Camcorder with Interchangeable Lenses

Sony NEX-VG10: High Definition Consumer Camcorder with Interchangeable Lenses
Text and Images by Tony Gomez

With the NEX-VG10, Sony has at last answered the call for a consumer-based High Definition camcorder with interchangeable lenses. My expanded review package included not only the kit 18-200 mm zoom, but also the following E-mount interchangeable lenses: 18-55 zoom ($300) and 16mm/f2.8 ($250). Also the following Alpha lenses were provided via the Alpha/E-mount adapter ($300): 16mm/f2.8 ($250), 30mm/f2.8 Macro ($200), 35mm/f1.8 ($200), 50mm/f1.8 ($150), and the Zeiss 85mm/f1.8 ($1,400).

The Interchangeable Lens Advantage

With one zoom lens firmly attached to your camcorder, you cannot get complete control over your shot. In contrast, interchangeable lenses offer that control in three ways: a wider range of focal lengths, “faster” lenses (wider shooting apertures), and shutter speed control.

- Wider Focal Length Range and Faster Lenses:

Most zoom lenses on camcorders are limited in their focal length range—generally not wider than 28mm equivalent at their widest setting. So if your shot requires a very wide angle effect, like 24mm or wider, you will need a wider angle lens. The 16mm/f2.8 lens I tested has a slightly wider field of view than the widest 18mm setting of 18-200 zoom lens, but the big difference was in the f2.8 faster aperture (up to 2 stops faster than the f3.5/6.3 of the zoom lens). This f2.8 lens gave me increased light gathering power in low light situations.

The larger the shooting aperture (f-stop), the more narrow the range of focus (the depth of field effect), so a so-called “faster” lens at the widest aperture can isolate your subject from any interfering background—a very desirable effect in creating professional-grade footage.  The 50mm/f1.8 Alpha lens provides a more normal focal length; however, it is at least 3 f-stops faster than the equivalent focal length of the kit zoom, meaning it’s even better for low-light shooting conditions. And its control over DOF is unmatched over any zoom lens I tested.

- Shutter Speed Control:

Shutter Speed control (Shutter Speed Priority) is used to change the look of how moving objects are captured. A higher shutter speed (1/500th sec or higher) gives a stroboscopic, extremely sharp effect in playback, which is especially desirable with sports videos. On the other end of the shutter speed spectrum is an extremely slow shutter speed—slower than 1/8th second. This produces a motion blurring or dream-like effect.

Sony NEX-VG10; Alpha lenses and E-mount lenses; Easily switching out lenses; CMOS image sensor
click thumbnails to enlarge

Field Testing the Sony NEX-VG10

Changing lenses with the VG10 is easy: simply depress the lens release button and rotate to remove it; then attach a new lens by matching the white alignment marks and twist to lock the lens in place—the same way you would switch lenses on a DSLR camera. As always, be aware that changing lenses exposes the sensor to any dust that might enter from the outside. So try to avoid doing this on a windy day or a dusty environment. However, a menu-activated lens cleaning procedure can help if dust does land on the sensor.

The NEX-VG10 has the largest CMOS Sensor in a consumer HD camcorder.  This larger sensor gives the camcorder more light gathering power, and coupled with the exclusive Sony XMOR-R processor, captures video in low light with very little image noise, even at high gain settings (up to +27DB). Blacks are velvet black, not riddled with noise that other sensors usually produce at the same gain settings.

I used Aperture Priority mode to select wider apertures in order to achieve limited range DOF effects, and Shutter Speed Priority mode to play with the way motion was depicted— ultra sharp (higher speed) or dream like (slower speed).

The short 18-55 mm zoom was lighter and more comfortable to use than the heavier 18-200 mm zoom, but at reduced telephoto capability.  The 30mm Alpha Macro lens gave some very unusual close up shots that wouldn’t have been possible with the kit lens.  The Alpha Zeiss 85mm lens is a very special portrait-style lens for capturing subjects and isolating them from the background.

Unexpected Issues

I was surprised by a couple of features with the NEX-VG10. None of the zoom lens I tested had an auto zoom feature. With the VG10 you must manually rotate each zoom lens to affect a zoom. Even if you are slow and steady, this can result in some jerky zooms, which might ruin a shot.

The second big surprise is the built-in stereo microphone.While the microphone system does create a spectacular Dolby Surround effect, it was entirely too sensitive for my hand holding. Just touching the camera on any part can result in unwanted sounds. Zooming any lens manually will almost always be recorded by the microphone because it’s directly above the lens. If you want to minimize this sensitivity issue, use the external mike jack, which I did with good results.

Final Words

The 18-200mm kit zoom on the NEX-VG10 provides a very useable range of focal lengths, but if you really want to exert better control over depth of field and light sensitivity, interchangeable lenses can offer a much better toolkit. You can also have a lighter overall package with specific lenses, rather than the kit zoom.  The JPEG still Photo mode records excellent quality JPEGS at 14-megapixel and 12-megapixel resolution.

Despite the issues of no Auto Zoom on any of the interchangeable zoom lenses and the internal microphone sensitivity, the Sony NEX-VG10 is still a very desirable HD consumer camcorder.

Sony NEX-VG10: $1999.99 E-mount 18-200mm zoom lens included); www.sonystyle.com

 

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5 Responses to “Sony NEX-VG10: High Definition Camcorder with Interchangeable Lenses”

  1. Hakim Benkrid says:

    Hello,
    Your article is very helpful and insightful; I have owned my Sony NEX-VG10 since December 2010 and as a video hobbyist editing in FCP studio and love this camera. I really want to achieve cinematic like shallow depth of field but I am having trouble controlling the camera’s lens. I have both the kit lens and the donut lens. To make life easier what lens would you recommend me to purchase to achieve my goal?

    your answer is very much appreciated.
    Hakim Benkrid
    Allentowm, PA
    benkria@apci.com

  2. Tony Gomez says:

    Hakim,
    Most fixed focal length interchangeable lenses with a large shooting aperture (f1.8 and larger) can achieve a shallow depth of field effect for the VG10 camcorder. The Sony 50mm f1.8 fixed focal length is a good one, and the Zeiss 85mm f1.8 is also a very good one, although much more expensive. Wide angle lenses in general don’t have very large shooting apertures (ie. the 35mm/f2.8, for example), and they also tend to have larger depth of field than you might want for a shallow focus effect. I also would not suggest a zoom lens because they don’t have very large shooting apertures-usually f3.5. Also remember to keep the VG-10 in it’s Aperture Priority mode, and select the largest aperture available.

  3. Dan says:

    Tony, Tony, Did you down load the VG10 auto zoom patch from Sony. I am not clear if Zoom patch works just for Sony lens shipped or not? I finally got my hands around a VG10 but at a retail store. I found the manual zoom sticks bad/very rough. Did you find using the focus ring-removing background best for changing in-out of a scene? I would rather spend less money on a VG10 body-becuse of possible flaws. I have numerous Nikon lenses. I am worried if the stock-shipped lens has the only possible auto focus capabilities…i.e., A rolling stock film camera without smooth auto focus is nuts.

  4. France says:

    The real magic in the camera is the 23.4 x 15.6mm Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor. There is simply nothing like it in a video camera in this price range. The shallow depth of field is beautiful. If you are used to a camcorder which is always in focus because the small sensor gives you a very deep depth of field, the VG-10 might take some getting use to. If on the other hand you want to be able to keep the subject of your shot in sharp focus with the background softly blurred, this camera can do it, whereas all the older pro and prosumer video cameras can not.

  5. niewaznejak says:

    I found something I was looking for a long time, thank you!

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