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).
Camcorder Comparison: High Definition at Three Price Points
Text, Images and Video by Tony Gomez
While some new digital cameras and DSLRs now have the ability to capture High Definition video, there are many standalone HD camcorders that can do a better job. I recently tested three such camcorders: two high end models—the PanasonicHDC-TM700 and the JVC GZ-HM1—and the more affordable CanonVixia HF R10. All three of these camcorders shoot HD video in the AVCHD standard at 1080i (1080 lines, interlace scanned) resolution and have internal memory, plus an additional SDHC memory card slot for expansion. Each camcorder can also shoot JPEG stills, either independently, or while shooting video. All models also have an automatic zoom lens that permits smooth zooms without manual jerkiness—something that current DSLRS don’t have.
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The Panasonic HDC-TM-700 ($999.95 MSRP) has pro-style 3-chip (Red/Green/Blue) MOS sensor technology that provides the ultimate in color quality. The TM700 also uses the newest high capacity XDHC memory card—up to 64GB for over 8 hours of recording at 1080i quality. The 12x Leica zoom lens control is very smooth and quiet (no pickup on the built-in microphone), with a bump to 18x without noticeable degradation. Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is active and very useful in either movie or still mode. The large 3-inch LCD monitor gives a very clear view of images being, recorded or during playback, and has an easy-to-use menu. In extremely bright conditions where the LCD screen can be washed out, the electronic color viewfinder takes over very nicely.
The 1080i playback video quality through an optional HDMI cable to my HD TV was superb, due in large part to the 3-chip sensors. For the ultimate record quality, 1080/60P (1080 lines/60 frames progressively scanned) is also selectable, and viewable on 1080/60p equipped HD TVs. With the built-in 32GB memory, record times of 2-1/2 hours and 4 hours are possible at the 1080/60P and 1080/60i settings, respectively. Still JPEG images can be can be captured at up to 13-megapixel max resolution. A built-in Dolby 5.1 channel surround audio microphone, external microphone jack, headphone monitor jack, and an accessory bracket for a video light are just some of the many higher-end features.
The TM700 is a beefy camcorder at one pound, but the layout of the controls and buttons makes it easy to use and select various features. The extra weight actually makes it easy to get smoother images by reducing handheld shakiness, and OIS reduces that even further. In summary, the Panasonic HDC-TM700 is a real winner, especially if you want the ultimate in color quality in HD video.
Specifications: Video Resolution: 1080/60P HD max, with 4 other 1080i HD quality settings; Still Image Resolution: 13MP max; Zoom Lens: 12x optical (3.4 mm wide to 41.4mm), 18x/30x/700x digital, OIS; Recording Media: Internal 32GB memory or SDHC/XDHC memory card; Special Features: 3-chip MOS sensor, 1080/60P recording; Size: 2.6″W x 2.7″H x 5.4″D, 1 lb.
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The JVC HM1 ($1,199.95 MSRP) boasts a unique feature—a sliding blue LED touch bar (Laser Touch) on the LCD screen that lets your finger touch select Video Quality at four settings. It also has JPEG image resolution up to 10MP, and a wide variety of other features. The internal 64GB memory allows 8 hours of recording at the XP default quality setting, or 6 hours at the highest quality UXP setting.
recording at standard speed, recording at 120 frames per second
Super Low Light video recording is another great feature. The HM1 has a newly designed backlit sensor technology that permits higher quality, more noise-free recording under low light conditions. While 3-chip sensor camcorders (like the Panasonic TM700) have the ultimate color quality, their low light sensitivity isn’t as great as a single chip design. Hi-Speed video recording, with 120 fps, 300 fps, and 600 frames per second (fps) is another exciting feature, albeit in a narrow two or four second window of time. But my personal favorite feature is a real-time audio level meter on the LCD screen.
recording at standard speed, recording at 300 frames per second
Like the Panasonic TM700, the JVC HM1 is a hefty camera at one pound, but well balanced for capturing HD video and stills. However the HM1 lacks a viewfinder, so you are solely dependent on the LCD monitor for viewing and setup—potentially a washout problem in bright ambient light. The Laser Touch feature is a bit too sensitive for my fingers, but still useable with practice. I compared the HM1’s low light capability with the Panasonic TM700, and the Canon HF R10. The result: the JVC-HM1 had the edge in producing a brighter image with less video noise. If the HM1’s low light feature is important to you, you should consider it.
Specifications: Single chip CMOS sensor; Video Resolution: 1080i max; Still Image Resolution: 10MP max; Zoom lens 10x optical (6.7mm – 67mm), 16x/64x/200x digital; Recording Media: Internal 64GB memory or SDHC memory card; Special Features: Low noise, Low Light recording, Hi-Speed Video Recording, Record Audio Monitor on LCD; Size/weight: 2.7″W x 2.8″H x 5.4″D, 1 lb.
Canon VIXIA HF R10
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For a wider consumer budget appeal, the Canon VIXIA HF R10 offers a more affordable 1080i High Definition camcorder ($399.99 MSRP), with a smaller 8GB internal memory and an SDHC expansion memory slot, in a smaller package.
At the default HD Quality setting, you can record about 1-1/2 hours on the internal 8GB memory. If you need more time, just add an SDHC memory card in the provided slot. Surprisingly, the 20x lens has the longest optical zoom range of the three camcorders tested, and a 3mm wide angle setting that’s the widest of the three.
The smaller and lighter VIXIA HF R10 is easier to hold for longer periods of time, but the decreased weight makes it more prone to handheld shaking. However, built-in Electronic Image Stabilization should help smooth out any extra camera shake. The Canon HF R10 also lacks a viewfinder, which forces dependency on the LCD, a potential problem in bright light. Video playback was very good on my HDTV. However, the 1.7MP still image resolution is fairly low compared with other camcorders.
Specifications: Video resolution: 1080i max; Still image resolution: 1.7MP max; CMOS sensor; Zoom lens: 20X Optical (3mm – 60mm), EIS; Internal 8GB memory with SDHC memory card slot; Size/Weight: 2.4″W x 2.5″H x 4.9″D, 12oz with battery.
Sony HDR-CX350V Full HD Flash Memory Camcorder
Text and Images by Tony Gomez
Earlier this year Sony introduced an entirely new line of High Definition HandyCam camcorders. Depending on the model, these new camcorders use hard disk, internal memory, or removable flash memory—or a combination thereof. I recently tested one of the best of these new models, the HDR-CX350V, which is a 32GB internal/removable flash memory model that shoots 1920 x 1080 Full HD video and sells for $799.99 (MSRP).
Casio EX-FH100 Review
Text and Photos by Allison Gibson
The Casio EX-FH100 has been making waves since its announcement at CES due to its inclusion of a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, 10x optical zoom and—most notably—high-speed video and still recording. Priced at $349.99, the FH100 offers a lot of features, including full manual shooting and the ever-alluring possibility to capture slow-motion video, all in a sleek and compact body. The fact that the FH100 can shoot high-speed movies at 1,000 frames per second (fps) and burst mode stills at 40fps tops the list of reasons that it’s an exciting piece of equipment, and the superb quality of its still image capture makes it a nice overall camera, albeit with a few frustrating UI kinks.
High Speed Still Images
High-speed shooting is accessed at any time by pressing the HS button on top of the camera, or by turning the shooting mode dial to the red Continuous Shooting option. With the HS button you can toggle between continuous shooting and single shot, regardless of whether you are in CS mode, Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority. Continuous shooting is not available when shooting in Best Shot mode. In continuous shooting mode, you have the option of capturing up to 30 images at rates of up to 40fps. These choices are accessed by pressing the SET button. For capturing action such as sports or fast-moving subjects such as pets, the EX-FH100 is almost unparalleled among compact cameras.
Super Slow Motion Video
As I mentioned, the show-stopping feature of this camera is its ability to shoot high-speed movies at up to 1,000 frames per second—which allows for a super slow-motion effect (33 times slower than true life). With video becoming not only popular but expected in compact cameras these days, the Casio EX-FH100 goes above and beyond in delivering exciting possibilities for creating slow-motion movies with pocket-size equipment. The drawback, however, to recording these impressive slow-motion movies at 1,000fps is that the resolution is substantially decreased, bringing videos all the way down to 224 x 64 pixels in size (640 x 480 at 120fps, 448 x 336 at 240fps, 224 x 168 at 420fps).
What Needs Work
This camera is a serious piece of equipment—both the features and the price reflect that—and yet the thing handles quite inelegantly. The screeching electronic noise that the lens motor makes when you zoom and focus is truly painful. It sounds as if the camera is frying on the inside. Frankly, it sounds cheap. And then there’s the auto focus lag, which is a problem in several of the shooting modes from the Best Shot menu—even when you press the shutter release half way down. The worst of it happens when shooting in “Multi-motion image” mode from the BS menu. Once the image is finally captured, the screen goes black and then says “Busy…Please wait…” for 15 seconds. Obviously in the interim you are bound to miss any other photo-ops. It’s hard, however, to complain too much about this when the high-speed camera offers continuous shooting mode to make sure you capture a whole sequence instead of worrying about shot-to-shot lag time. But sometimes you just want to take one picture, not 30, not 10, not even 5.
The layout of the camera’s buttons also leaves much to be desired. Where one’s thumb would naturally sit when gripping the camera, the video record button also sits. There is also the chance that a thumb will inadvertently press the HS button when pressing the shutter release because of where it sits, making it easy to accidentally switch to or from high-speed mode. The camera’s large 3-inch LCD is nice and bright, but is probably the culprit as to why buttons seem awkwardly placed in the meager space beside it.
The battery life of the EX-FH100 is remarkable, and its compact size makes it easily portable, though it is noticeably heavier than many point-and-shoot cameras on the market right now. Because it uses a backlit CMOS sensor, it does incredibly well in low-light, capturing sharp images even in the dimly lit temperate rain forests of northern Washington State. With a whole host of Best Shot scene modes, as well as Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes, the EX-FH100 does stand alone as a feature-rich compact digicam, but if you are looking into purchasing this camera it’s most likely for its specific high-speed capabilities.
The brand new Summer ’09 issue of Digital Photographer includes profiles on renown nature photographer William Neill (whose photo is on our beautiful cover) and globe-trotting surf-photographer Mark Dimalanta, who is also a “Pentaxian” shooter. The issue also features comprehensive reviews of the awesome full-frame Canon 5D Mark II D-SLR, the Nikon D5000 D-SLR and the Olympus E-620 D-SLR with art filters. On the point-and-shoot side, we tested the Canon SX10 IS “megazoom” and the Nikon P6000 “prosumer” digicam. We also reviewed the Canon VIXIA HF S100 High Definition camcorder and compiled an overview of the latest flash-based camcorders, like the Flip, with tips on how to upload your videos the the Web. Also, look out for our story on “Extreme” cameras that photograph underwater and our software reviews, roundups of brand new products to the market and our ever popular “Inside the Image” column, in which Editor Lynne Eodice takes a look at DP reader Kim Corona‘s breathtaking shot of Yosemite. Happy reading! Feel free to let us know what you want to see more of in DP in the comments section below or on Twitter at twitter.com/digiphotomag.